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ATHEISM and HUMANISM

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5-24-18 More Say 'Nature' Than 'Nurture' Explains Sexual Orientation
Half of Americans in Gallup's 2018 Values and Beliefs poll say that being gay or lesbian is a trait from birth, easily eclipsing the 30% who believe it is a product of upbringing and environment. This is consistent with findings over the past few years. Another 10% say both explanations play a role, while 4% attribute being gay to something else and 6% are unsure. When Gallup first asked this "nature vs. nurture" question in 1977, a majority of U.S. adults (56%) said being gay or lesbian was due to people's upbringing and environment, and only 13% saw it as a birth trait. Attitudes didn't shift markedly until after 1989. Between 1989 and Gallup's next update in 1996, the percentage believing sexual orientation is determined at birth jumped from 19% to 31%, and reached 40% by 2001. Opinion remained steady for the next 12 years, as Americans were roughly split between the two positions. Since 2012, the percentage assigning sexual orientation to nature rather than nurture has inched up another 10 percentage points.

  • 50% of U.S. adults say people are born gay or lesbian
  • 30% attribute being gay to upbringing and environment
  • Support for "nature" view still lags among conservative-oriented groups

5-24-18 Beware the new military-technology complex
Why big tech working with the Pentagon and law enforcement is so worrisome. People who tuned in to Sky News' livestream of the Royal Wedding over the weekend got a glimpse of the future of technology: An Amazon service called Rekognition was able to identify celebrities' faces via on-screen captions. Can't place that familiar-looking face? Now you don't have to. How nifty! But what seemed like a cute addition to the broadcast took a more sinister turn on Tuesday when the ACLU published a report on other ways Amazon is deploying Rekognition. This facial-recognition technology is being hawked to police departments all over the country as a way to cheaply track and catch suspects, and some, such as the Orlando PD, have already begun testing it. An Amazon director has even bragged that the service could be used by Orlando to "find the whereabouts of the mayor through cameras around the city," The New York Times reports. The adoption of cutting-edge technology by police forces and other arms of government isn't new, of course. But the reports about Rekognition come on the heels of revelations about a broader involvement by the tech world in creating instruments of surveillance and tools for the military, almost like a new "military-technology complex" to replace the military-industrial complex of the 20th century. As technologies like AI and machine learning become more commonplace and sophisticated, consumers are going to have to ask whether they want to support companies who dabble in the business of war and law enforcement. The big tech companies are already dabbling, however. Recently, it was revealed that there was something of an internal revolt at Google over whether the company should be providing its AI to the U.S. military to improve the capacity of drones to recognize people and objects. Four thousand employees signed a letter asking CEO Sundar Pichai to stop work on Project Maven, the name given to the operation.

5-24-18 Trump: NFL kneelers 'maybe shouldn't be in country'
President Donald Trump has praised an NFL ban on players kneeling during the national anthem, questioning whether such protesters should stay in the US. He said: "You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there, maybe you shouldn't be in the country." The interview was aired a day after the NFL said clubs will be fined if players kneel for the Star-Spangled Banner. The players have been protesting over perceived police brutality since 2016. In an interview with Fox & Friends filmed on Wednesday, Mr Trump said of the NFL's decision: "The people pushed it forward, not me. I brought it out." Last autumn in Alabama, Mr Trump called on protesting players to be fired. "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired,'" Mr Trump said at the time. "That's a total disrespect of our heritage. That's a total disrespect of everything that we stand for." Under the new league policy, teams can be fined an undetermined sum if players protest on the field. Players are permitted to stay in the locker room as the anthem is performed. They previously were required to be present on the field.

5-24-18 Sterling Brown: Milwaukee police release arrest video
Milwaukee police have released video of officers using a stun-gun on a basketball player over a parking violation. NBA player Sterling Brown was arrested and stunned in January after parking in a disabled space. Until now, the police had refused to release the 30-minute video to the public; it shows that Mr Brown does not seem to physically resist the arrest. Police chief Alfonso Morales apologised for his officers' behaviour after an internal investigation. Speaking shortly after the release of the body cam footage, Mr Morales said he was sorry the incident "escalated to this level", declaring certain officers had "acted inappropriately" and had been disciplined. Mr Brown announced on Wednesday he would be taking legal action against the Milwaukee police department. Mr Brown made a statement after the release of the video. After "what should have been a simple parking ticket" turned into "unlawful use of physical force", the statement reads, Mr Brown said the police actions have "forced me to stand up and tell my story". "Black men shouldn't have to have their guard up and instantly be on the defensive when seeing a police officer, but it's our reality and a real problem," the Milwaukee Bucks player said. "I will take legal action against the Milwaukee Police Department to continue forcing change in our community." His team also released a statement, calling the police's actions "shameful and inexcusable". "There needs to be more accountability," the statement says. (Webmaster's comment: The officers should be arrested for physical assault, tried, and imprisoned! They are not above the law!)

5-23-18 Scientists develop 'mind-reading' algorithm
Researchers are using data from recorded brain activity and software algorithms to generate images reconstructed from a person's memory.

5-23-18 Gavin Grimm trans bathroom lawsuit backed by federal judge
A US judge has ruled that federal law protects a transgender student's right to use the bathroom corresponding to his gender identity. In the latest legal twist to a long-running case, a Virginia court rejected Gloucester County school board's bid to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Gavin Grimm, a student who has since graduated. Mr Grimm sued after his school barred him from using the men's bathroom. He said he felt an "incredible sense of relief" after the ruling. "After fighting this policy since I was 15 years old, I finally have a court decision saying that what the Gloucester County School Board did to me was wrong and it was against the law," he said. Mr Grimm's case has been the most prominent in the debate over which bathroom transgender people should be permitted to use, a debate that has come to the forefront of LGBT rights over the past few years. This decision does not completely end his case, but the judge on Tuesday ordered the school board to arrange a settlement conference within 30 days. "The district court's ruling vindicates what Gavin has been saying from the beginning," said Joshua Block, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. US district judge Arenda Wright Allen's ruling said the school's argument was "resoundingly unpersuasive", and she refused to throw out Mr Grimm's claim as the school had requested.

5-23-18 Pope Francis' cunning long game
The quiet revolution continues. Pope Francis' stealth reform of the Roman Catholic Church shows no sign of slowing down — and may even be accelerating. Stealth is key here. If the pope had declared earlier this month that henceforth the Roman Catholic Church would authoritatively teach that homosexuals should be happy being gay, that God made them homosexual, and that God himself (along with the pope) loves them just the way they are, it would have been a massive story in the history of Catholicism — and one that quite likely would have precipitated a major schism, with conservative bishops and priests (mainly in North America and Africa) formally breaking from Rome. But because word of the pope saying these things comes to us second hand, in a report of a private conversation between Francis and a gay man named Juan Carlos Cruz who is also a victim of the clerical sex abuse crisis in Chile, the utterance will go down as just the latest example of the pope making unorthodox statements in settings in which he has plausible deniability and in which he can claim he was speaking as a pastor rather than as an expositor of the church's official dogmas and doctrines. Most popes view themselves as caretakers of the church's authoritative teachings on faith and morals. When it comes to homosexuality, they would therefore be inclined to reaffirm the position laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which clearly states that homosexual desires are "intrinsically disordered" because they are not oriented to the end of procreation. (The same is true of masturbation and other non-procreative sex acts.)

5-23-18 In U.S., Estimate of LGBT Population Rises to 4.5%
The percentage of American adults identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) increased to 4.5% in 2017, up from 4.1% in 2016 and 3.5% in 2012 when Gallup began tracking the measure. The latest estimate is based on over 340,000 interviews conducted as part of Gallup's daily tracking in 2017. Gallup's LGBT estimates are based on those respondents who say "yes" when asked, "Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?" Extrapolation to the latest census estimate of adults 18 and older in the U.S. suggests that more than 11 million adults identify as LGBT in the country today. The expansion in the number of Americans who identify as LGBT is driven primarily by the cohort of millennials, defined as those born between 1980 and 1999. The percentage of millennials who identify as LGBT expanded from 7.3% to 8.1% from 2016 to 2017, and is up from 5.8% in 2012. By contrast, the LGBT percentage in Generation X (those born from 1965 to 1979) was up only .2% from 2016 to 2017. There was no change last year in LGBT percentage among baby boomers (born 1946 through 1964) and traditionalists (born prior to 1946).

  • Rise in LGBT identification mostly among millennials
  • LGBT identification is lower among older generations
  • 5.1% of women identify as LGBT, compared with 3.9% of men

5-23-18 Two in Three Americans Support Same-Sex Marriage
Sixty-seven percent of Americans support same-sex marriage -- the highest level in Gallup's trend. In each of the past three annual polls, Gallup has recorded three-percentage point increases among Americans who say same-sex marriages should be legally valid. The current figure is up 40 percentage points from the 27% who supported gay marriage when Gallup first polled on the question in 1996. Some of the increases in support may be due to greater numbers of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) adults getting married in the U.S. Using data for all of 2017, Gallup has found that more than 10.4% of LGBT adults are married to a same-sex spouse. This means that Americans are more likely to know someone who has married a same-sex partner, and the visibility of these marriages may be playing a role in overturning some folks' previously held opposition to their legal status.

  • 67% of U.S. adults say gay marriages should be legally valid
  • New high in support for gay marriage in Gallup's trend
  • Democrats remain more in favor than Republicans

5-22-18 Why Spanish speakers in US are getting into trouble
Two high-profile incidents of Spanish speakers being challenged for not using English have raised familiar arguments over language and immigration in America. Ana Suda and Mimi Hernandez were queuing inside a petrol station in rural Montana when a Border Patrol agent demanded to see their identification. The two US citizens were told they had been stopped because they were speaking Spanish in a "predominantly English-speaking state". In a video of the 16 May incident, Ms Suda asks the agent if he is racially profiling them. "It has nothing to do with that," the agent replies. "Ma'am, the reason I asked you for your ID is because I came in here, and I saw that you guys are speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here." The women were detained for around 35 minutes before being allowed to go. US Customs and Border Protection says it is reviewing the case. Ms Suda told the Washington Post the incident left her feeling uncomfortable speaking her own language. Days later, on the other side of the US in New York City, footage of a lawyer threatening Spanish-speaking staff at a restaurant lit up social media. In the video the man threatens to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for deportations from the US, after hearing restaurant staff speaking to each other in Spanish. "They should be speaking English," he says in the video. "My next call is to ICE to have each one of them kicked out of my country." (Webmaster's comment: More racial hatred by Americans.)

5-22-18 Black kids commit suicide at twice the rate of white children
After age 12, the pattern flips and suicide occurs more frequently among white children. Suicide rates for children ages 5 to 12 are roughly twice as high for black children as for white children, according to new data. But for adolescents ages 13 to 17, the pattern flips, with white kids having higher suicide rates, researchers report online May 21 in JAMA Pediatrics. The new study is based on an analysis of suicide rates among children ages 5 to 17 from 2001 to 2015. Suicide was relatively rare among young children, the scientists found, but rates for both black and white kids in the United States increased with age. “We really need to understand what are the risk and protective factors for not only suicide, but suicidal behavior in young people of color,” says study coauthor Jeff Bridge, an epidemiologist at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Most studies investigating psychological or social risk factors for suicide in young people are of predominantly white youth, he says. Suicide rates have traditionally been higher among white individuals for all age groups in the country. That trend does hold for older children in the study. From ages 13 to 17, black teens had a roughly 50 percent lower rate of suicide compared with white teens.

5-22-18 The great fertility reversion
Here's why America's plummeting birth rate isn't that exceptional. The CDC has come out with another report on American fertility patterns, with plenty of fodder for prophets of doom. The American birth rate took another dive, to 60.2 births per thousand women between ages 15 and 44, a sharp drop from 62.0 at the end of 2016, and an even more dramatic decline since the pre-recession peak in 2007 of 69.3. There were an estimated 3.85 million live births in 2017. The last time we had fewer total live births in America was 30 years ago, in 1987 — when the American population was only three-quarters as large as it is today. So what happened? Has something gone suddenly wrong with American culture or the American economy? Perhaps. But the more likely explanation is that America is simply reverting to the mean of other industrialized nations. Indeed, American fertility may have been less of an outlier among that group than it seemed for years now. And if that's the case, then it suggests that solutions aren't likely to be found in nostalgia for America's more fertile past. To explain how that could be, it's worth examining the data a little more closely. Along with the drop in live births, America's Total Fertility Rate (TFR) — a prediction of how many children the average woman will have in her lifetime — has dropped to a new low of 1.76, approaching the all-time low of 1.74 children per woman reached in 1976. But the TFR bases future predictions on current fertility patterns. Baby booms and busts alike attest to the fact that these patterns are quite changeable, which can throw predictions distinctly out of whack.

5-22-18 Sweden sends out leaflets on how to prepare for war
Salmon balls, tea lights and wet wipes. These are just some of the things Sweden has advised every household to stock up on in the case of war. Its government has sent leaflets to 4.7 million households explaining how to best prepare for various major crises. These include terror and cyber-attacks, natural disasters, serious accidents and military conflicts. Those who prepare improve "the ability of the country as a whole to cope with a major strain", the booklet reads. "Think about how you and people around you will be able to cope with a situation in which society's normal services are not working as they usually do," it adds. The leaflet, which is entitled If Crisis or War Comes, has been distributed amid concerns over Russia's military activities and the rise of terrorism and fake news. Under a section called "home preparedness tips", there is an eclectic list of some of the key items it says every household should have access to. It stresses the importance of having non-perishable food "that requires little water or can be eaten without preparation". The leaflet also warns that, in a major crisis, the electricity supply may fail meaning your home will quickly become cold. "Gather together in one room, hang blankets over the windows, cover the floor with rugs and build a den under a table to keep warm," it advises. If there is no electricity, it says people should prepare to keep warm and stay informed when communications systems are no longer working.

