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ATHEISM and HUMANISM
3-16-18 Chuck Schumer's war on black people and the poor
To see how, look no further than Reid's successor, New York's Chuck Schumer. The new Democratic leader is providing crucial assistance to Republicans and President Trump to get a sweeping rollback of Dodd-Frank pushed through Congress. It is political and policy malpractice — and amounts to announcing open season on African-Americans and the poor, so that his state's marquee industry can bleed them for profit. Let's quickly review what this bill does. It quintuples the assets needed for a bank to be considered "systemically important" and thus subject to stricter regulation (from $50 billion to $250 billion). It exempts banks with less than $10 billion from the Volcker Rule, and opens a huge legal loophole for the very largest banks to reduce their capital requirements. It also exempts 85 percent of banks from collecting data used to prevent lending discrimination, and rolls back regulations on mobile home loans. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the risk of financial crisis will be increased. As I have previously argued, this deregulation is profoundly racist both in general and in its specifics. Deregulated banks cause economic crises that hit black Americans by far the worst — for example, during the foreclosure crisis the percentage of black households underwater on their mortgage spiked over 20-fold, while over the same period the corresponding white figure increased "only" 6-fold. Meanwhile, if they aren't carefully prevented from doing so, Wall Street preys on black people. That's a constant in American history going back to before the revolution.
3-16-18 Most U.S. Teachers Oppose Carrying Guns in Schools
Arming teachers and school staff as a way to handle the United States' problem with school shootings will be a tough sell to those who would have to carry it out -- teachers across the nation. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. school teachers oppose the idea of training certain teachers and staff to carry guns in school buildings. Nearly six in 10 teachers think it would make schools less safe, and about seven in 10 teachers think carrying guns would not effectively limit the number of victims in the event of a shooting.
- 73% of teachers oppose teachers and staff carrying guns in schools
- 58% say carrying guns in schools would make schools less safe
- 18% would be willing to carry a gun in school buildings
3-15-18 The history of the NRA
How a gun hobbyist club morphed into one of the most powerful political organizations in the U.S. The NRA used to tout its independence from gun manufacturers—branding itself as the century-old voice of average-joe hunters and sport shooters. Today, though, the organization bolsters its funds with million-dollar donations from 22 different gun makers, including Smith & Wesson and Beretta USA. The NRA received up to $52.6 million in industry donations between 2005 and 2013, according to one report—and from some gun and ammo companies, it makes $1 from every purchase. The gun manufacturers’ influence is clear: Today, the NRA’s answer to every mass shooting is more firearms—even in schools and churches. “Today’s NRA is a virtual subsidiary of the gun industry,” said Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, a gun-control organization. “While the NRA portrays itself as protecting the freedom of individual gun owners, it’s actually working to protect the freedom of the gun industry to manufacture and sell virtually any weapon or accessory.
- When was the NRA founded? In 1871, by two Civil War veterans in New York—one of them a former New York Times reporter.
- What restrictions did they endorse? The NRA backed the nation’s first federal gun laws after the Prohibition Era, when tommy gun–wielding gangsters warred in the streets of Chicago.
- How long did that position last? Right through the 1960s, when assassinations and street violence rocked the nation.
- When did things change? By 1968, there were rumbles of rebellion against gun control within the NRA.
- How did it build its power? The NRA began grading politicians from A to F on gun-control legislation.
- What about recent years? Led by Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, the NRA continues to exert huge political influence.
- The corporations calling the shots: The NRA used to tout its independence from gun manufacturers—branding itself as the century-old voice of average-joe hunters and sport shooters.
3-15-18 New Series: Teachers' Views on Carrying Guns, School Safety
In the wake of the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead, Americans are demanding action to prevent these tragic events. Emotional students and parents of school shooting victims descended on the White House last month to participate in President Donald Trump's listening session on the issue. Students across the nation participated in a walkout on Wednesday to protest gun laws that leave them feeling unsafe at school. And many polls, including Gallup's, have found that there is broad agreement among Americans for various proposals to curb school shootings. However, one critical voice has been largely missing from these debates: U.S. teachers. To that end, Gallup conducted a nationally representative poll of nearly 500 teachers across the U.S. to uncover and amplify their views on how to keep their students safe.
3-15-18 Trump, too, caves in to the NRA
Shortly after the Parkland school massacre in Florida, said Eugene Robinson, President Trump accused Republican members of Congress of being “afraid of the NRA.” He spoke of the need for commonsense gun-control laws, such as raising the minimum age for purchasing rifles from 18 to 21; aides even suggested he was considering a ban on AR-15s. To no one’s surprise, this week Trump “made a cowardly, cynical, and monumentally stupid retreat on guns”—effectively adopting the NRA’s position that the solution to mass shootings is more guns. Trump came out in favor of arming “highly trained expert teachers” with concealed weapons, arguing that shooters attack schools because they’re “gun-free zones.” That’s based on the ridiculous assumption that school shooters—who are often suicidal and by definition unhinged—would be deterred by “the fear of getting shot by a teacher.” It also assumes that when shots ring out, amid screaming and panic, trained teachers would rush toward an armed assailant and engage in a firefight without accidentally hitting students—or being shot by confused cops. At Parkland, even armed police officers shied away from confronting a mass killer armed with an AR-15. “Sorry, students. Trump has wimped out.”
3-15-18 Scott defies NRA
Florida Gov. Rick Scott broke with his longtime allies in the National Rifle Association last week to sign a sweeping set of new gun regulations passed in the wake of the Feb. 14 Parkland school massacre. The law, known as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm in the state from 18 to 21; imposes a three-day waiting period for most purchases of long guns; and bans the possession of bump stocks. The legislation, which was passed 67-50 by the Republican-led state legislature, also establishes a program to arm some teachers, though superintendents at the state’s largest school districts have already said they would not provide teachers with guns. “I am going to do what I think are commonsense solutions,” said Scott, who until now had a 100 percent, A+ rating with the NRA. The gun group immediately filed a federal lawsuit claiming the Florida measure violates the Second Amendment.
3-15-18 Students walk out
An estimated 185,000 students walked out of their classrooms this week to demand action on gun violence, a month to the day after a gunman killed 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Around 3,100 schools, from Philadelphia to Atlanta to Louisville to Seattle, participated in the demonstrations, which lasted 17 minutes—one minute for each of the Parkland victims. At Cooper City High, near Parkland, students gathered around empty desks outside and released doves; in Newtown, Conn., demonstrators recited the names of victims of gun violence. Thousands of others demonstrated outside the White House, chanting “Hey hey, ho ho / The NRA has got to go!” Max Poteat, a North Carolina student, said he was deeply moved by the protests. “It really hit me that these were teenagers just like us and that their lives were taken,” he said.
3-15-18 Satisfaction With Direction of U.S. Down in March
Americans' satisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S. dropped in March from its recent high last month, as the post-State of the Union bump in enthusiasm faded and headlines were dominated by one of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history. The current 28% who say they are satisfied with the direction of the country is down eight percentage points from 36% in February, returning to where it was in January. These data were collected in a March 1-8 Gallup poll, which found a sharp jump in mentions of guns and gun issues as the top problem facing the U.S. after a high school shooting in which 14 students and three school staff members were killed in Parkland, Florida.
- U.S. satisfaction dips eight percentage points to 28%
- Satisfaction among Republicans drops 15 points
3-15-18 Drug overdoses rising
The opioid epidemic gripping the U.S. is getting worse, not better, according to a grim report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between July 2016 and September 2017, suspected opioid-related overdoses increased by 30 percent across 45 states, reports NPR?.org. A more specific analysis of emergency room visits in 16 states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, found a 54 percent increase in overdoses in major metropolitan areas; in Delaware and Wisconsin, they surged by more than 100 percent. Overdose rates increased among men and women of all age groups, the report showed. Furthermore, children who have gained access and exposure to their parents’ drugs have become secondary victims of this health crisis. A separate study found that since 2004, hospitalizations for opioid overdoses have nearly doubled among kids between 1 and 17 years old. “We have an emergency on our hands,” says acting CDC Director Anne Schuchat. “The fast-moving opioid overdose epidemic continues and is accelerating.” Opioids have become more dangerous in the past few years as dealers have been cutting their drugs with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s up to 50 times more powerful than heroin, but cheaper and easier to obtain.
3-15-18 Trump administration sets new record for censorship
The Trump administration has set a new record for the censorship of public records. Out of 823,222 requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act last year, the government censored or failed to provide records in 78 percent of cases. When appeals were filed, the Trump administration admitted to improperly withholding information in more than 33 percent of those cases.
3-15-18 Farrakhan: Why the Left won’t disown him
You’d think progressives would want nothing to do with Louis Farrakhan, said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. The Nation of Islam leader has been a vicious anti-Semite for decades, and has taken up railing against homosexuals and transgender people while demanding that women stay home to cook for their men. Nevertheless, some progressive organizers apparently have “a soft spot for the lunatic minister.” That includes Tamika Mallory, one of the leaders of the nationwide Women’s March against President Trump in 2017. Mallory recently attended Farrakhan’s annual Saviours’ Day conference, during which he declared that “time’s up” for the “satanic Jew.” In the ensuing uproar, Mallory has refused to explicitly denounce Farrakhan, saying instead that the black community is “complex.” Sadly, “this is no isolated incident,” said Cathy Young in Newsday. Mallory has praised Farrakhan several times over the years, as have her fellow Women’s March leaders Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour. “Progressives who denounce bigotry on the Right need to start by cleaning house.”
3-15-18 Religious leaders defend profanity, ridicule, and cruelty
“It is remarkable to hear religious leaders defend profanity, ridicule, and cruelty as hallmarks of authenticity and dismiss decency as a dead language. President Trump’s presidency has coarsened our culture, given permission for bullying, complicated the moral formation of children, undermined standards of public integrity, and encouraged cynicism about the political enterprise. His tribalism and hatred for ‘the other’ stand in direct opposition to Jesus’ radical ethic of neighbor love. Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, and others are providing religious cover for moral squalor—winking at trashy behavior and encouraging the unraveling of social restraints. These evangelical leaders have ceased to be moral leaders in any meaningful sense.”
3-15-18 Putin blames Jews
Russian President Vladimir Putin denied interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election last week, saying that the meddling could have been the work of Jews. During an interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly, Putin was asked about the 13 Russian nationals charged last month by special counsel Robert Mueller for allegedly attempting to spread political discord in the U.S. ahead of the vote. “Maybe they’re not even Russians,” Putin said. “Maybe they’re Ukrainian, Tatars, Jews—just with Russian citizenship. Maybe they have dual citizenship or a green card. Maybe the U.S. paid them for this.” Jewish groups and U.S. lawmakers protested. “It is deeply disturbing,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, “to see the Russian president giving new life to classic anti-Semitic stereotypes that have plagued his country for hundreds of years.”
3-15-18 Government brutality
The United Nations has condemned the Honduran government for its “excessive” and “intentional” use of lethal force against protesters following last year’s elections. Of at least 23 people killed in the protests, the U.N. says military and police shot dead at least 16 of them, including two children. The conservative, U.S.-backed president, Juan Orlando Hernández, had been expected to lose his re-election bid on Nov. 26. But as the vote tally appeared to be going against him, authorities suspended the count—and then declared Hernández the winner three weeks later. Alleging fraud, protesters poured into the streets, and police met them with tear gas, water cannons, and live ammunition. No one has been charged in any of the killings.
3-15-18 Trump's CIA pick is a torturer. How can any Christian support her?
For anyone who has committed their life to Christ, torture is categorically unacceptable. na Haspel is President Trump's pick to replace his new secretary of state nominee, Mike Pompeo, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. She is also a torturer. This is not a label I use to be inflammatory. It as a simple statement of fact. As was widely reported when she took her current role of deputy CIA director in 2017, Haspel is a career spook who supervised the fruitless torture of two suspects at a CIA black site in Thailand 16 years ago and helped destroy video evidence of the brutality. She has participated in extraordinary rendition, sending suspects abroad so foreign intelligence agents could torture them on the CIA's behalf. So grim is her record of abuse that in Haspel the United States could have a CIA director unable to travel to Europe without risking arrest thanks to an ongoing legal complaint against her. Had former President Obama prosecuted those responsible for the torture he prohibited, she might be in jail today. This nomination is unlikely to cause much angst among the president's most analyzed class of supporters, white evangelical Christians. Why would it? The president himself is a torture enthusiast. Haspel was selected for her present job without much uproar last February, and in that position she already runs the bulk of the CIA's operations. And anyway, if the president's wilder escapades — the alleged porn star dalliance, the confirmed boasts of sexual assault, the implied and explicit racism, and so on — can't tip the scales against his empty lure to values voters, a little-known official getting a big promotion certainly won't do the trick.
