Updated: Thursday, June 7, 2018, 8:30 p.m. EDT: In addition to Russell Berger’s firing, the CrossFit location that he praised for canceling an event coinciding with Indy Pride has been shut down.
The Indianapolis Star reports that the downtown Indianapolis CrossFit Infiltrate, located on West Ninth Street, has a sign posted on its door that reads: “CrossFit Infiltrate has determined that it will no longer operate business at this location. We thank you for your patronage and support.”
Google lists the business as being permanently closed.
I know we are used to white men with white privilege getting away with their fuckery for the most part, but every now and again, one of them gets their comeuppance, and it is super sweet to behold. On those days we rejoice, because the universe gives us just a little bit for our long-suffering.
Meet Russell Berger, a Christian conservative from Alabama who up until Wednesday was the chief knowledge officer for CrossFit. Russell does not agree with the “gay lifestyle.” He believes that celebrating gay pride “is a sin” and that the “LGBTQ movement” lacks tolerance—and is “an existential threat to freedom of expression.” He feels so strongly about this that he took to Twitter to make these pronouncements in a series of now-deleted tweets.
“The tactics of some in the LGBTQ movement toward dissent is an existential threat to freedom of expression,” Berger wrote in one tweet. “The lack of tolerance for disagreement, which has been replaced with bullying Twitter mobs promising ‘consequences’, should be a concern regardless of your political stance.”
Obviously, said “Twitter mobs” must have come for Berger’s neck and his job, because he deleted that tweet and wrote another that said: “As someone who personally believes celebrating ‘pride’ is a sin, I’d like to personally encourage #CrossFitInfiltrate for standing by their convictions and refusing to host an @indypride workout. The intolerance of the LGBTQ ideology toward any alternative views is mind-blowing.”
Berger’s comments were in response to an announcement from CrossFit Infiltrate in Indianapolis that gym ownership had canceled an event coinciding with Indy Pride.
When others questioned Berger about his stance and comments, he doubled down on them. Literally.
“Allow me to double-down,” Berger wrote. “I believe @indypride is a celebration of sin, as do most Christians. I deleted this and reposted a different version to make sure it’s clear these are my personal beliefs, you know, since the Twitter mobs are hard at work trying to get me fired.”
While the Twitter mobs likely drew attention to the tweets and made CrossFit corporate aware of them, his employer could also have fired him because of the position those tweets put it in from a legal standpoint. Can you say “hostile work environment”? I knew you could.
Whatever the conversations were behind the scenes, Berger took to Twitter once again to inform everyone that he had been fired:
CrossFit also tweeted that he had been terminated:
“CrossFit is a diverse community in every way, and that’s what makes us strong. No matter who you are, how you’re built, what you believe, or who or how you love—we are proud of you,” the company wrote. “The statements made today by Russell Berger do not reflect the views of CrossFit Inc. For this reason, his employment with CrossFit has been terminated.”
The Washington Post asked Berger on Thursday to explain his comments. He responded via text and said the following:
As a Christian, I believe everyone, myself included, is guilty of breaking our moral obligations to God and deserves punishment. But by turning from our sin and trusting fully in Jesus Christ, we can be forgiven and reconciled to our creator. I love those who the LGBTQ community represents, and want them to know Christ, and reveling in sin is a heartbreaking obstacle to that.
I use the word ‘sin’ to describe pride events, and the sexual lifestyles associated with them, because that’s what God’s Word calls it, and I believe that God’s Word is true.
He then added:
[T]he same theology that leads me to this view leads me to the knowledge that all humans are created in God’s image, and are therefore inherently valuable and deserve to hear this offer of God’s grace. From the Christian perspective, the most hateful thing I could do for someone would be to lie to him or her about sin and our need for Christ, as unpopular as this may be in our culture today.
Berger told the Post that he regretted putting CrossFit in “a difficult position.”
“My comments where imprudent, and I drug my company in a difficult position, which I deeply regret,” he said. “I am particularly saddened for my employer and co-workers, who do incredible and life-changing work for millions of people, and are now forced to respond with their time and resources to this ordeal.”
Shorter Russell Berger: “I SAID WHAT I SAI—references available upon request.”
The Vatican on Thursday worked to set the record straight on whether Pope Francis denied the existence of hell in an interview with a well-known Italian journalist.
The controversy started when 93-year-old journalist Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of La Repubblica newspaper, publisheda report that he asked Francis where “bad souls” end up going, USA Today reported. Francis’ reply, according to the journalist, was that those who repent could be forgiven but those who do not, “disappear.”
The article, which ran on March 29, reported that Francis said “hell does not exist.”
“They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear,” Francis is quoted as saying. “There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”
Scalfari, an atheist, does not usually use tape recorders during interviews, The USA Today report said. The Vatican said the story was the result of the reporter’s “reconstruction.”
“What is reported by the author in today’s article is the result of his reconstruction, in which the literal words pronounced by the Pope are not quoted,” the Vatican said. “No quotation of the aforementioned article must therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father.”
The Catholic News Agency reported that Scalfari has “misrepresented” the pope in the past. The agency reported that Scalfari “aslo falsely reported that Pope Francis had made comments denying the existence of hell in 2015.”
According to Catholic Church teachings, there is a hell and it is for eternity.
“Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs,” according to CNA.
In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said hell “really exists and it eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more.”
In 1999 Pope John Paul II declared that Heaven was “neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but that fullness of communion with God which is the goal of human life.” Hell, by contrast, was “the ultimate consequence of sin itself … Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy.”
Palestinian officials say at least 16 people have been killed by Israeli forces and hundreds more wounded during protests at the Gaza-Israeli border.
Thousands had marched to the border at the start of a six-week protest, dubbed the Great March of Return.
The Israeli military said soldiers had opened fire after rioting.
UN Security Council members meeting in New York have called for an investigation into the violence.
Palestinians have pitched five camps near the border for the protest. They are demanding that refugees be allowed to return to homes that are now in Israel.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged the UN Security Council to help provide “protection for our Palestinian people”.
“I… place full responsibility on the Israeli authorities for the loss of the martyrs who were killed today,” he said.
What happened at the border?
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said there were about 17,000 Palestinians in five locations near the border fence. It said it had “enforced a closed military zone” in the area surrounding Gaza.
Although most protesters stayed in the encampments, some groups of youths ignored organisers’ calls to stay away from the fence and headed closer to Israeli positions.
The IDF said troops were “firing towards the main instigators” to break up rioting that included petrol bombs and stones being thrown at the fence.
A spokesman said all those who were killed had been trying to breach or damage the border fence, the Jerusalem Post reports.
Israel said it had targeted sites of the Hamas militant group.
Israel deployed tanks and snipers. Witnesses said a drone had been used in at least one location to drop tear gas.
Will the protests lead to a military escalation?
By Rushdi Abu Alouf, BBC News, Gaza
The death toll from Friday’s rally is the largest since the last Israeli war on Gaza in the summer of 2014. Since then Gaza has seen a long period of calm but difficult economic conditions and the Israeli blockade may be the final chapter in the four-year truce between Hamas and Israel.
Despite the call for peaceful demonstrations, the confrontations involving angry Palestinian youths were not surprising. Young men have been demonstrating near the border with Israel on numerous occasions, but this time Israel’s response was exaggerated.
Tomorrow, the Palestinians will bury their dead and head back to the border with Israel to throw stones at the soldiers. The important question that remains is to what extent will peaceful demonstrations succeed in stopping an impending war, or will the protests lead to military escalation?
Hamas, the militant group that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, does not recognise Israel’s right to exist but last year said it was ready to accept an interim Palestinian state limited to Gaza and the West Bank.
Addressing protesters on Friday, Hamas senior political leader Ismail Haniyeh said “we will not concede a single inch of the land of Palestine”.
He said: “There is no alternative to Palestine and no solution except to return.”
Palestinian health officials said at least 400 people had been wounded by live ammunition. It said one of those killed was a 16-year-old boy.
What have the Israelis said?
The Israeli military oversees a no-go zone along the Gaza border, citing security concerns, and has doubled its troop presence for the protest. It fears the protest could be an attempt at a mass breach of the border.
The Israeli foreign ministry said the protest was a “deliberate attempt to provoke a confrontation with Israel” and responsibility for any clashes lay “solely with Hamas and other participating Palestinian organisations”.
How has the UN Security Council reacted?
UN deputy political affairs chief Taye-Brook Zerihoun told the council the situation in Gaza “might deteriorate in the coming days” and called for civilians, particularly children, to not be targeted, Reuters news agency reports.
“Israel must uphold its responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law,” he said.
“Lethal force should only be used as a last resort with any resulting fatalities properly investigated by the authorities.”
What is the protest about?
Palestinians have erected five main camp areas along the Israel border for the protest, from Beit Hanoun in the north to Rafah near the Egyptian border.
The Great March of Return protests started on Friday as 30 March marks Land Day, which commemorates the killing of six protesters by Israeli security forces during demonstrations over land confiscation in 1976.
The protest is scheduled to end on 15 May, which Palestinians call Nakba (catastrophe) and which marks the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the conflict surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948.
Palestinians have long demanded their right to return but Israel says they should settle in a future Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank.
If you started typing “school shooting” into Google search Wednesday afternoon, you might have noticed that auto-fill took over and anticipated the next word: “today.” So even the bloodless algorithms within Google recognize that, when one tries to find information about a fresh school shooting, the search needs to be narrowed. Because people are still searching the school shooting from last week. And the one before that. And the one before that. We are six weeks into 2018, and so far there have been at least six shooting incidents on school grounds that have wounded at least one person, including the massacre Wednesday, in which 17 people were reported killed at a high school in Parkland, Fla.
When does an epidemic stop being an epidemic and become just a basic part of regular life? It’s been 19 years since the nation was horrified by the carnage at Columbine in suburban Denver. It’s been just over five years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Quick: What was the most recent mass shooting incident (at least four wounded) at a school before the one on Wednesday? Here’s the sick part: There have been so many school shootings that it takes a bit of work to answer what should be an easy question.
Already the folks who support gun control (which includes us) are fuming about the ready availability of firearms in our society. Already the pro-gun folks are pooh-poohing those who think guns are integral to shooting deaths. “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” they like to say. The accurate phrasing should be, “Guns don’t kill people, people with guns do.” At an astonishing rate, a depressing rate, a stomach-churning rate.
As a society we tend to become particularly shocked — at least for a few minutes — when someone shoots down children and young adults while they’re attending classes in what should be a positive, nurturing and safe environment. But even if we’re shocked, we tolerate it. Our outrage is more Pavlovian than visceral. We listen to the bleatings of the gun enthusiasts that, well, if those teachers had guns, then this wouldn’t have been as bad.
Been as bad. Think about that. If a pistol-strapping chemistry teacher had grabbed her .45 and unloaded on today’s gunman after he killed, what, one student? Three? Five? That would be good news?
We do not live in the Wild West. Our schools are not the O.K. Corral. Clint Eastwood isn’t in this movie. We are a violent, disjointed, gun-embracing culture. “But wait!” you might say. “Not me! I hate guns! We need more gun control!” As true as that might be, that’s not the belief of the body politic. Because if it was, we wouldn’t be sitting in front of our television sets wondering what the final death tally will be. Feeling our heartstrings tugged by images of bereft parents. Feeling an impotent rage.
This is what America is today: bloody. The Florida shooting too shall pass, as did Columbine, Sandy Hook, Santa Monica College and so on — all allowed to fade into the backdrop of American memory without a thing being done. This is us. Until we decide finally, forcefully, effectively, that it is not.
Russian President Vladimir Putin put an end to the confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria and both sides accepted his decision. That’s the apparent conclusion to be reached from the chain of events this past weekend.
On Saturday afternoon, after the second wave of bombardments by the Israel Air Force against Syrian targets and Iranian installationsin Syria, senior Israeli officials were still taking a militant line and it seemed as if Jerusalem was considering further military action. Discussion of that ended not long after a phone call between Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The official announcement by the Russian Foreign Ministry objected to the violation of Syrian sovereignty by Israel and totally ignored the event that provoked the eruption – the infiltration of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace. In the conversation with Netanyahu a few hours later, Putin asked him to avoid moves that could lead to “a new round of dangerous consequences for the region.”
The quiet after the Netanyahu-Putin call shows once again who’s the real boss in the Middle East. While the United States remains the region’s present absentee – searches are continuing for a coherent American foreign policy – Russia is dictating the way things are going. Moscow has invested too much effort and resources in saving Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in recent years to allow Israel to foil its strategic project. One can assume messages of this nature were conveyed during the phone call with Netanyahu.
This doesn’t mean that Israel doesn’t have its own bargaining chips, just from its ability to send the Syrian arena into another dramatic spin, but it’s doubtful that Netanyahu is eager to confront the Russians. His confrontation with the Iranians is enough.
A rare vulnerability exposed during an otherwise successful day for the IAF that allowed the hit on the F-16 provided the Iranians and Syrians with their great propaganda achievement. The crew of the plane that was hit was left relatively exposed at high altitude in a manner that allowed the surprise hit by the missile. From Iran’s perspective, it was an impressive success in the first operation that the Revolutionary Guards conducted in this region by themselves, without relying on emissaries like Hezbollah and local militias. This success was immediately translated into an attempt to establish a new balance of power through declarations that it would no longer allow Israel to conduct air strikes in Syria as it pleases.
The area surrounding Assad’s camp suffered serious damage from the weekend bombardments, with almost half the Syrian army’s air defense batteries destroyed. But it seems that from the Iranian and Syrian perspective, the symbolic importance of taking down an Israeli plane makes up for this.
Over the weekend another two precedents were set: Iran launched a drone into Israeli territory, and Israel hit a manned Iranian target in Syrian territory. Israel thus crossed a certain psychological barrier, after months of public (and apparently excessive) threats to stop Iranian entrenchment in Syria.
But now a new test looms: If Israel won’t allow shipments of advanced weaponry to be brought to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria, what will it do the next time such a convoy sets out, after the enemy has demonstrated its attack capabilities and has threatened that the next Israeli attack will lead to a broad escalation? Even if we assume that next time, IAF planes will set out on their mission with more extensive protection, it’s taking a calculated risk.
The air strikes in the north were part of what the Israel Defense Forces refer to as the “war between the wars,” aimed primarily at undermining the efforts of organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah to empower themselves. When he presented the IDF’s annual intelligence assessment last month, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot raised the possibility that the many IDF successes during these interim campaigns could push the enemy to try to respond in a way that could bring the region to the brink of war. That’s essentially what happened over the weekend.
Although things seem to be calming down, in retrospect it seems that we came a hair’s breadth from a slide into war. The security establishment’s assessment is that although this round of fighting has ended, another clash with Iran is only a matter of time.
On the right, one is starting to hear weird ideas about establishing a new regional order; let’s just finish teaching the Syrians a lesson and we’ll be able to go at the Iranians directly, even on their territory. But these are dangerous ideas that Israel would best avoid. In this tough neighborhood, Israel must display strength and determination, but dare not get drawn into illusions about unlimited military strength. It seems that the leadership in Jerusalem understands this.
The Russians are also concerned about the proximity of the Israeli bombings to sites where their soldiers and advisers are serving, including base T-4 near Palmyra, where the Iranian control post from which the anti-aircraft missile was fired was bombed.
Science fiction no more — in an article out today in Nature Biotechnology, scientists were able to show tiny autonomous bots have the potential to function as intelligent delivery vehicles to cure cancer in mice.
These DNA nanorobots do so by seeking out and injecting cancerous tumors with drugs that can cut off their blood supply, shriveling them up and killing them.
“Using tumor-bearing mouse models, we demonstrate that intravenously injected DNA nanorobots deliver thrombin specifically to tumor-associated blood vessels and induce intravascular thrombosis, resulting in tumor necrosis and inhibition of tumor growth,” the paper explains.
DNA nanorobots are a somewhat new concept for drug delivery. They work by getting programmed DNA to fold into itself like origami and then deploying it like a tiny machine, ready for action.
The scientists behind this study tested the delivery bots by injecting them into mice with human breast cancer tumors. Within 48 hours, the bots had successfully grabbed onto vascular cells at the tumor sites, causing blood clots in the tumor’s vessels and cutting off their blood supply, leading to their death.
Remarkably, the bots did not cause clotting in other parts of the body, just the cancerous cells they’d been programmed to target, according to the paper.
The scientists were also able to demonstrate the bots did not cause clotting in the healthy tissues of Bama miniature pigs, calming fears over what might happen in larger animals.
The goal, say the scientists behind the paper, is to eventually prove these bots can do the same thing in humans. Of course, more work will need to be done before human trials begin.
Regardless, this is a huge breakthrough in cancer research. The current methods of either using chemotherapy to destroy every cell just to get at the cancer cell are barbaric in comparison. Using targeted drugs is also not as exact as simply cutting off blood supply and killing the cancer on the spot. Should this new technique gain approval for use on humans in the near future it could have impressive affects on those afflicted with the disease.
GANGNEUNG, Korea — The IOC has decided to allow the Statue of Liberty image to stand on the goalie masks belonging to U.S players Nicole Hensley and Alex Rigsby.
The Americans were notified the decision before dressing for their game against the Olympic Athletes from Russia on Tuesday.
Earlier, the Americans were informed that the Statue of Liberty was being reviewed to determine if it was in violation of the IOC’s ban of political symbols on masks.
Hensley’s Statue of Liberty image is on the left side of her mask, and Rigsby’s is on her chin. Neither goalie played in USA’s opening 3-1 win against Finland. Maddie Rooney was the starter.
GANGNEUNG, Korea – USA Hockey is working with the IOC to see whether goalies Nicole Hensley and Alex Rigsby really will have to remove the Statue of Liberty from their goalkeepers masks.
USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer said on Tuesday “discussions are ongoing” after the IOC said earlier the images would have to be removed.
The IOC views the image as a possible violation of its policy against political symbols. The rule from the IOC Guidelines Regarding Authorized Identifications: No item may feature the wording or lyrics from national anthems, motivational words, public/political messaging or slogans related to national identity.
Hensley’s Statue of Liberty image is on the left side of her mask, and Rigsby’s is on her chin. Neither goalie played in USA’s opening 3-1 win against Finland. Maddie Rooney was the starter.
Fischer said it the situation should be resolved before USA’s Tuesday game against Russia (7:10 a.m., ET, NBC Sports Network.)
The U.S. government is building the world’s largest debtors’ prison: the United States. Beginning this month, the Internal Revenue Service will begin denying passports to some American citizens with unpaid taxes and, in some cases, revoking the passports of Americans with tax delinquencies. The government will in effect place those with unpaid taxes under arrest, effectively denying them their right to travel. To be clear: We are not talking about Americans who have been convicted of tax evasion or tax fraud, or who are awaiting a criminal trial on charges related to tax matters. These Americans have not been charged with a crime, must less convicted of one. They simply have unpaid taxes amounting to $50,000 or more. More precisely: They have an unpaid IRS liability amounting to $50,000 or more. The IRS’s aggressive schedule of interest and penalties for unpaid taxes ensures that a relatively small amount of unpaid taxes can turn into a $50,000-plus liability with remarkable speed. The IRS has remarkable investigative tools and collections procedures at its disposal. Say what you will about the Patriot Act, it does not oblige Americans to file detailed paperwork annually with the Department of Homeland Security detailing their personal affairs, business arrangements, housing situation, health-insurance coverage, etc. The IRS has that power, and then some: It can seize assets, garnish wages, put liens on property, and more. Still, there are occasions when it finds itself unable to collect a debt. Sometimes, that is because it is dealing with a crafty person who manages to hide his income and property from the government. More often, that is because it is dealing with a person who simply cannot pay.
What’s worse is that there is no appeal, no procedural remedy in the law, no redress for those who have been wrongly targeted — and we know the IRS has a history of wrongly targeting Americans its agents perceive as political enemies. The sole remedy available to Americans who wrongfully lose their passports to the IRS — or who fail to have them reinstated after making good on their taxes — is to file a civil action against the agency under 26 USC 7345. Suing the IRS is an expensive and difficult proposition, especially for people who are likely already to be in a difficult financial situation. When it comes to relations between citizen and state, it’s always a matter of “Show, don’t tell.” Here is a data point for you: Under federal sentencing guidelines, the recommended sentence for involuntary manslaughter is 10 months to 16 months. The average sentence for tax evasion? Seventeen months. The average sentence in a tax case is longer than the average sentence for a car thief (twelve months), a forger (twelve months), or a felon convicted in a drug case (14 months). But that’s tax fraud. We aren’t even talking about that. We’re just talking about Americans with unpaid back taxes. The right to travel is — like the right to free speech, the right to be free from unlawful search and seizure, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievance — a basic civil right. Americans as free people have a God-given right to come and go as they please, irrespective of the preferences of any pissant bureaucrat in Washington. Yes, we curtail people’s rights in certain circumstances — when they have been charged with a crime and convicted after due process. Tax fraud is a crime; having unpaid taxes is not. The U.S. government needs a periodic reminder that it was created by the states and by the people, not the other way around, and that it exists at the sufferance of the people — not the other way around. Suspending passports in the course of a civil dispute — a civil dispute that may well be in litigation or soon to be in litigation — is banana-republic, totalitarian stuff.
Congress did this, and Congress can undo this — and Congress should undo this. Yes, people should pay their taxes. Most people do. But there are limits to what the government may permissibly do to citizens in any situation, and much narrower limits to what the government may permissibly to do citizens who have neither been charged with nor convicted of any crime in the matter — which is not, after all, a criminal matter in the first place. People should pay their taxes, and the people at the IRS should do their jobs honestly and ethically. Most of them do. But not all of them. Lois Lerner, the IRS boss who illegally targeted conservative groups for harassment in the runup to the 2012 presidential election, is happily enjoying retired life in some Washington suburb while collecting a fat federal pension. She didn’t lose her passport. Former IRS commissioner John Koskinen lied to Congress about the situation and oversaw the destruction of evidence. He still has a passport. The crimes — actual crimes — of the powerful and the connected go unpunished, while those who for whatever reason have an unmet obligation to the IRS are treated like East Germans locked behind the Checkpoint Charlie of the federal bureaucracy. If you want to know why faith in our institutions is at such a low point, meditate on that. In the meantime, Congress should repeal the statute enabling the IRS to effectively place Americans under house arrest over unpaid bills. And if Congress fails to act, its members should be made to pay a price. My senators are Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, and my representative is Pete Sessions. What say you, gentlemen?
When you think of Valentine’s Day you probably think of flowers, chocolates, and notes sealed with a kiss—not whipping women with dead animals or martyrdom. But it turns out this sweet and loving commercial holiday has its roots in pagan rituals and good old-fashioned Christian rebranding. Oh, and selling you cards.
Historians aren’t 100% sure about the origins of Valentine’s Day, but many believe it all started as the pre-Roman empire ritual known as Lupercalia, which sounded like a real hoot. Every February 13 – 15, goats and dogs were sacrificed at an altar by the Luperci (or “brothers of the wolf”) as an offering. After that, folks were anointed in the blood of the animals, wiped clean with some wool soaked in milk (as one does), and feasted until they were full and drunk. Then came the best part: the Luperci took the skins of the sacrificial animals and ran around naked, smacking people with them. Here’s how Plutarch describes the festivities:
…many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.
Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder, also points out that there was a kind of “matchmaking lottery” during the festival. Men drew women’s names randomly from a jar and then they would be, uh, “coupled” during the duration of the festival. Now that is a holiday.
Then, ladies and gentleman—drum roll please—came the Catholic Church. They didn’t care much for the blood, and the nakedness, and the sacrificing of the things. By the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I decided to create a new holiday right on top of the old pagan one to, well, make people forget about it. He said, and I quote, “Stop smackin’ bitches with dead animals,” and dubbed it St. Valentine’s day in honor of two Christian martyrs named Valentine—Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni—who both happened to be executed by the Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus II on February 14 in two different years during the 3rd century A.D. What are the odds? Actually, pretty good, since the Romans were basically executing everybody who was Christian during that time. Anyway, at that point, celebrating Lupercalia was all but outlawed.
But did that stop people from getting their fertility on this time of year? No way! The Normans (early northern French folks who descended from the Norse) celebrated Galatin’s Day this time of year instead of St. Valentine’s Day. “Galatin” meant “a lover” or “a gallant,” so they did that, and the name is even believed to have been confused with the name “Valentine” at some point. Eventually, during the Middle Ages, the day gradually became associated with romantic love in Europe. In the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in hisParlement of Foules:
“For this was on seynt Volantynys day, Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make”
For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.
The poem was for the first anniversary of King Richard II’s engagement to Anne of Bohemia, and it’s largely considered the first written instance where Valentine’s Day is associated with romantic love and not fertility or lusty pursuits. Also, it was believed in England and France that the beginning of birds’ mating season was February 14, hence the line in Chaucer’s poem. They weren’t far off. By the time the Julian calendar became the Gregorian calendar, February 14 actually became the 23, which is a time when some birds start mating and nesting in England. Either way, it added to the notion that Valentine’s Day was for romance. By 1415, people were writing handmade valentines to one another, like the famous poem by Charles, the Duke of Orleans, “A Farewell to Love,” that was sent to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. And by Shakespeare’s time—“To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day, all in the morning betime, and I a maid at your window, to be your Valentine”—the romantic version of Valentine’s Day that we all know had become popular throughout almost all of Europe.
Around the start of the industrial revolution in the U.S., Valentine’s Day went from being a small-time, historical day of romance to full-blown money tree. The new age of machinery ushered in mass-produced, factory-made cards one could easily purchase and pass off to those they cared for on special occasions. In 1913, Hallmark Cards offered pre-made valentines, and in 1916 started mass producing them. The day of romance was born anew as a commercial holiday. Since then, the day is not only about buying cheesy cards to pass around your third grade class, but it’s also about buying flowers, candy, jewelry, and trying unsuccessfully to get reservations at halfway-decent restaurants. Love is still in the air, but there’s no doubt the holiday is more about “stuff” nowadays than romance. It almost makes you miss the carcass-slapping days of old.
Why would anyone willingly risk their health to eat a toxic Tide laundry detergent pod?
Most adults are probably baffled by a viral Internet meme that has inspired dozens of young people to ingest the colorful capsules filled with laundry detergent for internet laughs. Indeed, both the Tide brand and health professionals have urged the public not to eat the pods, as even a small amount of the detergent can cause diarrhea, vomiting, breathing issues and, at worst, death.
Yet if you were perplexed, even baffled, by the staying power of internet jokes about absurd, brand-inspired forms of suicide, there’s a simple explanation. Millennials — who were born and raised on the internet and produce and consume much of their culture there — have had our whole lives characterized by economic anxiety. We have a dismal economic outlook, the worst of any generation born since the Great Depression. And our own culture-making — this kind of nihilistic, cynical humor epitomized in memes like eating Tide Pods — is merely a reflection of our worldview. It is cathartic in a sense. And it’s not the first time in history a generation has behaved this way in response to the world they were brought up in.
Generational jokes about death via consumer goods aren’t new. Before the Tide Pod meme there was the “drinking bleach” meme, a joke about committing suicide by (obviously) drinking bleach. Social media subcultures like Weird Facebook and Black Twitter share images of bleach in response to undesirable content or to self-deprecate about their mental health. Building on the Tide Pod meme, the Forbidden Snacks meme includes ingesting other household objects that resemble edible treats such as Dungeons and Dragons dice, bath bombs and Himalayan Salt Lamps, to name a few.
What makes millennial humor so nihilistic and absurdist? I think the best way to understand memes like these is to analogize them to a century-old movement: Dadaism. The Dada movement evolved in reaction to World War I and disillusionment over war, violence, capitalism and nationalism. The original Dadaists were European radical leftists who traded the reason, rationale and aestheticism of the warmongering status quo for absurdity, irrationality and anti-capitalism. They rejected conventional notions of art, in turn creating anti-art with no clear purpose that mirrored the senselessness of war.
Later, in the Cold War era, Neo-Dada arose in response to the consumer culture and mass media of the 1950s. See any parallels today?
“The Greatest Generation” suffered through the Great Depression and World War II. Having lived through scarcity and war, they did not want their children to experience the same hardships. As a result, “Baby Boomers” were raised in a world of supposed abundance and to believe they should never live without. Boomers lived during a time of significant prosperity with widespread access to resources, education and a thriving job market. Just as the dismal worldview of millennial internet memes sprang from the fount of economic anxiety, the utopianism of the 1960s counterculture sprang from their far sunnier-seeming world.
By the late 1990s, boomers had gained the greatest social, political and economic influence worldwide, and with this, a multitude of long-percolating crises reached their boiling points – climate change, national debt, and a shrinking middle class, to name a few.
Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy sent Vice President Mike Pence a not-so-subtle message from the Opening Ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
Pence attended the ceremony as the ceremonial head of the United States delegation. Kenworthy, who is gay, told the vice president to “eat your heart out” in the caption of a picture on Instagram with figure skater Adam Rippon.
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The #OpeningCeremony is a wrap and the 2018 Winter Olympic Gaymes are officially under way! I feel incredibly honored to be here in Korea competing for the US and I'm so proud to be representing the LGBTQ community alongside this amazing guy! Eat your heart out, Pence. #TeamUSA #TeamUSGay 🇺🇲🏳️🌈
“The Opening Ceremony is a wrap and the 2018 Winter Olympic Gaymes are officially under way!” Kenworthy wrote. “I feel incredibly honored to be here in Korea competing for the US and I’m so proud to be representing the LGBTQ community alongside this amazing guy! Eat your heart out, Pence.”
Kenworthy also tweeted pictures with Rippon, but left out the part including the vice president.
Rippon, who is also gay, made a comment against Pence at qualifying for the Olympics because of a campaign statement made by Pence’s congressional campaign in 2000 that advocated against federal funding being given to “organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.” Instead, Pence’s campaign said “resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
Many, including Rippon, feel that Pence’s campaign was making a reference to the ridiculous practice of homosexual conversion therapy.
Following Rippon’s comments at qualifying, USA Today reported that Pence’s staff tried to set up a meeting with Rippon, which the figure skater refused. Pence’s team publicly has said they did not reach out to the skater in the hopes of a meeting. The skater told USAT that he wouldn’t rule out meeting with Pence … after the Olympics.
“If I had the chance to meet him afterwards, after I’m finished competing, there might be a possibility to have an open conversation,” Rippon said in the interview last month. “He seems more mild-mannered than Donald Trump. … But I don’t think the current administration represents the values that I was taught growing up. Mike Pence doesn’t stand for anything that I really believe in.”
Pence was the governor of Indiana when the state passed the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” The widely-criticized law claimed to protect religious freedom in the state, but drew immediate scorn for the ability for people to discriminate under the law. The law was so heavily protested that an amendment was passed not long after that protected LGBT people against discrimination.
The vice president was seated not far from Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un during the Opening Ceremony. Pence also did not stand when the unified Korea delegation walked into the arena in the ceremony.
The new e-skin. Photo by Jianliang Xiao / University of Colorado Boulder
In a quest to make electronic devices more environmentally friendly, researchers have created an electronic skin that can be completely recycled. The e-skin can also heal itself if it’s torn apart.
The device, described today in the journal Science Advances, is basically a thin film equipped with sensors that can measure pressure, temperature, humidity, and air flow. The film is made of three commercially available compounds mixed together in a matrix and laced with silver nanoparticles: when the e-skin is cut in two, adding the three compounds to the “wound” allows the e-skin to heal itself by recreating chemical bonds between the two sides. That way, the matrix is restored and the e-skin is as good as new. If the e-skin is broken beyond repair, it can just be soaked in a solution that “liquefies” it so that the materials can be reused to make new e-skin. One day, this electronic skin could be used in prosthetics, robots, or smart textiles.
Many labs around the world are developing e-skins. One created in Europe allows users to manipulate virtual objects without touching them, by using magnets. Another one developed in Japan can turn a smart shirt into a video game motion controller. This latest e-skin is special because it’s recyclable — and that’s an important added bonus if you consider that in the US alone, 16 billion pounds of electronic waste was created in 2014. All these circuit boards, transistors, and hard drives can contain toxic chemicals that need to be disposed of properly.
“This particular device … won’t produce any waste,” says study co-author Jianliang Xiao, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at University of Colorado Boulder. “We want to make electronics to be environmentally friendly.”
So if the e-skin is severely damaged, or you’re just done with it, it can be recycled using a “recycling solution.” This solution dissolves the matrix into small molecules, allowing the silver nanoparticle to sink to the bottom. All materials can then be reused to create another patch of functioning e-skin. The whole recycling takes about 30 minutes at 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) or 10 hours at room temperature. The healing happens even faster: within a half hour at room temperature, or within a few minutes at 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius), according to Xiao.
The e-skin isn’t perfect. It’s soft, but not as stretchy as human skin. Xiao says he and his colleagues are also working to make the device more scalable, so that it’ll be easier to manufacture and embed in prosthetics or robots. But it’s the fact that the e-skin can be recycled that gets Xiao excited.
“We are facing pollution issues every day,” he says. “It’s important to preserve our environment and make sure that nature can be very safe for ourselves and for our kids.”
When John Banvard, 100, met Gerard “Jerry” Nadeau, 72, in 1993, neither of them had been openly gay.
“When we met, we were sort of in the closet, and I’d never had a real relationship. Now, we’ve been together almost 25 years,” Jerry tells John during a StoryCorps interview.
“What would it have been like if you didn’t meet me?” Jerry asks John.
“I would have continued being lonely,” John says. “I’d been absolutely lost.”
Both are veterans, having served in World War II (John) and Vietnam (Jerry), and when they moved into the veterans home together in Chula Vista, Calif., in 2010, Jerry says people there wondered what their relationship was.
“Well, when we got married, they knew what our relationship was,” Jerry says, laughing.
The couple married in 2013, and John says he was surprised by the warm reception they received. “I was expecting we’d be ridiculed, and there was very little of that,” he says.
“We’d gotten married at the veterans home, and we said, ‘If you came to see the bride, you’re out of luck.’ Do you remember that?” Jerry asks John.
“Yes, of course,” John says. The two indulge in the memory of a casual wedding — a frank display, if you will, of their unabashed love — featuring hot dogs as a main course, which, John says, “is hardly wedding food.”
Later, their achievement was affirmed by a simple introduction. “I was with you in the cafeteria, and somebody came up with their family, and they said, ‘This is Gerard Nadeau, and this is his husband, John,’ ” Jerry recounts. “I’d never heard that before.”
“Yes, that was very nice,” John says.
“You’ve made my life complete,” Jerry tells John.
“I could say the same to you,” John replied. “I think we’re probably as happy together as any two people you’re likely to meet.”
Produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
All images courtesy of Brad Abrahams. Detail from First Time by David Huggins (left); Film still of Huggins from Love and Saucers (right)
Losing your virginity is supposed to be memorable. Most people look back on the act with affection and, probably, a little embarrassment. But David Huggins says the first time he had sex was more—er, out of this world—than most.
“When I was 17, I lost my virginity to a female extraterrestrial,” the 74-year-old says in a documentary about him called Love and Saucers. “That’s all I can say about it.”