  1. Bread with a long shelf-life (eg tortillas and crackers)
  2. Precooked lentils, beans, tinned hummus
  3. Sardines and ravioli
  4. Quick-cook pasta, rice, instant mashed potatoes
  5. Prepared blueberry, rosehip soup, energy bars
  1. Woollen clothes
  2. Sleeping bags
  3. Candles and tea lights
  4. A radio powered by batteries, solar cells or winding
  5. A list of important telephone numbers
  6. A mobile phone charger that works in the car

5-21-18 Gun owner or not, Americans agree on many ways to limit gun violence
Deepest divides are over assault weapons and guns in schools. Despite a public debate that grows more fractious with every school shooting — from Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., to Parkland, Fla., and the latest deadly attack May 18 in Santa Fe, Texas — Americans actually agree on gun policy to a surprising extent. According to a new survey of more than 2,100 people, majorities of both gun owners and nonowners support 15 potential gun restrictions or regulations, researchers report online May 17 in the American Journal of Public Health. “There’s much more agreement than one would think given the rhetoric and the fighting,” says David Hemenway, an expert on violence prevention at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Two new questions in the survey, the third conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, give a glimpse into where Americans draw their battle lines. While more than 80 percent of gun owners and nonowners agreed on safe-handling tests for carrying concealed weapons, they disagreed on allowing those legally concealed guns onto school grounds. That idea got a thumbs-up from nearly 43 percent of gun owners but only 19 percent of nonowners. (Webmaster's comment: The blood-bath will continued as long as we allow the ownership of semi-automatic weapons!)

5-21-18 French Muslim student Maryam Pougetoux hits back over headscarf claims
A French student union leader who has been accused by ministers of using her headscarf for political gain has hit back, calling the claims "pathetic". France's interior minister has personally criticised Maryam Pougetoux, who is Muslim, for being interviewed while wearing her headscarf. "It's my faith," the student told Buzzfeed News, adding: "[My hijab] has no political function." Ms Pougetoux, 19, is the president of the student union at Paris's Sorbonne. She appeared in a documentary talking about student protests against the French president's educational reforms while wearing a hijab, or Muslim headscarf. The French Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa said it was a "form of promotion of political Islam", adding that the students' union Unef "should tell us what values it wants to promote, clearly and coherently". Meanwhile, Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said Ms Pougetoux's appearance in a hijab was a "provocation" that he found "shocking". Wearing the Muslim headscarf was banned in French schools and some other public buildings in 2004 but it remains legal in universities. Ms Pougetoux has also been the target of abuse on social media and said she had received "hate messages" after her phone number was shared online. She told Buzzfeed she felt "fear" and that she had to be "careful" in public "because I did not know what could happen". The student union has said that Ms Pougetoux is a victim of "racist, sexist and Islamophobic hatred".

5-20-18 Texas shooting: Houston police chief 'hits rock bottom' on gun reform
The police chief of Houston says he has hit "rock bottom" over failure to enact gun reforms after a school shooting in nearby Santa Fe on Friday left 10 dead. Chief Art Acevedo wrote on Facebook that he had "shed tears of sadness, pain and anger" over the shooting. He condemned elected officials who "called for prayers, and will once again do absolutely nothing". The shooting was the latest in a series of deadly incidents across the US that has reignited debate about gun control. Chief Acevedo runs the police department of America's fourth most populous city, Houston, which lies nearly 40 miles (64 km) north-west of Santa Fe. His comments come as more details emerged about the attack. Police now say eight students and two teachers were killed when another student opened fire in an art class shortly before 08:00 (13:00 GMT) on Friday at the Santa Fe High School. Thirteen others were wounded in the attack, with two in critical condition. Among the dead are a Pakistani exchange student and a substitute teacher. Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, has been charged with murder after surrendering to police. He later admitted "to shooting multiple people". He allegedly used a shotgun and a revolver taken from his father, who legally owned the weapons. It was the fourth deadliest shooting at a US school in modern history, and the deadliest since a student opened fire in February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people. The Florida attack spawned a nationwide youth-led campaign for gun control, and a series of proposed changes, including moves to ban so-called bump stocks used in last year's Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 concert-goers. (Webmaster's comment: And still we've done nothing!)

5-18-18 How America normalized the murder of schoolchildren
Don't call them "mass shootings." They are unfathomably more monstrous and devastating than that impersonal, quasi-industrial language suggests. fOr some time now it has been obvious that our language is not up to the task of describing current events. Perhaps the most obvious and dispiriting example is the more or less ubiquitous use of the phrase "mass shooting" to refer to massacres such as those that have taken place recently in Nevada, Florida, and now Texas, where at least 10 people were killed on Friday morning at a high school near Houston. When a euphemism suddenly appears and finds itself universally adopted, it is always worth asking what it is meant to conceal. The earliest use of the phrase "mass shooting" I can find appears in a volume of the Congressional Serial Set from 1920. It is part of a translation of a Bolshevik radio broadcast. The most striking feature is the combination of words "mass shooting should be applied," which suggests that we are talking about an impersonal, even a quasi-industrial process. It is about as bloodless a description of cold-blooded slaughter as one can imagine. It is also, of course, Leninist propaganda. It is curious that its language should be echoed, right down to the extraordinarily inapt use of the word "situation," in the initial "statement" — itself an especially noxious example of circumlocution, but you would be hard pressed to think of an acceptable all-purpose substitute for this genre of communiqué — offered by a representative of Santa Fe High School on Friday. Our eyes are so accustomed to skimming documents of this sort that it is easy to forget just how ludicrous they actually sound. Here we have acts of almost unimaginable savagery reduced to a vague "incident," another "situation" that has mysteriously come into being. The words are dehumanizing to an extent that is almost impossible to convey. A person, or perhaps an animal, might be described as "active," but situations and incidents cannot be. Nor in any case is "active," which simply means engaged or ready to engage in some unnamed activity, anything like the right word for describing mindless violence. Goodness knows what is being papered over by "contained. It is difficult to fault whoever is tasked with preparing this worthless account; he or she did not invent this mystifying double-speak, but if examples of this sort of thing are never discussed or criticized for their disfiguring effect upon our ability to see events clearly, I cannot help but think that the normalization of murder will become inexorable. (Webmaster's comment: Let's call it what it is: MASS MURDER OF SCHOOL CHILDREN!)

5-18-18 Santa Fe High School: Up to 10 dead in shooting
Between eight and 10 people have been killed in a shooting at a Texas high school, say police. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez told reporters the majority of the dead at Santa Fe High School were students. A student was held after the attack. Police said explosive devices were found at the school, 40 miles (65km) south of Houston, and off-campus. The death toll makes this the deadliest school shooting since the one in February at Parkland, Florida. Sheriff Gonzalez told reporters his officers were tackling a "multiple-casualty incident", but the final number of dead is unclear. He earlier tweeted: "An injured police officer is being treated, the extent of his injuries are unknown." Several students described hearing a fire alarm go off shortly before 08:00 local time. It is not clear how the alarm was activated. One witness told KTRK-TV the shooting happened in her art class, and that one person shot was a girl. "There was someone that walked in with a shotgun and started shooting," the student said, "and this girl got shot in the leg." She said that she did not get a look at the shooter, because she ran to hide. One 10th grader told networks she had an asthma attack while hiding in the woods. News helicopters filmed students emptying their backpacks in front of armed officers in a field outside the school.

5-18-18 Santa Fe High School: 'Multiple fatalities' reported in shooting
Multiple fatalities are being reported in a shooting at a Texas high school, which is on lockdown. One person is in custody in relation to the attack at the Santa Fe High School, about 40 miles (65 km) south of Houston, according to school officials. The school district has confirmed people were injured in an "active shooter" incident as classes began. It is unclear if the attacker was a student. Police have not yet confirmed any fatalities. News helicopters filmed students emptying their backpacks in front of armed officers in a field outside the school. A bomb squad is currently on scene, and several helicopter ambulances have flown victims to a nearby hospital. The sheriff of Harris County, the largest county in Texas, is at the scene and has tweeted his officers are responding to the "multiple-casualty incident" Federal officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are also helping the investigation. (Webmaster's comment: He we go again! Thank you for giving us so many guns so we can kill each other!)

5-18-18 Estonia's Kanepi town adopts cannabis leaf flag after online poll
An Estonian town has taken a cannabis leaf as the symbol in its new flag following an online poll. Kanepi, a south-eastern town and region, derives its name from the Estonian word for marijuana, "kanep". Residents traditionally grew marijuana and hemp to turn into goods such as cloth, oil, and rope. However January's poll has generated controversy because the area has a population of fewer than 5,000 but there were 15,000 votes. Some 12,000 of the votes cast were for the cannabis symbol. The chairman of the town council, Kaido Koiv, said the decision was the result of a "very democratic" process, Reuters reported. At a town council meeting on Thursday, the local government narrowly approved the decision to adopt the flag: nine members of the council voted in favour of it with eight against. The municipality was created last July through the merger of three previously separate districts and residents were given the chance to vote on a new symbol to represent the district. The possession of small quantities of marijuana for personal use in Estonia is a crime punishable with a fine.

5-18-18 All Chile's 34 bishops offer resignation to Pope over sex abuse scandals
All of Chile's 34 Roman Catholic bishops have offered Pope Francis their resignations in the wake of a child sex scandal and cover-up. They asked forgiveness from victims and the Church for their "grave errors and omissions". It was not immediately clear whether the Pope had accepted the resignations. He had been criticised in Chile for his decision to ordain a bishop who is accused of covering up sexual abuse committed by a priest. He said in January that he felt "pain and shame" over the scandal, which has rocked the Catholic Church in Chile. The bishops offered their resignation by letter after three days of crisis talks at the Vatican, during which the Pope handed them a 10-page document accusing Chile's Church hierarchy of negligence in sex abuse cases. The bishops wrote that their individual futures were in the Pope's hands, and if he did not accept their resignations, they would "continue doing our pastoral work". "In communion with (the Pope) we want to re-establish justice and contribute to repairing the damage caused," they wrote. Bishop Juan Barros, who Pope Francis appointed three years ago, is accused of using his position in the Catholic Church to try to block an investigation into the actions of his mentor, Catholic priest Fernando Karadima. Fr Karadima was an influential priest who was found guilty by the Vatican of sexually abusing young boys and was ordered to do penance. Bishop Barros has repeatedly offered his resignation to the Pope. It has been rejected several times as he was believed to be innocent of the accusations, but this time it is thought the resignation will be accepted. On Thursday three other bishops offered their resignations ahead of Friday's statement from all the bishops.

5-18-18 Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA's first female director
The US Senate has approved the CIA's first female director, despite her role in the spy agency's post-9/11 interrogation programme. Gina Haspel's confirmation in a 54-45 vote follows a partisan fight among senators about the CIA's Bush-era use of techniques such as waterboarding. Ms Haspel, a CIA veteran, once oversaw a so-called black site in Thailand after the 11 September 2001 attacks. The former CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, left to become US Secretary of State. Republican Senator John McCain - who was tortured during his more than five years in a Vietnamese prison - had earlier announced his opposition to US President Donald Trump's nominee. On Thursday, six Democrats crossed party lines to vote in her favour. One of them, Virginia Senator Mark Warner, said Ms Haspel had told him the agency should never have resorted to so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. He said she had pledged never to use such methods even if the president demanded it. "I believe she is someone who can and will stand up to the president, who will speak truth to power if this president orders her to do something illegal or immoral, like a return to torture," he said in a speech before the vote. Two Republicans - Jeff Flake and Rand Paul - voted against Ms Haspel, meaning she would not have been confirmed without support from Democrats. (Webmaster's comment: Talk is cheap.The bottom line is she should have said no back in 2011 and she didn't.)

FEMINISM

5-24-18 Sweden approves new law recognizing sex without consent as rape
Sweden has passed a new law saying that sex without consent is rape, even when there are no threats or force involved. The new law, due to come into effect on 1 July, says a person must give clear consent, verbal or physical. Prosecutors will no longer need to prove violence or that the victim was in a vulnerable situation in order to establish rape. Activists have welcomed the changes but critics say the law will not increase the number of rape convictions. With the new legislation, approved in parliament by 257 votes against 38, Sweden joins other European countries like the United Kingdom and Germany where sex without consent is considered rape. It says the lack of consent is enough to constitute a crime. It is "based on the obvious: sex must be voluntary", the government said when the legislation was proposed. The approved text stops short of making expressed consent a condition for sex but states that passivity is not a sign of agreeing to sex. "If a person wants to engage in sexual activities with someone who remains inactive or gives ambiguous signals, he or she will therefore have to find out if the other person is willing." Under the previous legislation, prosecutors had to prove that the perpetrator had used violence or that the victim had been exploited in a vulnerable condition, such as under the influence of alcohol, in order to secure a rape conviction. The law introduces two new offences, negligent rape and negligent sexual abuse, carrying a maximum prison term of four years. "The negligence aspect focuses on the fact that one of the parties did not participate voluntarily," the government said, adding that it would be possible to convict more people of sexual abuse.