3-15-18 Young people are cleverly using imagery to change the conversation on gun violence
On Wednesday, students at nearly 3,000 schools walked out of their classrooms for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 people murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School one month ago. They used the occasion to demand change in a variety of ways and on a variety of platforms. If it was a stunning demonstration of political outrage, it was also, more crucially, proof of a form of generational solidarity we haven't seen in some time. There's a lot these events can teach us about what digital natives can achieve when local activism hooks up with decentralized platforms like Twitter. There might even be some hints here about what the leadership of the future will look like. The first startling fact is that, unlike every previous outrage cycle over gun violence after a mass shooting, these protests aren't diminishing. In fact, they're growing. They're adapting to include a long and painful history of record-breaking mass shootings, from Columbine to Sandy Hook. And they're adapting to include the less sensational but more pervasive effects of everyday gun violence as well. "Black Lives Matter has been advocating for gun control for years," one student in Idaho said. "If teachers were to have guns in the classroom, we and other students of color would be more likely to be victims of violence." Some 600 students in Atlanta elected to take a knee to protest gun violence in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick's protest against the rash of unarmed black citizens killed by police. Students at North Lawndale College Prep in Chicago marched with red tape over their mouths and carried crosses with photos of murdered loved ones to call attention to how they're asked to silently endure everyday gun violence. It's stunningly effective. Students at Excel Academy in Baltimore commemorated not just the 17 students murdered at Parkland but also the seven students they've lost to gun violence in one year — and other Baltimore victims like Freddie Gray and Korryn Gaines. "As a black boy, I hope that one day I have as many rights as a gun," read one young man's poster.
3-15-18 Broad Agreement on Most Ideas to Curb School Shootings
Americans strongly favor a number of proposals for reducing mass shootings at schools, including increasing training for police officers and those who respond to active shooters, background checks for all gun sales, higher levels of security at schools, and new programs to identify and manage students who may pose a threat. These proposals are essentially noncontroversial given their enormously high public approval. Two other actions -- raising the legal age for purchasing certain firearms from 18 to 21 and banning the sale of semi-automatic weapons such as the AR-15 -- receive lower levels of support, although still well above a simple majority. The only approach among those tested in Gallup's March 5-11 update that less than half of Americans favor is "having teachers or other school officials with appropriate training carry guns at school," although the 42% who back it is still substantial.
- More than nine in 10 favor background checks, better school security training
- 42% favor, 56% oppose arming teachers
- Most proposals are viewed as potentially at least somewhat effective
3-15-18 Oklahoma mother will go to jail for marrying her daughter
An Oklahoma mother who married her daughter after the pair "hit it off" has been sentenced to two years in prison. Patricia Ann Spann, 45, pleaded guilty to the felony offence of incest and admitted wedding her biological daughter, Misty Velvet Dawn Spann, 26. The mother lost custody of her children and reunited with her daughter in 2014. The two married in March 2016 after same-sex marriage became legal in the state. Investigators later discovered Patricia Ann Spann had previously wed her son. Her son, who was 18 years old at the time, annulled the marriage on incest charges in 2010 after tying the knot with his mother in 2008, according to the Oklahoman. The married mother and daughter were discovered by the Department of Human Services during a child welfare check-up. According to the Oklahoman, Misty Spann also had the marriage annulled in October last year after arguing she had been fraudulently induced into it. She said her mother had lied about consulting "three separate attorneys who advised there would be no problems with the marriage", reports the newspaper. Patricia Ann Spann said she believed the union was legal, since she was not listed as the biological mother on her daughter's birth certificate and had only come into contact with her two years ago beforehand. (Webmaster's comment: Why should anyone care? They are adults and should be free to marry anyone they want. Watch the video in this news article on why the United States had 200,000 child marriages in the last 15 years and most are not immigrants.)
3-14-18 U.S. Preference for Stricter Gun Laws Highest Since 1993
Sixty-seven percent of Americans say the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made stricter. This represents an increase of seven percentage points since last fall and is the highest in any Gallup survey since 1993. These results are based on a March 1-8 Gallup survey, the first conducted after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in mid-February. The seven-point increase in public support for stricter gun laws follows a five-point increase seen in Gallup's October 2017 survey, conducted just after the mass shooting in Las Vegas. In the wake of the Las Vegas and Parkland shootings, Americans' desire for stricter gun laws has reached levels not seen since December 1993. The first time Gallup asked this question in September 1990, a record-high 78% wanted stricter gun laws. In the early 1990s, the violent crime rate in the U.S. was at an all-time high -- something the public was well aware of, with more than eight in 10 U.S. adults saying there was more crime in the U.S.
- 67% want stricter laws covering the sale of firearms
- All party groups show increased support for stricter gun laws
- Record-high percentage mention guns as important problem
3-14-18 Florida shooting: US high school students stage mass walkout
Students and school staff across the US are commemorating the Florida school shootings with a walkout, exactly one month after the killings. They are stopping lessons for 17 minutes in memory of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. A former pupil has been charged with the killings. Organisers of the protest accuse Congress of failing to tackle gun violence adequately. The White House revealed a plan this week to deter school shootings which does not include President Donald Trump's repeated calls to raise the age for buying semi-automatic rifles to 21. Instead, it moves ahead with his controversial proposal to provide firearms training to school employees. The walkouts were scheduled to begin at 10:00 (10:00 EST is 14:00 GMT) across America's time zones. Organisers of the National School Walkout, who were also behind the Women's March in January 2017 against Mr Trump's inauguration, are calling on "students, teachers, school administrators, parents and allies" to take part. On their website, they accuse Congress of "inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing" schools and neighbourhoods. "Parents have the right to send their kids to school in the mornings and see them home alive at the end of the day," they say. "We are not safe at school. We are not safe in our cities and towns. Congress must take meaningful action to keep us safe and pass federal gun reform legislation that address[es] the public health crisis of gun violence." The disruption to the school day is opposed by some schools, notably in one Texas district where students who walk out have been told they face a three-day suspension. "We will discipline no matter if it is one, 50, or 500 students involved," said Needville schools superintendent Curtis Rhode. (Webmaster's comment: Punishing those opposed to gun violence. Unbelievable! The only thing to do is vote against those in power if they do not support outlawing all semi-automatic weapons.)
3-14-18 Far-right activists barred from entering UK
Three activists with big social media followings from Austria, Canada and the US have been barred from entering the United Kingdom, in a move that some say is part of a crackdown on the far right. Brittany Pettibone and her boyfriend, Martin Sellner, were refused entry to the UK when they landed at Luton Airport on Friday. They were detained for two days, and then deported. Another activist, Lauren Southern, was refused entry by the Border Force near Calais on Monday. She had planned to meet with the couple and the former leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson. was due to make a speech in Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park. He was the leader of a "Defend Europe" campaign last summer, responsible for targeting boats run by NGOs trying to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean. On his social media accounts, Robinson says he plans to deliver Sellner's speech in Hyde Park on Sunday. In a statement about the activists, a Home Office spokesperson said: "Border Force has the power to refuse entry to an individual if it is considered that his or her presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good." Pettibone, an American, tweeted an image of the letter she says was handed to her by an immigration officer. It states that her planned activities posed "a serious threat to the fundamental interests of society and are likely to incite tensions between local communities in the United Kingdom". The letter also cites Sellner's possession of leaflets which referenced "possible violence at his speech" and calls Robinson "a far right leader whose materials and speeches incite racial hatred." Pettibone was one of the most prominent online voices spreading the "pizzagate" conspiracy theory which falsely claimed that top Democratic officials were keeping child sex slaves underneath a Washington, DC pizza restaurant. (Webmaster's comment: Shun and cast out all members of the far-right the same as you would carriers of the black plague or mad dogs!)
3-14-18 Brain back-up start-up 'will be the death of users'
A start-up that claims it will one day allow people to back-up their brains admits it will come at the ultimate price: death. Nectome has said it will one day be capable of scanning the human brain and preserving it, perhaps running a deceased person's mind as a computer simulation. However, its current process requires a fresh brain. The product is "100% fatal", the team behind it told MIT Technology Review. The company is backed by Y Combinator, an organisation that picks a group of new companies each year to fund and mentor in the hope they receive major funding further down the line. According to the company's website, Nectome claims it will one day be possible to survey the brain's connectome - the neural connections within the brain - to such a detailed degree that it will be able to reconstruct a person's memories even after they have died. "Imagine a world where you can successfully map and pinpoint a specific memory within your brain," the site reads. "Today’s leading neuroscience research suggests that it is possible by preserving your connectome." Nectome will be part of Y Combinator's demo days next week - an event where start-ups pitch their new companies to an audience of investors and journalists. Previous Y Combinator firms include Dropbox and AirBnB. The firm is also backed by a $960,000 (£687,000) grant from the US National Institute of Mental Health, which said it saw a "commercial opportunity" in brain preservation. According to MIT Technology Review, the team has consulted lawyers familiar with California's relatively new laws on dignified end-of-life measures. The company plans to focus on working with terminally ill people in the testing phase. The company uses an embalming process to preserve minute details of the brain in microscopic detail. Its work won a prize for furthering the field of brain preservation when it tried the method on a rabbit. Taking that further, the team said it had already attempted its technique on a just-deceased woman in Portland, Oregon. However, even a delay of just a couple of hours meant the brain was already badly damaged, it said. The next stage is to find someone planning to die via doctor-assisted suicide.
3-13-18 The case for conservative universities
Liberals dominate universities. But even they should recognize that America needs a flourishing conservative intellectual culture on university campuses. izona State University likes to brag that it's #1 in the country for "innovation." That may sound like a buzz phrase, but the Sun Devils really are innovating new ways to expand the ideological horizons of the liberal academy. To wit: the new School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, a transdisciplinary program that aims to increase "ideological diversity" on the Tempe campus. Yes, it's what you're thinking. It's a school for conservatives. Conservatives have long been a minority in higher education, but even liberals have recently started suggesting that the imbalance may be egregious enough to call for corrective measures. Arizona's state legislature set aside special funds for a conservative-friendly course of study, with the Charles Koch Foundation adding a sizable contribution. Not everyone has been pleased by this development. Critics want to know: Is this just affirmative action for conservatives? And don't conservative "leadership" programs tend to focus heavily on the work of privileged, dead, white males? It may be, and they often do. Nevertheless, these conservative-focused academic programs are a good idea, which more universities should replicate. They might save universities. They might even save the nation. (Webmaster's comment: The only thing they'll save is ultra-religious white supremacists full of hate and greed! This article is full of threats. Support conservatism or else!)
3-12-18 Deadly Texas parcel bomb attacks 'linked'
Two parcel bombs that left a teenager dead and two others injured in Austin, Texas are believed to be linked to a case earlier this month, police say. A 17-year-old boy died after opening a parcel and a woman in her 40s was wounded in the explosion, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said. A 75-year-old Hispanic woman was also hurt when a parcel exploded elsewhere in the city on Monday, he said. Police say they have yet to determine a motive in the three attacks. The two explosions on Monday came less than two weeks after a similar blast killed a 39-year-old black man at his home in the Texas capital. "This is the third in what we believe to be related incidents over the past 10 days," Chief Manley said while speaking to reporters near the site of Monday's second explosion. Authorities are looking into whether race played a role as the victims in two of the cases were African American while the third blast injured a Hispanic woman. Mr Manley had earlier suggested that the attacks could have been hate crimes, but later said police have yet to establish a motive. "We are not ruling anything out at this point," he said. "We are willing to investigate any avenue that may be involved." Investigators said at the time they believed that the explosion in north-east Austin on 2 March was an isolated incident. But on Monday Austin police said they suspect the earlier fatality, initially treated as a suspicious death, was linked to Monday's death. Both are now being investigated as homicides. (Webmaster's comment: It's obvious these are hate crimes. Another attack on the American people.)
3-12-18 Florida shooting: Trump backs off on assault rifle curbs
White House proposals to tackle the threat of mass shootings in US schools fall short of a call by President Donald Trump himself to raise the age limit for buying assault rifles. Mr Trump said he would work to raise the limit from 18 to 21 but his actual action plan passes the issue to a new federal commission on school safety. The plan also proposes to fund firearms training for teachers. Seventeen people were shot dead at a Florida high school last month. Former pupil Nikolas Cruz, 19, has been charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 of attempted murder. He told investigators he had used an AR-15 assault rifle, which he had bought legally, to fire into classrooms during the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on 14 February. Under US federal law, Americans must be 18 years old to buy a rifle or shotgun and 21 to buy a handgun from licensed dealers. Unlicensed sales, such as those at gun shows, are federally allowed at any age for rifles and shotguns, and 18 for handguns. (Webmaster's comment: The mass killings will go on thanks to the NRA, the President, and our legislators!)
3-12-18 Why gun control isn't a factor in this Pennsylvania election
Democrats are hoping for a “blue wave” to win back seats in Congress during the midterm elections. But can they win over Trump districts when it comes to divisive issues like guns?