The coitus in question allegedly went down in 1961, when Huggins was a teenager living on his parents’ farm in rural Georgia. It wasn’t the first time extraterrestrials had appeared to him; he’d been seeing strange creatures since he was eight. But on this day, as he was walking through woods near his house, an alien woman appeared and seduced him. “I thought, if anything, I’d be losing it in the backseat of a Ford—something like that. But it didn’t work out that way,” he says in the film.
According to Huggins, these visits from extraterrestrials, and his sexual relationship with them, continued into adulthood. When I interviewed him for this story, Huggins told me his last encounter with Crescent, his name for the woman in the woods, was six months ago. “I was sitting down in a chair, and the woman, Crescent, was behind me, and she put her arms around me,” he said. “And that’s about it. I don’t know anything else outside of that.”
Huggins is unnervingly matter-of-fact when he talks about his encounters. It sets him apart from what most of us expect from truthers and UFO enthusiasts. He’s not in it for the notoriety and doesn’t care if anyone believes him. When Huggins talks about fathering hundreds of alien babies—and yes, that’s another facet of his encounters—he sounds about as even-keeled as a farmer explaining crop rotations.
It’s one of the things that drew filmmaker Brad Abrahams to track Huggins down in Hoboken, New Jersey, where he lives now. Abrahams heard Huggins’s story on a podcast about UFOs and the paranormal. “In a sea of outlandish claims, there was one that rose to the surface,” he said. “And that was David’s story.”
Huggins was born in rural Georgia in 1944. In Love and Saucers, he talks about hunting for arrowheads in nearby fields for fun and not liking the evangelical Baptist church his grandparents took him to sometimes. When strange beings that no one else could see started appearing to him around the farm, he thought he was losing his mind.
“I am sitting under a tree, and I hear this voice say, ‘David, behind you.’ And I turned around and there is this little hairy guy with large glowing eyes coming straight towards me. I thought it was the bogeyman. I didn’t know what to think of it,” he says in the film. Another day, an “insect-like being” that reminded Huggins of a praying mantis appeared. “I was very terrified,” he says. “It was like, ‘What in the world am I looking at?’ And for an eight-year-old, you don’t know what to think.”
Once the shock wore off, Huggins says his encounters were weird, but not all that threatening. When he left Georgia in the mid 60s for art school in New York City, the beings followed. Nocturnal visits from Crescent, the ET who deflowered him, became routine. “My relationship with Crescent was warm and friendly. A little strange. What do I mean, a little. Very strange. She was my girlfriend, really,” Huggins says in the film. “A very unconventional relationship,” he adds.
One of the first paintings Huggins ever made was of him and Crescent, having sex. “[The painting’s] not really all that good. She was on top of me, I reach my climax, then she and the insect being leave,” he says. Similar paintings fill his apartment. They’re surreal and a little childlike, dominated by deep blues and greens.
This is another thing that sets Huggins apart from most people with alien abduction stories: He paints his encounters. It started in 1987, when Huggins started remembering details from early visits. He says the deluge was triggered by Budd Hopkins’s book Intruders: The Incredible Visitations at Copley Woods.
“It was like a compulsion. I was being led to the book,” he says in the film. “There is this chapter ‘Other Women, Other Men,’ and I start reading it. And I go, Oh my God, this is the woman I never told anyone about. As I was reading it, memory upon memory came flooding back. It was image upon image. They wouldn’t stop. I think what bothered me the most is I didn’t know what to do with it. I was so scared.”
“It seemed like he was almost going crazy… from not being able to process these experiences that happened to him. What were they? Why him? It really sounded like he was losing his grip on his life and reality,” Abrahams told me. “And then, apparently, he got this message from [the beings] that he should paint the experiences, and as soon as he started doing that, it changed him.
“He said it was a release. He was able to sleep for the first time in weeks. And since then, he has painted every single detail of every encounter. A hundred-something paintings. It is art therapy. I don’t know if that’s how David would describe it, but that was a big part of what I wanted to show, too. Once he found a way to show the rest of the world, or even just himself, [what happened] visually through art, he was able to process, make sense of, and come to peace with whatever it was that happened to him,” Abrahams said.
What makes Love and Saucers a very good documentary about a man who paints himself having sex with aliens is that Abrahams lays out the details of Huggins’s story and lets viewers come to their own conclusions. At its core, Love and Saucers is a film about belief. The first half is Huggins telling his own story, but the second half is interviews with his friends and neighbors. Some of them weren’t aware of Huggins’s encounters beforehand. But they all believe him.
Then there is Jeffrey Kripal, a professor of philosophy and religious thought at Rice University in Texas. He spent the early part of his career studying erotic mysticism, which led him to study alien abduction literature. “The whole history of religions is essentially about weird beings coming from the sky and doing strange things to human beings, and historically, those events or encounters have been framed as angels or demons or gods or goddesses or what have you. But in the modern, sort of secular, world we live in, they get framed as science fiction,” he says in Love and Saucers.
Kripal believes Huggins. He says the mix of terror and euphoria Huggins describes lines up with age-old descriptions of humans encountering the sacred. Plus, details of Huggins’s abductions mirror those described by other people Kripal has interviewed who believe they’ve had supernatural experiences. “I’m completely convinced they’re not lying; they’re being very sincere. But again, what it is is an entirely different question, and that’s where I think we need a lot more humility,” he says.
Whether or not you think Huggins has really been having sex with aliens for the past 50 years, what’s apparent is that Huggins himself believes it. “Consider that this man isn’t lying and that he’s communicating something that he’s experienced, but it doesn’t have to be taken literally. Someone can not be crazy but still claim to have these completely unexplainable experiences,” Abrahams said.
What I think is more fascinating than whether or not “the truth is out there” is what stories like Huggins’s say about the impulse to explain away what we do not understand, and our limited ability to interpret all the sensations, experiences, and randomly firing neurons that come with being human.
When I asked Huggins why he thinks the beings appear to him, he said, “I have a feeling that tens of millions of people, perhaps hundreds of millions, have had [similar] experiences. Mainly as children. That’s all I can really say, but I think as children we are so open to things, that these beings can appear to us. I know I never closed up on it, because it has continued through my whole life.”
Love and Saucers is available to watch on a number of platforms here.
(CNN)When politicians manipulate history for political purposes, we should worry. When they write laws, ordering prison terms for those who counter their version of history, we should challenge them.
A cutting-edge scientific analysis shows that a Briton from 10,000 years ago had dark brown skin and blue eyes.
Researchers from London’s Natural History Museum extracted DNA from Cheddar Man, Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, which was discovered in 1903.
University College London researchers then used the subsequent genome analysis for a facial reconstruction.
It underlines the fact that the lighter skin characteristic of modern Europeans is a relatively recent phenomenon.
No prehistoric Briton of this age had previously had their genome analysed.
As such, the analysis provides valuable new insights into the first people to resettle Britain after the last Ice Age.
The analysis of Cheddar Man’s genome – the “blueprint” for a human, contained in the nuclei of our cells – will be published in a journal, and will also feature in the upcoming Channel 4 documentary The First Brit, Secrets Of The 10,000-year-old Man.
Cheddar Man’s remains had been unearthed 115 years ago in Gough’s Cave, located in Somerset’s Cheddar Gorge. Subsequent examination has shown that the man was short by today’s standards – about 5ft 5in – and probably died in his early 20s.
Prof Chris Stringer, the museum’s research leader in human origins, said: “I’ve been studying the skeleton of Cheddar Man for about 40 years
“So to come face-to-face with what this guy could have looked like – and that striking combination of the hair, the face, the eye colour and that dark skin: something a few years ago we couldn’t have imagined and yet that’s what the scientific data show.”
Fractures on the surface of the skull suggest he may even have met his demise in a violent manner. It’s not known how he came to lie in the cave, but it’s possible he was placed there by others in his tribe.
The Natural History Museum researchers extracted the DNA from part of the skull near the ear known as the petrous. At first, project scientists Prof Ian Barnes and Dr Selina Brace weren’t sure if they’d get any DNA at all from the remains.
But they were in luck: not only was DNA preserved, but Cheddar Man has since yielded the highest coverage (a measure of the sequencing accuracy) for a genome from this period of European prehistory – known as the Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age.
They teamed up with researchers at University College London (UCL) to analyse the results, including gene variants associated with hair, eye and skin colour.
Extra mature Cheddar
They found the Stone Age Briton had dark hair – with a small probability that it was curlier than average – blue eyes and skin that was probably dark brown or black in tone.
This combination might appear striking to us today, but it was a common appearance in western Europe during this period.
Steven Clarke, director of the Channel Four documentary, said: “I think we all know we live in times where we are unusually preoccupied with skin pigmentation.”
Prof Mark Thomas, a geneticist from UCL, said: “It becomes a part of our understanding, I think that would be a much, much better thing. I think it would be good if people lodge it in their heads, and it becomes a little part of their knowledge.”
Unsurprisingly, the findings have generated lots of interest on social media.
Cheddar Man’s genome reveals he was closely related to other Mesolithic individuals – so-called Western Hunter-Gatherers – who have been analysed from Spain, Luxembourg and Hungary.
Dutch artists Alfons and Adrie Kennis, specialists in palaeontological model-making, took the genetic findings and combined them with physical measurements from scans of the skull. The result was a strikingly lifelike reconstruction of a face from our distant past.
Pale skin probably arrived in Britain with a migration of people from the Middle East around 6,000 years ago. This population had pale skin and brown eyes and absorbed populations like the ones Cheddar Man belonged to.
No-one’s entirely sure why pale skin evolved in these farmers, but their cereal-based diet was probably deficient in Vitamin D. This would have required agriculturalists to absorb this essential nutrient from sunlight through their skin.
“There may be other factors that are causing lower skin pigmentation over time in the last 10,000 years. But that’s the big explanation that most scientists turn to,” said Prof Thomas.
Boom and bust
The genomic results also suggest Cheddar Man could not drink milk as an adult. This ability only spread much later, after the onset of the Bronze Age.
Present-day Europeans owe on average 10% of their ancestry to Mesolithic hunters like Cheddar Man.
Britain has been something of a boom-and-bust story for humans over the last million-or-so years. Modern humans were here as early as 40,000 years ago, but a period of extreme cold known as the Last Glacial Maximum drove them out some 10,000 years later.
There’s evidence from Gough’s Cave that hunter-gatherers ventured back around 15,000 years ago, establishing a temporary presence when the climate briefly improved. However, they were soon sent packing by another cold snap. Cut marks on the bones suggest these people cannibalised their dead – perhaps as part of ritual practices.
Britain was once again settled 11,000 years ago; and has been inhabited ever since. Cheddar Man was part of this wave of migrants, who walked across a landmass called Doggerland that, in those days, connected Britain to mainland Europe. This makes him the oldest known Briton with a direct connection to people living here today.
This is not the first attempt to analyse DNA from the Cheddar Man. In the late 1990s, Oxford University geneticist Brian Sykes sequenced mitochondrial DNA from one of Cheddar Man’s molars.
Mitochondrial DNA comes from the biological “batteries” within our cells and is passed down exclusively from a mother to her children.
Prof Sykes compared the ancient genetic information with DNA from 20 living residents of Cheddar village and found two matches – including history teacher Adrian Targett, who became closely connected with the discovery. The result is consistent with the approximately 10% of Europeans who share the same mitochondrial DNA type.
(CNN)More teenagers are identifying themselves with nontraditional gender labels such as transgender or gender-fluid, according to a new study.
‘A window into high school-aged youth’
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — UPDATE: A Google spokesperson has responded to this story and said they are temporarily disabling certain responses of religious figures. Click here for the full response.
Audio technology like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa are becoming a dominant source for information.
But now, it appears one of the most common names is unknown to Google Home.
And some people are sounding the alarm about what the technology tells you when you ask about Jesus.
Brentwood resident David Sams owns a Google Home and an Amazon audio speaker. He says both give two different answers when asking “Who is Jesus Christ?”
“I even asked Google who is David Sams? Google knew who I was, but Google did not know who Jesus was, Google did not know who Jesus Christ was, and Google did not know who God was,” Sams said.
Smart speakers are a technology owned by about 40 million Americans — that’s about one in six people in the nation.
And this religious conversation at home is making waves on social media.
Comments, videos and test results posted asking “Who is Jesus?”
The general response from Google Home is “I’m not sure how to help you with that.”
There’s still no response from Google as to why that is the response.
“It’s kinda scary, it’s almost like Google has taken Jesus and God out of smart audio,” Sams said. “First it started with schools.”
Google Home refers to Jesus Christ when asking about the Last Supper and even Saint Peter.
And there’s plenty of information on the prophet Muhammed, Buddha — even Satan.
Nashville resident Martin Collins says she thinks this feeds into a bigger problem.
They took prayer out of schools, they think just taking Jesus out of everything is politically correct these days and I think that’s the stem of a lot of our problems,” Collins said.
Collins has no doubt Google has purposefully programmed Jesus out of its audio speakers.
“To keep from stepping on toes, political correctness,” Collin said. “That seems to be more important these days than what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Sams is calling for answers from Google as it’s become the main source of information readily available that so many are coming to depend on.
“I don’t know if there’s some kind of wizard making these decisions or if it’s some kind of oversight,” Sams said. “But whatever it is, they need to address it immediately.”
Using a civil rights hero to sell cars in a Super Bowl commercial may seem absurd on its face, but it’s particularly ridiculous when said civil rights icon actually spoke out against car commercials.
During Sunday’s Super Bowl, Ram Trucks used parts of one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches to sell pickup trucks. Ram plucked a seemingly innocuous section of King’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, told 50 years ago to the day of Super Bowl on Sunday, using it to reinforce the idea that its Ram trucks are “built to serve”:
If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. … By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great. … You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know the theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.
As Nathan Robinson, editor-in-chief of Current Affairs, demonstrated in a YouTube video (embedded at the top of this article), it’s easy to show the disparity between King’s message and the ad itself. Robinson overlaid the video of the commercial with other parts of the exact same speech Ram quoted — exposing a sermon that is actually anticapitalist and even criticizes car advertisements:
Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. … I got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car. … I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America.
Over the years, people have been taught and remembered King’s words of peaceful protest, unity, and service. But they by and large have forgotten more controversial aspects of his political protest — particularly his message about economic justice and the destructiveness of poverty. The Ram commercial exploits this, using apolitical parts of a speech that, in reality, mocks car advertisements — perhaps figuring that people wouldn’t remember what King really said because they by and large haven’t been taught his full message in their middle and high school history classes.
It’s hard to imagine how King would react to this blatant twisting of his words. But it certainly seems to go against what he preached.
Correction: Ram trucks are no longer affiliated with Dodge, as this post originally suggested.
Did college students give President Trump’s State of the Union address a fair chance?
Campus Reform’s Cabot Phillips talked to students at New York City’s John Jay College, reading them quotes from Trump’s address.
What the students didn’t know was that the lines were actually taken from some of former President Barack Obama’s addresses.
The students were given quotes (from Obama) about going after ISIS and countering China on trade. But most were opposed to the ideas when they thought they were coming from Trump.
“He doesn’t think before speaking,” one responded.
“The way he approaches things is very aggressive,” another argued.
“He should mind his own business and focus on America,” a student said.
Phillips said on “Fox & Friends” it appears many students are just “committed” to being against Trump no matter what.
“They were quite shocked [when told the quotes were from Obama],” he explained, recalling one student even threatened to beat him up.
Phillips previously discussed the State of the Union address with NYU students, who came out against the speech even though it hadn’t happened yet.
He said students face consequences on liberal-leaning campuses if they support Trump, including socially, in the classroom and even through violence.
“Students should be able to have a discussion about what the issues are and not feel pressured one way or the other,” said Phillips.
Watch the clips above.
Yes, Uma Thurman is mad.
She has been raped. She has been sexually assaulted. She has been mangled in hot steel. She has been betrayed and gaslighted by those she trusted.
And we’re not talking about her role as the blood-spattered bride in “Kill Bill.” We’re talking about a world that is just as cutthroat, amoral, vindictive and misogynistic as any Quentin Tarantino hellscape.
We’re talking about Hollywood, where even an avenging angel has a hard time getting respect, much less bloody satisfaction.
Playing foxy Mia Wallace in 1994’s “Pulp Fiction” and ferocious Beatrix Kiddo in “Kill Bill,” Volumes 1 (2003) and 2 (2004), Thurman was the lissome goddess in the creation myth of Harvey Weinstein and Quentin Tarantino. The Miramax troika was the ultimate in indie cool. A spellbound Tarantino often described his auteur-muse relationship with Thurman — who helped him conceive the idea of the bloody bride — as an Alfred Hitchcock-Ingrid Bergman legend. (With a foot fetish thrown in.) But beneath the glistening Oscar gold, there was a dark undercurrent that twisted the triangle.
“Pulp Fiction” made Weinstein rich and respected, and Thurman says he introduced her to President Barack Obama at a fund-raiser as the reason he had his house.
“The complicated feeling I have about Harvey is how bad I feel about all the women that were attacked after I was,” she told me one recent night, looking anguished in her elegant apartment in River House on Manhattan’s East Side, as she vaped tobacco, sipped white wine and fed empty pizza boxes into the fireplace.
“I am one of the reasons that a young girl would walk into his room alone, the way I did. Quentin used Harvey as the executive producer of ‘Kill Bill,’ a movie that symbolizes female empowerment. And all these lambs walked into slaughter because they were convinced nobody rises to such a position who would do something illegal to you, but they do.”
Thurman stresses that Creative Artists Agency, her former agency, was connected to Weinstein’s predatory behavior. It has since issued a public apology. “I stand as both a person who was subjected to it and a person who was then also part of the cloud cover, so that’s a super weird split to have,” she says.