5-24-18 Boko Haram crisis: Amnesty accuses Nigeria troops of rape
Nigerian soldiers have raped women and girls who fled the insurgency by militant Islamist group Boko Haram, Amnesty International has said. Troops separated women from their husbands and raped them, sometimes in exchange for food, in refugee camps, the rights group added. Thousands of people have also starved to death in the camps in north-eastern Nigeria since 2015, Amnesty said. Nigeria's military has dismissed the allegations as malicious and false. "These false reports, which are capable of derailing the good work being done by our patriotic and selfless soldiers, must stop," the military said in a statement. Troops have been battling the insurgents since 2009 in Borno and other north-eastern states. More than 30,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and about 1.8 million people have fled their homes. The military has repeatedly been accused of carrying out atrocities, and the US, during the presidency of Barack Obama, refused to sell weapons to Nigeria, citing concerns about the military's human rights record. However, the Trump administration has decided to press ahead with the sale of military aircraft and weapons, which Nigeria sees as vital to defeat the insurgents. In its report, They betrayed us, Amnesty recorded the testimony of a 25-year-old woman who said a soldier raped her while she was pregnant. "He knew I was five or six months pregnant. He said he saw me three times before. He didn't offer me any food, he called me and I ignored him but on the third day, he forced me to a room and raped me," she said.

5-24-18 Stormy Daniels given key to the city of West Hollywood
The California city of West Hollywood has proclaimed 23 May Stormy Daniels Day. In a ceremony at the Chi Chi La Rue sex shop, West Hollywood granted the adult film star the key to the city. Ms Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, says she had an affair with President Donald Trump over a decade ago, and has sued him over a non-disclosure agreement about the relationship. The president denies the affair. "In these politically tumultuous times, Stormy Daniels has proven herself to be a profile in courage by speaking truth to power even under threats to her safety and extreme intimidation from the current Administration. Today at 4PM in front of Chi Chi LaRue's, we'll be presenting a City Proclamation and Key to the City to Stormy in recognition of her leadership in the #RESIST movement. Today is officially "Stormy Daniels Day" in the City of West Hollywood - the Epicenter of the Resistance." West Hollywood Mayor John Duran and members of the city's council gave Ms Daniels the key to the city in a ceremony on Wednesday. "This community has a history of standing up to bullies and speaking truth to power, and I'm so very, very lucky to be a part of it," she reportedly said. Ms Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, also attended, and reportedly praised his client's courage. "This woman has a degree of fortitude that most of us can only dream about," he said, calling himself "blessed" to work with her.

5-24-18 Irish abortion referendum: The people travelling #HomeToVote
Irish voters from around the world are returning to cast their ballots in Friday's referendum on whether or not to repeal the country's Eighth Amendment. That clause in the Irish constitution in effect outlaws abortion by giving equal rights to the unborn. The #HomeToVote hashtag has seen a flurry of activity in recent days, as men and women share their journeys home. From car shares, to offers of beds for the night, the movement has been propelled by social media. A similar movement also took off ahead of the 2015 vote that legalised same-sex marriage. People on both sides of the argument are travelling back to vote, but the movement has been spearheaded by the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign - a pro-choice group that believes some 40,000 people who recently left Ireland could be eligible to vote. The Eighth Amendment came into being after a 1983 referendum, so no-one under the age of 54 has voted on this before. For many, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to have their say on Ireland's abortion laws. Karen Fahy, 26, and 24-year-old Maria Mcentee are going back from London to vote against the change. They argue that young women opposed to abortion have been stigmatised for their views in the run-up to the referendum and believe many others like them have kept their opinions quiet. "A lot of people don't want to get involved in the polarising debates online," Maria says. "But you can kind of infer who is voting no, because they'll be the people who don't have repeal stickers on their picture or post things about repeal." The 24-year-old said she had always been "a bit indifferent" to the abortion issue until she saw a campaign video showing a procedure. Currently living in the UK where abortion is legal (except in Northern Ireland), Karen says she has concerns about the proposal presenting abortion as "the first and only choice" for women with unplanned pregnancies. "I don't want to see that coming to Ireland, and I think we can do a lot better," she says. "We should be investing and providing support for women in crisis pregnancies." "In those very difficult situations when there's a very severe disability, we should provide more child benefit and support women in education." Abortion is only currently allowed in Ireland when the woman's life is at risk, and not in cases of rape, incest or foetal-fatal abnormality (FFA).

5-24-18 Italy student flies home from Pakistan after forced abortion
A student has returned to Italy after accusing her family in Pakistan of luring her home to terminate her pregnancy. The 19-year-old, named Farah, had been studying in Verona when she became pregnant a few months ago. Her family took her back to Pakistan in February and later she appealed to friends for help, saying her baby had been aborted against her will. She was finally rescued by Pakistani police in Islamabad last week. She arrived at Milan's Malpensa airport, having been looked after for several days at the Italian ambassador's residence in the Pakistani capital. She is due to discuss her ordeal with police in Verona. "They sedated me, tied me to a bed and forced me to have an abortion," said Farah of her family, in one of the messages published by Italian media. Farah's story emerged weeks after the death of an Italian woman in Pakistan amid reports that she may have been murdered by relatives in an honour killing. Friends in the city of Brescia, to the west of Verona, said Sana Cheema, 26, had wanted to marry a Pakistani-Italian man in Italy despite opposition from her family. "Farah has finally returned to Italy and is now in a safe place," said Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, who praised the collaboration of the Pakistani authorities in securing her safety.

5-23-18 Stacey Abrams is first black female nominee for governor
A former Georgia lawmaker and author has taken a major step towards becoming the first ever African-American female governor of a US state. Stacey Abrams won the Democratic Party primary on Tuesday, telling voters that trying to "convert" Republicans into Democrats had previously failed. A Democrat has not held the red state's governor's mansion since 2003. Ms Abrams, 44, will face a Republican candidate in the high-stakes mid-term contest in November. Lt Gov Casey Cagle won the Republican primary on Tuesday, and will face Georgia's secretary of state Brian Kemp in a run-off on 24 July to decide her eventual opponent. If elected in the deeply conservative state, Ms Abrams would become the first woman and the first person from an ethnic minority to lead the southern state. A number of women battled for and won their Democratic Party mid-term bids in Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas, highlighting the strength of female candidates in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Among the winners was political newcomer Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot, who won a Kentucky primary for a seat in the US Congress. "It's more, this time, this climate, right now," Ms McGrath told CNN before her win against Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. "It's very clear that people are looking for more women." The US currently has six female governors. Ms Abrams prevailed over Stacey Evans, a 40-year-old state representative, with three-quarters of the vote.

5-23-18 From the CIA to the NBA: The women making history this week
It's been a big week in the US for history-making women. From the CIA to the NBA, the buzz is all about female leaders. Here are four developments you might have missed.

  1. New York Stock Exchange has a new (female) boss
  2. Meet the first black woman nominated for governor
  3. America's spy agency is now run by this woman
  4. Is the NBA up for a shot of woman power?
  5. Next target: the White House?

5-23-18 Saudi Arabia widens crackdown on women's rights activists
Saudi Arabia has reportedly arrested three more women's rights activists in a crackdown launched just weeks before a ban on women driving will be lifted. Human rights groups said at least 11 people, most of them women who had long campaigned for the right to drive, had now been detained since last week. Officials have said they are suspected of "suspicious contact with foreign parties" and undermining "stability". Other activists have said the crackdown is "unprecedented" and "shocking". The US has expressed concern about the detentions and said it is "keeping a close eye" on the progress of reforms in the Gulf state, which is a key regional ally. King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, drew widespread praise last year when they announced that the decades-old ban on women driving would end on 24 June. Saudi women's rights activists, including those who have been imprisoned for defying the ban, celebrated the decision. But they also vowed to continue campaigning for the end of other laws they consider discriminatory. Women must adhere to a strict dress code, be separated from unrelated men, and be accompanied by or receive written permission from a male guardian - usually a father, husband or brother - if they want to travel, work or access healthcare. During an interview with CBS News in March before a trip to the US, the crown prince stated: "Saudi women still have not received their full rights. There are rights stipulated in Islam that they still don't have. We have come a very long way and have a short way to go." (Webmaster's comment: Another barbaric nation still in the dark ages!)

5-22-18 McDonald's workers make sexual harassment complaints
Ten workers at McDonald's fast food franchises in the US have filed complaints of sexual harassment against the firm. The female workers, one of whom is 15 years old, allege groping, propositions, indecent exposure and lewd comments. McDonald's said it takes such allegations "very seriously" and that its franchises should do the same. Similar harassment claims were lodged against McDonald's two years ago. The latest complaints, which were filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, were brought on behalf of the workers by the campaign group The Fight for $15. It says that the workers - based in cities such as Miami, Los Angeles and Detroit - were ignored or mocked when they reported instances of sexual harassment to their managers. Some also claimed to have met with retaliation, including being sacked, The Fight for $15 said. In one example, Breauna Morrow, a 15-year-old cashier in St Louis, said that she had been "repeatedly harassed" by a co-worker using "graphic, sexual language". However, when she reported the incident her "supervisors did nothing". "I know I'm not the only one and that's why I'm speaking out, so others don't have to face the harassment I've gone through," Ms Morrow said. In another incident, an employee said she had reported that a co-worker at a New Orleans outlet had groped her. However, instead of taking action, her managers mocked her and told her "she was probably giving the worker 'sex appeal'". The complaints name both McDonald's franchisees and the company itself. However the company views its franchisees as independent business owners. A McDonald's spokeswoman said: "There is no place for harassment and discrimination of any kind in our workplace.

5-22-18 Teaching boys not to 'stalk for love'
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Right? That is the mantra we are taught as children and teenagers. It is the story arc for almost any romantic comedy ever made - Boy meets Girl. Girl rejects boy. Boy pesters girl in evermore inventive ways until she gives in and they live happily ever after. It's been called the 'stalking for love' trope. But maybe there's a time and place for perseverance, and it's not when asking out a girl - that is what one aunt is teaching her teenage nephew in the US. Her message gained extra potency after a school shooting which killed 10 in Santa Fe, Texas, USA on Friday. The mother of 16-year old victim Shana Fisher told media her daughter had "endured four months of problems" from the shooter and publicly rejected him days before the attack. Many on social media are now debating how girls can respond to repeated romantic approaches or harassment from boys or men, and how boys should cope with unrequited love. In a tweet shared almost 130,000 times, @adigoesswimming explained a conversation she had with her nephew after a girl turned him down. "You know what do to now, right?" she asked him. "I know, I know, keep trying," he replied. "No. Leave her alone. She gave you an answer," his aunt responded. @adigoesswimming then explained her nephew was shocked, and no-one had ever told him that before. "Teach. Your. Boys," she concluded.

5-22-18 Australian archbishop Philip Wilson guilty of concealing child sex abuses
An Australian court has found a Catholic archbishop guilty of concealing child sexual abuse in the 1970s. Philip Wilson, now archbishop of Adelaide, becomes the most senior Catholic in the world to be charged and convicted of the offence. He was found to have covered up the abuse of altar boys by a paedophile priest colleague in New South Wales. During his trial he denied being told about the abuse by some of the victims. Wilson will be sentenced in June and faces a maximum two-year jail term. Last month, Wilson told the Newcastle Local Court he had no knowledge of priest James Fletcher's actions, which took place when he was an assistant priest in Maitland, 130km (80 miles) north of Sydney. Fletcher was later convicted of nine child sexual abuse charges in 2004, and died in jail in 2006. One of his victims, former altar boy Peter Creigh, told the court he had described the abuse to Wilson in detail in 1976, five years after it took place. Magistrate Robert Stone rejected Wilson's claims that he had no memory of the conversation, and said he had found Mr Creigh to be a reliable witness. The priest knew "what he was hearing was a credible allegation and the accused wanted to protect the Church and its reputation", Magistrate Stone said. Another victim, who cannot be named, told the court he disclosed the abuse in the confessional box when he was 11 years old. He said Wilson told him he was telling lies and to recite 10 Hail Mary prayers as punishment. (Webmaster's comment: Blame the woman, blame the child, it's the same old male response to male brutality. Wilson should have gotten 20 years, not 2!)

5-22-18 New York Stock Exchange appoints first female leader
The New York Stock Exchange has appointed its first female leader more than two centuries after it was established. Stacey Cunningham will be elevated to the leadership role from her current position of chief operating officer. Her appointment means that both NYSE and the technology-focused Nasdaq exchange will now be run by women. Ms Cunningham replaces Thomas Farley, who had run America's best-known stock exchange since 2013. She began her career at JJC, later part of Bank of America Securities and held senior positions at Nasdaq before taking up roles at the NYSE. But in an interview last year with the Financial Times newspaper she said she first "fell in love" with the trading floor during a summer internship while studying engineering at university. She also compared her experiences share dealing with her other passion, cooking. Ms Cunningham spent nine months mid-career studying culinary management, including a stint in a New York restaurant. She told the Financial Times the environments were similar: "The way you interact with your co-workers during stress - everyone knows not to take it personally, for the most part. "On the floor you might in the heat of the moment be aggressively fighting over a trade, and at the end of the day go grab a beer together." Adena Friedman became chief executive of the Nasdaq, which is dominated by technology companies, in January 2017. However, the NYSE and Nasdaq no longer dominate trading the way they used to. The rise of electronic trading has reduced the proportion of share trading business that goes through the two exchanges, which are often rivals competing for new listings such as Spotify and Snap, both of which floated on the NYSE.

5-21-18 Janet Jackson rails against abuse in awards speech
Janet Jackson made her stance on the #MeToo movement clear as she won the Icon prize at the Billboard awards. "I believe that, for all of our challenges, we live at a glorious moment in history," she said. "At long last, women have made it clear that we will no longer be controlled, manipulated, or abused. "I stand with those women and with those men equally outraged by discrimination, who support us in heart and mind." The singer, whose 1986 breakthrough album Control, dealt with themes of feminism and taking charge of her own identity, has previously sung about domestic abuse on songs like What About and Lessons Learned. The 52-year-old was the first black woman to receive the Icon Prize, as Bruno Mars pointed out while welcoming her to the stage. "The name Jackson represents artistic genius and iconic performance," said Mars. "The Jacksons are music royalty and the first family of entertainment. She is an activist. She's a humanitarian. She's a powerful woman."