3-12-18 America needs a driver's license for gun ownership
Americans absolutely have a right to own guns. But the government can and must ensure they exercise this right responsibly. There's an obvious answer to America's gun problem. It should please both aggressive gun control reformers and gun rights loyalists. And it would prevent a lot of deaths. It's simple. As the Supreme Court has made clear, the Bill of Rights gives Americans a personal, individual right to bear arms. However, exercise of that right can and should be regulated. Want to own a gun? Go right ahead: But it should be contingent on not only preliminary, but continuous training and background checking requirements. Such requirements would naturally vary by state. But they should include serious background checks, including a psychiatric evaluation. To buy a gun, you would have to go through rigorous training in shooting, firearm security, and perhaps first aid and crisis response — in other words, something like a driver's license for guns. More importantly, you would have to pass a basic proficiency test at least once a year. America should also consider mandating that gun owners obtain membership in a properly licensed gun club. The idea isn't just that it would ensure better training and proficiency, but also that somebody in danger of going off the rails might be noticed by a fellow shooter, who might report something. The model here would be Switzerland, where around two million firearms — more than one for every three residents —are privately owned, and yet gun violence is practically nonexistent. (Webmaster's comment: But the problem is the Many American Males that just want the right to kill when they get angry!)
3-17-18 Oscars Academy chief John Bailey 'faces harassment allegations'
The head of the organisation behind the Oscars is facing several allegations of sexual harassment, Hollywood trade publications report. The Hollywood Reporter and Variety cite unnamed sources as saying three claims have been made against John Bailey. Mr Bailey, a cinematographer, has led the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since last year. The body approved a new code of conduct in December after a wave of harassment allegations shook the industry. Mr Bailey, 75, has not yet commented on the reports. They first emerged in Variety magazine, which said the academy had received three harassment complaints against Mr Bailey on Wednesday and had immediately opened a review. The academy has confirmed that a review is under way but did not say who was involved. "The Membership Committee reviews all complaints brought against Academy members according to our Standards of Conduct process, and after completing reviews, reports to the Board of Governors," it said in a brief statement. Mr Bailey's work includes the films American Gigolo, The Big Chill and Groundhog Day. He was awarded the American Society of Cinematographers Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. Two weeks ago he told the annual luncheon for Oscar nominees that what he called the "fossilised bedrock" of Hollywood's worst abuses was being "jack-hammered into oblivion".
3-16-18 Banksy protest artwork unveiled in New York
Provocative artist Banksy has revealed a 20m high artwork in New York to draw attention to the imprisonment of Zehra Dogan, a Kurdish painter from Turkey. His image of her behind bars depicts the last bar as a pencil, and next to the mural is a call for her release. Dogan was jailed for two years and nine months last year in Turkey, for her painting of the Kurdish town Nusaybin. Her picture, copied from a newspaper photograph, showed the town reduced to rubble during conflict. The photograph was taken by government forces in the area where they had fought Kurdish militants. It features Turkish flags draped over destroyed buildings. Dogan posted her watercolour painting to social media and was subsequently arrested and sentenced. Banksy's mural, highlighting her first year in custody, has been painted on the historic Bowery Wall made famous by artist Keith Haring during the 80s.
3-16-18 Brazil: Big rallies held after Rio politician is shot dead
Tens of thousands of people in Rio de Janeiro and other cities across Brazil have taken to the streets to mourn a murdered politician who had campaigned against police brutality. Marielle Franco, a 38-year-old Rio city councillor, was viewed by many as a champion of women's rights. Ms Franco and her driver were both shot dead while in her car on Wednesday. Brazilian President Michel Temer called her murder an attack on democracy and the rule of law. "I'm here at the request of President Temer," he said at a press conference. "I would like to tell the friends of relatives of Marielle that we will find those responsible and punish them for this barbaric crime," Mr Jungmann added. "Justice will be done." Ms Franco was returning from an event encouraging black women's empowerment in central Rio when a car drew alongside hers and nine shots rang out. She and her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes, were both killed, and her press officer, who was sitting in the back seat of the car, was injured. Police officials said it appeared Ms Franco had been deliberately targeted. She was shot four times in the head, and three bullets hit Mr Gomes. Ms Franco was elected to the city council in 2016 and presided over the women's commission. She was a councillor for the left-wing Socialism and Liberty Party. Last month, she was chosen to be the speaker of the commission overseeing the deployment of federal security forces into Rio's favelas.
3-15-18 Mark Cuban has been accused of sexually assaulting a woman
Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, has been accused of sexually assaulting a woman at a Portland nightclub in 2011. The unnamed woman told police she was taking a photo with the billionaire businessman at the Barrel Room when Cuban—who she said appeared very drunk—“thrust his hand down the back of [her] jeans” and touched her inappropriately, according to the local publication Willamette Week. When a detective told Cuban of the accusations, a police transcript says, he responded, “F--- me! I’m so f---ed.” Cuban, 59, denied the allegations then and now and reportedly passed a polygraph test at the time; Portland prosecutors declined to pursue the case, citing insufficient evidence. A nightclub employee has since come forward to claim that Cuban was asked to leave the venue on the night of the incident for being “gropey.” The NBA has opened its own review. The allegation comes a week after Sports Illustrated published reports of a “culture rife with misogyny and predatory sexual behavior” in the Mavericks’ front office.
3-15-18 Daniels: A sex scandal’s serious implications
The Stormy Daniels story has become “a precarious new legal front” for an embattled White House, said Jim Rutenberg in The New York Times. The adult-film actress—real name Stephanie Clifford—last week sued to break a 2016 agreement silencing her about an alleged affair with President Trump in 2006, so that she can share any text messages, photos, videos, and “paternity information” related to their agreement. Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen preposterously claims to have paid Daniels $130,000 of his own funds days before the election without telling Trump. Daniels has already recorded a potentially explosive interview for CBS’s 60 Minutes, scheduled to be broadcast Sunday, that Trump’s lawyers may ask a court to block from airing. This story is not merely about “the tawdry details of infidelity,” said Matthew Yglesias in Vox.com. It’s about potential campaign law violations, cover-ups, and the real possibility that Daniels was not the only person blackmailing the president over his many secrets. “It’s time for Washington to stop tittering in embarrassment and recognize that there is a serious scandal here.”
3-15-18 Quiet time
Quiet time, after three day care workers from Illinois were charged with giving 2-year-olds melatonin-laced gummies to ensure they’d take a nap. Giving a sleep-inducing hormone to kids without parental consent, police said, was “just a horrible case of bad judgment.”
3-15-18 Unequal pay in the extreme
Thanks to a rule in the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, U.S. companies have begun revealing the gap between their median worker’s pay and their CEO’s annual compensation. At the insurance company Humana, the median employee made $57,385 while the CEO made 344 times that much, or $19.8 million. Whirlpool’s median worker was a full-timer in Brazil earning $19,906 a year, while the CEO made $7.08 million, or 356 times as much.
3-15-18 More female billionaires than ever
There are now more female billionaires than ever. Of the 2,208 people with a nine-figure fortune on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people, 256 of them are women—just 12 percent, but a record high.
3-15-18 Exercising during pregnancy can make your labour shorter
Exercise is linked to a 10 per cent decrease in labour time, suggesting that regular aerobic activity plus strengthening exercises, make it easier to push. Regular exercise throughout pregnancy can shorten the duration of labour, according to the first clinical trial to test the effectiveness of prenatal physical activity. Women who undertook regular aerobic, strengthening, and pelvic floor exercises spent an average of 50 minutes less time in labour. Ruben Barakat at the Technical University of Madrid, in Spain, and his colleagues randomly assigned 508 women who were between 9 and 11 weeks’ pregnant to receive either general antenatal health counselling or a regular exercise class. Women in the exercise group took part in three weekly, hour-long classes, which included aerobic activity, muscle strengthening, coordination and balance exercises, stretching and pelvic floor strengthening, as well as relaxation. Those in the counselling group were advised of the health benefits of exercise, but did not attend the same classes. Of these women, 325 went on to give birth vaginally. Labour lasted an average of nearly 8 and a half hours in the women who only received counselling, which dropped to 7 and a half hours in the women who’d exercised.
3-15-18 Fertility failures
Two fertility clinics in Cleveland and San Francisco experienced simultaneous refrigeration failures on the same day last week, potentially damaging thousands of frozen eggs and embryos and prompting worried phone calls from hundreds of patients. The mysterious equipment malfunctions began at University Hospitals in suburban Cleveland, where an unexplained rise in temperature at a storage tank jeopardized as many as 2,000 frozen eggs and embryos. Hours later, an embryologist at the Pacific Fertility Center noticed that the liquid nitrogen level in one tank was low and hurriedly transferred the embryos to another facility. At least one couple is suing the Ohio clinic after being told their embryos are no longer viable. Dr. Kevin Doody, former president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, said the simultaneous failures appeared to be “just a bad, bad, bad coincidence.”
3-15-18 Down syndrome: The abortion question
Down syndrome is now “front and center” in the national debate over abortion, said Ariana Eunjung Cha in WashingtonPost.com. Appalled by the 67 percent termination rate among women whose fetus has Down syndrome, pro-life activists have passed or introduced legislation to ban abortion for “solely” that reason in five states: Utah, North Dakota, Ohio, Indiana, and Louisiana. The issue has become more fraught because of a new, noninvasive blood test on a pregnant woman that can detect the fetal chromosomal abnormality that causes the developmental disorder, making it easier to detect. It is “simply intolerable that so many joyous lives are being snuffed out,” said Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post. People with Down syndrome are often unusually happy, and their families rarely regret having them. Yet across the Western world, abortion rates for Down babies are climbing toward 100 percent. Iceland last year bragged it was on the verge of “eradicating” Down syndrome. In reality, Iceland “is not eliminating Down syndrome; it is eliminating people with Down syndrome.”
3-15-18 Abortion sentences commuted
Two Salvadoran women serving 30-year sentences for allegedly having abortions have been released from prison in recent weeks after the country’s supreme court ruled that their sentences were disproportionate. Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, 34, was freed in February after serving 11 years, while Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín, 34, was released last week after serving 15 years. Both women said they had suffered stillbirths but were convicted of aggravated homicide despite a lack of witnesses and evidence. El Salvador is one of only six countries that ban abortion in all circumstances, including to save the mother’s life. Last year, a teenage rape survivor was sentenced to 30 years after having a stillbirth; the court ruled that her failure to seek prenatal care amounted to murder.
3-15-18 Women Still Struggling in Parity Pioneering Western Europe
Western Europe comes closer to achieving gender parity than any other region of the world. But Gallup data suggest that like women everywhere, Western European women are struggling to balance the demands of work and family life, and this balancing act is leaving many of them emotionally drained. Gallup and the International Labour Organization's 2016 global study of men's and women's attitudes toward women and work show women in Western Europe are among the most likely in the world to say they want to both work at paid jobs and care for their homes and families. Sixty-two percent say they want to do both, while just 13% want to stay home. This preference to do both is stronger among women with children younger than 15 at home (68%) than those without children at home (60%). By far, doing both -- balancing work and family obligations -- is the No. 1 problem women and men in Western Europe see facing women who work at paid jobs in their countries. Among women in Western Europe, those working full time (37%) or part time (41%) are more likely to cite this as the biggest challenge than women out of the workforce (32%).
- Balancing Work and Family Is the No. 1 Problem for Working Women in Westen Europe
3-14-18 The seven places where women earn more than men in US
A new analysis by Stateline, a publication of the Pew Charitable Trusts, found only seven communities across the country where women make significantly more than men.
3-14-18 Uganda's Makerere University: 'My lecturer tried to rape me'
When she made it into one of Africa's most prestigious universities, the future looked bright for Monica. But an attempted rape by a member of staff has left that future lying in pieces. As Monica recalls her story, her voice starts to crack. She describes how the assailant tricked her into going to his home. After swapping courses at Makerere University in Uganda's capital Kampala, Monica - not her real name - was determined to catch up with her new subject. "A lecturer told me that he would help me with class work. I called him and requested an appointment on Monday before class. He insisted I meet him on Sunday," she recalls. The prospect of private tuition more than made up for the disruption to her weekend. But at the appointed time, he was not at the agreed location. "I walked there, only for him to say I was late and he had left, and that I should meet him somewhere else. When he eventually arrived, he asked me to follow him," she says. "That is how he tricked me into going to his place of residence." Telling her story means reliving the spine-chilling experience. She takes a moment to wipe tears from her reddening eyes, as she recalls what happened next. "I expected that we would get down to my class work. Instead, he attempted to rape me." She does not want to give details of the attack, but describes how she fought back - putting into practice some long-forgotten Girl Guide training. "I had been trained that if a man attempts to rape you, you have to calm down, be submissive, then raise your leg and kick them where it hurts hardest. And that is what I did," she says, sighing deeply, as if she has only just emerged from the nightmarish encounter. She also managed to snap pictures of him in his room, aware that the evidence could be vital.