She talks mordantly about “the power from ‘Pulp,’” and reminds me that it’s in the Library of Congress, part of the American narrative.
When asked about the scandal on the red carpet at the October premiere for her Broadway play, “The Parisian Woman,” an intrigue about a glamorous woman in President Trump’s Washington written by “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon, she looked steely and said she was waiting to feel less angry before she talked about it.
“I used the word ‘anger’ but I was more worried about crying, to tell you the truth,” she says now. “I was not a groundbreaker on a story I knew to be true. So what you really saw was a person buying time.”
By Thanksgiving, Thurman had begun to unsheathe her Hattori Hanzo, Instagramming a screen shot of her “roaring rampage of revenge” monologue and wishing everyone a happy holiday, “(Except you Harvey, and all your wicked conspirators — I’m glad it’s going slowly — you don’t deserve a bullet) — stay tuned.”
Stretching out her lanky frame on a brown velvet couch in front of the fire, Thurman tells her story, with occasional interruptions from her 5-year-old daughter with her ex, financier Arpad Busson. Luna is in her pj’s, munching on a raw cucumber. Her two older kids with Ethan Hawke, Maya, an actress, and Levon, a high school student, also drop by.
In interviews over the years, Thurman has offered a Zen outlook — even when talking about her painful breakup from Hawke. (She had a brief first marriage to Gary Oldman.) Her hall features a large golden Buddha from her parents in Woodstock; her father, Robert Thurman, is a Buddhist professor of Indo-Tibetan studies at Columbia who thinks Uma is a reincarnated goddess.
But beneath that reserve and golden aura, she has learned to be a street fighter.
She says when she was 16, living in a studio apartment in Manhattan and starting her movie career, she went to a club one winter night and met an actor, nearly 20 years older, who coerced her afterward when they went to his Greenwich Village brownstone for a nightcap.
“I was ultimately compliant,” she remembers. “I tried to say no, I cried, I did everything I could do. He told me the door was locked but I never ran over and tried the knob. When I got home, I remember I stood in front of the mirror and I looked at my hands and I was so mad at them for not being bloody or bruised. Something like that tunes the dial one way or another, right? You become more compliant or less compliant, and I think I became less compliant.”
Thurman got to know Weinstein and his first wife, Eve, in the afterglow of “Pulp Fiction.” “I knew him pretty well before he attacked me,” she said. “He used to spend hours talking to me about material and complimenting my mind and validating me. It possibly made me overlook warning signs. This was my champion. I was never any kind of studio darling. He had a chokehold on the type of films and directors that were right for me.”
Things soon went off-kilter in a meeting in his Paris hotel room. “It went right over my head,” she says. They were arguing about a script when the bathrobe came out.
“I didn’t feel threatened,” she recalls. “I thought he was being super idiosyncratic, like this was your kooky, eccentric uncle.”
He told her to follow him down a hall — there were always, she says, “vestibules within corridors within chambers” — so they could keep talking. “Then I followed him through a door and it was a steam room. And I was standing there in my full black leather outfit — boots, pants, jacket. And it was so hot and I said, ‘This is ridiculous, what are you doing?’ And he was getting very flustered and mad and he jumped up and ran out.”
he first “attack,” she says, came not long after in Weinstein’s suite at the Savoy Hotel in London. “It was such a bat to the head. He pushed me down. He tried to shove himself on me. He tried to expose himself. He did all kinds of unpleasant things. But he didn’t actually put his back into it and force me. You’re like an animal wriggling away, like a lizard. I was doing anything I could to get the train back on the track. My track. Not his track.”
She was staying in Fulham with her friend, Ilona Herman, Robert De Niro’s longtime makeup artist, who later worked with Thurman on “Kill Bill.”
“The next day to her house arrived a 26-inch-wide vulgar bunch of roses,” Thurman says. “They were yellow. And I opened the note like it was a soiled diaper and it just said, ‘You have great instincts.’” Then, she says, Weinstein’s assistants started calling again to talk about projects.
She thought she could confront him and clear it up, but she took Herman with her and asked Weinstein to meet her in the Savoy bar. The assistants had their own special choreography to lure actresses into the spider’s web and they pressured Thurman, putting Weinstein on the phone to again say it was a misunderstanding and “we have so many projects together.” Finally she agreed to go upstairs, while Herman waited on a settee outside the elevators.
Once the assistants vanished, Thurman says, she warned Weinstein, “If you do what you did to me to other people you will lose your career, your reputation and your family, I promise you.” Her memory of the incident abruptly stops there.
Through a representative, Weinstein, who is in therapy in Arizona, agreed that “she very well could have said this.”
Downstairs, Herman was getting nervous. “It seemed to take forever,” the friend told me. Finally, the elevator doors opened and Thurman walked out. “She was very disheveled and so upset and had this blank look,” Herman recalled. “Her eyes were crazy and she was totally out of control. I shoveled her into the taxi and we went home to my house. She was really shaking.” Herman said that when the actress was able to talk again, she revealed that Weinstein had threatened to derail her career.
Through a spokesperson, Weinstein denied ever threatening her prospects and said that he thought she was “a brilliant actress.” He acknowledged her account of the episodes but said that up until the Paris steam room, they had had “a flirtatious and fun working relationship.”
“Mr. Weinstein acknowledges making a pass at Ms. Thurman in England after misreading her signals in Paris,” the statement said. “He immediately apologized.”
Thurman says that, even though she was in the middle of a run of Miramax projects, she privately regarded Weinstein as an enemy after that. One top Hollywood executive who knew them both said the work relationship continued but that basically, “She didn’t give him the time of day.”
Thurman says that she could tolerate the mogul in supervised environments and that she assumed she had “aged out of the window of his assault range.”
She attended the party he had in SoHo in September for Tarantino’s engagement to Daniella Pick, an Israeli singer. In response to queries about Thurman’s revelations, Weinstein sent along six pictures of chummy photos of the two of them at premieres and parties over the years.
And that brings us to “the Quentin of it all,” as Thurman calls it. The animosity between Weinstein and Thurman infected her creative partnership with Tarantino.
Married to Hawke and with a baby daughter and a son on the way, Thurman went to the Cannes Film Festival in 2001. She says Tarantino noticed after a dinner that she was skittish around Weinstein, which was a problem, since they were all about to make “Kill Bill.” She says she reminded Tarantino that she had already told him about the Savoy incident, but “he probably dismissed it like ‘Oh, poor Harvey, trying to get girls he can’t have,’ whatever he told himself, who knows?” But she reminded him again and “the penny dropped for him. He confronted Harvey.”
Later, by the pool under the Cypress trees at the luxurious Hotel du Cap, Thurman recalls, Weinstein said he was hurt and surprised by her accusations. She then firmly reiterated what happened in London. “At some point, his eyes changed and he went from aggressive to ashamed,” she says, and he offered her an apology with many of the sentiments he would trot out about 16 years later when the walls caved in.
“I just walked away stunned, like ‘O.K., well there’s my half-assed apology,’” Thurman says.
Weinstein confirmed Friday that he apologized, an unusual admission from him, which spurred Thurman to wryly note, “His therapy must be working.”
Since the revelations about Weinstein became public last fall, Thurman has been reliving her encounters with him — and a gruesome episode on location for “Kill Bill” in Mexico made her feel as blindsided as the bride and as determined to get her due, no matter how long it took.
With four days left, after nine months of shooting the sadistic saga, Thurman was asked to do something that made her draw the line.
In the famous scene where she’s driving the blue convertible to kill Bill — the same one she put on Instagram on Thanksgiving — she was asked to do the driving herself.
But she had been led to believe by a teamster, she says, that the car, which had been reconfigured from a stick shift to an automatic, might not be working that well.
She says she insisted that she didn’t feel comfortable operating the car and would prefer a stunt person to do it. Producers say they do not recall her objecting.
“Quentin came in my trailer and didn’t like to hear no, like any director,” she says. “He was furious because I’d cost them a lot of time. But I was scared. He said: ‘I promise you the car is fine. It’s a straight piece of road.’” He persuaded her to do it, and instructed: “ ‘Hit 40 miles per hour or your hair won’t blow the right way and I’ll make you do it again.’ But that was a deathbox that I was in. The seat wasn’t screwed down properly. It was a sand road and it was not a straight road.” (Tarantino did not respond to requests for comment.)
Thurman then shows me the footage that she says has taken her 15 years to get. “Solving my own Nancy Drew mystery,” she says.
It’s from the point of view of a camera mounted to the back of the Karmann Ghia. It’s frightening to watch Thurman wrestle with the car, as it drifts off the road and smashes into a palm tree, her contorted torso heaving helplessly until crew members appear in the frame to pull her out of the wreckage. Tarantino leans in and Thurman flashes a relieved smile when she realizes that she can briefly stand.
“The steering wheel was at my belly and my legs were jammed under me,” she says. “I felt this searing pain and thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m never going to walk again,’” she says. “When I came back from the hospital in a neck brace with my knees damaged and a large massive egg on my head and a concussion, I wanted to see the car and I was very upset. Quentin and I had an enormous fight, and I accused him of trying to kill me. And he was very angry at that, I guess understandably, because he didn’t feel he had tried to kill me.”
Even though their marriage was spiraling apart, Hawke immediately left the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky to fly to his wife’s side.
“I approached Quentin in very serious terms and told him that he had let Uma down as a director and as a friend,” he told me. He said he told Tarantino, “Hey, man, she is a great actress, not a stunt driver, and you know that.” Hawke added that the director “was very upset with himself and asked for my forgiveness.”
Two weeks after the crash, after trying to see the car and footage of the incident, she had her lawyer send a letter to Miramax, summarizing the event and reserving the right to sue.
Miramax offered to show her the footage if she signed a document “releasing them of any consequences of my future pain and suffering,” she says. She didn’t.
Thurman says her mind meld with Tarantino was rattled. “We were in a terrible fight for years,” she explains. “We had to then go through promoting the movies. It was all very thin ice. We had a fateful fight at Soho House in New York in 2004 and we were shouting at each other because he wouldn’t let me see the footage and he told me that was what they had all decided.”
Now, so many years after the accident, inspired by the reckoning on violence against women, reliving her own “dehumanization to the point of death” in Mexico, and furious that there have not been more legal repercussions against Weinstein, Thurman says she handed over the result of her own excavations to the police and ramped up the pressure to cajole the crash footage out of Tarantino.
“Quentin finally atoned by giving it to me after 15 years, right?” she says. “Not that it matters now, with my permanently damaged neck and my screwed-up knees.”
(Tarantino aficionados spy an echo of Thurman’s crash in his 2007 movie, “Death Proof,” produced by Weinstein and starring Thurman’s stunt double, Zoë Bell. Young women, including a blond Rose McGowan, die in myriad ways, including by slamming into a windshield.)
As she sits by the fire on a second night when we talk until 3 a.m., tears begin to fall down her cheeks. She brushes them away.
“When they turned on me after the accident,” she says, “I went from being a creative contributor and performer to being like a broken tool.”
Thurman says that in “Kill Bill,” Tarantino had done the honors with some of the sadistic flourishes himself, spitting in her face in the scene where Michael Madsen is seen on screen doing it and choking her with a chain in the scene where a teenager named Gogo is on screen doing it.
“Harvey assaulted me but that didn’t kill me,” she says. “What really got me about the crash was that it was a cheap shot. I had been through so many rings of fire by that point. I had really always felt a connection to the greater good in my work with Quentin and most of what I allowed to happen to me and what I participated in was kind of like a horrible mud wrestle with a very angry brother. But at least I had some say, you know?” She says she didn’t feel disempowered by any of it. Until the crash.
“Personally, it has taken me 47 years to stop calling people who are mean to you ‘in love’ with you. It took a long time because I think that as little girls we are conditioned to believe that cruelty and love somehow have a connection and that is like the sort of era that we need to evolve out of.”
The modern era of the so-called “three-parent baby” has officially kicked off, and it will begin in the UK.
According to the BBC, the country’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has granted permission for doctors at the Newcastle Fertility Center to artificially implant two women with an embryo containing the DNA of three people. The procedure is intended to prevent the women from passing a rare, debilitating genetic condition known as MERRF (myoclonic epilepsy with ragged red fibers) syndrome down to their children. People born with MERRF suffer a wide variety of chronic symptoms, including seizures, impaired muscles, and eventually dementia.
There are two current techniques that can be used to create a three-parent baby, but the net result is the same: A child born with the nuclear DNA of their intended parents, and the swapped-in mitochondrial DNA of a donor woman.
Mitochondria are an essential part of nearly every kind of cell found in the body, acting as the cell’s source of energy. But only a tiny slice of our DNA determines how our mitochondria functions—a whooping 37 genes out of more than 20,000. And none of these genes influence things like our appearance, risk of some cancers, or propensity for Cheetos. But because we obtain the genes for making mitochondria exclusively from our mother, women whose mitochondria have damaging mutations are at high risk at passing on those same flaws to their children, including those responsible for MERRF syndrome.
Three-parent babies actually aren’t new. Similar procedures were performed throughout the 90s in various countries, including the U.S. But concerns emerged that the techniques used then were too risky, and may have resulted in children who were either born with the same mutations their mothers had or who developed other complications. Within a few years, the FDA banned these procedures from being performed in the states, while other countries informally followed suit.
The new generation of three-parent techniques are thought to be much safer. But there are still worries that we might be moving too fast. Last year, the FDA warned John Zhang, a New York fertility doctor, to steer clear of the U.S. if he wanted to perform his version of the technique, since there is still a formal ban on implanting women with genetically modified human embryos.
Zhang is credited as the first doctor to successfully perform the modern-day procedure, but ethicists have balked at the shady workarounds he used to pull it off. According to the FDA, Zhang’s initial application to have the procedure put through clinical trials was denied, and he promised to avoid performing it stateside until he could gain approval. But he’s also continued to advertise it as a way to not only prevent mitochondrial birth defects, but age-related infertility. Meanwhile, other teams from China and the Ukraine have also reported using 3-person techniques in the wake of Zhang’s success.
Unlike the U.S., the UK has long been preparing for the arrival of three-parent babies. In 2015, its Parliament passed regulations that would eventually allow the use of these techniques, pending a lengthy review process by the HFEA. Last year, the agency finally granted its first license to perform the procedure to the Newcastle Fertility Center. For the time being, each potential case will be reviewed by the HFEA before its approval.
Scientists have unveiled an extraordinary new analysis of thousands of stone tools found at a site called Attirampakkam in India, northwest of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. Thanks to new dating techniques, a team led by archaeologist Shanti Pappu determined that most of the tools are between 385,000 and 172,000 years old. What makes these dates noteworthy is that they upend the idea that tool-making was transformed in India after an influx of modern Homo sapiens came from Africa starting about 130,000 years ago.
According to these findings, hominins in India were making tools that looked an awful lot like what people were making in Africa almost 250,000 years before they encountered modern humans. This is yet another piece of evidence that the “out of Africa” process was a lot messier and more complex than previously thought.
Pappu worked out of the Sharma Centre for Heritage Education in Chennai with a team of geoscientists and physicists to date the tools. They used a technique called “post-infrared infrared-stimulated luminescence,” which measures how long ago minerals were exposed to light or heat. In essence, it allows scientists to determine how long ago a tool was buried and hidden from the Sun’s heat, and it uses that information as a proxy for the tool’s age.
Writing in Nature, the group explains that the Attirampakkam site is ideal for this kind of dating, because it was regularly flooded by a nearby stream, meaning that discarded tools were quickly covered up by sediments in the water. Those regular floods left behind a relatively tidy stack of debris layers, each of which could be dated.
To their surprise, Pappu and her colleagues found that this region—once a tree-shaded shoreline, ideal for long-term camping—had been occupied by early humans for hundreds of thousands of years. Partly that’s because the river carried great heaps of quartzite rocks and pebbles to the area. Quartz was the preferred stone for tools, and it’s obvious that this place was a tool workshop. Alongside axes, knives, projectile points, and scrapers, the team found half-finished tools and discarded flakes created by chipping away at a rock to make a blade.
The Middle Paleolithic toolbox
But here’s where the story gets weird. The hominins who made tools at Attirampakkam made a wide variety of items, some of which closely resembled the Middle Paleolithic style that emerged in Africa around 300,000 years ago. The Middle Paleolithic marks a cultural shift when humans began to make smaller, more complicated tools, often requiring toolmakers to shape their stones in a multi-stage process. Before the Middle Paleolithic, hominins created biface tools, or simple, heavy hand axes shaped like teardrops.
A traditional “out of Africa” hypothesis holds that early humans in India were essentially stuck in the biface age, making their elementary axes until modern Homo sapiens swarmed the subcontinent about 130,000 years ago and brought the wonders of Middle Paleolithic tools to everyone. Except Pappu and her team found a mix of bifaces and Middle Paleolithic tools at Attirampakkam. Somehow, African and Indian hominins were developing the same toolmaking skills at roughly the same time.
This changes our understanding of human development and ancient migration patterns. There is no doubt that a massive number of modern humans poured out of Africa about 100,000 years ago. But they weren’t necessarily as important to global cultural development as we might think.
It’s possible that hominins from Africa started traveling to India almost 400,000 years ago, bringing new ideas about tool technologies along with them. Pappu and her colleagues point out in their paper that the Attirampakkam site was active during at least two periods when the climate would have allowed easy crossing from Africa to Eurasia, through a transcontinental jungle rich with food and other resources. Of course, it’s also possible that the Middle Paleolithic tools at Attirampakkam are an example of convergent evolution, where two separate cultures hit upon the same innovations at roughly the same time.