5-20-18 The fight to keep abusers from hurting their children
Domestic violence victims often have trouble keeping their children away from their abusers. After 15 years of estrangement following the birth of her son, Paulette found her ex, Steve, creeping back into her life. Steve used kind gestures: buying her flowers, cooking for her and her son, Luke, and fixing up her kitchen and patio. Eventually, Steve succeeded in getting Paulette to let her guard down and to fall in love with him. Months later, in August of 2015, Paulette and Steve were married. But Paulette quickly learned that Steve wasn't all romance — in fact, he was controlling, erratic, and violent. That October, Luke came to his mom's defense after Steve yelled at her and told his dad to get off the property, according to police records. Suddenly, Steve attacked Luke and choked him in their front yard. Paulette called the police immediately and filed a report. Steve was removed from their home that evening by police officers. From there, Paulette and Luke obtained an emergency protective order. (All names have been altered in this story in order to protect the privacy of the victims.) While going through the divorce in 2016, Paulette received an unexpected phone call from two women — both were in the midst of custody battles with Steve. Because of his violent history, the women didn't feel like Steve should have access to their children. Paulette knew that the courts didn't work together to corroborate past histories or provide legal information to survivors who have been abused by the same person. Instead, she coordinated with the women to ensure that all of their children were kept safe. "I grew my bond with the ladies so tight that I feel like if he takes them to court, he's taking me to court," Paulette says. "We all feel safer knowing that we're all together and that we know the same abuses, his background, and how he uses the system to victimize us." While Paulette never had to legally fight Steve for custodial rights of Luke, the other women Steve abused did — and stories like theirs are not rare. Abusers like Steve try to regain control by suing for custodial rights, a common occurrence which Jennifer Leeann Hardesty, a professor at University of Illinois and domestic violence expert, says can lead to "coercive control." Coercive control is not just physical violence; it includes harmful tactics like stalking and mental, emotional, financial, and legal abuse, which can have long-lasting effects on survivors and their children. Oftentimes, abusers will use their custodial rights to harass or control the non-offending parent by attacking their parental capabilities or by hurting or manipulating the child (i.e. by telling them that their mother is a bad person, or threatening to kill their mother or stepparents).

5-20-18 Saudi Arabia women's driving activists 'targeted in smear campaign'
The woman behind the movement to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia says she and her fellow activists in the kingdom are being targeted in a smear campaign. Saudi native Manal al-Sharif said she has been receiving death threats online ahead of the ban's removal. She was speaking after several activists in the kingdom were arrested. They have been accused of being "traitors" and working with foreign powers - charges Amnesty International called "blatant intimidation tactics". The group is accused of "contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country's stability and social fabric", the human rights group said. Manal al-Sharif, who is currently living in Australia, said the "organised defamation campaign" targeting the activists was similar to the campaign that targeted the movement in 2011. The ban is due to be lifted on 24 June. Seven people - men and women - were arrested earlier this week. They are believed to include Loujain al-Hathloul, a well-known figure in the campaign for women's driving rights. Ms Hathloul has been detained previously, including once in 2014 when she attempted to drive across the border from the United Arab Emirates. She served 73 days at a juvenile detention centre as a result, and documented many of her experiences on Twitter. Amnesty said it believes that women's rights activists Eman al-Nafjan, Aziz al-Yousef, Dr Aisha al-Manea, Dr Ibrahim al-Modeimigh, and Mohammad al-Rabea have also been arrested. Saudi Arabia's laws require women to seek male permission for various decisions and actions, and that extends to the ban on women driving. Previously, that meant that families had to hire private drivers to transport female relatives.

5-19-18 Luc Besson: French film director accused of rape
Police in Paris are investigating a rape allegation made against Luc Besson, one of France's best-known film directors. The complaint was filed by an actress at a Paris police station on Friday. "Luc Besson categorically denies these fantasist accusations," the director's lawyer Thierry Marembert told the AFP news agency. "[The complainant] is someone he knows, towards whom he has never behaved inappropriately." Besson, 59, a director, producer and screenwriter, is most famous for directing the 1988 film Le Grand Bleu, as well as Leon, Subway, The Fifth Element and action thriller Nikita. He recently directed the sci-fi epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, starring Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne.

5-19-18 Saudi Arabia detains seven activists ahead of lifting of driving ban
Saudi authorities have arrested seven women's rights advocates, weeks before the kingdom is due to lift its ban on women driving, rights groups say. The reasons for the arrests were not clear, but activists say authorities are attempting to silence the women. The kingdom's state news channel reported that they had been arrested for contacts with a foreign power. Saudi Arabia has strict laws requiring women to seek male permission for various decisions and actions. Seven people in total have been detained, including two male activists. They include Loujain al-Hathloul and Eman al-Nafjan, who have all publicly opposed the driving ban, which is due to be lifted on 24 June. According to Human Rights Watch, both Ms Nafjan and Ms Hathloul signed a petition in 2016 to abolish the male guardianship system, which prevents women from travelling abroad, marrying or obtaining a passport without the permission of a male guardian. Ms Hathloul has been detained twice already, once in 2014 when she attempted to drive across the border from the United Arab Emirates. She served 73 days at a juvenile detention centre as a result, and documented many of her experiences on Twitter. She was detained briefly again in June 2017 when she arrived at Dammam airport, in the east of Saudi Arabia, but was released several days later. The Saudi activist was ranked third in 2015's list of most powerful Arab women in the world, and has appeared alongside high-profile figures, such as the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, at the One Young World summit in 2016 for young leaders. Ms Nafjan also hit the headlines in 2013 when she filmed another female activist driving through the Saudi capital, before she was stopped by police. Ms Nafjan was released, but refused to sign a pledge that she would not drive again.

5-18-18 Catfish suspended over Nev Schulman sexual harassment claims
Production of MTV show Catfish has been suspended following claims of sexual harassment against its host, Nev Schulman. The allegations surfaced after a former participant on the show posted a YouTube video last week claiming she was harassed. Nev denies the allegations, saying what he's been accused of "did not happen". In a statement to the New York Daily News, MTV said it's conducting a "thorough investigation". For those who don't watch the show, Catfish follows Nev Schulman as he investigates people using fake online profiles. He's being accused of inappropriate conduct by a woman who appeared on the cyber-dating series in 2015. In a YouTube video uploaded on 12 May, the woman claims Nev "picked apart" her sexuality as a lesbian and propositioned her for sex. "The behaviour described in this video did not happen," Nev said in a statement. "I'm fortunate that there are a number of former colleagues who were present during this time period who are willing to speak up with the truth. "I have always been transparent about my life and would always take responsibility for my actions - but these claims are false," he added.

5-18-18 All Chile's 34 bishops offer resignation to Pope over sex abuse scandals
All of Chile's 34 Roman Catholic bishops have offered Pope Francis their resignations in the wake of a child sex scandal and cover-up. They asked forgiveness from victims and the Church for their "grave errors and omissions". It was not immediately clear whether the Pope had accepted the resignations. He had been criticised in Chile for his decision to ordain a bishop who is accused of covering up sexual abuse committed by a priest. He said in January that he felt "pain and shame" over the scandal, which has rocked the Catholic Church in Chile. The bishops offered their resignation by letter after three days of crisis talks at the Vatican, during which the Pope handed them a 10-page document accusing Chile's Church hierarchy of negligence in sex abuse cases. The bishops wrote that their individual futures were in the Pope's hands, and if he did not accept their resignations, they would "continue doing our pastoral work". "In communion with (the Pope) we want to re-establish justice and contribute to repairing the damage caused," they wrote. Bishop Juan Barros, who Pope Francis appointed three years ago, is accused of using his position in the Catholic Church to try to block an investigation into the actions of his mentor, Catholic priest Fernando Karadima. Fr Karadima was an influential priest who was found guilty by the Vatican of sexually abusing young boys and was ordered to do penance. Bishop Barros has repeatedly offered his resignation to the Pope. It has been rejected several times as he was believed to be innocent of the accusations, but this time it is thought the resignation will be accepted. On Thursday three other bishops offered their resignations ahead of Friday's statement from all the bishops.

5-18-18 Trump to announce new federal funding curbs on US abortion clinics
The Trump administration is expected to announce that organisations that offer or mention abortion to their patients will lose federal funding. One such organisation, Planned Parenthood, said the proposal was "dangerous" and "outrageous" and would "have devastating consequences". Anti-abortion activists thanked US President Donald Trump for "delivering on a key promise". Anonymous officials have told reporters the policy will be announced later. Clinics that receive federal money from a family planning programme known as Title X will be banned from referring clients for abortion, discussing abortion with patients, or sharing space with abortion providers. If they do so, their funding will be withdrawn. The policy shift mirrors the Mexico City Policy, one of the first actions of the Trump administration, under which organisations abroad that receive US aid for family planning may not perform abortions, even with other funding. Critics called that policy the "global gag law" because organisations felt they could not offer women full advice on family planning - they are calling this the "domestic gag law". Politically, it plants the abortion question in the middle of debates ahead of November's midterm elections. (Webmaster's comment: Trumps white male supremacists movement begins to assert dictorial powers over women again as they have in the past. It's back to back alley abortions.)

5-18-18 On the battle lines over US abortion
Organisations that offer or mention abortion to their patients will lose federal funding under new plans being drawn up by President Trump's team. One clinic and its foes consider what's next in America's polarised abortion debate. Ten women walk along a busy, fluorescent-lit corridor. Undressed from the waist down, they wear big white sheets knotted over their hips, as they make their way to the "relaxation room", a windowless space, equipped with large sofas and a TV. There they wait for their turn to have an abortion. This is Hope Medical Group, a small abortion clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana, serving a 200-mile radius through rural Louisiana, neighbouring Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi. Appointments fill up quickly for mainly first-trimester abortions. Thirty women are scheduled to come in today - and only one fails to show up. "You think this is busy? Wait to see what Saturdays are like," says Kathaleen Pittman, the clinic's administrator. Pittman says she has trouble sleeping at night, but its not because of a guilty conscience. "Hell no, it's because I'm worried about how we can take care of patients with all these new rules they're trying to impose," the 60-year-old Louisiana native says. When Pittman joined Hope in the 1980s, things were different. Back then there were 11 abortion providers across the state. Now there are three to serve 10,000 women, Pittman estimates. The issue is high on the political agenda of the federal government too. In his first year as president, Donald Trump appointed a conservative Supreme Court justice and cut federal aid to international groups that advise on pregnancy termination. And anti-abortion activists have also become louder since the 2016 election. "Let me tell you, things aren't getting any better," Pittman says.

5-18-18 Ireland's time of reckoning
Abortion has always been against the law in Ireland. But that might be about to change. Voters are deciding whether to repeal the controversial Eighth Amendment of the republic’s constitution. It’s the culmination of a decades-long battle. Every day, Amy Dunne had to walk past protesters shouting and jostling for position outside the High Court in Dublin. She was then just 17 and known in the court case and the media only as Miss D. I remember people protesting over me, praying for me, all the time” Her face had to be blurred in newspapers and on television, but there was still a constant click of camera shutters as she arrived. “I remember people protesting over me, praying for me, all the time,” she recalls. The placards outside read “Abortion is forever” and “She’s a child, not a choice”. There were blown-up pictures of a foetus in the womb. It was 2007. Just a few months before the court case, Amy had been looking forward to finishing school and starting a career. She wanted to be an actor, or perhaps a chef. Instead, the most intimate details of her life became a national topic of conversation. Miss D became - without choosing to - another milestone in Ireland’s long battle over whether it should allow abortion. “I felt like I was committing a crime. I was being made to believe… that I was committing a crime.” Repealing the Eighth Amendment - brought in in 1983 - will let the law be changed to allow for abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and where the physical or mental health of the mother is in danger. If the amendment is repealed, the government’s proposed new law would also bring in abortion - effectively “on demand” - up to the 12th week of a pregnancy.

SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

5-24-18 Mystery ozone-destroying gases linked to badly recycled fridges
Last week we learned a chemical that harms the ozone layer is being emitted in Asia – and now it seems sloppy recycling might be partly to blame. That was quick. Just a week after an alarming report that a banned ozone-depleting chemical is being pumped into the air from somewhere in Asia, researchers claim to have found where some of it is coming from. The substance in question is a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) called CFC-11, which was once used in refrigerators. Production of CFC-11 was banned in 2006 under the Montreal Protocol, which regulates chemicals that damage the ozone layer. However, on 16 May Stephen Montzka at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado and his colleagues revealed that the rate of decline in CFC-11 levels had unexpectedly halved since 2012 (Nature, doi.org/cp5g). This suggested someone was making CFC-11, Montzka argued, probably in east Asia. “We just don’t know what is causing this emissions increase,” says Montzka. However, a research paper quietly posted on 7 May, over a week before, may hold some answers. Rather than all of the emissions being due to new and illicit CFC-11 production, some could be coming from the careless recycling of discarded refrigerators in China.

5-23-18 As CO2 increases, rice loses B vitamins and other nutrients
Nations most dependent on rice could see nutrient shortfalls by 2100. By the end of this century, rice may not deliver the same B vitamin levels that it does today. Protein and certain minerals will dwindle, too, new data suggest. Testing higher carbon dioxide concentrations in experimental rice paddies in China predicts losses in four vitamins — B1, B2, B5 and B9 — an international team reports May 23 in Science Advances. Adding results from similar experiments in Japan, the researchers also note an average 10.3 percent decline in protein, an 8 percent fall in iron and a 5.1 percent fall in zinc, supporting previous studies of rice and other crops. (SN: 4/1/17, p. 28). Two bright spots: Vitamin B6 levels remained unchanged and vitamin E increased. In experimental setups nicknamed FACE (free-air CO2 enrichment) in China’s Yangtze River delta and near the Japanese city of Tsukuba, researchers grew a total of 18 varieties of rice. Piping exposed the rice to CO2­ concentrations elevated to 568 to 590 parts per million — higher than the current level of 410 ppm, but in line with the current trend toward 570 ppm in this century. The nine rice varieties from China, from three years’ crops and analyzed in their unrefined brown form, differed in degree of vitamin loss. On average, B1 levels (thiamine) declined 17.1 percent; B2 levels (riboflavin), 16.6 percent; B5 (pantothenic acid), 12.7 percent; and B9 (folate), 30.3 percent.