3-14-18 'I want to explain arranged marriage to white people'
When Pakistani designer Nashra Balagamwala produced a board game about arranged marriage, most news reports about her wrongly assumed she was dead against it. Actually her position is far more nuanced. And one goal is to explain to people in the UK and elsewhere how it works. "People in the West often confuse arranged marriages with forced marriages," Nashra Balagamwala says, on the phone from Islamabad. "They go by a lot of what they see in the press. The acid attacks. The so-called honour killings. The complete absence of choice. My game was not meant to be part of that dialogue." Balagamwala's board game, Arranged!, is far from an advert for arranged marriage. Its central character is a matchmaker "auntie" eagerly trying to chase down three girls while they attempt and outwit her and delay marriage. Players create distance from the auntie, and impending marriage, by drawing cards with commands like "You were seen at the mall with boys. The auntie moves three spaces away from you." Other cards that put auntie off include "Your older sister married a white man", or "The auntie finds out you used tampons before marriage." (Many in South Asia believe that a tampon is an indication of sexual activity.) Balagamwala says the game has a dual purpose. One is to start a dialogue among South-Asian families on what is expected of women. "I wanted to create an innocent platform where families could talk about some of the silly aspects of my culture, in a non-confrontational way. Like how a 'good girl' knows how to make a good cup of chai and doesn't have male friends. "Secondly, I wanted to explain arranged marriage to white people, so they could better understand the nuance of South Asian traditions."
3-13-18 Malfunctioning fertility clinic tanks may put eggs at risk
Thousands of frozen eggs and embryos may have been damaged after temperatures rose in two malfunctioning tanks at fertility clinics in California and Ohio. Thousands of frozen eggs and embryos may have been damaged following the malfunctioning of a fertility clinic storage tank. When the tank at the Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco stopped working properly on 4 March, temperatures inside rose. A spokesperson told the Washington Post that “several thousand” eggs and embryos were affected – around 15 per cent of the total stored there. Reportedly, 400 people had all their stored eggs and embryos in the malfunctioning tank, while a further 100 had at least some tissue affected. Over the same weekend, a similar incident occurred at University Hospitals Fertility Center in Cleveland, Ohio, where around 2000 eggs and embryos are thought to be affected. It is currently unclear to what extent the tissue involved in these incidents may have been damaged or if it is still fit for use in treatments. A couple with embryos stored at the Cleveland clinic filed a class action lawsuit on 11 March.
3-13-18 The office where only women are allowed to work
There have been men-only clubs for centuries. The Wing is a co-working space in New York exclusively for women. Should there be more like this around the world?
3-13-18 Bertrand Cantat: Killer rock star pulls out of French festivals
A French rock star who was jailed for murdering his former girlfriend has pulled out of a string of festival appearances after facing a backlash. Bertrand Cantat was sentenced to eight years for beating actress Marie Trintignant to death, but was released after just four and returned to music. A petition signed by almost 75,000 people called for his removal from a Normandy festival performance in May. It comes after recent protests against male violence in the country. Cantat is the former lead singer of band Noir Désir, one of the country's most successful rock bands. He was jailed for beating his girlfriend Marie Trintignant, a well-known French actress, to death in a hotel room in Lithuania in 2003. The murder sent shockwaves through France at the time, but he was released in 2007. Cantat later returned to music with a new album in 2013. The controversy around him has steadily increased in recent months following his launch of a solo career. Tens of thousands signed a petition asking Normandy's Papillons de Nuit festival to remove him from their line-up. "By inviting Bertrand Cantat, you trivialise domestic violence and violence against women," the petition read. "I have served my sentence. I did not benefit from any privileges. I wish today, just like any citizen, for the right to reinsertion. The right to exercise my profession," he wrote. (Webmaster's comment: Only an 8-year sentence for beating a woman to death (murdering a person) and then getting out in 4 years. Outrageous!!!)
3-12-18 Metropolitan Opera fires James Levine after sex abuse claims
New York's Metropolitan Opera has fired eminent conductor James Levine, after an internal inquiry found "credible evidence" to support claims he sexually abused young male musicians. Mr Levine, who denies the allegations, was suspended in December when they were made public. The conductor, now 74, was music director at the Met for 40 years. He retired for health reasons in 2016, but had continued to work with the opera as music director emeritus. "The investigation uncovered credible evidence that Mr Levine had engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct both before and during the period when he worked at the Met," the opera house said in a statement. It said there was also evidence that the conductor abused and harassed "vulnerable artists in the early stages of their careers". The Met said more than 70 people were interviewed during its investigation. Four men have accused Mr Levine of sexually abusing them decades ago. Some say they were teenagers at the time. An Illinois police report, seen by the New York Times, said one of the alleged victims claimed that the abuse began in 1985 when he was 15 and Mr Levine was 41, and continued until 1993.
3-11-18 Finland's Down's model Maija Mattila makes strides on catwalk
When a mixed-race girl with Down's syndrome sat down to watch Finland's Next Top Model, it might have seemed a distant world. But for Maija Mattila, it started the dream that changed her life. Maija watched in awe as the tall, dark, aspiring model walked in front of judges of the reality TV show and posed for the camera. This was Polina Hiekkala, and she was doing everything Maija wanted to do. Maija's hazel brown eyes light up when she talks about modelling. The young Finnish-Nigerian woman explains how she has watched countless hours of catwalk videos on YouTube since being inspired by Hiekkala in 2012. "I started practising my walk at home, in front of the mirror," she says. Maija, who was born with Down's syndrome and is now 20, leans gently against her mother and laughs shyly when recalling her early steps towards a modelling career. Her mother, Anna-Erika Mattila, admits it was difficult to support her daughter's dream in the beginning. "I wanted her to have more realistic ambitions," she says. At school, Maija was bullied because of the colour of her skin. Maija's father is from Nigeria. Her mum is Finnish. "And then there's Down's syndrome on top of that," says her mother. Despite significant hurdles, Maija has pursued her dream. All the way, she has had support from friends and family. For her 18th birthday, a family friend gave Maija a gift voucher for a professional photo shoot. It became another life-changing moment. The shoot was held at the Finnish Broadcasting Company, where the team behind a youth-focused news programme caught wind of it. They liked her story, so they filmed her photo shoot and put together a package for their online show. It went viral.
SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT
3-16-18 Bottled water is bad – but microplastics aren’t the reason
Microplastic particles may taint some bottled water, but the ecological cost of bottles is a better reason to turn on the tap instead. The discovery that most bottled water is contaminated with tiny fragments of plastic has stirred up a mild panic. But do these microplastics actually pose a risk? According to a study commissioned by Orb Media, a global consortium of journalists, samples from 93 per cent of 259 bottles contained microplastic particles – an average of 10 particles wider than 100 micrometres, or roughly the width of a human hair, per litre. The bottles were purchased from countries in five different continents, although not in Europe. Sherri Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia, who carried out the work, found that 54 per cent of these particles were polypropylene, the plastic from which bottle caps are fabricated, suggesting that the caps may have been the source of the particles. Four per cent were industrial lubricants, suggesting that contamination occurred in the factory. Mason also found smaller particles – an average of 325 per litre, although some samples contained up to 10,000 per litre. These were too small to be verified as microplastics, but it seems likely they are, says Mason. These accounted for 95 per cent of all particles found, ranging from 6.5 to 100 micrometres in size. Does it matter if we swallow this stuff? We don’t really know, but there’s no need to panic. “There’s no clear evidence about human health risks,” says Richard Thompson of the International Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth, UK. (Webmaster's comment: What is shown is that the companies bottling the water don't even bother to filter it.)
3-16-18 What we can and can’t say about Arctic warming and U.S. winters
It certainly feels like the northeastern United States is getting snowier. In the first two weeks of March, three winter storms slammed into the northeast corridor from Washington, D.C., to Boston. Over the past decade, a flurry of extreme winter storms has struck the region, giving birth to clever portmanteau names such as Snowpocalypse (2009), Snowmageddon (2010) and Snowzilla (2016). So what’s going on? Researchers have previously suggested that extreme weather in the mid-latitudes might be linked to climate change’s impacts on the Arctic (SN Online: 12/2/11), particularly the dramatically decreased sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean. And now, a study published online March 13 in Nature Communications reports a strong correlation between the severe winter weather experienced in the northeastern U.S. over the past decade and the warming trend in the Arctic. Two of the study’s authors, climatologist Judah Cohen of the Massachusetts-based climate and weather risk assessment group Atmospheric and Environmental Research and atmospheric scientist Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, have long been proponents of the hypothesis that the warming Arctic is having profound effects on weather at the midlatitudes (SN: 3/12/15), from severe snowfalls to heat waves. It was Francis who, with a colleague, proposed in 2012 that sea ice loss in the Arctic slows the polar jet stream, a band of air currents flowing above the northern and middle latitudes of Earth. The slowed jet stream would become wavier, with large meanders that might jut deep into the midlatitudes; such waves, the researchers suggested, could allow winter storms to push south and linger.
3-16-18 Cracking new ways to fight plastic waste
Plastic is one of the world's favourite packaging materials - it's cheap, practical and hard wearing. But its durability is part of the problem. Plastic pollution is now a huge issue and consumers are increasingly demanding greener alternatives. So how are companies responding to the pressure? From chocolate biscuits to toothpaste, razors to cigarettes, low-cost products wrapped in plastic line supermarket shelves around the world. The short lifespan and high turnover of these items mean they are a major culprit when it comes to single-use plastic - packaging used just once before being thrown away. For those trying to cut down on their use of plastic, a trip to the supermarket can be a depressing affair. But some manufacturers are finding solutions to the problem. For example, Tipa is an Israeli company that makes compostable plastic packaging. It features a multi-layer film made out of plant-based polymers which disintegrates in the heat and humidity of a home compost heap. British firm Snact, which sells fruit snacks made from food waste, uses Tipa's "bioplastic" packaging. "Just like traditional packaging, we have multiple layers in the film," explains Snact co-founder Michael Minch-Dixon. "One [layer] we print on and that gives all the brand information, and then the other layer is what acts as the barrier, so that keeps out the moisture and the air and makes sure the food stays fresh and safe to eat." He says the material is almost indistinguishable from conventional plastic ,but even the inks and glue are fully home-compostable. "So we can just put it in the compost bin, and like an orange peel it will decompose in about six months' time," he says.
3-15-18 Plastic particles found in bottled water
Tests on major brands of bottled water have found that nearly all of them contained tiny particles of plastic. In the largest investigation of its kind, 250 bottles bought in nine different countries were examined. Research led by journalism organisation Orb Media discovered an average of 10 plastic particles per litre, each larger than the width of a human hair. Companies whose brands were tested told the BBC that their bottling plants were operated to the highest standards. (Webmaster's comment: What a bunch of BS! They haven't even filtered it!)The tests were conducted at the State University of New York in Fredonia. Sherri Mason, a professor of chemistry at the university, conducted the analysis and told BBC News: "We found [plastic] in bottle after bottle and in brand after brand. "It's not about pointing fingers at particular brands; it's really showing that this is everywhere, that plastic has become such a pervasive material in our society, and it’s pervading water - all of these products that we consume at a very basic level." Currently, there is no evidence that ingesting very small pieces of plastic (microplastics) can cause harm, but understanding the potential implications is an active area of science. Commenting on the results, Prof Mason said: "It's not catastrophic, the numbers that we're seeing, but it is concerning." Experts have told the BBC that people in developing countries where tap water may be polluted should continue to drink water from plastic bottles.
3-14-18 The Arctic is sending us signals of impending climate chaos
The immediate disasters of The Day After Tomorrow remains wild exaggeration, but melting ice could yet cause dramatic climate changes by altering ocean currents. WHEN the global warming catastrophe movie The Day After Tomorrow was released in 2004, climate scientists found themselves in the unenviable position of having to put the facts in the way of a good story. The premise of the film is that climate change causes the Gulf Stream to shut down abruptly, plunging the northern hemisphere into a sudden and catastrophic ice age. Although loosely based on science, the deep-freeze scenario is wildly implausible and scientists queued up to pour cold water on it. “It is safe to say that global warming will not lead to the onset of a new ice age,” two distinguished climate scientists wrote in the journal Science. In a curious instance of life imitating art, scientific anxiety about the Gulf Stream also had cold water poured on it around the same time. The idea that the North Atlantic current – a northern extension of the Gulf Stream – could shut down was first proposed in 1961. By the late 1990s, the scientific consensus was that it had stopped in the past and could do so again, possibly with disastrous consequences – albeit not overnight. Gulf Stream anxiety reached its apogee in 2005 when scientists at the University of Southampton, UK, discovered that the North Atlantic current had weakened by a third. But follow-up measurements by the same team showed no clear trend. In 2006, the science was clear enough for New Scientist to declare: “No new ice age for western Europe.”