We don’t have enough evidence yet to say which hypothesis is more likely, but Pappu’s research is yet another hint that modern Homo sapiens culture was evolving outside Africa as well as within it. Also, we have to use the designation “Homo sapiens” carefully here. Pappu and her team note in their paper that only one archaic human fossil, the Narmada cranium, has ever been discovered in India. That leaves plenty of gaps in the record.
Attirampakkam is strewn with the results of human productivity, but there are no fossils to tell us who these humans were. An early ancestor, like Homo erectus or the Narmada human? Possibly Neanderthals or Denisovans, who were both roaming Eurasia at the time? Some hybrid we’ve yet to discover?
Regardless of who these early humans were, it’s certain that they were already engaged in modern human toolmaking before Homo sapiens arrived from Africa. What’s fascinating about the Attirampakkam site is that the evidence suggests that the people there may have started migrating en masse at the same time Africans did. In the most recent layers of the site, tools become sparse. Humans were coming to this place less and less often. The people of Attirampakkam may have fled climate fluctuations caused by the Toba eruption 70,000 years ago, or they may have been responding to other changes.
Pappu and her colleagues write that, ultimately, the remains at Attirampakkam aren’t just testimony to human innovation. They are also a sign of “placemaking,” a cognitive shift that made humans want to return to the same location, generation after generation. We’re seeing the emergence of collective memory and historical knowledge right alongside the development of sophisticated stone tools.
California is seeking to treat homeschool families as presumptive child abusers. Lawmakers in that state have indicated plans to categorically require homeschool parents to prove — through home visits, interviews, and other government oversight — that indeed the parent is not abusive if they choose to exercise a legally protected and valid option for school choice. This measure would shift the burden to the parent to prove to the government’s satisfaction his or her parental fitness.
This is absurdly unconstitutional.
But in light of the remarkably horrifying case of Riverside County couple David and Louise Turpin, whose 13 children were reportedly chained, malnourished, and clearly abused, the media and lawmakers have chosen to focus on one coincidental detail — the Turpins were also registered as homeschoolers.
Using the Turpins’ case as one extreme example to bolster their platform, legislators are now looking to increase government regulations of homeschooling in California, which may lay the groundwork for increased regulation nationwide. Already, state legislators have suggested they will introduce legislation to cure the supposed “problem” of laxity in private school choice options, which includes homeschooling.
Suggested measures have included options for involuntary quarterly home visits and interviews from child protective services and other government agencies. This kind of government regulation and oversight would reduce the valid legal option of homeschooling from a fundamental parental right, to direct the education and school choice for children, to compelled consent to government intrusion upon the sanctity and privacy of the home and school choice.
These kinds of alarming “solutions” to an unfounded problem rises to the level of a government search of the family’s home and interviews of children, under the pretext that homeschool choice infers that parents are more likely to be child abusers. It’s a similar illogical path as inferring that because a person chooses to be an independent contractor as a legitimate employment option, they are more likely to evade tax filings, or because a person chooses to exercise any other valid legal option, they are doing so for some other unrelated nefarious purpose, and on that basis alone the government has grounds to treat them as suspect.
Moreover, the data just aren’t there to support any logical connection between homeschooling as a school choice option and child abuse. In published studies among such experts as the World Health Organization, the U.S. Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, the American Psychological Association, the Mayo Clinic, and others, none of these sources list homeschooling as a risk factor for child abuse and neglect. In other words, there is no evidence or data to even suggest that homeschooled children are being harmed or at risk of harm at a rate higher than children in other nonhomeschooled and private schooling communities.
In fact, the data suggest the complete opposite in terms of the benefits to children who are enrolled in alternative school choice options, specifically homeschooling. In a recent piece in Business Insider titled “Homeschooling could be the smartest way to teach kids in the 21st century — here are 5 reasons why,” Chris Weller discusses how homeschooling is not only a mainstream choice, but also that “homeschooled kids have the same access to online learning, friendships, and extracurricular activities as the typical public school student — but without many of the drawbacks, like standardized lesson plans and bullying.” Many parents choose homeschooling to better tailor the educational and environmental needs of children.
The law also recognizes the fundamental right of the parent to make choices about their child’s education and upbringing, and homeschooling is a valid legal option in all 50 states. For lawmakers to correlate instances like the Turpins, where child abusers are also homeschoolers, is to manufacture a problem looking for a solution. The data is insufficient to make that correlation a legitimate argument that homeschooling is the causal factor precipitating abuse.
Further, these types of proposed “solutions” pose a myriad of constitutional problems. First, it treats homeschool families as suspect child abusers without any legitimate legal basis. It is similar to requiring all drivers to undergo a breath or blood test to prove they are not under the influence simply because they chose to exercise a valid legal option of driving.
The Constitution requires the government to have probable cause before any test, and the burden is always on the government to prove their case, not for an individual to waive the presumption of innocence simply because they chose to drive. Parents who choose to “drive” in the homeschool lane constitutionally must have all of the same rights and protections as parents who choose to “drive” in the traditional public school lane.
Second, this would unconstitutionally force warrantless searches within the privacy of a family dwelling and subjects compelled testimony from children that is expressly for the purposes of potential future litigation. Imagine if the government could label any category of parent as alleged child abusers and thus treat the parents as suspect. What if your choice as a parent to raise your children in California suddenly meant the government could invade your home and look for evidence you might be a child abuser simply because the Turpins also resided in California?
In Iowa, a measure was introduced last year to force all families operating under the state’s Independent Private Instruction Choice or the Private Instruction Choice to undergo an annual assessment. The bill would mandate that every homeschool family’s home is involuntarily invaded once per quarter, with government officials interviewing or observing every child in the household registered as a homeschooler and perform a “check on the health and safety” of the children.
There was no clear definition of what “health and safety” meant in the context of the checks, nor did the measure advance any constitutional basis for such a search.
Homeschool Legal Defense Association President Mike Smith said in a message last week to members and friends of the organization, “These efforts incorrectly assume that homeschooling is the problem here. Hasty legislation based on horrific and criminal behavior — behavior that has nothing to do with homeschooling — would be unfair to the thousands of law-abiding families in California who work hard to provide a safe and loving environment for their children.”
Child abuse does happen, and it is a terrible thing. But we have to be very careful not to overreact and presume all parents are child abusers. They aren’t. We must preserve the presumption of innocence and constitutional protections for every family and parent in the context of school choice and in all areas of parental rights.
Jenna Ellis (@jennaellisorg) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. She is an attorney and professor of constitutional law at Colorado Christian University, fellow at the Centennial Institute, radio show host in Denver, Colo., and the author of the Legal Basis for a Moral Constitution.
Tonight, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” will accompany Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Trump’s nominee for NASA Administrator, to the State of the Union address. Nye has said that he’s accompanying the Congressman to help promote space exploration, since, he asserts, “NASA is the best brand the United States has” and that his attendance “should not be … seen as an acceptance of the recent attacks on science and the scientific community.”
But by attending the SOTU as Rep. Bridenstine’s guest, Nye has tacitly endorsed those very policies, and put his own personal brand over the interests of the scientific community at large. Rep. Bridenstine is a controversial nominee who refuses to state that climate change is driven by human activity, and even introduced legislation to remove Earth sciences from NASA’s scientific mission. Further, he’s worked to undermine civil rights, including pushing for crackdowns on immigrants, a ban on gay marriage, and abolishing the Department of Education.
As scientists, we cannot stand by while Nye lends our community’s credibility to a man who would undermine the United States’ most prominent science agency. And we cannot stand by while Nye uses his public persona as a science entertainer to support an administration that is expressly xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, racist, ableist, and anti-science.
Scientists are people, and in today’s society, it is impossible to separate science at major agencies like NASA from other pressing issues like racism, bigotry, and misogyny. Addressing these issues should be a priority, not only to strengthen our own scientific community, but to better serve the public that often funds our work. Rather than wield his public persona to bring attention to the need for science-informed policy, Bill Nye has chosen to excuse Rep. Bridenstine’s anti-science record and his stance on civil rights, and to implicitly support a stance that would diminish the agency’s work studying our own planet and its changing climate. Exploring other worlds and studying other planets, while dismissing the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change and its damage to our own planet isn’t just dangerous, it’s foolish and self-defeating.
Further, from his position of privilege and public popularity, Bill Nye is acting on the scientific community’s behalf, but without our approval. No amount of funding for space exploration can undo the damage the Trump administration is causing to public health and welfare by censoring science. No number of shiny new satellites can undo the racist policies that make our Dreamer colleagues live in fear and prevent immigrants from pursuing scientific careers in the United States. And no new mission to the Moon can make our LGBTQ colleagues feel welcome at an agency run by someone who votes against their civil rights.
As women and scientists, we refuse to separate science from everyday life. We refuse to keep our heads down and our mouths shut. As someone with a show alleging to save the world, Bill Nye has a responsibility to acknowledge the importance of NASA’s vast mission, not just one aspect of it. He should use his celebrity to elevate the importance of science in NASA’s mission—not waste the opportunity to lobby for space exploration at a cost to everything else.
The true shame is that Bill Nye remains the popular face of science because he keeps himself in the public eye. To be sure, increasing the visibility of scientists in the popular media is important to strengthening public support for science, but Nye’s TV persona has perpetuated the harmful stereotype that scientists are nerdy, combative white men in lab coats—a stereotype that does not comport with our lived experience as women in STEM. And he continues to wield his power recklessly, even after his recent endeavors in debate and politics have backfired spectacularly.
In 2014, he attempted to debate creationist Ken Ham—against the judgment of evolution experts—which only served to allow Ham to raise the funds needed to build an evangelical theme park that spreads misinformation about human evolution. Similarly, Nye repeatedly agreed to televised debates with non-scientist climate deniers, contributing to the false perception that researchers still disagree about basic climate science. And when Bill Nye went on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to “debate” climate change in 2017, his appearance was used to spread misinformation to Fox viewers and fundraise for anti-climate initiatives.
Bill Nye does not speak for us or for the members of the scientific community who have to protect not only the integrity of their research, but also their basic right to do science. We stand with others who have asked Bill Nye to not attend the State of the Union. Nye’s complicity does not align him with the researchers who have a bold and progressive vision for the future of science and its role in society.
At a time when our ability to do science and our ability to live freely are both under threat, our public champions and our institutions must do better.
SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — Josh and Lolly Weed, viewed as proof, and used as an example, that a gay man and a straight woman can make a successful Mormon marriage, have announced their divorce. In the same blog post where they announce their divorce, they offered an apology to the LGBTQ community.
“Today, we need to let you know that Lolly and I are divorcing,” the blog said this week, after recounting the couple’s accidental rise to the media spotlight when Josh Weed came out as a gay LDS man who was faithful to his church and married to a woman. They were in high demand to explain how they made the seemingly contradictory lifestyles work together.
The couple wrote, together and then individually in the same blog post on Thursday, that they came to understand over time that their deep platonic love was not a substitute for romantic love and that such a relationship is vital to everyone’s happiness.
Lolly Weed wrote:
And that is what human beings need to be healthy. All of us. Romantic attachment. It’s one of the main purposes of life!
They explain at length how they came to the realization. Josh Weed said three factors led him to believe this was the case.
- Love for the LGBTQ population
- Love for himself as a gay person
- The death of his mother
The couple rise to notoriety came about because of a blog post — that can no longer be found on JoshWeed.com — that, according to Josh, led them to be “featured on shows and newspapers around the globe.” That included a story on Nightline, embedded below.
Josh works in his private practice as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Included with the announcement and explanation about the couple’s divorce was an apology to the LGBTQ community. Among the specific things the Weeds apologies for are:
- We’re sorry, so incredibly sorry, for the ways our post has been used to bully others.
- And we’re sorry if our story made it easier for people in your life to reject you and your difficult path as being wrong.
- We’re sorry to any gay Mormon who received criticism, backlash, or hatred as a result of our story.
- We’re sorry to anybody who felt a measure of false peace because of our story.
- We’re sorry to any LGBTQIA person who was given false hope by our story
Josh Weed also wrote that his stance on homosexuality, that once aligned with that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had changed.
“I have spent my entire life conforming to every standard of the LDS faith because I believed it was what God wanted me to do,” he explained.
“I believed this because every mentor, every exemplar, every religious teacher, every therapist, every leader I ever grew up listening to and trusting told me that that was the only way I could return to live with God. There was an emphasis on ‘perfect obedience’ and yet, over the course of my lifetime, the list of things said by these trusted leaders about my sexual orientation was profoundly inconsistent and confusing.”
Josh Weed listed a number of those “inconsistent and confusing” things, which included:
- My sexual orientation wasn’t real
- My sexual orientation was evil
- My sexual orientation was an abomination
- My sexual orientation was tantamount to bestiality and just shy of murder
- My sexual orientation could change in this life if I had enough faith
- My sexual orientation was a “trial” to bear
- My sexual orientation maybe couldn’t change in this life after all
- My sexual orientation could be managed with faith
- My sexual orientation could be endured
Lolly Weed also wrote that many of her friends and community expressed to her, upon learning of the divorce, empathized with her and say she deserved the romantic connection, but few felt that empathy for her husband.
The thing that’s so interesting to me is how few people think of Josh in this way. How few people in his life have ever thought these things about him—things that are so obvious, so clear, so emphatic when talking to another straight person. I mean, isn’t the same true for LGBT people? Shouldn’t we feel the exact same intuitive injustice at the thought of them deserving to be “loved like that”?
When the tables are turned and we are talking about LGBTQ individuals, somehow people don’t see the parallels. Why am I, as a straight person, entitled to reciprocal, requited romantic love while an LGBTQ individual is not?
The blog post says the couple and their children will continue to be close and will continue to love each other.
“We can continue to be the family we have always been, and we can add to that family,” they wrote.
Weed emailed KUTV this statement:
“In posting, we hoped to let those who followed our story five years ago know the reality of our situation. We also wanted to apologize to the LGBTQIA community and to anybody who was hurt by our story over the last five years.
Thanks so much!
Angry users call out vice president for ‘shameful’ and ‘tone-deaf’ tweet commemorating Jewish Holocaust victims. The Hebrew translation of the imagery and wording he chose, however, is quite common in Israel
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has been excoriated on Twitter by Jews offended by what they view as his use of “Christ imagery” when memorializing Hitler’s victims on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Pence tweeted a video of him and his wife Karen laying a wreath and taking a tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem during their visit to Israel last week. In the tweet, he paid tribute to what he called the “6 million Jewish martyrs of the Holocaust who 3 years after walking beneath the shadow of death, rose up from the ashes to resurrect themselves to reclaim a Jewish future.”
Angry replies to his tweet charged that Pence, an evangelical Christian, imposed – consciously or unconsciously – a Christian religious narrative on the tragedy that was disrespectful to the Jews who perished. Critics described it as “shameful” and “tone-deaf.”
One wrote: “Are you referring to my Jewish relatives who died or survived in the Holocaust or did we become embroiled into some sort of Jesus analogy?” Another called Pence’s use of the term resurrection “a Christian-tinged euphemism as the word is rarely used out of that specific context” and accused him of “glossing over the fact that they were murdered by saying they were resurrected, just like the Jesus he claims to believe in.“
Additional criticism followed:
skip – A tweet from Matthew Yglesias
The word “resurrection,” which has strong Christian connotations in English, is also a legitimate translation of the Hebrew word tekuma, which also can be translated as “rebirth,” “recovery” or “revival.” It is frequently used to describe the establishment of the State of Israel following the Holocaust in the phrase “Shoah v’tekuma.” Some on Twitter objected to the use of the word “martyr” as implying that the victims of the Holocaust sacrificed themselves willingly rather than being murdered. However, the word “martyr” is translated into Hebrew as kedoshim, which is the term most frequently used to memorialize Holocaust victims in Israel. The official name of Israel’s Holocaust memorial day is, in fact, Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day.
The controversy comes a year after the Trump White House came under fire for issuing an official message that omitted Jews for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and doubled down on the decision when it was criticized.
This year’s White House message included a clear reference to the Jewish victims, saying that “we take this opportunity to recall the Nazis’ systematic persecution and brutal murder of six million Jewish people. In their death camps and under their inhuman rule, the Nazis also enslaved and killed millions of Slavs, Roma, gays, people with disabilities, priests and religious leaders, and others who courageously opposed their brutal regime.”
President Donald Trump himself also made a point of mentioning Jews in his tweet on the subject:
skip – A tweet from U.S. President Donald Trump
Pence’s assertion that Jews “rose from the ashes” is also imagery that is not unfamiliar to Jewish or Israeli ears.
President Reuven Rivlin, in his eulogy for late Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, said that “Shamir was a symbol of Israel’s rising from the ashes of the Holocaust to strength and staying power.”
Beyond semantics, the larger issue is the implication in Pence’s tweet of an actual Jesus Christ-style resurrection of the Holocaust victims, through his statement that Jews “rose up from the ashes to resurrect themselves to reclaim a Jewish future” implies an actual return from the dead. Pence’s reference to “3 years walking beneath the shadow of death” was interpreted by many as making a deliberate parallel to the 3 days that passed between the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust did not ‘resurrect themselves.’ They are all dead and most of them not even buried. Mr. Pence should have left out the term ‘resurrect,’ which offended many Jews,” said Rabbi Ron Kronish, an expert on interreligious relations and a library fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.
Kronish added that Pence’s “reference to a Jewish future was very vague and unclear. If he meant that the Holocaust led to the foundation of the Jewish State of Israel, this is blasphemy since it somehow justifies the Holocaust.”
The fact that “many Israeli politicians” often commit this sin themselves, he said, doesn’t make it right. “It would have been better for him to have said nothing about the Holocaust on this occasion if he or his advisers can’t figure out a sensitive and serious way to say it,” concluded Kronish.