5-22-18 Why the UK’s plan to tackle air pollution is mostly hot air
A ban on using polluting wet wood isn’t nearly enough to halt the rise in dangerous particulates from trendy wood burners. The UK government has today announced plans to tackle sources of air pollution, including trendy wood-burning stoves, but its Clean Air Strategy fails to address the real problem. While pollution from wood-burning stoves is a relatively new problem for the UK – they became fashionable a few years ago – it has long been a major source of air pollution in countries such as Canada and New Zealand. And the take-home message from their efforts to control the release of harmful particulates in the air is simple: ban wood burning. “There does not seem to be a limit below which there is no impact on health,” says Gary Fuller of King’s College London, whose team has shown that wood burning is now the source of a third of particulate pollution in cities in the UK. As New Scientist reported last year, families with wood burners are likely to be exposed to the highest levels of pollution, as even the best stoves can produce very high levels of indoor pollution. Their neighbours are next in the firing line, given that the particulates produced are not confined to one home. Despite this, the UK government isn’t planning a ban. Instead, it wants “to prohibit sale of the most polluting fuels”, such as wet wood. But even dry wood is highly polluting. What’s more, lots of people with wood burners don’t buy their wood from shops. Instead, they scrounge it from wherever they can, with skips of building waste being one popular source. This is a disaster in pollution terms, as treated or painted wood can release extremely toxic chemicals when burned.

5-21-18 The volcanic eruption on Hawaii is now making an acidic fog
As lava from Kilauea plunges into the Pacific Ocean, clouds of hot acidic steam are being blasted off – and the eruption shows no signs of slowing down. The Kilauea volcano that began erupting on 30 April is becoming increasingly hazardous to residents of Hawaii’s Big Island. It is now creating a haze of hot, acidic fog and blasting out clouds of ash – and there is no end in sight. On Sunday, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported two large explosions of ash from the summit, following an initial large eruption last Thursday. “At any time, activity may again become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles very near the vent,” the Observatory warned. “Communities downwind should be prepared for ashfall as long as this activity continues.” The volcano claimed its first casualty on Saturday. A man’s lower leg was shattered instantly by a projectile from one of the many lava fountains erupting along the East Rift Zone, which divides the summit from the Pacific Ocean. In a further development, a river of molten lava streaming down the East Rift Zone finally reached the Pacific on Sunday. There it released large clouds of hot, acidic steam containing hydrochloric acid, after mixing with sea water. “It’s very hazardous, and the production of this lava haze is quite unpredictable,” says Jessica Johnson at the University of East Anglia, UK, who spent two years in Hawaii studying Kilauea.

5-18-18 Grape skins and stems can be turned into a greener plastic
Someday you might buy wine in a plastic bottle made from the same grapes. Their skins, stems, and seeds can be used to make plastic that lasts longer. Wine production doesn’t use every part of the fruit. It leaves behind a pile of skins, stems, and seeds called grape marc – but we may be able to use that detritus to help produce durable plastics. Grapes are full of a chemical compound called polyphenols, which often act as antioxidants, preventing chemical reactions in which a molecule loses its electrons and a material degrades. In the human body, these reactions can damage cells; they can also make plastics brittle when they’re exposed to light and air for a long time. Most plastics forestall these reactions through stabilisers that contain antioxidant compounds. Audrey Diouf-Lewis at the University of Clermont Auvergne in France, and her colleagues used a polyphenol cocktail extracted from grape marc to stabilise plastics and make them last longer. First, they placed the raw grape marc from Pinot noir grapes into a microwave for 20 minutes and freeze-dried the resulting liquid into a light brown powder full of polyphenols. Then they incorporated the powder into the molecular matrix of melted polypropylene, a plastic used widely in packaging and reusable containers.

5-18-18 Turning carbon dioxide into rock - forever
Nested in the snow-covered mountains of western Iceland, a maze of turbines and pipes belches thick billows of steam. This mammoth structure is responsible for providing power to a country where 100% of the electricity comes from renewable sources. The Hellisheidi power station, 25km (15 miles) outside Reykjavik, is Iceland's main geothermal plant, and is one of the largest in the world. "Do you feel the vibrations beneath us?", says Edda Sif Aradottir, the plant's manager, splashing snow as she stomps her boot on the ground. "It's the steam coming into the turbines". "This is a volcanic area. We harness the volcano's internal heat to generate electricity and provide hot water for the city's heating system, our swimming pools and showers. We Icelanders like our showers really hot!" Hellisheidi is not just an accomplished provider of green energy. It is also the site for a scientific breakthrough; an experiment to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) and turn it into stone - forever. Thus keeping this greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere and putting a dent in global warming. "Mankind has been burning fossil fuels since the industrial revolution and we have already reached the tipping point for CO2 levels", says Dr Aradottir. "This is one of the solutions that can be applied to reverse that". Called CarbFix, the project is pioneered by an international consortium led by Reykjavík Energy, the French National Centre for Scientific Research, the University of Iceland and Columbia University. Since experiments began in 2014, it's been scaled up from a pilot project to a permanent solution, cleaning up a third of the plant's carbon emissions. "More importantly, we are a testing ground for a method that can be applied elsewhere, be that a power plant, heavy industries or any other CO2 emitting source", says Dr Aradottir. With rising concentrations of atmospheric CO2, scientists have been testing "carbon capture and storage" (CCS) solutions since the 1970s. CarbFix, however, stands out among CCS experiments because the capture of carbon is said to be permanent - and fast.

SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

5-24-18 How a change in tactics could help autism research
For some, symptoms of autism can hamper their daily lives, but drugs to mitigate these have floundered during trials. Shafali Jeste has an idea of why. As a child neurologist, I am often faced with a question raised by my patients and their families: why are there no medications to treat core symptoms of autism? To be clear, the goal is for medications that could mitigate those symptoms that hamper the daily lives of some individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), such as cognitive and language delays, social anxiety and isolation, and self-injury. There have been plenty of candidate drugs, but they have fallen by the wayside. So the question might be better put this way: why do clinical trials of medications for autism repeatedly fail? Possible explanations are rooted in the design of trials, namely the way patients are chosen, the way outcomes are measured and how the placebo effect impacts them. Autism can differ considerably from person to person, and those with the condition have a wide range of abilities and challenges, and there is no one cause. Yet clinical trials often, include all individuals, regardless of their particular pattern of symptoms. Because drugs are likely to be effective for certain subsets of people, we must find ways to select subgroups appropriately. When it comes to measuring outcomes, most trials rely on reports from parents and guardians or standardised assessments. These often cannot detect short-term change, which means that a child may actually make meaningful gains in certain areas, but that these gains may not be reflected in the standardised scores. What we need are measures that are sensitive to subtle changes that may even precede or predict changes in behaviour.

5-23-18 Brain implant for OCD surprisingly helps alleviate diabetes too
A person who has a brain implant for OCD has had an unexpected side-effect: better blood sugar control. The finding reveals the brain has a role in diabetes. A surprising finding from a person with severe obsessive compulsive disorder has revealed an unexpected role for the brain’s reward system in diabetes. The finding may lead to a new understanding of the disease and novel treatments. Mireille Serlie of the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and her team made the finding while analysing people who have had electrodes surgically implanted deep in their brains to alleviate their OCD. These implants are offered to people who have failed to benefit from drugs, and whose OCD severely impacts their lives – for example, washing hands for more than 8 hours a day, or being unable to leave home without spending hours checking electricity points are safe. Such implants work by electrically stimulating a person’s nucleus accumbens, a region in the brain that is involved in feelings of reward. Boosting these feelings in people with severe OCD helps reduce compulsions to repeatedly perform particular tasks. But in one person, the implant seemed to have an extra, beneficial side-effect. This person had type-2 diabetes, but ever since he had his implant inserted five years ago, he has needed to take less insulin to control his blood sugar levels. Detailed tests revealed that electrical brain stimulation somehow improved the ability of his body to remove excess sugar from his blood by between 7 to 10 per cent. When they looked at 14 others with OCD implants but who didn’t have diabetes, the team found that electrical stimulation also improved their blood sugar control.

5-23-18 Men more likely to get diabetes if they have overweight wives
In heterosexual relationships, only men are more likely to get diabetes when their partner has a high BMI – perhaps because of gender roles in the home. Having an overweight partner could increase your risk of developing diabetes – especially if you’re a man. Men are six per cent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes with every single unit increase in their female partner’s body mass index (BMI). That’s what Jannie Nielsen at Emory University in Atlanta and her colleagues found when they analysed health data from just over 7,000 people in England. Back when the data started being collected – around the turn of the millennium – the volunteers had an average age of between 59 and 60, and none had diabetes. In the years that followed, those that had overweight partners were more likely to develop diabetes. It is well-known that being overweight can increase a person’s risk of diabetes, but this is the first evidence that having an overweight partner can, too. We tend to form relationships with people of a similar size and shape to us, but we also adopt each other’s habits over time, says Nielson. “We tend to marry people like ourselves.” This means that people who have overweight partners are also likely to be overweight themselves, helping to explain the link between overweight partners and diabetes risk. However, when the team took each person’s own weight into account, there was still a statistical association in heterosexual couples between a wife’s BMI and a husband’s diabetes risk. A man whose partner has BMI of 30 is 21 per cent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than a man whose partner has a BMI of 25, for example.

5-23-18 Seafood-lovers have more sex and take less time to get pregnant
Couples who eat seafood more than twice a week have more sex and get pregnant quicker, a study of 1000 people has found, although the reason why remains unclear. Couples who eat seafood more than twice a week have more sex and get pregnant quicker, a study of 1000 people has found. The study tracked the dietary habits of 500 couples who were trying to get pregnant over the course of a year. By the end of the year, 92 per cent of those who ate more than two portions of seafood a week had achieved a pregnancy. Of those consuming less seafood, 79 per cent of couples were successful. The couples who ate a lot of seafood reported having sex more frequently, but this did not fully explain the shorter time to pregnancy, suggesting that seafood may boost fertility in some other way. “Our results stress the importance of not only female, but also male diet on time to pregnancy, and suggests that both partners should be incorporating more seafood into their diets for the maximum fertility benefit,” says Audrey Gaskins, of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

5-23-18 There’s a new kind of superfood – and it’s not what you think
GM foods like good-gluten bread are going on sale, with a range of health benefits to tempt consumers. Will doubters be won over at last? PAUSE a moment the next time you are munching on French fries in a restaurant. How would you feel if someone told you those fries are healthier than normal thanks to the oil they were cooked in? Now, what if the reason they are better for you is because this oil comes from genetically modified plants? GM foods have been around for decades, but there has been no reason for consumers to be keen on them. Virtually every GM crop on the market is designed to help the farmer who grows it rather than the person who eats it. Now that’s starting to change. The next generation of GM foods comes with added health or flavour benefits. Some are already in the shops and on our plates, and others will be soon. On the menu are a coeliac-friendly wheat that contains only “good” gluten, potatoes that don’t produce harmful acrylamides when fried, rapeseed oil rich in beneficial omega-3, higher fibre white bread and more. It is healthier cooking oils that are already being produced in the biggest quantities, though. Millions will soon be eating them, including people in Europe, where GM foods are widely shunned. But what is really extraordinary is that despite their benefits, no one plans to tell you about them. The first ever GM food to go on sale, the Flavr Savr tomato – launched in 1994 – was designed to stay fresh for longer. This meant it could be picked after ripening and thus tasted better than normal supermarket tomatoes, which are picked green and ripened artificially at the expense of flavour. But it was discontinued after three years because it wasn’t profitable.

5-23-18 Pink pineapples and healthy fries: The new GM foods made for you
From health benefits to increased flavour and longer shelf-life, discover the new generation of GM foods designed with the consumer in mind.

  1. Non-browning apples
  2. Potatoes that don’t bruise
  3. Wheat with “good” gluten
  4. Pink pineapples
  5. Omega-3 rapeseed (canola)
  6. High-fibre white bread
  7. Bloodier oranges
  8. Bananas with a boost
  9. Lower-saturated fat rapeseed oil
  10. Golden rice

5-23-18 We may have got the evolution of our big brains entirely wrong
Many scientists think that our big brains evolved to help us cope with the complexities of social living, but a model suggests it was more to do with finding food and lighting fires. Why are our brains six times as large as those of other mammals with bodies of a similar size? The leading hypothesis has been that our brain expansion was driven by social pressures, by the need to cooperate or compete with others. But instead the key factor may have been “ecological” challenges like finding food and lighting fires. “We were expecting social challenges to be a strong promoter of brain size,” says Mauricio González-Forero of the University of St Andrews in the UK. He has developed a mathematical model of human brain evolution with his colleague Andy Gardner. The pair relied on the basic maths governing how things evolve, which was worked out nearly a century ago. The tricky bit is applying it to something as complex as the evolution of brain size. Until now, the proposed explanations for our large brains have not been placed on a mathematical footing. Models allow you work out the precise consequences of various hypotheses, which can then be compared with the evidence, says González-Forero. “If you don’t have a model, you don’t know what you are testing.” The model starts with the fact that brains require a lot of energy: the body is 4 per cent of our body size but uses 20 per cent of our energy. The model also assumes that bigger brains help animals get more energy.