3-14-18 Polar melt may shut down the Atlantic current that warms Europe
Melting Arctic ice flooding into the Atlantic could put the ocean circulation that warms Europe in danger, triggering dramatic sea level rise and drought. DTHE ocean current that gives western and northern Europe a relatively mild climate might be at greater risk of shutdown than we thought. If the North Atlantic current – the northern segment of the Gulf Stream – does grind to a halt, the effects could be severe, from greater sea level rise on Atlantic coasts to more intense droughts in Africa. During the winter months, seawater in the Arctic cools and sinks, causing warm water to flow into the region from the tropics. But this convection of water to the depths is threatened by the rapid warming in polar regions. To investigate, Marilena Oltmanns and her colleagues at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, studied seawater salinity and temperature data collected in the Irminger Sea to the south of Greenland between 2002 and 2014. In some summers, the seawater at the surface had an unusually high temperature and low salinity – particularly in 2010. This is a sign that more fresh water was flooding into the region, perhaps from melting ice in Greenland or the Arctic Ocean. The fresh water poses a threat to convection because, being less dense than seawater, it has to be cooled to a greater degree before it will sink. To make matters worse, Oltmanns’s team also found evidence that the summers featuring the largest bodies of fresh water are followed by winters that are too mild to provide adequate chilling. Measurements taken during the northern hemisphere winter of 2010-11 confirmed the significance of the problem. Conditions were mild, and so much fresh water had accumulated during the previous summer that 40 per cent of it still remained in the upper 200 metres of the water column when spring arrived.
3-14-18 Rising carbon dioxide levels impair coral growth
Coral reefs are under threat if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, new research has shown. When CO2 dissolves in the ocean, it raises the water's acidity level. This prevents a build up of calcium carbonate, which corals draw from seawater to build their skeleton. The study, published today in Nature, was conducted on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. This marks the first time that ocean acidification has been tested in this way on a natural coral reef community, say the paper's authors. Previous lab-based studies have focused on how particular organisms are impacted by ocean acidification. "But when we try to scale that to understanding how individual ecosystems respond, it would be comparable to looking at a single tree and saying that's how a rainforest would respond," said Dr Rebecca Albright from the California Academy of Sciences, lead author on the study. Dr Claudia Benitez-Nelson at the University of South Carolina described the research as exciting. "We have very few studies that directly examine the impact of ocean acidification in the field, much less at the ecosystem level. Coral ecosystems are unique and complex. Trying to emulate the diversity of such ecosystems is difficult if not impossible," she said.
3-14-18 How concrete and condoms could turn a greenhouse gas green
We need to suck CO2 from the air to solve the climate crisis, but what do we do with it? A budding industry is turning the gas into useful stuff. TAKE a breath. You have just inhaled about 0.6 grams of air, including 0.4 milligrams of carbon dioxide. Had you lived in the 1600s, you would have taken in less than 0.3 milligrams of CO2 with each breath. Although it might not seem like a big difference, the additional greenhouse gas now in the atmosphere is altering the climate at a pace that threatens global havoc. What if we could take CO2 right back out of the air and put it to use? What if, instead of being the most dangerous waste product in human history, it could become the basis for new industries that clean up the planet instead of harming it – and turn a profit too? That is the promise of carbon capture and use (CCU), a burgeoning industry that has attracted billions of dollars in investment, some of it from major oil and gas companies. There are notable success stories. Already, companies are turning carbon dioxide into plastics, fuel and concrete – meaning that you could build your house or power your car with products that keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The real question is whether these start-ups can grow fast enough and to be big enough to make a difference. For that, they need to use enough CO2 to make a significant dent in the billions of tonnes that we emit each year. Governments have agreed to reduce annual emissions and limit global warming to 1.5 or 2°C, the international target enshrined in the 2016 Paris Agreement. But they have left it so late that even if we all made huge cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, the target is nigh-on impossible.
3-14-18 War on plastic may do more harm than good, warns think tank
A green think tank has warned of the risk of unintended consequences from the wave of concern about plastics. The Green Alliance, a parliamentary group, said plastics played a valuable role and couldn't be simply abolished. It wants to transform the notion of a "War on Plastics" into a "War on Plastic Litter". The group - like many environmentalists - gave a grudging welcome to Chancellor Philip Hammond's call for evidence on taxes on single use plastics. But it warned that rejecting all plastic food packaging could prove counter-productive. Agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, so reducing food waste is vital. Well-packed food - perhaps in plastic - helps protect food from damage, so it can actually save on greenhouse gases. The other potential area of concern is the substitution of plastics with plant-based materials. Forests are already being felled to grow crops to feed the world's booming demand for meat production and wild land is also disappearing to produce bio-fuels for cars and electricity generation. But there is a finite amount of land. The Green Alliance fears that a demand for plastic substitutes could also increase the pressure for deforestation. This would, in turn, lead to more greenhouse gases that would warm and acidify the oceans people are anxious to protect.
3-12-18 Polar melt may shut down the Atlantic current that warms Europe
Melting Arctic ice flooding into the Atlantic could put the ocean circulation that warms Europe in danger, triggering dramatic sea-level rise and drought. The ocean current that gives western and northern Europe a relatively mild climate might be at greater risk of shutdown than we thought. If the North Atlantic current – the northern segment of the Gulf Stream – did grind to a halt the effects could be severe, from greater sea-level rise on Atlantic coasts to more intense droughts in Africa. Surface seawater in the subpolar region chills during the winter months, which makes it so cold and dense that it sinks. This process, known as ocean convection, is an important part of the large-scale ocean circulation. But the process is threatened by the rapid warming in polar regions. To investigate, Marilena Oltmanns and her colleagues at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, studied seawater salinity and temperature data collected in the Irminger Sea to the south of Greenland between 2002 and 2014. In some summers, the seawater at the surface had an unusually high temperature and low salinity – particularly in 2010. This is a sign that more fresh water was flooding into the region, perhaps from melting ice in Greenland or the Arctic Ocean. The fresh water poses a threat to convection, because, being less dense than seawater, it has to be cooled to a greater degree before it will sink. To make matters worse, Oltmanns’s team also found evidence that the summers featuring the largest bodies of fresh water are followed by winters that are too mild to provide adequate chilling.
3-12-18 US climate report warns nation will lose out if it doesn’t act
A draft of a US government report argues that the country could reap huge economic and health benefits by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Global warming is caused by human activity and failure to address it will cost the US dearly. That’s the uncompromising message from a draft of a major US report on climate science. The full report is due to be published in the spring by the US Global Change Research Program, a body charged by Congress with assessing climatic impacts on the US every four years. But some of the report’s contents are now public, because it has been reviewed by a committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Their comments were published on Monday and they suggest the government report will pull no punches in detailing the threats posed by climate change. That message might not go down well in the White House. President Trump has previously suggested global warming is a concept “created by and for the Chinese”. Almost no one in the scientific community doubts that climate change is a threat to civilisation, and is largely caused by human activity. But because of Trump’s views, scientists have expressed fears that the White House could change or suppress government reports on climate science. So far, though, it does not seem to be happening. In November the US Global Change Research Program published volume one of its Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), on the causes of climate change.
3-12-18 Microplastics are 'littering' riverbeds
Microscopic plastic beads, fragments and fibres are littering riverbeds across the UK - from rural streams to urban waterways. This is according to a study that analysed sediments from rivers in north-west England. Scientists from the University of Manchester tested river sediments at 40 sites throughout Greater Manchester and found "microplastics everywhere". There is evidence that such small particles can enter the food chain. The findings, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, are the first from a "systematic basin-wide" study, the researchers say. In a first round of tests, just one of the sites - in the upper reaches of the River Goyt, which is one of the tributaries of the River Mersey - contained no plastic. But when the researchers returned to that site to repeat their test, that area had become contaminated. "I think that it is likely that there are even higher concentrations in some of the large rivers passing through global megacities," said lead researcher Dr Rachel Hurley. "We just need to get out there and see. We still don't know the full scale of the microplastic problem," she told BBC News. "Wherever you have people and industry, you will have high levels of microplastic," added Prof Jamie Woodward, from Manchester University's School of Geography.
SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS
3-17-18 Why we make bad life choices
As it turns out, humans aren't always the best at decision-making. there I was, looking at an enormous wall of television screens. Each one flashed the exact same scene — a beautiful flower slowly blooming to reveal each petal, pistil, and stamen in exquisite super high definition detail. It was downright sexy. But now it was time to make my choice. Would I buy the $400 television within my budget or would I splurge on the $500 deluxe model that somehow helped me understand plant biology in a new, more intimate way? Though every cone and rod in my eyeballs begged me to buy the better one, my more sensible instinct kicked in. "Your budget is $400, remember?" Sighing, I bought the crappy model and braced for a life of media mediocrity. But then, a strange thing happened. When I fired up the new set at home, it looked fine. Better than fine, in fact. It looked great! I couldn't figure out why I even wanted the pricier model in the first place.
- Why the change of heart? Among a host of brain biases, I fell victim to distinction bias — a tendency to over-value the effect of small quantitative differences when comparing options.
- Choose for chocolate: In studies, about two-thirds of people opt for more chocolate.
- Your brain isn't that smart: Psychologists believe we are in two different modes when we compare options versus when we experience them.
- How to outsmart your brain:
- Don't compare options side by side
- Know your "must-haves" before you look
- Optimize for things you can't get used to
3-17-18 Essential oils in hygiene products may make boys grow breasts
Some substances in lavender and tea tree essential oils seem to mimic the hormone oestrogen, which could explain why they have been linked to breast growth. Essential oils from plants are touted as having many beneficial properties. But just because they’re natural doesn’t mean they’re harmless – two commonly used plant oils seem to mimic female hormones in the body, occasionally causing boys to grow breasts. Chemicals from lavender are often used in toiletries for their scent, and are said to aid relaxation. Tea tree oil is a mild antiseptic and a common ingredient of children’s hair products as it is claimed to prevent head lice, although there is little evidence to show it works. But both of these may have side effects. In 2007, doctors reported three cases of prepubescent boys who had started developing small breasts, despite having the expected hormone levels for their sex and age. Breast growth in all three boys began when they started using products such as soap or shampoo that contained lavender or tea tree oils. A similar effect has been reported with a lavender cologne popular with Hispanic communities in the US, however tests on rats have suggested lavender oil has no such effect. To investigate this, Kenneth Korach of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Durham, North Carolina and his team have been investigating eight chemicals that must be present in a product for it to be marketed as containing either of these plant oils.
3-16-18 The FDA wants to cut the nicotine in cigarettes by a third
Tobacco companies could be forced to slash the amount of nicotine in US cigarettes, under radical plans from the Food and Drug Administration. Tobacco firms could be forced to slash the amount of nicotine in US cigarettes, under radical plans from the Food and Drug Administration. Proposals announced yesterday would see the amount of nicotine in most existing cigarettes cut by a third, from about 1.5 milligrams of nicotine per cigarette down to between 0.3 to 0.5 milligrams. It’s the nicotine in cigarettes that make them addictive, and according to one analysis, this change would cause 5 million people to quit smoking in the first year and deter 33 million people from taking it up by 2100. The FDA is now seeking feedback on this plan, but critics are warning this could lead to a lucrative black market for higher-nicotine cigarettes. “It carries a serious risk of unintended consequences,” says Deborah Arnott of UK campaign group Action on Smoking and Health. The idea of forcing tobacco firms to lower the amount of nicotine in their cigarettes as a way of making them less addictive has been mooted for years. But studies have shown that when given tobacco with only a little less nicotine, smokers instinctively get more from each cigarette by inhaling more deeply or covering air holes with their fingers. “People smoke in such a way that lets them reach the blood level of nicotine they want,” says Martin Jarvis of University College London.
3-16-18 Bacteria-killing nanofibres could make clothes that stop disease
Antimicrobial fabric could slow the spread of diseases like Ebola. These nanofibres kill viruses and bacteria, and their active ingredient recharges in daylight. In outbreaks of lethal pathogens like the Ebola virus or food-borne bacteria, health care workers and lab staff alike need the most effective antimicrobial clothing they can get. But there is a problem with today’s bug-busting suits, face masks and gloves: the active ingredient, or biocide, impregnated into their fabrics is consumed in the process of destroying the virus or bacterium – so they get less and less effective over time. Not for much longer, perhaps. Polymer chemists led by Yang Si and Gang Sun at the University of California in Davis have engineered a biocidal material where the active ingredient is constantly recharged by a widely available, free resource: broad daylight. The team say this fibrous membrane can be inserted into the fabric of protective clothing. It was formed in a process called electrospinning, in which polymers are melted and then drawn into threads that can be criss-crossed to make a mat-like membrane that has pores that trap viruses and bacteria. Sun and Si used electrospinning to create a membrane from two substances: a plant extract called chlorogenic acid which is then grafted onto benzophenone, an additive from sunscreen, soap and perfume. Both substances have the useful property that, in daylight and in the presence of oxygen, they produce pathogen-killing hydroxl radicals and superoxides – collectively known as reactive oxygen species, or ROS. The oxygen comes from air, while the hydrogen is produced by the nanomaterial.