The two envelopes, one for each twin brother, arrived in the mailbox on the same day in March of last year.
The larger parcel, for Aiden Dvash-Banks, contained a new U.S. passport and a letter congratulating the boy on his American citizenship. A smaller, flimsier envelope came for Ethan Dvash-Banks. Inside, a letter stated that his citizenship application had been denied.
The boys were carried in the same womb, born 16 months ago in Canada, minutes apart. But now, only one of them is in the U.S. legally.
The disparity is at the crux of a lawsuit filed this week against the State Department in which the twins’ parents, a married binational gay couple in Brentwood, allege that the government’s policy of granting birthright citizenship to children born abroad based on blood relation discriminates against LGBTQ couples.
Aiden and Ethan were conceived using an anonymous donor’s eggs and the sperm of their fathers, Andrew and Elad Dvash-Banks. The twins were carried and delivered by a surrogate. Aiden shares DNA with Andrew, a Santa Monica native, while Ethan is biologically related to Elad, who was born and raised in Israel.
In Ethan’s denial letter, addressed to Andrew, a U.S. Consulate official said that the Immigration and Nationality Act requires “a blood relationship between a child and the U.S. citizen parent in order for the parent to transmit U.S. citizenship.”
The boy’s “claim to U.S. citizenship has not been satisfactorily established, as you are not his biological father,” the letter said.
The couple were devastated — and livid.
“As a parent, my No. 1 job is to protect my sons,” Andrew Dvash-Banks, 36, said in an interview with The Times this week. “I can’t allow anyone to treat them differently. That is what my government is doing.”
In their fathers’ eyes, the boys are the same. They both grimace at the sight of broccoli. They both love playing hide-and-seek and the furry red Muppet, Elmo. But without birthright citizenship, the couple said, Ethan is undeniably different.
For example, “If he’s not a U.S. citizen at birth, he can’t become a U.S. president,” said Elad Dvash-Banks, 32. “A child should not start his life with, ‘You can’t do this.'”
The couple never intended to disclose their biological connections to their sons — or to anyone else. They said it wasn’t necessary, and not even their parents or grandparents asked.
“The fact that the State Department has taken it upon themselves to make it their business is wrong,” Andrew Dvash-Banks said. The lawsuit argues that the provisions cited by the State Department apply only to children born out of wedlock, and therefore shouldn’t apply to them.
A State Department official declined to comment on pending litigation.
The family’s case exposes the unique immigration challenges facing binational LGBTQ couples, which number about 36,000 in the U.S., said Jackie Yodashkin, public affairs director for Immigration Equality.
“That means there are a lot of people who have or will be starting families soon,” Yodashkin said. “If the goal is to keep families together, then why would you ever create a situation where you have an undocumented baby and a U.S. citizen twin brother?”
Legal experts said the statutes were written without contemplating same-sex marriages.
“Fundamentally, we’re dealing with very conservative, traditional notions of family when these statutes were written,” said Jean Reisz, a professor at USC Gould School of Law, adding that she was surprised by the State Department’s position.
But Nancy Polikoff, a visiting professor at UCLA School of Law, said straight couples who use assisted reproduction abroad run into similar problems.
“The definition of parents that’s being used has not caught up to the reality of parentage today, which is that lots of people are recognized as legal parents even though they aren’t biological parents and they haven’t adopted the child,” she said.
Andrew and Elad Dvash-Banks met in 2008 at a holiday party at Tel Aviv University in Israel, where Andrew was working toward a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies.
They fell in love and, two years later, were married. The pair intended to settle in California, where Andrew Dvash-Banks has four siblings, along with 14 nieces and nephews. But at the time, same-sex marriages were not allowed in California because of Proposition 8 and not recognized by the federal government.
That meant Elad Dvash-Banks couldn’t obtain lawful permanent residency in the U.S. through his marriage. So his partner had a choice: He could either start his marriage away from his family, or away from his husband.
“Obviously I chose to live with the man I fell in love with,” Andrew Dvash-Banks said. The pair settled in Canada, where Andrew has dual citizenship.
The couple were elated in 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of a federal law that denied benefits to legally married gay couples. Elad applied for a green card soon after.
A few months after the twins were born, the couple gleefully visited the U.S. Consulate in Toronto to get their sons U.S. passports. They carried their marriage certificate, matching birth certificates, a check, some diapers and their two newborns.
After hours of waiting, an official called them to the window. There, they were asked a series of detailed questions about the boys’ conception. They felt humiliated, but offered answers.
The official said Andrew Dvash-Banks would have to undergo a DNA test to prove a biological link to each twin. Without that, neither child would qualify.
“If we were hetero couple,” Elad Dvash-Banks said, “she would never ask that. She would never ask that because she would assume we are husband and wife.”
Andrew Dvash-Banks wept at the window. Onlookers watched in silence.
“We were hit with a ton of bricks,” he said.
A few months after Ethan’s application was denied, the family arrived at LAX in June. Andrew and Aiden carried their U.S. passports, while Elad had his Israeli passport and green card. Ethan passed through customs with a Canadian passport and a six-month tourist visa.
In December, the family canceled a trip to Israel to visit the twins’ great-grandparents. Ethan’s tourist visa had expired, and leaving the country posed too much of a risk.
The day they arrived in Los Angeles, the couple swore they would fight until Ethan obtained birthright citizenship.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to help Ethan to get what is rightfully his,” Elad Dvash-Banks said. “I know I will tell them, look at this — this is a piece of history, because we fought for you and we changed the world.”
“Lebanon has become – both by its own actions and omissions and by a blind eye from many members of the international community – one large missile factory,” Manelis wrote on the Ahewar website.
“It’s no longer a transfer of arms, funds or consultation. Iran has de-facto opened a new branch, the ‘Lebanon branch.’ Iran is here,” he said.
“In Lebanon, Hezbollah does not conceal its attempt to take control of the state,” he continued, adding that “in the shadow of Nasrallah’s bullying behavior” the terror group has built “terror infrastructure and factories to manufacture weapons under the nose of the Lebanese government.”
Israel and Hezbollah fought a deadly 33-day war in 2006, which came to an end under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which called for disarmament of Hezbollah, for withdrawal of the Israeli army from Lebanon, for the deployment of the Lebanese army and an enlarged UN force in the south.
“This past year (2017), like the 11 years that preceded it since the end of the Second Lebanon War, was characterized by relative stability on the Lebanese front. This quiet is for the benefit of residents on both sides,” Manelis wrote. “The fact that northern Israel and southern Lebanon have children who have not heard an alarm in their lives is a significant achievement of the Second Lebanon War, and the best proof of the stability of Israeli deterrence and the burning memory among the Lebanese about the magnitude of Nasrallah’s previous mistake.”
Nevertheless according to IDF assessments, Hezbollah has since rebuilt its arsenal with at least 100,000 short-range rockets and several thousand more missiles that can reach central Israel. In addition to a massive arsenal of rockets and missiles, Hezbollah is able to mobilize close to 30,000 fighters and has flouted its tunnel system, complete with ventilation, electricity, and rocket launchers.
Hezbollah has also increased its military capabilities due to its fighting in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad, and has spread its troops across the entire Middle East.
“The past year has been further proof that Hezbollah serves as an operational arm of Iran. In every place where there was instability, we discovered the fingerprint of Iran and everywhere we discovered Hezbollah’s involvement,” Manelis wrote.
Some 200 villages in south Lebanon have also been turned into “military strongholds” from which Hezbollah militants are able to watch Israeli soldiers at any moment.
“The ordinary citizen will be mistaken to think that this process turns Lebanon into a fortress, it is nothing more than a barrel of gunpowder on which he, his family and his property are sitting,” Manelis said in his op-ed on Sunday.
“One in every three or four houses in southern Lebanon is a headquarters, a post, a weapons depot or a Hezbollah hideout. We know these assets and know how to attack them accurately if required.”
Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and the growing Iranian presence on its borders, stressing that both are red-lines for the Jewish State.
Senior officials from Israel’s defense establishment have repeatedly stated that while the chance of escalation on the border is low, the smallest incident or a miscalculation by either side has the possibility to lead to conflict.
“The future of Lebanese citizens is in the hands of a dictator who sits in Tehran,” Manelis wrote, adding that “I think it is right to warn the residents of Lebanon of the Iranian game in their security and in their future.”
In September, Israel carried out its largest military exercise on the northern border in 20 years with tens of thousands of soldiers from all branches of the army simulating a war with Hezbollah.
“The past year has been used by the IDF to significantly improve preparations for war on the northern front,” Manelis wrote. “If our enemies understood how much we knew about them, they would be deterred from entering into another conflict for many more years to come.”
On the Friday edition of his show Real Time, HBO host Bill Maher defended President Trump’s decision to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, giving legitimacy to the country’s claim to the city. Maher said while he understands there will be repercussions, when you win wars you get land.
“I hate to agree with Donald Trump, but it doesn’t happen often, but I do. I don’t know why Israel — it has been their capital since 1949, it is where their government is. They’ve won all the wars thrown against them. I don’t understand why they don’t get to have their capital where they want,” he said.
“When you win a war you don’t get to take the other side’s land,” newly-minted New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg said.
“Actually, you do,” Maher responded.
“Especially because they were attacked. I mean the country was divided, which they were okay with. They were attacked more than once and they took land in those wars that they won and there has been peace offers on the table ever since to give part of that land back,” he added.
Maher asked why is it always up to Israel to come up with a two-state solution, and when they do it is rejected and blamed for making it “impossible.” He said what is making a two-state solution impossible is the “perpetually hostile,” “coiled snake” that is Palestinian leadership.
“But what is making the essential thing that is making the two-state solution impossible is that one party is perpetually hostile, a coiled snake,” Maher said in an argument with guest panelist Michelle Goldberg.
He also said Israel has given back land, including Gaza, and said the result was not hospitals and schools but tunnels and rockets.
“Israel gave back Gaza and what was the result? Did they use the funds to build schools and hospitals? No. They used them to build tunnels to get weapons and they invited Hamas in to shell Israel across the border,” he said.
Maher told Goldberg, who protested he should go visit the West Bank, that it’s unnecessary to make the trip and that you don’t have to be a “moron” to understand the situation.
From the January 26th edition of HBO’s Real Time:
BILL MAHER, HBO: Okay, while we’re near the Middle East let me ask about a big story that happened while we were off in December. Donald Trump: ‘Today we finally acknowledge the obvious that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.’ He said that Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like any other sovereign nation to determine its own capital.
I hate to agree with Donald Trump, but it doesn’t happen often, but I do. I don’t know why Israel — it has been their capital since 1949, it is where their government is. They’ve won all the wars thrown against them. I don’t understand why they don’t get to have their capital where they want.
MICHELLE GOLDBERG, NEW YORK TIMES: Really, you don’t understand that?
MAHER: I understand there are repercussions.
GOLDBERG: First of all, when you win a war you don’t get to take the other side’s land.
RICK WILSON: Actually, you do.
MAHER: Actually, you do.
GOLDBERG: Under international law, you can’t.
MAHER: Especially because they were attacked. I mean the country was divided, which they were okay with. They were attacked more than once and they took land in those wars that they won and there has been peace offers on the table ever since to give part of that land back.
What happened for the 50 years before? I mean, this has been the fact on the ground for 50 years. Israel has been a state for 70, I think, right?
WILSON: It is the capital of Israel, okay. I recognize Ro [Khanna]’s point that if we’re going to be an arbiter in the peace process that just declaring this without having trying to use that as a point of leverage in those debates, in those discussions, it might have given away a card we might have held.
I don’t think though that this is going to ultimately alter the conditions on the ground there because the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian government is so collapsed in terms of being an effective political force in the process that the status quo is going to be the status quo for the foreseeable future.
GOLDBERG: But the problem is the message that it sent a message to everyone in the process. So it sends a message to the Palestinians that the United States is going to be even more pro-Israel than in the past. And it sends a message to the Lukid government that you can basically do anything you want. And so they responded by adapting a resolution essentially calling for the annexation of the West Bank. They passed legislation that would make it less harder to come to any sort of final status agreement on Jerusalem. And they’ve done all these things that are going to make a two-state solution impossible.
MAHER: But it’s always they’re making the two-state solution impossible.
GOLDBERG: They are!
MAHER: But what is making the essential thing that is making the two-state solution impossible is that one party is perpetually hostile, a coiled snake.
GOLDBERG: That’s not true. Come on. You should go and see what’s happening in the West Bank. If you look at the settlements, if you look at the facts on the ground. The fact that you have instead of a contiguous land mass you increasingly have these little cantons. And if you look at the way that Palestinians — most Palestinians alive today were not born during any of these wars and so the idea that their lives should be blighted because of them. Look at what Americans have to do when they go through a TSA checkpoint. They completely lose their shit. And if you imagine doing that for two hours every single day —
MAHER: But this is always what happens. We talk about what happened as a result; we don’t look at the beginning of it. Like the Israelis just put up those checkpoints for no reason. They put up those checkpoints because there was an intifada and they were having bombings every day – a pizza parlor or a bus stop was getting blown up, that’s why they built it, not for no reason.
GOLDBERG: No, because also they want to take that land.
MAHER: Some of them do, yes.
GOLDBERG: I mean they are not putting up settlements for self-defense. They are putting up the settlements because they want to have a Greater Israel, and they are going to get it.
MAHER: Some of them do, yes.
GOLDBERG: There is going to be a one-state solution. So then the question is what is that one state? Is it Jewish or is it democratic? Because it can’t be both.
MAHER: Absolutely, and that is a big problem.
GOLDBERG: So that’s the problem.
MAHER: But when the gun is to Israel’s head — it is a problem.
GOLDBERG: You’re a rich person, you should go see what life in the West Bank is like. Go to Hebron. Like, no, go see it.
MAHER: First of all, you don’t have to go to understand this. I’m not a moron.
GOLDBERG: No, but you do. I feel like it’s hard to really get your head around how bad it is unless you see it with your own eyes.
MAHER: I understand that but Israel gave back Gaza and what was the result? Did they use the funds to build schools and hospitals? No. They used them to build tunnels to get weapons and they invited Hamas in to shell Israel across the border.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Saturday new legislation in Poland which bars any mention of crimes by the “Polish nation” during the Holocaust, calling on Israel’s ambassador in Warsaw to meet with the Polish prime minister on the contentious bill.
“The law is baseless. I strongly oppose it. History cannot be changed and it is forbidden to deny the Holocaust. I ordered the Israeli embassy in Poland to meet with the Polish Prime Minister and express my firm stand against the law,” Netanyahu said.
The deputy Polish ambassador in Israel has been called in for a reprimand at the Foreign Ministry. The Polish ambassador is currently abroad.
In a statement from the President’s Office, President Reuven Rivlin also criticized the bill, saying that “on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, more than ever, and above all considerations, we are faced with our duty to remember our brothers and sisters who were murdered.”
On Friday, the Polish parliament approved a controversial law forbidding any mention of participation of the “Polish nation” in crimes committed during the Holocaust. Yair Lapid, the head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, got into a Twitter feud with the Polish embassy in Israel on Saturday and even had to remind them not give him, the child of Holocaust survivors, a lesson on the subject, prompting them to label him “shameless.”
“I utterly condemn the new Polish law which tries to deny Polish complicity in the Holocaust. It was conceived in Germany but hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered without ever meeting a German soldier,” Lapid tweeted Saturday.
The law also forbids use of the term “Polish death camp” to describe the death camps where Jews and others were murdered in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. Anyone who violates the new law, including non-Polish citizens, will be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.
“There were Polish death camps and no law can ever change that,” Lapid wrote. However, the Polish embassy in Israel quickly responded, writing Lapid: “Your unsupportable claims show how badly Holocaust education is needed, even here in Israel.”
The embassy also linked to a statement by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an international organization representing 27 nations and dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust, which supports the idea that it is “historically unsupportable to use the terms ‘Polish death camps.'”
“There were Polish death camps and no law can ever change that,” Lapid wrote. However, the Polish embassy in Israel quickly responded, writing Lapid: “Your unsupportable claims show how badly Holocaust education is needed, even here in Israel.”
The embassy also linked to a statement by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an international organization representing 27 nations and dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust, which supports the idea that it is “historically unsupportable to use the terms ‘Polish death camps.'”
A new report claims His Holiness the Dalai Lama was paid $1 million by an Upstate New York “sex cult” that brands women to speak at their event.
According to The Daily Mail, the Dalai Lama received the fee to speak in front of 3,000 members of NXIVM (pronounced “nexium”), which has recently come under fire from former members. The Buddhist leader is seen in a photograph placing a khata, a traditional ceremonial Tibetan scarf, around the neck of the group’s founder, Keith Raniere, in Albany.
NXIVM describes itself as a self-help organization, but former member Sarah Edmondson filed a complaint in July against a member who branded her. She said female members are required to be branded with Raniere’s initials, “KR,” and also must give their “master,” or recruiter, naked photos or other compromising materials of themselves; Ranier allegedly manipulates women with sex and intimidates people who try to leave the group, threatening to expose those materials.
The New York Times reported last year that DOS, a women’s only group within NXIVM, has been described as a “secret sorority” that also brainwashes members, puts them on starvation diets and beats them if they don’t recruit enough “slaves.” DOS, led by former “Smallville” actress Allison Mack, allegedly stands for “dominus obsequious sororium,” Latin for “master over the slave women.”
Members also reportedly include former “Dallas” star Catherine Oxenberg’s daughter India Oxenberg, and wealthy Seagram’s heiresses Sara and Clare Bronfman.