5-23-18 Nine curious colours that shaped the history of art
“COLOUR has always been there,” says Narayan Khandekar. “It’s fundamental to how we are as people.” Reds, browns and oranges from earthy ochre minerals and black from charcoal appeared on rocks, shells and cave walls as dawn broke on humanity’s artistic temperament. Later came pigments and dyes derived from plants and animals, and a love affair with owning and mastering colour – in art, clothing and other possessions – that continues to this day. That long-term relationship is documented by the Forbes Pigment Collection. Curated by Khandekar, it contains some 3000 pigments, housed mainly at Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum. Together with its associated database, it is a unique reference work spanning 5000 years of human history. The collection was established partly as an attempt to detect cheap imitations of Old Masters, but today it is mainly used by art historians studying the creation of those paintings. Experts can compare the composition of pigments and binding media with reference spectra in the library to understand how a painting was made, and how the depredations of time might have changed the original intention. “It’s as close as talking to an artist from 500 years ago as you’ll get,” says Khandekar. But even before being used to colour a work of art or other artefact, many pigments have come a long way. Each tells a story of light and shade.

5-23-18 Genetic sleuthing again IDs a murder suspect in a cold case
Crime-scene DNA let investigators find distant cousins and fill in the family tree. For the second time in less than a month, DNA probes of family trees in a public database have helped police catch a murder suspect. On May 17, detectives in Washington arrested 55-year-old William Earl Talbott II of Seatac for the 1987 double murder of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg. A new DNA sleuthing technique called genetic genealogy led to Talbott’s capture. His arrest came just weeks after police in California used the new trick to identify a suspect in the Golden State Killer case (SN Online: 4/29/18). Arrests in these two cold cases are probably just the beginning of the technique’s use. Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA-forensics company based in Reston, Va., announced May 8 that it has already used 100 genetic profiles generated from crime-scene DNA to search the public genealogy database GEDmatch. So far, the company has identified about 20 cases in which genetic genealogy alone could pick out a likely suspect. One of those profiles led investigators to Talbott.

5-23-18 Minimally conscious people woken with brain zap by their family
Some people, who have been minimally conscious for years, could respond to questions from their loved ones for the first time after treatment with electricity. PEOPLE in a minimally conscious state have been “woken” at home for the first time, using brain stimulation therapy delivered by their family. Some of those in the trial could respond to questions from their loved ones, having been unresponsive for years. “They were more present… laughing when someone was telling a joke or crying when they heard sad news,” said one family member. “It was nice to see them laugh at funny scenes on the TV.” People with severe brain trauma often fall into a coma. This can improve to a state of minimal consciousness, where they might show fluctuating signs of awareness but remain unable to communicate. In 2014, Steven Laureys at Liège University Hospital in Belgium and his colleagues discovered that people in a minimally conscious state could be temporarily roused using mild electrical stimulation. The people in his trial were able to respond to commands and answer questions for a few hours before drifting back into an uncommunicative state. Last year, Laureys and his team showed they could extend the period of awakening to a week by applying the stimulation over five consecutive days. Now, they have taken the therapy out of the lab and into the patient’s own home by teaching their family members or carers to use the stimulation device.

5-23-18 Changes in your sperm reveal if you’ve had a difficult life
Men carry chemical clues to childhood traumas in their sperm, and these might be passed down to their sons – but we don’t know what effects these have yet. Childhood trauma leaves a lasting mark – in your sperm. A study of 28 men has found that those who had difficult childhoods carry chemical clues to their past in their sperm, and these may be passed down to their sons. Previous studies have found that stress can affect the health and behaviour of mice, and that these changes seemed to be passed down to their offspring, possibly through their sperm. Such transgenerational changes have been controversial. While we know that fathers who smoke tend to have heavier sons, and people whose grandparents experienced famine may live longer, it’s still unclear how such environmental factors could have lasting effects down the generations. One way that this might happen is via microRNAs – short molecules that can affect how genes work – that are passed to the next generation in sperm. To investigate this, Larry Feig of Tufts University, Massachusetts, asked male donors at a fertility clinic to complete a standard survey that assesses childhood traumas, including physical abuse and parental divorce. People who turn out to have experienced four or more of the stressors on the survey list are known to have a higher risk of health problems, including depression and heart disease. When Feig’s team analysed the men’s sperm, they found that those who scored 4 or above on the survey had less of two different types of microRNAs in their sperm. The function of these two microRNAs is not yet known, although in general, microRNAs are thought to play an important role in development while in the womb.

5-23-18 World’s most-spoken languages may have arisen in ancient Iran
About 3 billion people speak Indo-European languages like English and Hindustani, and it seems the first such tongue was spoken south of the Caucasus mountains. Hundreds of languages, from English to Hindustani, are all derived from a single ancestral tongue. Now DNA from ancient bones suggests that the people who spoke this ancient language lived somewhere south of the Caucasus mountains in western Asia. Languages evolve and diversify, much like biological species. Today, about 3 billion people today speak an Indo-European language, such as English, Spanish, Hindustani and Nepali. All these languages are descended from a single common ancestor. This hypothetical ancient language, Proto-Indo-European (PIE), was spoken somewhere in Eurasia some time between about 5500 and 9000 years ago. But linguists are unsure where. There are two leading ideas. The PIE homeland was either on the western Eurasian steppe somewhere north of the Caucasus mountains, or somewhere to the south of those mountains, perhaps in the Fertile Crescent in western Asia. Indo-European languages were ultimately spoken in both regions. This suggests that the ancient inhabitants of the Caucasus mountains, which lie directly between the two proposed homelands, might hold crucial clues. To investigate, Wolfgang Haak at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, and his colleagues examined DNA from 45 ancient humans, who lived in the Caucasus region between about 3200 and 6500 years ago.

5-22-18 Special report: Genetic testing goes mainstream
Consumers are jumping on the genetic testing bandwagon. Many don't know what's in store. In a months-long investigation of consumer genetic testing, molecular biology senior writer Tina Hesman Saey sent a cheek swab or spit sample to eight companies. Once her results were in, she talked to genetics researchers and people who received life-changing news based on their DNA. In this multipart package, Saey explores what you can expect to learn from consumer genetic testing and she reviews her experiences with companies that offer health-focused and ancestry-based readouts. Tina’s takeaways? Answers aren’t simple, boring is not bad and she just might have a little bit of Italian in her. Other Science News staff members round out this package, taking a close look at genetic privacy policies, the usefulness of prenatal genome testing and the risks of direct-to-consumer telomere testing, which is promoted as a way to learn how fast you’re aging. Finally, a video explainer on DNA recombination shows how heredity works.

5-22-18 Consumer DNA testing promises more than it delivers
Here’s what to expect from consumer DNA tests. In Nevada, 40,000 people are stepping up to the cutting edge of precision medicine. They are getting their DNA deciphered by the testing company Helix. The idea of the Healthy Nevada project is to link genetic and medical data with information about the environment to get a clearer picture of all the factors that influence health. The free tests are going like hot cakes. When the Healthy Nevada project launched a similar partnership with 23andMe in 2016, 5,000 residents were offered a free testing kit in exchange for participation in the program. “Within 24 hours, 5,000 people had broken our website and signed up really enthusiastically,” says project head Joseph Grzymski, a computational biologist at the Desert Research Institute’s Reno campus. Another 5,000 kits were offered up. “Within 24 hours that sold out,” Grzymski says, “and we had 4,000 people on a waiting list.” Even without an invitation or a free deal, consumers are flocking to these tests. Last year, more than 7 million people, mostly in the United States, sent their DNA to testing companies, according to industry estimates. “DNA testing is no longer a niche interest, it’s a mass consumer market, with millions of people wanting to experience the emotionally powerful, life-affirming discoveries that can come from simply spitting in a tube,” Howard Hochhauser, interim chief executive of the online geneaology testing company Ancestry, said in a public statement about the company’s 2017 holiday sales.

5-22-18 What genetic tests from 23andMe, Veritas and Genos really told me about my health
What you need to know before signing up for at-home DNA testing. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing first came on the market about a decade ago, but I resisted the temptation to see what health information is hidden in my DNA — until now. As a molecular biology writer, I’ve been skeptical that the field of genetics is mature enough to accurately predict health (see related article). What finally motivated me to send away my DNA in the mail was the fact that companies are now offering much more genetic information. Is more better? Would an expensive test that deciphered my entire genetic instruction manual, or genome, reveal more about me than more limited tests? That’s what I wanted to find out. For health testing, I sent spit samples to 23andMe, Genos and Veritas Genetics, three companies that represent the various levels of DNA testing available to consumers. (I did ancestry testing, too; you can read about my experiences with that in June.) These companies all analyze natural spelling variations in the string of letters that make up DNA. Where most people have, say, a “G,” some might have an “A.” Most of these genetic variants are harmless, but some raise the risk for certain diseases. Where these companies differ is in how much of the genome they assess and whether they look for only a limited set of known variants or can uncover new ones specific to an individual.

5-22-18 Malaria genetics: study shows how disease became deadly
The secrets of how malaria became a human-killer have been revealed by a genetic study. The work, led by researchers from Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge, compared seven types of malaria - tracing the parasite's family tree. This revealed that, about 50,000 years ago, the parasites diverged, with one "branch" evolving into the most deadly human-infecting species. The findings are published in the journal Nature Microbiology. One element of this diversion was a genetic switch that enabled malaria to infect human red blood cells - a "chunk of deadly DNA" that previous studies suggest could yet provide a target for a malaria-blocking vaccine. "Our study has pieced together the sequential series of steps that set up the critical storm. allowing the parasites to not only enter humans but to stay, divide and be transferred by mosquitoes," explained one of the lead researchers, Dr Matt Berriman. According to the World Health Organization, more than 200 million people are infected with malaria every year; the disease caused the deaths of almost half a million people globally in 2016, and the majority of those deaths were children under the age of five. By far the deadliest species of the parasite which causes this global health scourge is Plasmodium falciparum. While this species infects and often kills people when injected through the bite of a female Anopheles mosquito, there are many other related species which infect some of our great ape cousins - chimpanzees and gorillas. To study those, the researchers collaborated with a team caring for injured and orphaned apes in a sanctuary in Gabon. As part of the animals' health checks, veterinary staff take blood samples from them.

5-22-18 How your name shapes what other people think of your personality
Is Hannah nicer than Howard, but worse at her job? People link names with personalities – find out how yours compares and why everybody should be called David. What’s in a name? A lot, apparently. New research suggests that your first name shapes the way other people perceive your age, personality, and how good you are at your job – and the findings could mean some classic psychology experiments were wrong. Leonard Newman at Syracuse University in New York and his colleagues asked 500 college students to rate 400 popular male and female names from the last seven decades. Questions were framed in the form: “Imagine that you are about to meet Samantha. How competent/warm/old do you think she is when you see her name?” When it came to warmth and competence, there was a clear gender effect. Names associated with low competence and high warmth tended to be female, like Hannah, Melody and Mia. Conversely, names associated with high competence and low warmth tended to be male, like Howard, Lawrence and Reginald. “The results reflected gender stereotypes,” says Newman. From across the seven decades, some names were particularly associated with age – for example, Betty and Bruce were consistently perceived as older than Brittney and Brad. “If you give your child a fashionable name for the time, it might date them,” says Newman. “The only way around it is to choose a name that never seems to go out of style, like David or Michael.” Warm and competent names: Ann, Anna, Caroline, Daniel, David, Elizabeth, Emily, Emma, Evelyn, Felicia, Grace, James, Jennifer, John, Jonathan, Julie, Kathleen, Madeline, Mark, Mary, Matthew, Michael, Michelle, Natalie, Nicholas, Noah, Olivia, Paul, Rachel, Samantha, Sarah, Sophia, Stephen, Susan, Thomas, William.

5-22-18 A caterpillar outwits corn defenses by gorging on fattening ‘junk’ food
The crop plants recruit zombie-maker wasps, but one pest has a desperate work-around. Here’s the story of a caterpillar that foils gruesome violence orchestrated by corn. No, that’s not backward. Plants often look helpless to a human, but they fight with smells and other invisible chemistry. A growing body of evidence, for example, shows that plants under attack can waft out scents that attract help, such as tiny wasps that deal a lingering death to leaf-chewing caterpillars. A dream for future farming is to boost such crop powers. Yet a tale, published May 16 in Science Advances, of how Spodoptera littoralis caterpillars can escape a trap set for them by maize plants shows how complex a task that could be. These attackers are “greenish, brownish, ugly caterpillars,” says Ted Turlings of the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, who makes no secret of where his allegiance lies. The caterpillars damage maize, cotton and a variety of other crops in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. But maize fights back, of course. As the caterpillars crunch into a leaf, substances in their spit trigger a burst of furious plant chemistry, which causes the release of certain scents. The first wave of odors from damaged plants, the cut-grass smell, comes just from ripped tissues spilling their innards. Then within hours, maize sends out new scents that can advertise the kind of pests attacking it. “You can actually smell it yourself,” Turlings says. Or at least his trained nose can. (Webmaster's comment: Evolution constantly works for the pests we try to defeat.)

5-21-18 Half of life on Earth has vanished since we arrived on the scene
The biomass of living organisms on the planet has halved since human civilisation began, and humans now outweigh all wild mammals tenfold. The amount of living matter on Earth has fallen by half since the beginning of human civilisation. This is one of the staggering facts from the most comprehensive global census of the mass of living organisms yet done. “Many things did surprise us,” says Ron Milo of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, whose team carried out the analysis. The team define biomass as the mass of carbon in living organisms. This reflects the mass of the molecules of life, such as proteins and DNA, and excludes water – which varies. No one has attempted to do such a comprehensive census of all biomass before. “It’s what you could call a meta-meta-analysis,” says Milo. “It’s based on hundreds and hundreds of papers. We also consulted with many, many experts.” The team concludes that the total biomass on Earth is 550 gigatonnes of carbon (Gt C). For comparison, the water in a relatively small lake like Lake Erie has about the same mass. That overall figure hides many surprises. For starters, biologists tend to think that most of the biomass on the planet is bacteria. “We find it is by far plants,” says Milo. Land plants alone account for 80 per cent of the total. This has a disturbing implication. A 2017 study led by Karl-Heinz Erb of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Austria found that the total biomass of land plants has halved since human civilisation began. So it follows that total biomass has also roughly halved.