3-16-18 Inked mice hint at how tattoos persist in people
Immune cells pass pigment from one generation to the next. Tattoos may have staying power because of a hand off between generations of immune cells known as macrophages, say a group of French researchers. If true, this would overturn notions that tattoo ink persists in connective tissue or in long-lasting macrophages. Immunologist Sandrine Henri of the Immunology Center of Marseille-Luminy, in France, and colleagues tattooed mice tails with green ink to see how waste-disposing macrophages in the skin would respond. “Macrophages will scavenge everything. That’s their job,” Henri says. “If they could do their job properly, tattoo ink would be removed rapidly.” In the experiment, described March 6 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, macrophages gobbled up the ink as expected, but did not digest and remove it. Instead, the cells held onto the ink until the researchers killed the cells. About 90 days later, new macrophages moved in and reabsorbed the ink. This capture-release-recapture cycle was key to preserving the tattoos, the researchers say.
3-16-18 Electrodes fitted behind your ear can make you walk faster
A type of electrical skull stimulation makes us step out faster with longer strides – a finding that could help people with balance disorders to walk more easily. Mild electrical stimulation just behind the ear seems to boost our balance and makes us walk more quickly with longer strides. The finding could lead to a device that helps people with balance disorders get around more easily. When we move, hairs in our inner ears detect changes in speed and feed this information back to the brain, helping to stabilise vision and posture, improving our balance. Shinichi Iwasaki, at the University of Tokyo, Japan, and his colleagues have found that electrical stimulation seems to enhance this, prompting people to walk faster. To target the hair cells of volunteers, his team placed electrodes over their mastoids – a part of the skull just behind the ear. They used these to deliver electrical current that fluctuated in frequency, making it a “noisy” signal – but not in the audible sense. In previous experiments, the team had found that this kind of stimulation improved people’s posture while standing still. This time, the team asked participants to wear a portable stimulator and walk at a speed they felt comfortable with for 15 metres. In this experiment, 19 people were exposed to this kind of stimulation at a range of currents up to 1000 microamps, and with no current at all.
3-15-18 The power of touch
The simple act of holding hands with a loving partner can significantly reduce physical pain, a new study suggests. Researchers asked 22 heterosexual couples who had been together for at least a year to undergo brain scans as they participated in different scenarios. The women either sat holding hands with their partners, sat nearby but did not touch them, or were in a different room. The scenarios were then repeated, but this time the women were subjected to mild pain. Overall, the women found that holding hands reduced the intensity of their pain by an average of 34 percent. The brain scans showed that when the couples held hands, their brain waves became synchronized—and that this “coupling” effect was even greater when the women were in pain. The researchers speculate that supportive touch could help people feel understood, which may trigger pain-reducing reward systems in the brain. “We have developed a lot of ways to communicate in the modern world, and we have fewer physical interactions,” lead author Pavel Goldstein, from the University of Colorado Boulder, tells ScienceDaily.com. “This [research] illustrates the power and importance of human touch.”
3-15-18 Band-aid made of youthful protein stops wounds from scarring
Wounds heal faster and without visible scarring when given patches containing a skin protein that we make more of when we’re very young. A band-aid made of a protein that’s more common in fetal skin can heal wounds quickly, with no visible scarring. We know from in utero surgery that fetus skin doesn’t scar. One reason for this is that it contains scaffolds of a protein called fibronectin that help re-order skin cells after injury. But skin loses most of this fibronectin by birth. From then on, it re-forms in a haphazard way when it’s damaged, leaving thick, lumpy scars. Christophe Chantre at Harvard University and his colleagues wondered if they could restore the seamless healing of fetal skin by coating wounds with fibronectin fibres. They synthesised long, fibrous webs of fibronectin protein in the lab, and cut these into circular patches that were 1 centimetre in diameter. They then tested them on eight adult mice that each had two deep wounds on their back. For each mouse, one wound was covered with a fibronectin patch and a protective plastic film, and the other just with plastic film. The fibronectin-treated wounds healed faster and closed by day 11, three days faster than the untreated ones. By day 16, they had no visible scarring and were covered with new fur.
3-15-18 The ocean can make you sick
People who swim in the sea have a significantly higher risk of developing nasty infections, reports MedicalDaily.com. Scientists at the University of Exeter in England analyzed 19 studies involving more than 120,000 people living in wealthy, developed countries such as the U.S., the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Norway. They found that those who swim in the ocean are 77 percent more likely to develop an earache, 44 percent more likely to have diarrhea, and at 29 percent greater risk for a gastrointestinal infection. The researchers say fecal bacteria from pollution is to blame, noting that thousands of tons of agricultural runoff, sewage, and other wastes are dumped into the ocean each day. “We’ve come a long way in terms of cleaning up our waters,” says research supervisor Will Gaze. “But our evidence shows there is still work to be done.”
3-15-18 Our ancestors mated with the mystery ‘Denisovan’ people – twice
The genes of extinct hominins called Denisovans live on in people from China and Papua New Guinea, suggesting two instances of cross-species breeding. Our ancestors mated with another species of ancient hominins, the Denisovans, on at least two occasions. The discovery suggests that Denisovans were widely across Asia, and apparently co-existed happily with modern humans, to the point of having children with them in two different parts of the ancient world. The Denisovans were unknown until 2010, when researchers described a fragment of a girl’s finger bone found in Denisova cave in Siberia. Soon afterwards, researchers sequenced its genome from the surviving DNA. The DNA did not belong to any known hominins, such as Neanderthals, so it had to be something new. What’s more, around 5 per cent of the DNA of some Australasians – particularly people from Papua New Guinea – is Denisovan. Humans evidently mated with Denisovans 50,000 or more years ago. But this posed a puzzle: why were the present-day descendants of Denisovans so far from the Denisovans’ Siberian home? The simplest explanation was that Denisovans lived throughout much of Asia, including South East Asia, not just Siberia. Sharon Browning of the University of Washington in Seattle and her colleagues have now found evidence of a second instance of human-Denisovan interbreeding – on the Asian mainland.
3-15-18 Ancient climate shifts may have sparked human ingenuity and networking
Stone tools suggest rise of humanlike behaviors by 320,000 years ago. Dramatic shifts in the East African climate may have driven toolmaking advances and the development of trading networks among Homo sapiens or their close relatives by the Middle Stone Age, roughly 320,000 years ago. That’s the implication of discoveries reported in three papers published online March 15 in Science. Newly excavated Middle Stone Age tools and red pigment chunks from southern Kenya’s Olorgesailie Basin appear to have been part of a long trend of climate-driven behavior changes in members of the Homo genus that amped up in H. sapiens. Locations of food sources can vary unpredictably on changing landscapes. H. sapiens and their precursors responded by foraging over larger areas with increasingly smaller tools, the researchers propose. Obsidian used for the Middle Stone Age tools came from far away, raising the likelihood of long-distance contacts and trading among hominid populations near humankind’s root. At roughly 320,000 years old, the excavated Middle Stone Age tools are the oldest of their kind, paleoanthropologist Rick Potts and colleagues report in one of the new papers. Researchers had previously estimated that such tools — spearpoints and other small implements struck from prepared chunks of stone — date to no earlier than 280,000 to possibly 300,000 years ago. Other more primitive, handheld cutting stones made of local rock date from around 1.2 million to 499,000 years ago at Olorgesailie. Gradual downsizing of those tools, including oval hand axes, occurred from 615,000 to 499,000 years ago, a stretch characterized by frequent shifts between wet and dry conditions, the scientists say.
3-15-18 Changing environment influenced human evolution
Humans may have developed advanced social behaviours and trade 100,000 years earlier than previously thought. This is according to a series of papers published today in Science. The results come from an archaeological site in Kenya's rift valley. "Over one million years of time" is represented at the site, according to Rick Potts from the Smithsonian Institution, who was involved in the studies. There are also signs of developments in toolmaking technologies. Environmental change may have been a key influence in this evolution of early Homo sapiens in the region of the Olorgesailie dig site. Early humans were in the area for about 700,000 years, making large hand axes from nearby stone, explained Dr Potts. "[Technologically], things changed very slowly, if at all, over hundreds of thousands of years," he said. Then, roughly 500,000 years ago, something did change. A period of tectonic upheaval and erratic climate conditions swept across the region, and there is a 180,000 year interruption in the geological record due to erosion. It was not only the landscape that altered, but also the plant and animal life in the region - transforming the resources available to our early ancestors. When the record resumes, the way of life of these early humans has completely changed. "The speed of the transition is really remarkable," Dr Potts said. "Sometime in that [gap] there was a switch, a very rapid period of evolution."
3-15-18 Liverwort reproductive organ inspires pipette design
The tool relies on water’s surface tension to hold a droplet. The sex organs of primitive plants are inspiring precise pipettes. Liverworts are a group of ground-hugging plants with male and female reproductive structures shaped like tiny palm trees. The female structures nab sperm-packed water droplets by surrounding them with their fronds, like an immobilized claw in an arcade machine. Scientists have coopted that design to create a plastic pipette that can pick up and transfer precise amounts of water, researchers report March 14 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Normally, the female reproductive structures of the umbrella liverwort (Marchantia polymorpha) clutch the spermy droplets beneath their fronds around the stems. But researchers flipped the umbrella-like cap upside down and stuck it onto a needle so it instead resembled a broom. That rejiggered liverwort could capture a droplet when dipped into water. Tilted at just the right angle, the drop slid back out.
3-14-18 Hospital admissions show the opioid crisis affects kids, too
More kids are suffering the consequences of opioid poisoning, an analysis of pediatric intensive care units shows. The rise in the abuse of opioids — powerfully addictive painkillers — is driven by adults. But kids are also swept up in the current, a new study makes clear. The number of children admitted to pediatric intensive care units at hospitals for opioid-related trouble nearly doubled between 2004 and 2015, researchers report in the March Pediatrics. Researchers combed through medical records from 46 hospitals around the United States, looking for opioid-related reasons for admission to the hospital. When the researchers looked at children who landed in pediatric intensive care units for opioid-related crises, the numbers were grim, nearly doubling. In the period including 2004 to 2007, 367 children landed in the PICU for opioid-related trouble. In the period including 2012 to 2015, that number was 643. (From 2008 to 2011, 554 kids were admitted to the PICU for opioid-related illnesses.) Most opioid-related hospital admissions were for children ages 12 to 17, the researchers found. The available stats couldn’t say how many of those events were accidental ingestions versus intentional drug use. (Though for older kids, there’s a sliver of good news from elsewhere: Prescription opioid use among teenagers is actually down, a recent survey suggests.) But about a third of the hospitalizations were for children younger than 6. And among these young kids, about 20 percent of the poisonings involved methadone, a drug that’s used to treat opioid addiction. That means that these young kids are getting into adults’ drugs (illicit or prescribed) and accidentally ingesting them.
3-14-18 New shades: The controversial quest to ‘fix’ colour blindness
Worldwide, 300 million people lack full colour vision. We try out a pair of specs that aim to "fix" colour blindness, and ask if that's something we want to do. Around the world, 300 million people lack full colour vision. For most, from the moment they first opened their eyes as newborns, they saw the world with a different palette to others. And I am one of them. So when I discovered the hype around the glasses, I had to try them. But this obsession over a way to correct colour blindness also got me thinking. How big a problem is colour deficiency really? And do we actually want to treat it? Humans see in colour thanks to cone cells in the retina. There are three types of these cells, each tuned to different wavelengths of visible light that roughly correspond to what we see as three colours: blue (short wavelengths), green (medium) and red (long). In most people, the brain uses the output of the cells to process a full spectrum of colours. These individuals are called trichromats. But 1 in 12 men and 1 in 150 women are affected by colour blindness, of which there are several kinds. It affects more men than women because the faulty gene responsible is passed on via the X-chromosome – so women need two copies to have the condition, otherwise their unaffected X-chromosome can compensate.
3-14-18 The shocking truth of Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments
Milgram dismayed the world when he revealed how little it took to turn everyday people into torturers – but we were misled. WEARING a neat suit and tie, Adolf Eichmann brought the horror of Nazi concentration camps into American living rooms, making a new generation aware of the second world war’s atrocities. Eichmann was a high-ranking officer of the Third Reich, and his trial for war crimes was televised nightly across the US from April to August 1961. Stanley Milgram was riveted. He was a 26-year-old assistant professor at Yale University with childhood memories of the war, such as gathering around the radio with his family in their Brooklyn apartment for news of Jewish relatives in Eastern Europe. As the trial unfolded, Eichmann insisted he was merely following orders. This gave Milgram an idea for a research project that would become one of the most controversial experiments in the history of psychology. Milgram’s exploration into the limits of obedience to authority captured the public imagination, not least because of his chilling conclusion: that the majority of us could become torturers with just a few words of encouragement from a single authority figure. I arrived at Yale in 2007, excited to take a close look at this classic experiment and its recently released archive material. But what I found revealed a disturbing, twisted tale. This landmark research is as misunderstood as it is famous. In the early 1960s, social psychology was still an emerging discipline, one that quickly gained a reputation for experiments that concealed their true nature so as to trick people into behaving naturally. Pioneers like Milgram were expected to develop storytelling, acting and stagecraft skills as part of their research toolkit.