The Daily Mail reports Sara Bronfman helped book the Dalai Lama to speak at the Albany event in 2009 while in a relationship with his “personal emissary of peace” to the U.S., Lama Tenzin Dhonden. Bronfman can be seen on stage next to the Dalai Lama during the event in a YouTube video.
The Guardian reports Dhonden was replaced last month amid allegations of corruption. A Seattle-based technology entrepreneur claims Dhonden extorted him for “unjustified payments” between 2005 and 2008, in return for setting up an event with the Dalai Lama; Dhonden has denied all wrongdoing.
Whistleblower Frank Parlato has repeatedly detailed the allegations against NXIVM and Dhonden on his website, The Frank Report. He posted photos of Bronfman with Dhonden, a Buddhist monk that would have taken a vow of celibacy.
“Everyone in NXIVM knew the monk was a fraud. NXIVM used him to get the Dalai Lama to come to Albany and endorse the cult leader, Keith Raniere. The Dalai Lama was too wise to fall for this and DID NOT endorse the cult or its leader,” Parlato wrote.
According to the Daily Mail, the Dalai Lama initially canceled the Albany event and several others in the U.S. that year due to controversy surrounding NXIVM. Bronfman and Raniere reportedly convinced him to come a month later by saying all the allegations of misconduct were false.
The Justice Department began a federal investigation of NXIVM in December, examining Raniere, the group’s business dealings, and recruitment practices. NXIVM officials and associates have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and dispute any allegation that it is a cult.
NXIVM, based in the Albany suburb of Colonie, has over 16,000 members in chapters nationwide, as well as in Canada and Mexico. A “20/20” special report focused on the group last month:
Scientists on Thursday announced the discovery of a fossilized human jawbone in a collapsed cave in Israel that they said is between 177,000 and 194,000 years old.
If confirmed, the find may rewrite the early migration story of our species, pushing back by about 50,000 years the time that Homo sapiens first ventured out of Africa.
Previous discoveries in Israel had convinced some anthropologists that modern humans began leaving Africa between 90,000 and 120,000 years ago. But the recently dated jawbone is unraveling that narrative.
“This would be the earliest modern human anyone has found outside of Africa, ever,” said John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist from the University of Wisconsin, Madison who was not involved in the study.
The upper jawbone — which includes seven intact teeth and one broken incisor, and was described in a paper in the journal Science — provides fossil evidence that lends support to genetic studies that have suggested modern humans moved from Africa far earlier than had been suspected.
“What I was surprised by was how well this new discovery fits into the new picture that’s emerging of the evolution of Homo sapiens,” said Julia Galway-Witham, a research assistant at the Natural History Museum in London who wrote an accompanying perspective article.
Dr. Hawks and other researchers advised caution in interpreting the discovery. Although this ancient person may have shared some anatomical characteristics with present-day people, this “modern human” would have probably looked much different from anyone living in the world today.
“Early modern humans in many respects were not so modern,” said Jean–Jacques Hublin, director of the department of human evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.
Dr. Hublin said that by concluding the jawbone came from a “modern human,” the authors were simply saying that the ancient person was morphologically more closely related to us than to Neanderthals.
That does not mean that this person contributed to the DNA of anyone living today, he added. It is possible that the jawbone belonged to a previously unknown population of Homo sapiens that departed Africa and then died off.
That explanation would need to be tested with DNA samples, which are difficult to collect from fossils found in the arid Levant.
The upper jawbone, or maxilla, was found by a team led by Israel Hershkovitz, a paleoanthropologist at Tel Aviv University and lead author of the new paper, while excavating the Misliya Cave on the western slopes of Mount Carmel in Israel. The jawbone was discovered in 2002 by a freshman on his first archaeological dig with the group.
The team had long known that ancient people lived in the Misliya Cave, which is a rock shelter with an overhanging ceiling carved into a limestone cliff. By dating burned flint flakes found at the site, archaeologists had determined that it was occupied between 250,000 to 160,000 years ago, during an era known as the Early Middle Paleolithic.
Evidence, including bedding, showed that the people who lived there used it as a base camp. They hunted deer, gazelles and aurochs, and feasted on turtles, hares and ostrich eggs.
Dr. Hershkovitz and Mina Weinstein-Evron, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa, felt that the jawbone looked modern, but they needed to confirm their hunch.
Dr. Hershkovitz has made similar findings in the past. In 2015, he announced finding a 55,000-year-old skull in the Levant. But a 2010 discovery of 400,000-year-old teeth in Israel in which he participated received criticism for how it was reported in the media.
To test their suspicions about the jawbone, the archaeologists sent the specimen on a world tour. “It looked so modern that it took us five years to convince people, because they couldn’t believe their eyes,” said Dr. Weinstein-Evron.
One of the first stops was Austria, home to a virtual paleontology lab run by Gerhard W. Weber, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Vienna. There scientists were able to assess whether the bone belonged to a modern human or a Neanderthal, which are thought also to have occupied the region during that time period.
Using high resolution micro-CT scanning, Dr. Weber created a 3D replica of the upper left maxilla that allowed him to investigate its surface features and, virtually, to remove enamel from the teeth.
He then performed a morphological and metric test that compared the Misliya fossil with about 30 other specimens, including fossils of Neanderthals, Homo erectus, more recent Homo sapiens, and other hominins that lived in the Middle Pleistocene in Asia, Africa Europe and North America.
“The shape of the second molar, the two premolars and the whole maxilla are very modern,” said Dr. Weber.
TW: Sexual assault, sexual coercion, oral sex, penetration
Our solar system may be an oddball in the universe. A new study using data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope shows that in most cases, exoplanets orbiting the same star have similar sizes and regular spacing between their orbits.
By contrast, our own solar system has a range of planetary sizes and distances between neighbors. The smallest planet, Mercury, is about one-third the size of Earth — and the biggest planet, Jupiter, is roughly 11 times the diameter of Earth. There also are very different spacings between individual planets, particularly the inner planets.
This means our solar system may have formed differently than other solar systems did, the research team suggested, although more observations are needed to learn what the different mechanisms were. [The Most Intriguing Alien Planet Discoveries of 2017]
“The planets in a system tend to be the same size and regularly spaced, like peas in a pod. These patterns would not occur if the planet sizes or spacings were drawn at random,” Lauren Weiss, the study’s lead author and an astrophysicist at the University of Montreal, said in a statement.
The research team examined 355 stars that had a total of 909 planets, which periodically transit across their faces (as seen from Earth). The planets are between 1,000 and 4,000 light-years away from Earth.
After running a statistical analysis, the team found that a system with a small planet would tend to have other small planets nearby — and vice-versa, with big planets tending to have big neighbors. These extrasolar systems also had regular orbital spacing between the planets.
“The similar sizes and orbital spacing of planets have implications for how most planetary systems form,” researchers said in the statement. “In classic planet-formation theory, planets form in the protoplanetary disk that surrounds a newly formed star. The planets might form in compact configurations with similar sizes and a regular orbital spacing, in a manner similar to the newly observed pattern in exoplanetary systems.”
In our own solar system, however, the story is very different. The four terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) are very widely spaced apart. The team pointed to evidence from other research that Jupiter and Saturn may have disrupted the structure of the young solar system. While the statement did not specify how, several other research studies have examined the movements of these giant planets and their potential impact on the solar system.
Each of the exoplanets examined in the study was originally found by Kepler, which launched in 2009 and continues to send data today. But more-detailed information was obtained with the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii; Weiss is a member of the California-Kepler Survey team there, which is examining the light signatures of thousands of planets discovered by Kepler.
Weiss said she plans a follow-up study at Keck to look for Jupiter-like planets in multiplanet systems. The aim is to better understand if the presence of a Jupiter-size planet would alter the position of other planets in the same system.
“Regardless of their outer populations, the similarity of planets in the inner regions of extrasolar systems requires an explanation,” researchers said in the statement. “If the deciding factor for planet sizes can be identified, it might help determine which stars are likely to have terrestrial planets that are suitable for life.”
The study was published Jan. 3 in The Astronomical Journal.
A North Dakota woman said she was asked to leave a Chick-Fil-A over the weekend for breastfeeding her infant daughter at the restaurant.
Macy Hornung said in a Facebook post that she and her husband took their baby to the soft opening of a Chick-Fil-A in Fargo, North Dakota. Hornung said she was breastfeeding her baby when the Chick-Fil-A owner, Kimberly Flamm, approached their table and criticized her for nursing in public.
“I was showing no more than the upper portion of my breast, barely more than what was visible in my shirt and [the owner] asked me to cover,” she said. “I tried to explain that I couldn’t, because my baby refuses to be covered and she started harping about the children and men who can see my indecency and I need to cover.”
Hornung said in the Facebook post that she responded to Flamm’s insistence that she cover up by citing North Dakota breastfeeding laws. Under North Dakota law, a womanis able to breastfeed in any public or private location.
“She told me if I chose not to cover, then she would have to ask me to leave, so I told her my review would reflect my experience and I would be relaying the experience in every local mommy group,” Hornung said in the post.
Following outrage on social media, Flamm issued an apology on the franchise’s Facebook page.
“I would like to publicly apologize to Macy Hornung for the way I handled the situation on Saturday,” Flamm said. “I ask for your forgiveness on this matter as I learn from it. My goal is to provide a warm and welcoming environment for all of my guests.”
USA TODAY has reached out to Chick-Fil-A for comment.
My grandfather was caramel-skinned with black eyes and thick, dark hair, and until he discovered that he was adopted, he had no reason to suspect that he was not the son of two poor Mexicans as he’d always been told. When he found his adoption papers, according to family lore, he pestered the nuns at the Dallas orphanage where he had lived as an infant for the name of his birth mother. Name in hand, at 10 years old, he hopped a bus to Pennsylvania, met his birth mother, and found out that he was actually Syrian.
At least that’s what we thought until my Aunt Cat mailed a tube of her spit in to AncestryDNA.
Genetic testing suggested that my aunt’s genetic makeup was only a tiny bit Middle Eastern—16 percent, not the 50 percent you might expect if your father was a full-blooded Syrian, as my grandfather believed himself to be. The rest of her Ancestry breakdown provided some explanation, but mostly more confusion. While we typically think of the Caucasus as countries on the Black and Caspian seas like Turkey and Armenia, Ancestry’s test also said it includes Syria. According to Ancestry, the Caucasus accounted for another 15 percent of my Aunt Cat’s DNA. What about the other 20 percent? One line-item stood out as something my aunt hadn’t expected, based on what she knew about either of her parents: She was 30 percent Italian-Greek. My mother’s test revealed similar results.
This caused a minor family scandal. My grandfather’s mother was born in Pennsylvania, but she had lived in an insular Syrian community that never really assimilated. She became pregnant as a teen by her father’s best friend. The assumption had always been that he was Syrian, too. If we weren’t who we thought we were, well, then, who were we?
“I guess we never knew the name of Dad’s father,” my aunt told me, bemused. Suddenly it seemed as though all along we had been missing a gigantic puzzle piece of information about our family tree. At least, my aunt quipped, this was a solid explanation for why she loved pasta.
It’s right there in the fine print of any consumer DNA test, if you bother to read it: DNA testing can come with identity-disrupting surprises, be it an unexpected relative, genetic condition, or, in our case, heritage. But something about this particular surprise didn’t feel quite right.
My Aunt Cat is our family’s amateur genealogist, and she has logged hundreds of hours both on Ancestry.com and in my grandmother’s attic, piecing together the story of our family tree. She’s found countless third, fourth, and fifth cousins with ties to Syria, but no one from either Italy or Greece. In her twenties, she even visited my grandfather’s biological mother and aunt. She recalled them passing around a hookah, yelling in Arabic, and expressing repulsion at the American-style cold cut platter served at a community function. Given how segregated the family was, it seemed like a stretch, she told me, to imagine that anyone had ever had so much as a friendly conversation with an Italian.
I suspected the error might lay not in my family narrative, but in the DNA test itself. So I decided to conduct an experiment. I mailed my own spit samples to AncestryDNA, as well as to 23andMe and National Geographic. For each test I got back, the story of my genetic heritage was different—in some cases, wildly so.
My AncestryDNA test revealed that I, too, had geographic roots in the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Southern Europe, along with the expected big dose of Scandinavian from my very Norwegian father. Weirdly, though, my percentages of Middle Eastern and Caucasus were almost as high as my mom and aunt’s, though you would expect them to be closer to half.
It got more confusing from there. My test through National Geographic (which partners with the DNA sequencing company Helix for its test) gave me even more links to the Middle East, with 16 percent of my DNA from Asia Minor, 6 percent from the Persian Gulf and 9 percent something called “Jewish Diaspora.” Unlike AncestryDNA, National Geographic’s test assigns your heritage to broad regions instead of modern nation-states. But I could infer that, according to National Geographic, I was less Scandinavian based on my percentage of Northwestern European. I was also more Southern European and, for fun, now had a good chunk of Eastern European thrown in there, too.
23andMe’s ancestry results were the most confounding of all. It found that I was only 3 percent Scandanavian, a number that, based on my recent family history, I know is flatly wrong. It also found I was only 5.5 percent Middle Eastern and a whopping 62.6 percent Northwestern European. And no Eastern European at all.
I also uploaded my 23andMe data to GenCove, a small ancestry-test startup founded by scientists. Based on the exact same data that 23andMe had crunched, GenCove reported that 8 percent of my DNA was from the Indian subcontinent. 23andMe had found I had no South Asian DNA at all.
Four tests, four very different answers about where my DNA comes from—including some results that contradicted family history I felt confident was fact. What gives?
There are a few different factors at play here.
Genetics is inherently a comparative science: Data about your genes is determined by comparing them to the genes of other people.
As Adam Rutherford, a British geneticist and author of the excellent book “A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived,” explained to me, we’ve got a fundamental misunderstanding of what an ancestry DNA test even does.
“They’re not telling you where your DNA comes from in the past,” he told me, “They’re telling you where on Earth your DNA is from today.”
Ancestry, for example, had determined that my Aunt Cat was 30 percent Italian by comparing her genes to other people in its database of more than six million people, and finding presumably that her genes had a lot of things in common with the present-day people of Italy.
Heritage DNA tests are more accurate for some groups of people than others, depending how many people with similar DNA to yours have already taken their test. Ancestry and 23andMe have actually bothpublished papers about how their statistical modeling works.
As Ancestry puts it: “When considering AncestryDNA estimates of genetic ethnicity it is important to remember that our estimates are, in fact, estimates. The estimates are variable and depend on the method applied, the reference panel used, and the other customer samples included during estimation.”
That the data sets are primarily made up of paying customers also skews demographics. If there’s only a small number of Middle Eastern DNA samples that your DNA has been matched against, it’s less likely you’ll get a strong Middle Eastern match.
“Different companies have different reference data sets and different algorithms, hence the variance in results,” a spokesman from 23andMe told me. “Middle Eastern reference populations are not as well represented as European, an industry-wide challenge.”
As a person of Syrian descent, the British genealogist Debbie Kennett told me, my test was simply not going to be as accurate as fellow Americans whose relatives skew more European. “The tests are mainly geared for an American audience, and they tend to not have a lot of Middle Eastern ancestry,” she said.
Likewise, Kennett said, because relatively few English people have taken tests from American companies like Ancestry or 23andMe, residents of the U.K. are likely to find less useful results.
“A lot of English people come up with a low percentage of British. My dad was only 8 percent British and most of his ancestors as far back as I can trace came back from Great Britain,” she told me. “People in America come up with much higher percentage of British, often.”
Another anecdote that stuck with me came from my friend Alexis Madrigal. Initially, he said, his Mexican family came up as Arab North African, which was surprising. As 23andMe refined its test and its data set grew, it also refined the results: Now, he was descended from Jewish people from Southern Europe. The number of Madrigals in central Spain had long led the family to suspect that their migratory path to Mexico had at some point passed through this region. As more people took the test, the picture of where his family was “from” changed. The Canadian bioethicist Timothy Caulfield shared a similar story. At first a DNA test revealed he was entirely Irish, but as the data set changed, he gradually became less Irish.
When we talk about “ancestry,” we also don’t always mean the same thing. Ancestry just implies people you’re descended from. But when? In America, we often mean whenever our relatives came to the U.S. On my dad’s side, I expected to see a lot of Scandinavian, because just a few generations ago my great grandparents came from Norway to North Dakota. On my mom’s side, my grandmother has a relative that came to America on the Mayflower. Both are what come to mind when I think of my “ancestors,” but they are separated by several generations and hundreds of years in time. Rutherford pointed out that if we went 5oo years back, my ancestors were probably from all over Europe.
“You and I are probably fifth cousins,” he said.
Where your ancestors are from depends on what period in time you’re talking about. Why don’t I instead say I’m 50 percent North Dakotan and 50 percent Texan?
Tests also differ from one another because they’re simply looking at different things. The results of ancestry tests aren’t based on a reading of your whole genome. The vast majority of every human’s DNA is identical to any other human’s. Ancestry tests look at SNPs, the places on your genome where an individual letter tends to differ between people and give us insight into characteristics like disease, ancestry, and physical appearance. When an SNP occurs within a gene, then, in science-speak, that gene has more than one allele, or alternate forms of a gene that exist in the exact same place on a chromosome. To make matters more confusing, some tests look at mitochondrial and Y chromosome DNA, while others don’t.
The CEO of GenCove, the company where I had uploaded my 23andMe data to get drastically different results, told me that even though he expects a fair amount of variability between algorithms, even he was surprised at how differently his company and 23andMe had interpreted my DNA data. He asked me to also upload my Ancestry data, and ran both data sets again after GenCove’s algorithm had been updated. The results were all over the map.
“To be honest I’m a little confused about what’s going on,” CEO Joseph Pickrell told me.