5-21-18 Babies should mix with other children to lower leukaemia risk
Cancer researcher Mel Greaves has suggested that a lack of exposure to microbes in a baby’s first year can make children more likely to get a form of leukaemia. Not encountering the right germs during the first year of life may be one of the main causes of the most common form of childhood leukaemia. Mel Greaves, at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, has suggested that acute lymphoblastic leukaemia could be prevented by priming infants’ immune systems by exposing them to harmless microbes. In a review of more than 30 years of research, Greaves has concluded that acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is most likely triggered by a variety of infections in children who are predisposed to the disease because their immune systems have not been properly primed. Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is rare, affecting around one in 2000 children in the UK a year. It is more common in affluent societies, and a wide range of possible triggers have been proposed, from radiation exposure to chemical pollutants. But Greaves thinks the condition is caused by a two-step process of genetic changes that lead children to have abnormally formed immune systems. The first step is a genetic predisposition to acute lymphoblastic leukaemia which, it has been suggested, may be caused by an infant not having the chance to develop their immune system properly. The trigger for the second step might be a common infection, such as seasonal flu. Historical records show spikes in childhood leukaemia can follow six months after flu epidemic peaks.

5-21-18 Think you’re fully alert? You can’t always tell if you’re tired
How safe is it to drive when you haven’t had much sleep? Just like drinking alcohol, it turns out we’re not always a good judge of how mentally impaired we are. How safe is it to drive when you haven’t had much sleep? Just like drinking alcohol, it turns out we’re not always a good judge of how mentally affected we are. In an experiment where people were only allowed to sleep for just five hours a night, for a month, people did not realise that they had become less vigilant. “You’re asking the sleepy brain to tell us how well it is doing,” says Elizabeth Klerman of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “And the brain can’t always self-assess.” The finding emerged as part of a wider study to shed light on the question of what makes us less alert when we have gone without our normal amount of sleep: is it the lack of shut-eye itself or is it being awake for longer than normal? Klerman’s team got seventeen volunteers to follow an artificial schedule based on a 20-hour day, by getting them to live in a windowless, sound-proofed room without phone, TV or internet. Nine of the group had days that were about 15 hours long and nights of 5 hours; this meant their sleep was restricted without them having to be awake longer than normal. The rest acted as controls – to be a fair comparison they also had a 20-hour cycle, but with days of about 13 hours and nights of 7 hours, a similar ratio of wake-to-sleep that most of us get in a 24-hour day. The sleep-deprived group did much worse than the rest on a test of alertness that involves watching a screen and pressing a button whenever a light randomly turns on. “This is the equivalent of slamming on the brakes because there’s a kid in the road,” says Klerman.

5-21-18 Ebola vaccinations begin in Congo
On May 21, nurses began vaccinating people in Mbandaka, the city that became the site of the first urban cases in Congo’s Ebola outbreak last week, as well as in Bikoro, the rural epicenter of the outbreak. Emergency teams responding to the ongoing Ebola outbreak in Congo began on May 21 inoculating those most at risk of contracting the virus: health workers and people who have come into contact with Ebola victims. It’s the first real-world test for an experimental vaccine, rVSV-ZEBOV. In field trials in Guinea and Sierra Leone in 2015, this vaccine effectively protected people from Zaire ebolavirus — the same type of Ebola now circulating in Congo. In the latest outbreak, 51 people have developed cases of hemorrhagic fever consistent with Ebola, and 27 have died. The outbreak is centered in the rural Bikoro region but nearly a handful of cases have been reported in the city of Mbandaka. Using a “ring vaccination” strategy, health care workers are offering shots not just to the people who’ve had contact with Ebola victims, but also to a second ring of people who’ve had contact with the first group. In that way, the World Health Organization and its partners hope to disrupt the chain of transmission. Merck, the company that makes the vaccine, has donated 8,640 doses to the emergency response effort. That’s more than enough for 50 rings of 150 people. Another 8,000 doses are expected to become available soon, according to the WHO.

5-21-18 Ebola outbreak: Experimental vaccinations begin in DR Congo
Health workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have begun an immunisation campaign in an attempt to halt the spread of an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. The experimental vaccine proved effective when used in limited trials during the epidemic which struck West Africa in 2014-16. At least 26 people are believed to have died in the current outbreak. Health workers were among the first to receive the vaccine on Monday. It is an infectious illness that causes internal bleeding and often proves fatal. It can spread rapidly through contact with small amounts of bodily fluid, and its early flu-like symptoms are not always obvious. More than 11,300 people died in the earlier outbreak in 2014-16. At least 45 cases of Ebola have been reported, including three health workers, since the outbreak began earlier this month. The virus has already spread from rural areas to the north-western city of Mbandaka, a major transport hub on the River Congo, where at least four cases have been confirmed. This has sparked fears that the outbreak could reach the capital, Kinshasa, as well as neighbouring countries. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said it has "strong reason to believe that the outbreak can be brought under control". At an emergency meeting, on Friday WHO experts said that "the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) have not currently been met". The vaccine, made by pharmaceutical firm Merck, is not yet licensed, but was effective in limited trials during the West Africa outbreak. Dr Michel Yao, from the WHO, told the BBC that the vaccine had been tested in Guinea and that "almost all of the people who were vaccinated could not get the disease".

5-21-18 Blood from umbilical cord may help fix your brain after a stroke
Ten people have received infusions of umbilical cord blood days after having a stroke, and they seem to have recovered better than would normally be expected. A healing balm for the brain? Infusions of umbilical cord blood seem to help people recover better after a stroke. Strokes occur when blood can’t reach brain cells because of a blocked or burst blood vessel, causing them to rapidly starve and die. Joanne Kurtzberg at Duke University, North Carolina, and her colleagues wondered if young blood might help heal brains that have been damaged in this way. Blood from babies and teenagers has previously been shown to reverse brain ageing in older mice, and there are hints that young blood can also help people with Alzheimer’s disease. To test young blood as a stroke treatment, the team recruited 10 patients between the ages of 45 and 79, and gave them a one-off infusion of blood collected from new-born babies’ umbilical cords. The infusions were given between 3 and 10 days after each person had experienced a stroke. Three months later, all 10 volunteers showed improvements in their speech, vision, and movement, and were more independent in their daily lives. The results should be interpreted with caution because there was no placebo group, says Kurtzberg. However, the participants’ disability test scores improved more than would normally be expected for stroke patients, hinting at a positive effect, she says. This fits with earlier studies in rats, which also found that infusions of human cord blood helped to fix stroke-damaged brains. “The animals recovered quicker, had better survival, and the areas of brain damage were smaller,” says Kurtzberg.

5-20-18 The godfather of sexist pseudoscience
How gender essentialism infiltrated science in the 19th century. In the summer of 1881, Frenchman Gustave Le Bon entered the forbidding Tatras Mountains of southern Poland. A bearded man of 40, Le Bon was a Parisian polymath with an appetite for science, anthropology, and psychology. His mission in Poland was to locate and study the society of Podhaleans living in the Tatras. Using the portable cephalometer he invented years prior, Le Bon hoped to record the skull measurements of these curly blonde-haired, blue-eyed mountain people. Convinced of the relationship between race and intellect, Le Bon suspected that only a superior breed could thrive in the inhospitable Tatras — a race that must have evolved beyond their Polish peasant neighbors. How else could they have built a society on terrain so dangerous that even Russian generals avoided sending troops through the peaks? With his contraption of steel rulers and pressurized screws, Le Bon measured the cranial dimensions of 50 Podhalean men. According to his calculations, their heads were larger than both Polish peasants and Jews. The only population Le Bon determined had more brain mass than the Podhaleans were "elite Parisians," among which Le Bon happened to count himself. Today craniometry is considered pseudoscience. In 19th-century France, however, the measurement of skulls was seen as "so meticulous and apparently irrefutable," that it "won high esteem as the jewel of 19th century science," explains Stephen Jay Gould in his 1980 essay "Women's Brains." As a result, Le Bon earned a reputation as the "father of modern social science." Gould describes Le Bon as a disciple of Paul Broca, the "unquestioned leader" of craniometry, and writes that Le Bon differentiated himself as the "chief misogynist" of Broca's school. While many craniometrists strived to prove the inferiority of non-white races, Le Bon took pride in using his work to denigrate women and dismiss the burgeoning movement for gender-equal education in France.

5-18-18 How to have lucid dreams
Take charge! Tibetan Buddhism, the group of tantric techniques known as milam aim to reveal the illusory nature of waking life by having practitioners perform yoga in their dreams. It's a ritualized version of one of the most mysterious faculties of the human mind: to know that we're dreaming even while asleep, a state known as lucid dreaming. Lucidity (awareness of the dream) is different to control (having power over the parameters of the experience, which can include summoning up objects and people, attaining superpowers and traveling to fantastic worlds). But the two are closely linked, and many ancient spiritual traditions teach that dreams can yield to us with time and practice. How? As a researcher in psychology, I've approached this question scientifically. Despite the long history of lucid dreaming in human societies, it wasn't until 1975 that researchers came up with an ingenious way to verify the phenomenon empirically. The first step was the insight that the muscles of the eyes are not paralyzed during sleep, unlike the rest of the body. Inspired by the work of Celia Green, the British hypnotherapist Keith Hearne reasoned that this should allow lucid dreamers to communicate with the outside world. He had an experienced dreamer spend several nights in a sleep lab, and instructed him to flick his eyes left to right with pre-arranged signs when he finally entered a lucid dream. The volunteer succeeded, and Hearne was able to record the movements — which corresponded with the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep. Many later studies have since replicated these findings. In the study I published with colleagues at the University of Adelaide, the best technique turned out to be something called Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD), originally developed in the 1970s by the American psychophysiologist Stephen LaBerge. It involves the following steps:

  1. Set an alarm for five hours after you go to bed.
  2. When the alarm sounds, try to remember a dream from just before you woke up. If you can't, just recall any dream you had recently.
  3. Lie in a comfortable position with the lights off and repeat the phrase: "Next time I'm dreaming, I will remember I'm dreaming." Do this silently in your mind. You need to put real meaning into the words and focus on your intention to remember.
  4. Every time you repeat the phrase at step three, imagine yourself back in the dream you recalled at step two, and visualize yourself remembering that you are dreaming.
  5. Repeat steps three and four until you either fall asleep or are sure that your intention to remember is set. This should be the last thing in your mind before falling asleep. If you find yourself repeatedly coming back to your intention to remember that you're dreaming, that's a good sign it's firm in your mind.

5-18-18 An AI can now tell how malnourished a child is just from a photo
A company in Kenya has devised a system that uses artificial intelligence to detect a child’s level of malnutrition from a photo, without bulky equipment or examinations. Five children die of malnutrition every minute. Such deaths are preventable, but one of the hurdles to stopping them is accurately identifying those in need. Normally, making the necessary measurements requires bulky equipment and trained specialists. Soon that could all be replaced by a mobile phone. The idea comes from Kenya-based non-profit Kimetrica. They’ve been working on a system that uses artificial intelligence to detect a child’s level of malnutrition from a single photo. The system is called MERON – Method for Extremely Rapid Observation of Nutritional status – which they presented on 15 and 16 May at the AI for Good Global Summit in Geneva. To prove the concept, Kimetrica first developed a prototype for adults. Using a dataset from the University of North Carolina Wilmington consisting of 60,000 photos of faces along with the person’s height and weight, they trained an AI to assess someone’s body mass index and weight category – underweight, normal, overweight, or obese – from their picture alone. Overall, the prototype had an accuracy of 78 per cent, which was enough to convince UNICEF that the project had legs. UNICEF then helped fund a project at Kimetrica to focus on detecting malnutrition in children under the age of 5 in Kenya. But no dataset of Kenyan children along with their weight and height exists. So, at the beginning of this year the team piggybacked on other ongoing health surveys in the country to gather 4,000 new images to train their system.

5-18-18 What we know about the Ebola outbreak, and the vaccine that might help
The first reported case in a big city has health officials worried. Ebola has reemerged. The virus has killed at least 25 people since early April in an ongoing outbreak in Congo. And on May 18, the World Health Organization declared a “high” public health risk in Congo, as well as a “high risk” of the disease spreading to neighboring countries, but stopped short of declaring a global public health emergency. Most of the 43 confirmed and suspected cases reported as of May 18 have been in a rural area called Bikoro, within the same northwest Congolese province struck by the virus in 2014. (A separate, unrelated outbreak in West Africa at the same time made headlines as the deadliest in history). And in May 2017, eight cases were reported in the nearby province of Bas Uélé. But this year is different — for a couple of reasons. As of May 18, four cases have been confirmed in Mbandaka, a riverside city of at least 1.2 million people, raising the risk of the disease spreading. Health officials are also trying out an experimental vaccine this year in hopes of containing the outbreak. “We’ve seen what Ebola can do, but we know what needs to be done,” says WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic. Here’s what we know so far: Details are spotty. A report by the International Red Cross identifies the first suspected case as a policeman in a Bikoro village called Ikoko Impenge. Another 11 family members later fell ill after the policeman’s funeral, and seven of those relatives have also since died. (Because the bodies of Ebola victims remain contagious after death, funerary rituals can be a source of transmission.)