3-14-18 A quarter of people have bad reactions to fragranced products
Growing numbers of people say they get asthma, migraines or skin problems when they’re exposed to chemicals in products like deodorants and air fresheners. Increasing numbers of people in the US say that exposure to fragranced products is making them ill. According to a survey of more than 1100 people, one in four are now sensitive to everyday chemicals found in products like deodorants and air fresheners. “We’re exposed to these chemicals continuously, but people may not realise they’re being harmed until it’s too late, and then they have chemical sensitivity,” says Anne Steinemann of the University of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, who conducted the survey. Back in 2002, less than 3 per cent of respondents to a similar survey said they had been medically diagnosed with sensitivity to such chemicals. But in the latest survey, this has risen to 13 per cent, with 26 per cent diagnosing themselves as experiencing physical reactions to chemicals. Asthmatic problems were most prominent, reported by 71 per cent of those with medically diagnosed sensitivity and 59 per cent of the self-reporters. Migraines, skin problems and shortness of breath were also commonly reported symptoms. Of the 145 respondents with medically-diagnosed sensitivity, almost 60 per cent said they could no longer bear to visit public restrooms that use air fresheners, deodorisers or scented products. More than half—55 per cent—couldn’t wash their hands if soaps contained fragrances. Of those who had been medically diagnosed, 58 per cent were men, and 42 per cent were women. The most sensitive age group in men was ages 25 to 34.
3-14-18 Ten connected miniature organs are best human-on-a-chip yet
Ten miniature organs have been connected together to create the closest we’ve come yet to a human-on-a-chip – a system that may one day replace animal testing. Ten miniature models of various human organs have been connected together to create the closest we’ve come yet to a human-on-a-chip. The system survived for four weeks, and allowed scientists to test the effects of a common painkiller on multiple organs. Such systems could eventually do away with animal testing, says Linda Griffith at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led the work. Scientists around the world have been developing organs-on-chips. These typically comprise a 3D structure that contains multiple types of cells from a particular organ, and they are kept alive with a continuous flow of a nutrient-rich fluid. This makes them more representative of human organs in the body than cells in a tube or animal models, says Griffith. In 2011, Griffith and her colleagues were awarded a $37 million grant by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to connect 10 such organs together to better mimic the human body. “I thought it was super-ambitious, but we ultimately did it,” says Griffith. The team began by connecting their models of the lung, gut, and endometrium to a liver chip. Once they had got this working, they added other organs-on-chips – brain, heart, pancreas, kidney, skin and muscle. All of the tissue in the organs on chips survived for the four weeks they were tested, says Griffith. The organs-on-chips also showed signs of acting like true human organs, producing similar proteins. When the team applied a common painkiller called diclofenac to the gut chip, they found that other chips seemed to respond similarly to human organs.
3-13-18 Brain waves may focus attention and keep information flowing
Studies suggest the oscillations created by nerve cell activity have roles of their own. We can’t see it, but brains hum with electrical activity. Brain waves created by the coordinated firing of huge collections of nerve cells pinball around the brain. The waves can ricochet from the front of the brain to the back, or from deep structures all the way to the scalp and then back again. Called neuronal oscillations, these signals are known to accompany certain mental states. Quiet alpha waves ripple soothingly across the brains of meditating monks. Beta waves rise and fall during intense conversational turns. Fast gamma waves accompany sharp insights. Sluggish delta rhythms lull deep sleepers, while dreamers shift into slightly quicker theta rhythms. Researchers have long argued over whether these waves have purpose, and what those purposes might be. Some scientists see waves as inevitable but useless by-products of the signals that really matter — messages sent by individual nerve cells. Waves are simply a consequence of collective neural behavior, and nothing more, that view holds. But a growing body of evidence suggests just the opposite: Instead of by-products of important signals, brain waves are key to how the brain operates, routing information among far-flung brain regions that need to work together. MIT’s Earl Miller is among the neuroscientists amassing evidence that waves are an essential part of how the brain operates. Brain oscillations deftly route information in a way that allows the brain to choose which signals in the world to pay attention to and which to ignore, his recent studies suggest.
3-13-18 Dinobird Archaeopteryx only flew in short bursts like a pheasant
The bird-like dinosaur Archaeopteryx could flap its wings to fly, but only for short bursts – like a modern pheasant flapping to escape danger. A winged dinosaur widely regarded as the first bird seems to have flown like a pheasant. The Jurassic dinobird Archaeopteryx flapped its wings but was not capable of long distance active flight. Nor could it glide and soar, like modern-day birds of prey. Instead, Archaeopteryx probably made short bursts of limited low-level flight to escape danger, scientists believe. Present day pheasants adopt the same strategy when they take to the air to avoid predators, or gun-waving humans. The new study involved using a powerful X-ray beam to probe fossil bones. It also confirmed that 150 million years ago Archaeopteryx was an “active” flyer. It flapped its wings and properly flew, rather than gliding from tree to tree. Scientists conducted the research at ESRF, the European Synchrotron facility in Grenoble, France. Here, electrons accelerated around a circular tunnel generate X-rays 100 billion times more powerful than those in hospitals. The X-rays can be employed to analyse the internal structure of numerous different materials, including fossils. For the new study, the ESRF X-ray beam was used to peer inside the bones of three Archaeopteryx specimens without damaging the valuable fossils.
3-13-18 Dino-bird had wings made for flapping, not just gliding
Fossil analysis suggests Archaeopteryx was capable of bursts of flight, like today’s pheasants. Archaeopteryx was a flapper, not just a glider. The shape of the ancient bird’s wing bones suggests it was capable of short bursts of active, flapping flight, similar to how modern birds like pheasants and quails fly to escape predators, a new study finds. One of the earliest birds, Archaeopteryx lived about 150 million years ago during the Jurassic Period, spanning the evolutionary gap between modern birds and feathered dinosaurs. Fossils of the primitive fowl have been instrumental in the recognition that birds are dinosaurs (SN Online: 7/31/14). But researchers have long wrangled over how well these ancient dino-birds could fly. Archaeopteryx doesn’t have several features considered essential to flight in modern birds, such as a keeled breastbone to which several important flight muscles attach; a ball-and-socket arrangement that allows the wing to flap fully up over the back and down again; and a muscle pulley system that links chest and shoulder muscles, allowing the birds to swiftly alternate between powerful downstrokes and upstrokes. Previous researchers also have suggested that Archaeopteryx’s plumage was too delicate and might have snapped with vigorous flapping (SN: 6/5/10, p. 12). Based on these observations, the primitive bird was thought to merely glide from branch to branch, rather than flapping its wings to fly.
3-13-18 Archaeopteryx flew like a pheasant, say scientists
The famous winged dinosaur Archaeopteryx was capable of flying, according to a new study. An international research team used powerful X-ray beams to peer inside its bones, showing they were almost hollow, as in modern birds. The creature flew like a pheasant, using short bursts of active flight, say scientists. Archaeopteryx has been a source of fascination since the first fossils were found in the 1860s. Treading the line between birds and dinosaurs, the animal was a similar size to a magpie, with feathered wings, sharp teeth and a long bony tail. After scanning Archaeopteryx fossils in a particle accelerator known as a synchrotron, researchers found its wing bones matched modern birds that flap their wings to fly short distances or in bursts. "Archaeopteryx seems optimised for incidental active flight," said lead researcher Dennis Voeten of the ESRF, the European Synchrotron facility in Grenoble, France. "We imagine something like pheasants and quails," he told BBC News. "If they have to fly to evade a predator they will make a very quick ascent, typically followed by a very short horizontal flight and then they make a running escape afterwards." The question of whether Archaeopteryx was a ground dweller, a glider or able to fly has been the subject of debate since the days of Darwin. Steve Brusatte, of the University of Edinburgh, UK, who is not connected with the study, said this was the best evidence yet that the animal was capable of powered flight. "I think it's case closed now," he said. "Archaeopteryx was capable of at least short bursts of powered flight. It's amazing that sticking a fossil into a synchrotron can reveal so much about how it behaved as a real animal back when it was alive."
3-13-18 Humans 'thrived' after historic Mount Toba eruption
Early humans may have flourished after the largest volcanic eruption in history, according to new research. Mount Toba erupted in Indonesia about 74,000 years ago. The event was long thought to have caused a volcanic winter, drastically reducing the global human population at the time. Recent excavations in South Africa suggest that settlements there not only endured the cataclysm, but may have "thrived" in its wake. The findings complement previous work in Lake Malawi, which searched lake bed cores for evidence of a global climate catastrophe at the time of the eruption, but could find none. An international team excavated two sites on the south coast of South Africa, finding evidence of human activity both before and after the eruption. "We're the first ones to really address the question of the Toba hypothesis in Africa. It's in Africa that it really counts, because that's the source location of modern humans," Dr Marean, an author of the paper published yesterday in Nature, told BBC News. The scientists found tiny shards of volcanic glass in the sediment at both sites. These form part of the debris ejected from a volcano during an eruption, known as tephra. When chemically analysed, the shards were found to be a match for Mount Toba, around 9,000 km away. These are thought to be the first volcanic deposits of their kind recorded so far from their source; further testament to the strength of the Toba eruption. It is believed to have been the largest on Earth in the last 2.5 million years.
3-13-18 Tracing sickle cell back to one child, 7,300 years ago
New research suggests that the history of sickle-cell disease goes back to a mutation in just one person, a development researchers hope will make treatment less complicated for the many people who suffer from this painful illness. So how have they traced it and why does it matter? The story of sickle-cell disease is, first and foremost, a study in how a good thing can come with bad consequences. Once upon a time in what is now the Sahara desert, a child was born with heightened immunity to malaria - important because at the time, this part of Africa was wet and rainy and covered with forest. It was a great habitat for mosquitoes, which carry malaria, a disease that these days kills one child every two minutes. With a better chance against an illness that was a major killer, then as now, this child with the genetic mutation lived and had children, and those children spread out, all bolstered with extra defences against malaria and living for longer, and their descendants around the world still have those extra defences today, more than 250 generations later. But here's where the bad consequences come in. If both your parents have that gene mutation, you can end up with sickle cell disease, which brings severe pain and other complications to its patients. These include shortness of breath, strokes and vision problems. And people who inherit the gene from both parents do not have its protection against malaria. The researchers say they traced the mutation back for 7,300 years, and found it started with just one child.
3-12-18 Found: more than 500 genes that are linked to intelligence
Intelligence is thought to be up to 80 per cent genetic, but it’s been hard to pin down the genes involved. Now the largest study of its kind has found hundreds. More than 500 genes associated with intelligence have been identified in the largest study of its kind. Researchers used data from the UK Biobank, comparing DNA variants from more than 240,000 people. Their analysis identified 538 genes linked to intellectual ability, and 187 regions of the human genome that are associated with thinking skills. Some of these genes are also linked to other biological processes, including living longer. However, even with all these genes, it’s still difficult to predict a person’s intelligence from their genomes. When they analysed the DNA of a group of different people, the team were only able to predict 7 per cent of the intelligence differences between those people. It is thought that around 50 to 80 per cent of variation in general intelligence between people is down to genetics. But environment plays a role too. Well-nourished children brought up in safe, unpolluted and stimulating environments score better in IQ tests than deprived children, for instance.
3-12-18 Psychopaths pay less attention to what other people are thinking
Psychopaths in films and TV are often masters of manipulation, but in real life they’re not so good at subconsciously registering other people’s perspectives. Psychopaths in films and TV are often masters of manipulation, but in real life they’re not so good at taking other people’s perspectives into account. The ability to understand that other people can have different beliefs and opinions to our own develops in the first few years of our lives. Known as theory of mind, this plays a fundamental role in our social interactions. Recent evidence suggests that theory of mind has two components – an explicit kind, where we consciously reason about what someone else is thinking, and a more automatic version that influences our decision-making subconsciously. Psychopaths are known to be have normal abilities when it comes to explicitly working out what other people are thinking. But Arielle Baskin-Sommers of Yale University and her colleagues have now found out that psychopaths are worse than the average person at subconsciously registering someone else’s perspective. The team recruited 106 prisoners from a maximum-security prison in Connecticut. Using a standard mental health questionnaire, the team found that 22 of them were psychopathic, 28 were definitely not psychopathic, and the others scored somewhere in the middle.
3-12-18 Being in a relationship really does seem to make you fatter
A massive study has found that couples tend to have healthier lifestyles than single people, but that doesn’t stop them from piling on the pounds. You really do put on weight in a relationship. A massive study has found that couples tend to have healthier lifestyles than single people, but that doesn’t stop them from piling on the pounds. To investigate the links between relationship status and health, Stephanie Schoeppe, at Central Queensland University in Australia, and her colleagues analysed a decade of survey data from over 15,000 volunteers. Each person had answered questions about their lifestyle choices, such as how active they were, how much fast food they ate, and how much time they spent watching television. In their analysis, the team accounted for variables that might affect a person’s responses, including their age, sex, employment status and level of education. They found that couples and singles seem to do the same amount of physical activity, and watch similar amounts of television. But generally, people in relationships seemed to make other healthier lifestyle choices, says Schoeppe. Couples ate more fruit and vegetables and less fast food, they drank less alcohol, and they smoked less too. Other studies have shown that if couples are happy with their relationship, they’re more likely to want to live healthier lifestyles because they want their relationship to last longer too, says Jerica Berge, at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
3-12-18 Genes have a role in empathy, study says
It helps us to make close connections with people, and influences how we behave in a range of situations, from the workplace to a party. Now scientists say empathy is not just something we develop through our upbringing and life experiences - it is also partly inherited. A study of 46,000 people found evidence for the first time that genes have a role in how empathetic we are. And it also found that women are generally more empathetic than men. Empathy has an important role in our relationships. It helps us recognise other people's emotions and it guides us to respond appropriately, such as by knowing when someone is upset and wants to be comforted. It is largely considered to be something we develop through childhood and our life experiences. But in this new paper, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, scientists looked to see if how empathetic we are can be traced to our genes. Participants in the study had their "empathy quotient" (EQ) measured with a questionnaire, and gave saliva samples for DNA testing. Scientists then looked for differences in their genes that could explain why some of us are more empathetic than others. They found that at least 10% of the differences in how empathetic people are is down to genetics.(Webmaster's comment: The fact that women are more empathic than men should have been a strong clue that empathy has a strong genetic component.)
3-12-18 Muscle loss in old age linked to fewer nerve signals
Researchers say they may have worked out why there is a natural loss of muscle in the legs as people age - and that it is due to a loss of nerves. In tests on 168 men, they found that nerves controlling the legs decreased by around 30% by the age of 75. This made muscles waste away, but in older fitter athletes there was a better chance of them being 'rescued' by nerves re-connecting. The scientists published their research in the Journal of Physiology. As people get older, their leg muscles become smaller and weaker, leading to problems with everyday movements such as walking up stairs or getting out of a chair. It is something that affects everyone eventually, but why it happens is not fully understood. Prof Jamie McPhee, from Manchester Metropolitan University, said young adults usually had 60-70,000 nerves controlling movement in the legs from the lumbar spine. But his research showed this changed significantly in old age. "There was a dramatic loss of nerves controlling the muscles - a 30-60% loss - which means they waste away," he said. "The muscles need to receive a proper signal from the nervous system to tell them to contract, so we can move around." Although it is not known why connections between muscles and nerves break down with age, finding out more about muscle loss could help scientists find ways of reversing the condition in the future.
3-12-18 How biology breaks the ‘cerebral mystique’
The Biological Mind explores how the brain, body and environment make us who we are. At a small eatery in Seville, Spain, Alan Jasanoff had his first experience with brains — wrapped in eggs and served with potatoes. At the time, he was more interested in finding a good, affordable meal than contemplating the sheer awesomeness of the organ he was eating. Years later, Jasanoff began studying the brain as part of his training as a neuroscientist, and he went on, like so many others, to revere it. It is said, after all, to be the root of our soul and consciousness. But today, Jasanoff has yet another view: He has come to see our awe of the organ as a seriously flawed way of thinking, and even a danger to society. In The Biological Mind, Jasanoff, now a neuroscientist at MIT, refers to the romanticized view of the brain — its separateness and superiority to the body and its depiction as almost supernatural — as the “cerebral mystique.” Such an attitude has been fueled, in part, by images that depict the brain without any connection to the body or by analogies that compare the brain to a computer. Admittedly, the brain does have tremendous computing power. But Jasanoff’s goal is to show that the brain doesn’t work as a distinct, mystical entity, but as a ball of flesh awash with fluids and innately in tune with the rest of the body and the environment. “Self” doesn’t just come from the brain, he explains, but also from the interactions of chemicals from our bodies with everything else around us.
3-11-18 Depression among new mothers is finally getting some attention
Why is a happy time of life a dark time for some women? On the hormonal roller coaster of life, the ups and downs of childbirth are the Tower of Power. For nine long months, a woman’s body and brain absorb a slow upwelling of hormones, notably progesterone and estrogen. The ovaries and placenta produce these two chemicals in a gradual but relentless rise to support the developing fetus. With the birth of a baby, and the immediate expulsion of the placenta, hormone levels plummet. No other physiological change comes close to this kind of free fall in both speed and intensity. For most women, the brain and body make a smooth landing, but more than 1 in 10 women in the United States may have trouble coping with the sudden crash. Those new mothers are left feeling depressed, isolated or anxious at a time society expects them to be deliriously happy. This has always been so. Mental struggles following childbirth have been recognized for as long as doctors have documented the experience of pregnancy. Hippocrates described a woman’s restlessness and insomnia after giving birth. In the 19th century, some doctors declared that mothers were suffering from “insanity of pregnancy” or “insanity of lactation.” Women were sent to mental hospitals. Modern medicine recognizes psychiatric suffering in new mothers as an illness like any other, but the condition, known as postpartum depression, still bears stigma. Both depression and anxiety are thought to be woefully underdiagnosed in new mothers, given that many women are afraid to admit that a new baby is anything less than a bundle of joy. It’s not the feeling they expected when they were expecting.
ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY
3-15-18 Lab-grown pet food promises a wholesome vegan lifestyle for dogs
Fungi grown in bioreactors might give dogs a vegan lifestyle, but we don’t know if it will be a healthy one. Vegan numbers are on the rise. To try to encourage everyone and their dog to join the movement, a startup in California are growing fungus-based dog food in bioreactors. Wild Earth touts its vegan food as ‘clean protein’ that has all the nutrients a dog needs, hoping to appeal to people concerned about the significant carbon footprint of pet food, as well as the use of low-quality animal byproducts. The company makes the unusual food by pumping sugar into a bioreactor, a large cylindrical apparatus for growing fungi. This allows their fast-growing fungus called Aspergillus oryzae to thrive, with its cells dividing every 2 to 4 hours. Technicians then strain the solution and bake the result into dog pellets. Aspergillus oryzae is the same fungus used to make fermented foods like sake, miso soup, and soy sauce. Both dogs and human owners appear to have enjoyed eating Wild Earth’s product, which has a savory “umami” flavor, says CEO Ryan Bethencourt. “It kind of looks like tuna,” he says. If America’s 180 million domestic pets were a sovereign nation, they would rank fifth in the world in global meat consumption, producing as much as 64 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Switching to lab-grown food could have a dramatic effect, with estimates ranging between a 15 per cent and 90 per cent overall decrease.
3-15-18 These searing hot chilli peppers are in danger thanks to snakes
The donne’ sali chilli is a major feature of the cuisine of the Mariana Islands, but thanks to an invasive snake this pepper faces an uncertain future. The donne’ sali chilli is the hottest pepper in the West Pacific’s Mariana Islands. It features prominently in the local cuisine and is beloved by the local people. But the pepper is facing an unexpected danger: snakes. The donne’ sali chilli is a variant of Capsicum frutescens, the species that also gives us Tabasco chilli. It was probably introduced to the Mariana Islands in the 17th century. Nowadays it grows wild in the understory. Birds were thought to be the main consumers of the chilli’s fruits, since they don’t feel its spicy capsaicin compounds. Indeed, the name donne’ sali is an indigenous Chamorro term referring to the “sali bird” or Micronesian starling (Aplonis opaca). But nobody had actually tested this, until Monika Egerer of the University of California, Santa Cruz went to the Marianas to investigate. Egerer and her team began by hunting down wild donne’ sali plants on the archipelago. They found few on the island of Guam, but many on Tinian and Saipan. Camera footage of the plants on Saipan revealed that sali birds were indeed the main consumers. What’s more, the birds help disperse the plants’ seeds. In captive feeding experiments, seeds that had been eaten and excreted sprouted sooner and more often than those from whole fruits. The results help explain the near absence of donne’ sali on Guam. The island’s native forest birds have been almost wiped out by invasive brown tree snakes (Boiga irregularis). The snakes have since been sighted on Rota and Tinian, and there may be a small population on Saipan.
3-14-18 Two herbivores gang up and silence a plant’s cries for help
Caterpillar presence mutes broccoli's production of chemicals that attract aphid parasitoids, allowing both pests to wreak havoc. APHIDS and caterpillars both like to eat broccoli. Aphids suck the plant’s juices, and caterpillars chew the leaves, but they are still competing to extract the most nutrients. Surprisingly, though, caterpillars can benefit aphids. Carmen Blubaugh at Clemson University in South Carolina found that when caterpillars also snack on plants infested by aphids, the number of parasitoid wasps that attack the aphids decreases (Ecology, doi.org/ck8v). “The plant uses a different toolkit to defend against a caterpillar,” she says. When set on by aphids, the plant produces chemicals to attract wasps that parasitise the aphid – but if caterpillars join in, the plant doesn’t have the resources to summon wasps.
3-13-18 Why sharks like it hot - but not too hot
Scientists have calculated the water temperature at which tiger sharks are most active and abundant. They say the sharks, which are second only to great whites in attacking people, prefer a balmy 22C. Shark populations may shift range as the oceans heat up, bringing them into greater conflict with humans, according to the scientific study. For instance, tiger sharks may move into waters off Sydney in both winter and summer months. Dr Nicholas Payne of Queen's University Belfast and the University of Roehampton led the research. "Our study suggests that 22 degrees is not too cold for the animals and it's not too hot for them," he said. "It's about right in terms of their optimal preference for temperature." Most sharks are cold blooded. Their body temperatures match the temperature of the water around them. The research, reported in the journal Global Change Biology, could lead to new ways to predict when and where tiger shark attacks might happen.
3-12-18 Daft male spiders prefer females who are more likely to eat them
Female brown widow spiders become less fertile as they age, and more likely to kill and eat their mates – yet males still prefer them over younger females. Female brown widow spiders get grumpy in their old age. They demand more courtship displays from males, and are more likely to eat the suitor. Despite that, given the choice males will pursue them instead of younger, more fertile females who won’t eat them. For male brown widow spiders (Latrodectus geometricus), sex can be lethal. Like other spiders, such as black widows, females sometimes kill and devour males after sex. This is especially true of older females. A team led by Ally Harari of the Agricultural Research Organization near Tel-Aviv, Israel, introduced virgin males to adolescent females, young adult females and older adult females. All were able to reproduce. 57 per cent of males that mated with older females were cannibalised, as were 48 per cent of those that mated with young adults, but adolescent females never ate their partners. Nevertheless, males courted older females for longer than they did young females, and spent hardly any time wooing adolescents. Sometimes a male brown widow stops copulating and performs a somersault, pushing his abdomen into the female’s mouth. This can get him eaten. Harari found males almost always somersaulted when mating with older females, but rarely did when mating with adolescents.
3-12-18 Feed the birds, but be aware of risks, say wildlife experts
Scientists are warning of the risks of wild birds spreading diseases when they gather at feeders in gardens. Experts led by Zoological Society of London say people should continue to feed birds, especially in winter, but should be aware of the risks. If birds look sick, food should be withdrawn temporarily, they say. The review of 25 years' worth of data identified emerging threats to garden birds. Finches, doves and pigeons are vulnerable to a parasite infection. Meanwhile, a form of bird pox is becoming more common, causing warty-like lumps on the bodies of great tits and other birds. Other disease threats, such as salmonella, appear to be declining. "Our study shows how three of the most common diseases that affect British garden birds have changed both dramatically and unpredictably over the past decade, both in terms of the species they affect and their patterns of occurrence," said Dr Becki Lawson from ZSL's Institute of Zoology. Common signs that a wild bird is ill include unusually fluffed-up plumage and lethargy. Diseases can be spread through droppings or regurgitated food around bird feeders. Finding out more about the changing pattern of diseases will help to ensure that garden birds can be fed safely, say the researchers. ZSL, working with experts from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), say people who notice sick birds should take practical steps to minimise risks:
- Report their observations to the Garden Wildlife Health Project
- Seek advice from a vet
- Withdraw food for a while to let birds disperse over a wider area
- Feed birds in moderation, clean bird feeders regularly, and rotate feeding sites.
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