5-18-18 Can a repeat of disastrous Ebola epidemic be averted this time?
The latest outbreak of the deadly virus has spread to a city of a million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But hopes are high disaster can be avoided. EBOLA is the stuff of nightmares. The disease spreads easily and causes bleeding from every orifice; it kills half of those it touches. Four years ago Ebola began a rampage that claimed over 11,000 lives in West Africa and alarmed the world. Health officials were slow to take the threat seriously. Now it’s back. This week Ebola ominously reached a city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Second time around, have we learned the lessons to avert a repeat crisis? Bats are the Ebola virus’s natural host, but it regularly crosses over into chimpanzees and monkeys. That way it can jump to humans who hunt these animals, usually for bushmeat. The virus is very infectious and can be passed on by just a trace of bodily fluids getting into someone’s eyes or mouth. In many parts of Africa, washing of the dead and preparation for burial take place at home, allowing exponential spread. There have been several previous outbreaks, generally affecting remote villages, but the disastrous one that began in 2014 took hold in large urban areas, mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Afterwards there was a consensus that the authorities missed chances to stamp it out early. Part of the problem lay in governments playing things down for fear of deterring tourism and foreign investment. Guinea, where the outbreak started, was worried about an exodus of expats working in its mining industry.

5-18-18 Growing resistance to antifungal drugs 'a global issue'
Scientists are warning that levels of resistance to treatments for fungal infections are growing, which could lead to more outbreaks of disease. Intensive-care and transplant patients and those with cancer are most at risk because their immune systems cannot fight off the infections. Writing in Science, researchers said new treatments were urgently needed. Fungal infections had some of the highest mortality rates of infectious diseases, an expert said. An international team, led by researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Exeter, found a huge increase in resistance to antifungal drugs worldwide over the past 30-40 years.Prof Matthew Fisher, professor of epidemiology at Imperial College London, said this was probably down to farmers spraying their affected crops with the same drugs used to treat fungal infections in patients. The "unintentional by-product of this 'dual use' of drugs in the field and the clinic" was that drugs were no longer working in patients who were unwell, he said. "There are fungi in the air all the time, in every lung-full of air we breathe," Prof Fisher said. "Bodies with a fully functioning immune system do an amazing job of curing the infection - but it can become an invasive fungal infection in others and [this] needs a drug." He said the number of people at risk from fungal infections was rising rapidly as a result of increased numbers: people with HIV, the elderly, patients in hospital. The review said improvements were needed in how existing drugs were used, as well as an increased focus on the discovery of new treatments, in order to avoid a "global collapse" in the fight against fungal infections.

5-18-18 To regulate fecal transplants, FDA has to first answer a serious question: What is poop?
When severe, chronic diarrhea strikes, sometimes the only cure is … more feces. It might seem bizarre, but a transplant of healthy human stool and its bacterial ecosystem can mean freedom from a painful, life-threatening illness. The transplants — called fecal microbiota transplants, or FMTs — are becoming more and more popular. So popular that the stool bank OpenBiome has supplied more than 30,000 stool samples to clinicians and scientists since 2012. Right now, though, the government isn’t quite sure how to regulate fecal transplants. That uncertainty comes from what seems like a simple question: What is poop? Is it a drug? Is it a bodily tissue? Is it a little of both? Then, is the transplant itself a procedure? That’s a whole other regulatory category. Out of concern that regulations would cut out desperate patients or send companies running to more profitable enterprises, FMTs aren’t actually regulated at all. That leads to the potential for unscreened and potentially dangerous fecal samples to flood the market. A group of doctors and scientists from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore have tried to cut through the confusion with a three-track policy plan that would help keep poop transplants clean (as clean as fecal matter gets, anyway), while still allowing patients to get transplants when they need them. The scientists also hope to encourage companies to develop potentially lucrative products for future FMTs — including options that are almost feces-free.

5-18-18 The CDC advises: Don’t swallow the water in a hotel swimming pool
Parasites and bacteria cause most of the swimming-related disease outbreaks. It’s vacation season — time for swimming pools, hot tubs and waterparks. But you might want to think twice before getting wet, says a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From 2000 to 2014, public health officials from 46 states and Puerto Rico reported 493 outbreaks associated with treated recreational water, resulting in more than 27,000 illnesses and eight deaths, according to a report in the May 18 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Hotel pools and hot tubs were the setting for about a third (32 percent) of the outbreaks, followed by public parks (23 percent), club/recreational facilities (14 percent) and water parks (11 percent). Most of the infections were from three organisms that can survive chlorine and other commonly used disinfectants: Cryptosporidium, a parasite that can cause gastrointestinal problems, Pseudomonas, a bacteria that causes swimmer’s ear, and Legionella, a bacteria that causes a pneumonia-like illness. So, what to do? The CDC recommends a few steps before diving in: Don’t swallow pool water. Don’t let children with diarrhea in the water. And use test strips to measure levels of pH, bromine and chlorine in the water. The cleaner the water, the safer to swim.

ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

5-24-18 Chimp evolution was shaped by sex with their bonobo relatives
Some chimpanzee populations gained useful DNA from interbreeding with bonobos, and one may even have become more gentle and “bonobo-like” in its brain structure and behaviour. Humans and chimpanzees might have one more thing in common: they both seem to have benefitted from sex with a closely related species. During the last decade, geneticists have reported that our species interbred with ancient humans including the Neanderthals and Denisovans. They have also found tantalising signs that we benefitted from doing so, gaining DNA that may have boosted our immune systems or made us better able to survive at high altitude or in the frigid Arctic. Now comes evidence that something similar has been going on in chimpanzees, following episodes of interbreeding with their close relatives bonobos during the last 500,000 years. Three of the four subspecies of chimpanzee carry sections of bonobo DNA in their genomes. This prompted Jessica Nye at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain and her colleagues to investigate whether the bonobo DNA has benefitted the chimps. It seems it has. Certain chunks of bonobo DNA are unusually common in chimp populations, suggesting they have spread because they are useful. Different segments of bonobo DNA seem to have been favoured in the different chimp subspecies. That’s a surprise, says Nye. It suggests there is a complex interplay between genetics and the environment each chimp subspecies occupies, meaning each subspecies has gained in a unique way from the bonobo DNA.

5-24-18 Farne Island puffin population drop sparks concern
There are fears puffin numbers in the Farne Islands are on the decline. Initial findings from the latest five-yearly count carried out by the National Trust suggested an overall 12% reduction in breeding pairs. The seabirds, listed as "vulnerable" to extinction, also returned to their breeding grounds about four weeks late due to the prolonged harsh winter. The trust, which has so far surveyed four out of the eight islands, described the findings as "concerning". However, figures from the two largest islands surveyed so far are contradictory, with the population on Brownsman down 42% but Staple showing a 18% increase. The trust, which has been looking after the islands for 93 years, will now be stepping up monitoring of the seabirds to better understand what is going on. Ranger Tom Hendry said: "Initial findings are concerning. "Numbers could be down due to stormy or wetter weather as well as changes in the sand eel population, which is one of their staple foods, or something else altogether."

5-23-18 Loch Ness Monster: DNA tests may offer new clue
DNA sampling is to be used to discover previously unrecorded organisms in Loch Ness. Prof Neil Gemmell, a New Zealand scientist leading the project, said he did not believe in Nessie, but was confident of finding genetic codes for other creatures. He said a "biological explanation" might be found to explain some of the stories about the Loch Ness Monster. The team will collect tiny fragments of skin and scales for two weeks in June. Prof Gemmell, from the University of Otago in Dunedin, said: "I don't believe in the idea of a monster, but I'm open to the idea that there are things yet to be discovered and not fully understood. "Maybe there's a biological explanation for some of the stories." The University of the Highlands and Islands' UHI Rivers and Lochs Institute in Inverness is assisting in the project. After the research team's trip to Loch Ness, the samples will be sent to laboratories in New Zealand, Australia, Denmark and France to be analysed against a genetic database. Prof Gemmell said: "There's absolutely no doubt that we will find new stuff. And that's very exciting. "While the prospect of looking for evidence of the Loch Ness monster is the hook to this project, there is an extraordinary amount of new knowledge that we will gain from the work about organisms that inhabit Loch Ness - the UK's largest freshwater body." The scientist said the team expected to find sequences of DNA from plants, fish and other organisms. He said it would be possible to identify these plants and animals by comparing the sequences of their DNA against sequences held on a large, international database. Prof Gemmell added: "There is this idea that an ancient Jurassic Age reptile might be in Loch Ness. "If we find any reptilian DNA sequences in Loch Ness, that would be surprising and would be very, very interesting." (Webmaster's comment: Maybe Bigfoot will be there too! Nuts!)

5-23-18 US seeks to lift ban on luring bears with doughnuts in Alaska
The US has proposed a plan to reverse Obama-era rules barring certain hunting methods in Alaska, including the use of bait to lure and kill bears. The change would allow hunters to use spotlights to shoot bear cubs inside their dens and hunt black bears with dogs on some Alaskan federal lands. The agency proposed the changes on Monday, and members of the public have until 23 July to comment on the plan. Some environmental groups have called the proposal "inhumane". Alaska allowed the use of bait to lure bears for the first time in 2005 in a bid to boost populations of large animals, such as moose, which are preyed on by bears. This was overturned by the National Park Service (NPS) under the Obama administration in 2015 to avoid altering natural predator-prey dynamics and out of concerns for public safety. But officials in the state say that hunting predators is a necessary part of ensuring successful sport hunting of prey animals like moose and caribou. The new plan would allow wildlife managers in Alaska to decide on permitting hunting methods such as luring bears, with foods like sweets or doughnuts, trapping wolves and their pups inside their dens, as well as using motor boats to hunt swimming caribou. US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's proposal would remove the rules concerning hunting predators to "align sport hunting regulations in national preserves in Alaska with State of Alaska regulations". The Alaska Professional Hunter Association has backed the reversal.

5-22-18 'Living fossil' giant salamander heading for extinction
The world's largest amphibian is in "catastrophic" decline, with possibly only a handful left in the wild. Field surveys carried out over four years suggest the Chinese giant salamander has all but disappeared from its natural habitat. In contrast, millions of the animals live in commercial farms, where they are sold to luxury restaurants. Remaining largely unchanged for 170 million years, this "living fossil" is seen as a global conservation priority. "The overexploitation of these incredible animals for human consumption has had a catastrophic effect on their numbers in the wild over an amazingly short time-span," said study researcher Dr Samuel Turvey of the Institute of Zoology at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). "Unless co-ordinated conservation measures are put in place as a matter of urgency, the future of the world's largest amphibian is in serious jeopardy." The giant salamander, which lives in freshwater rivers, was once common across China. Eating the creature was historically seen as taboo, but, in a reversal of fortunes, the giant salamander is now regarded as a delicacy, despite its status as an endangered species. It is illegal to harvest wild giant salamanders, but commercial breeding farms are booming. The largest can fetch upwards of RMB 10,000 (US $1,500). Field surveys were carried out at 97 different sites in 16 of the country's 23 provinces in what is thought to be the largest wildlife survey carried out in China to date. Giant salamanders were found in wild conditions at four sites, but genetic analysis suggested they were not native to the local environment and had probably been released from commercial breeding farms.

5-21-18 Chinese giant salamanders may already be virtually extinct
Researchers spent four years looking for Chinese giant salamanders and only found 24 – and that’s not even the worst bit of news. The largest amphibians in the world are on the very brink of extinction. Not only have wild populations of Chinese giant salamanders been decimated, it turns out there are five species rather than one, each with a truly minuscule population. Chinese giant salamanders (Andrias davidianus) can grow up to 1.8 metres long. They spend all their lives in mountain streams in their native China. Researchers searched for wild salamanders between 2013 and 2016 in 16 of China’s 23 provinces. It was one of the largest wildlife surveys ever conducted in China. They found just 24 giant salamanders. “We only found them at four of the 97 sites we visited,” says Samuel Turvey of the Zoological Society of London, UK. “The speed at which populations have collapsed is terrifying.” 30 years ago, the salamanders were distributed across south, central and eastern China. Their rapid collapse since is most likely due to a “re-branding” of the salamanders as delicacies, beginning 15 years ago. People began farming them for their meat. Poachers caught wild salamanders to sell to farmers, removing them from the wild. A team led by Jing Che of the Kunming Institute of Zoology in China compared DNA collected over the past 10 years from 70 wild-caught and 1034 farm-bred salamanders. The genetic analysis revealed that what was thought to be a single species is at least five, possibly eight.

5-18-18 Ape ‘midwives’ spotted helping female bonobos give birth
When female bonobos went into labour, other females gathered around to keep them safe, swatting away flies and even seemingly trying to catch the baby as it emerged. When bonobos give birth, other females gather around to support and protect the mother. These “midwives” bely the notion that assistance during birth is unique to humans. Until now there has only been one scientific account of a wild bonobo giving birth, published in 2014. On that occasion, other females stayed close to the mother. Now Elisa Demuru of the University of Pisa in Italy and her colleagues have described three births among captive bonobos at primate parks in France and the Netherlands. On each occasion, the mother made no attempt to isolate herself from the group. Other females showed a keen interest in the mother, inspecting her genital area and sniffing the birth fluid. Some placed their hands under her, as if trying to grab the baby as it emerged. One was seen swatting away flies. Some of these companion females had given birth before, and their behaviour suggested they knew what was going on, says Demuru, who is now based at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris. The companions were protective towards the mother, keeping males and the human observers away. “We believe they want to show the female that they are there to support and protect her in the phase in which she’s most vulnerable,” says Demuru. The females in a bonobo group are usually not related. However, they form close bonds, helping them to assert dominance over males. This is a stark contrast with chimpanzees, bonobos’ closest living relatives, in which females tend to be more solitary and competitive. Female chimpanzees tend to give birth in isolation.

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