Each testing company is looking at different alleles from different parts of the genome, and using different algorithms to crunch that data. (You can see a list of how company tests differ here.) It’s worth mentioning that genetics is also probabilistic: just because you have the gene, doesn’t mean you have the trait.
“One British company identified an allele in me that gave me ginger hair, and 23andMe didn’t,” said Rutherford. “That’s a simple case where they just used different alleles. That’s relatively simple to explain.”
And sometimes, the algorithms might just get it wrong. Rutherford told me his 23andMe test came back with a tiny amount of Native American DNA. The finding actually linked up with one anecdote from his family lore, about a relative of his father’s that was a Native American tribesman and horse jumper in a British traveling circus.
“As a geneticist, I am absolutely convinced that they’re not related,” he told me. “It’s just statistical noise that happens to coincide with this cool story.” Statistically, it’s unlikely that such tiny amount of Native American DNA would have been enough to show up on Rutherford’s test.
A big problem is that many of us have a basic misunderstanding of what exactly we’re reading when Ancestry or 23andMe or National Geographic sends us colorful infographics about how British or Irish or Scandinavian we are. It’s not that the science is bad. It’s that it’s inherently imperfect, an estimation based on how much our DNA matches up with people in other places around the world, in a world where people have been mixing and matching and getting it on since the beginning of human history.
“You’re creating different algorithms and you’re using different data sets as your reference points, so it makes sense that you’re going to get some different responses,” the Harvard geneticist Robert Green explained to me, as I tried to make sense of my own DNA data. “It’s not that one’s wrong and one’s right. It’s that there isn’t an agreed-upon approach to pick the right number of markers and combine them mathematically. Everyone is sort of just making it up as they go along.”
At the continental level, said Kennett, ancestry testing is useful. It can tell you pretty reliably whether you are African or Asian or European. It can also reliably identify close familial relatives, as distant as third or fourth cousins. Otherwise, Kennett said, “take it with a large pinch of salt.”
Nearly everyone I interviewed for this story said that, taken with the right mindset, ancestry DNA testing can be fun. As more people take DNA tests and company data sets grow, the results from those tests will also become more detailed and accurate. Anecdotally, I saw this in my own results. Ancestry has the biggest DNA database, and its interpretation of my DNA was also most in-line with what I expected.
“The more people that take tests, the better the experience for all of us,” an Ancestry spokesman told me. “Your DNA does not change, our science does.”
But consumer genetic testing companies have also fueled the misunderstanding of their products, suggesting that those colorful results reveal something profound about what makes you, you.
Take this AncestryDNA ad about Kyle Merker, who, the ads explains, grew up German, wearing a lederhosen and performing traditional German dances. Then an AncestryDNA test revealed he was actually Scottish and Irish. He bought a kilt.
Ancestry.com is suggesting—quite heavy-handedly—that your DNA can define your identity. A few changes to those As, Gs, Ts, and Cs, and all of the sudden you’re river dancing.
“Your culture is not your genes,” said Caulfield. “But the message these companies send is somehow where your genes are from matters. That’s not necessarily constructive. The role of genes in who we are is very complex. If anything, as genetic research moves forward we’re learning that it’s even more complex than we thought.”
In truth, your specific ancestors actually have relatively little impact on your DNA. Some 99.99 percent of your DNA is identical to every other human’s. We’re mostly just all the same. But instead of embracing our genetic similarities, we cling to those differences as symbols of what makes us unique. Consumer DNA testing tends to reinforce that—even though the difference that one test reveals might not even exist in another.
“These companies are asking people to pay for something that is at best trivial and at worst astrology,” said Rutherford. “The biggest lesson we can teach people is that DNA is probabilistic and not deterministic.”
Your DNA is only part of what determines who you are, even if the analysis of it is correct. Plenty of people love pasta, with or without Italian DNA.
If the messaging of consumer DNA companies more accurately reflected the science, though, it might be a lot less compelling: Spit in a tube and find out where on the planet it’s statistically probable that you share ancestry with today.
Learning he was Syrian did not seem to impact my grandfather’s identity as a Mexican man. And how could it? His life story was the story of so many children of immigrants. His father, Manuel, had swum the Rio Grande from Mexico to America in hopes of a better future. He worked as a waiter, and my great-grandmother as a seamstress. At age 10, my grandfather was sent to work at a Coca-Cola bottling plant to help the family make ends meet. He lost a finger. Eventually, he met my blonde-haired, blue-eyed grandmother and moved to California, hoping to raise their children somewhere it would matter less that one of their parents spoke Spanish as a first language.
But me, I don’t even look the part. I’m fair with blue eyes. As a kid, I remember wincing when my friend’s mom made xenophobic comments directed at Mexicans, never suspecting her daughter’s fair friend had some Mexican ties, even if they were not by blood but by heart. As an adult, I learned Arabic and perfected my tamale-making, all in search of some sort of an identity fit. When my grandfather was dying, I struggled with the relationship between DNA and cultural identity. I wondered what would become of my Mexican heritage, once my last living link to it was gone.
In the end, I finally found the same wisdom my grandfather never seemed to question. Sometimes your heritage doesn’t have anything at all to do with your genetics—and I didn’t even have to spit in a test tube to figure it out.
Following the destruction of another cross-border terrorist tunnel from Gaza, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai has praised the technology behind its discovery.
“Israeli genius and the Jewish brain have found a solution for all the terrorist tunnels,” he said in an interview with the Arabic-language al-Hurairah television station on Sunday. “Just as there is the Iron Dome in the air, there is a technological dome of steel under the ground.”
An air strike by the Israel Air Force late Saturday night in the southern part of Rafah in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip destroyed a 180-meter-long terrorist tunnel which stretched into both Israel and Egypt, the IDF Spokesperson confirmed on Sunday morning.
“I want to send a message to anyone who digs and approaches the tunnels: As you have seen in the past two months, there is only death in these tunnels,” Mordechai said. “Instead of investing millions in the fields of education and medicine, they buried it underground and now all of it has disappeared into oblivion.
“I am also surprised that in these days of reconciliation [between Hamas and Fatah], that this tunnel was dug in the direction of Israel and from there to Egypt. What an important message that sends to Egypt, which was responsible and supported reconciliation.”
“This is a blatant violation of Israeli sovereignty, endangering the citizens of Israel and sabotaging the humanitarian efforts that Israel is making for the citizens of Gaza,” read a statement by the IDF.
Israel denied claims the tunnel was used for smuggling, asserting Hamas intended to use it to bring terrorists and weapons from Egypt into the Gaza Strip for a possible future combined attack on the Kerem Shalom crossing from the Egyptian side.
The target struck by the air force was a tunnel almost a kilometer in length that passed below the Kerem Shalom crossing, as well as beneath several strategic targets, such as a gas pipe, and continued into Egyptian territory. The tunnel was completely destroyed by the strike.
The terrorist organization Hamas is responsible for everything happening in and out of the Gaza Strip, an IDF statement said.
DETROIT — His arms wrapped around his wife and two teenage children, Jorge Garcia’s eyes welled up Monday as he looked into their eyes one last timenear the entrance to the airport security gate.
His wife, Cindy Garcia, cried out while his daughter, Soleil, 15, sobbed into Garcia’s shoulder as they hugged, with two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents keeping a close eye on them.
After 30 years of living in the United States, Jorge Garcia, a 39-year-old landscaper from Lincoln Park, Mich., was deported on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to Mexico, a move his supporters say is another example of immigrants being unfairly targeted under the Trump administration.
An undocumented family member brought Jorge Garcia to the U.S. when he was 10 years old. Today he has a wife and two children, all of whom are U.S. citizens.
Jorge Garcia had been facing an order of removal from immigration courts since 2009, but under the previous administration, he had been given stays of removal. Because of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration, in November Jorge Garcia was ordered to return to Mexico.
His supporters say he has no criminal record — not even a traffic ticket — and pays taxes every year.
Nevertheless, Jorge Garcia had to be removed, ICE agents said. On Monday morning, accompanied by the government agents, Jorge Garcia went through security at Detroit Metropolitan Airport as supporters around him held up signs that read, “Stop separating families.”
“We love you, Jorge,” said Mayra Valle of Detroit as he hugged his wife and children. “They’re a good family. They’re hard-working. … This is so sad. This is outrageous. We never expected this would happen.”
Jorge Garcia is too old to qualify for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows children of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before age 16 and were born after June 15, 1981, to legally work and study here.
Jorge Garcia said he had asked ICE officials if they could wait until new DACA legislation is passed, which might expand the age range for immigrants to qualify. But they refused and said he had to leave by Jan. 15.
“How do you do this on Martin Luther King Jr. Day?” said Erik Shelley, a leader with Michigan United that advocates for immigrant rights and other issues. “It’s another example of the tone-deafness of this administration. … If Jorge isn’t safe, no one is safe.”
Shelley said he’s concerned that minority immigrants increasingly are being targeted, citing remarks Trump has made about African and Hispanic immigrants. Other immigrant advocates and an official with the United Auto Workers joined him at the airport.
An ICE spokesman told the Free Press on Monday that he could not immediately comment because it was a federal holiday and ICE offices were closed.
“I feel kind of sad,” Jorge Garcia said Sunday night, his hands interlocked, pressed against his forehead in worry. “I got to leave my family behind, knowing that they’re probably going to have a hard time adjusting, me not being there for them for who knows how long. It’s just hard.”
Especially painful will be the separation from his children, Soleil and Jorge Garcia Jr., 12. The Garcias said their 12-year-old son has been taking the news hard, not expressing himself, which is concerning his parents.
“I’m going to be sad because I’m not going to be able to be with them,” Jorge Garcia said at the table of a friend in southwest Detroit hosting a farewell party for him. … It’s going to be kind of hard for me to adjust, too.”
Jorge Garcia may be barred from entering the U.S. for at least 10 years, Cindy Garcia said. Diego Bonesatti, legal services director for Michigan United, and others have been fighting for Jorge Garcia for years and now will try to get him back.
Jorge Garcia’s wife is a U.S. citizen, but being married to a U.S. citizen does not automatically qualify immigrants for legal residency.
Immigrant advocates say deporting people like Jorge Garcia is ripping up families and communities that have been losing population. Immigrants such as Jorge Garcia are an asset that stabilize and grow metro Detroit, they said.
“It’s like plucking a main artery, like, their lifeline, taking it from them and then just putting it somewhere else,” said family friend Norma Garza Jones, 44, of Detroit. “Those that are left behind are left to just try and compensate for that artery that main blood vessel, you know, that’s been pulled from them.”
“It’s heartbreaking,” Bonesatti said. “If you’re going to pick someone who’s ideal,” he would be it.
“He came at age 10,” the Michigan United legal services director said. “He’s never been in trouble, period. He’s never even gotten a traffic ticket.”
Moreover, Mexico is a foreign place for him, and he’s worried about finding work and creating a new life.
“This is his home,” Bonesatti said. “This is the place he knows.”
The administration wouldn’t even stop the deportations on a national holiday, said Adonis Flores, an immigrant rights leader at Michigan United, calling it shameful.
Cindy Garcia, a retired Dearborn, Mich., truck plant worker, worries about supporting her family.
“It’s a nightmare coming to life,” she said. “You have no choice but to face it head on and accept what is being thrown at you because there is nothing else that you can do.”
Over the next year, we’ll start spending less time on Facebook. Those of us who used it to catch up on the news will find less of it to read. We’ll watch fewer videos, and we’ll see fewer advertisements. In theory, Facebook will make less money off us — or, at least, the rate at which it makes more and more money off us will slow.
Had you presented this scenario to Facebook executives a year ago, it would have been cause for alarm: evidence that something had gone deeply wrong on the platform, and a situation that called for an immediate solution. And yet as of today, it’s the company’s stated ambition: Facebook wants to shrink.
Late on Thursday, Facebook announced a plan to emphasize more “meaningful” interactions on the platform. Posts are considered meaningful when they generate lots of comments, likes, and shares. Facebook’s researchers have found that when people are actively commenting on posts, they tend to feel better about using social networks — and feel better about themselves in general.
The change may sound relatively small, but it’s likely to have significant consequences for the broad subset of Facebook users that aren’t individual people: media companies, small businesses, big brands, and everyone else who has come to see Facebook’s News Feed as an essential way to reach audiences and customers. In a post yesterday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the pages managed by those businesses are likely to reach far fewer people in 2018.
“As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media,” he wrote. “And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”
He added: “Now, I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.”
At this point, it’s impossible to say for certain what the altered News Feed will look like. Facebook has announced similar changes in the past, and the News Feed is still full of news and video from big publishers. That, coupled with the media’s tendency to view any News Feed change as the end of the world, suggests that some restraint is warranted when contemplating the consequences.
Still, there’s reason to believe that it really is different this time. When Facebook reduced the amount of news in the News Feed in years past, it felt like a rebalancing: publishers share far more news than the average person — Fox News alone posted more than 49,000 times in December, according to NewsWhip — and the feed is flooded as a result. In 2015 and again in 2016, Facebook restrained publishers’ output so that less frequent posts from and about your actual friends would surface high in the feed.
Then came 2017. It was a bruising year in which Facebook found itself battered by criticism related to fake news, Russian interference in the 2016 election, and research suggesting the platform contributed to depression among its users. The criticism was not limited to journalists and op-ed writers: High-ranking former executives distanced themselves from the company, in some cases expressing regret for the service they had helped to build. In an extraordinary blog post, the company acknowledged that passively consuming the News Feed could make people feel less happy.
Now it is determined to turn over a new leaf. After tackling a series of more whimsical challenges in previous years, Mark Zuckerberg said his personal goal for 2018 is to fix the company. He told The New York Times he is determined to make sure his daughters think Facebook “was good for the world.” His statement represented an acknowledgement, however oblique, that the opposite might be true. In extraordinary times, it was a surprising admission.
Facebook is a company that has always been defined by ruthless ambition. And so it is remarkable to see its founder, in this moment, betting on a kind of retrenchment: to a News Feed populated by fewer links and videos, and more conversations.
The changes announced Thursday look like a fervent wish to return to 2010. Reading the company’s blog posts, you can feel executives longing for a time when Facebook felt smaller, and less consequential. Back when Facebook felt like a fun way to pass a few minutes in line at the grocery store, rather than the fulcrum of American democracy.
But Facebook now serves as the interface for the most fundamental pillars of our society. It was just in November that Zuckerberg laid out a plan for the companythat places it at the center of political conversation. “We will do our part not only to ensure the integrity of free and fair elections around the world, but also to give everyone a voice and to be a force for good in democracy everywhere,” he wrote. And that’s no small ambition.
The company has also partnered with fact-checking organizations, working to prevent hoaxes from spreading. It’s forcing advertisers to disclose the content of their advertising publicly. In many ways the company is seeking to play a greater role in public affairs than ever before.
And even if Facebook succeeds at phasing the news media out of the News Feed, it’s not clear it will make Facebook a happier place. Facebook-owned WhatsApp has no news feed, and yet hoaxes and propaganda still run rampant. The company will face continued pressure to address misinformation across all of its platforms. Detaching conversations from article links won’t necessarily make them more accurate, productive, or even more “meaningful.” It may well make them worse.
Ultimately, none of this could matter to Facebook’s business. The benefit of being in an advertising duopoly with Google is that it will likely continue to print money even if the time users spend on the site declines significantly. At least for a while.
Still, it’s notable that a company that has done nothing but grow now finds itself tapping the brakes. The decade-long project to expand around the world has brought about consequences with no easy solutions. For maybe the first time in its existence, Facebook has seen the value of moving slowly.
The final caller to Lars Larson’s conservative talk radio show on Jan. 5 was Rachel from Forest Grove.
“Our son is a junior at Banks High School,” Rachel said. “He informed us this week that he has two teachers in his school that have taken down the American flag and replaced it with a gay flag.”
Is that grounds for a complaint to the school district? she asked.
Larson thought it was, because a teacher was pushing a political message.
“Let me spitball this one, Rachel,” Larson said. “I’m guessing that the reason the rainbow flag went up is that perhaps the teacher who put it up may be gay or bisexual or whatever.”
Even if he agreed with the sentiment, Larson said anything political in the classroom is inappropriate. Particularly if, as he speculated, the flag was in support of the teacher.
“The school does not exist to meet the needs of the teachers,” he said. “The school exists to meet the needs of your children.”
There are, however, at least two problems with this narrative.
The American flag was not taken down.
And it was never about the teacher.
“It’s for the students,” said 16-year-old Sam Munda, who brought the rainbow flag to school last month. “It was so students knew Banks High School is supportive of them. Having parents upset, that was not my intention. It’s not what I wanted at all.”
Sitting at the local pizza parlor, a giant American flag hanging behind us, Munda expressed surprise that the LGBTQ flag created such a scandal. Since the radio segment aired, parents have complained publicly to the school board, the superintendent sent out a press release denying any American flags were removed, and insults were hurled across social media. An online petition claims the flag should be removed because it “creates a hostile learning environment.” It has more than 100 signatures.
On Wednesday, Munda took to a community Facebook page to clear things up.
“I am a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and I was the student who had asked to put up the rainbow flag,” Munda wrote on the Banks Community Bulletin Board group. The flag wasn’t meant to “force any beliefs on any students” or make anyone believe differently than they already do, Munda wrote. It “was not meant in any way to start a war in (Banks), but that is what has happened.”
The flag was intended to signal a safe space for other kids like Munda who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning.
“There are a lot of LGBTQ youth in Banks, which most people don’t know about,” Munda said. Those students told Munda they’re afraid to come out to their parents or friends, “because they are scared that they’re going to get bullied or they aren’t going to be accepted and they’re going to be treated different. And so, having put up the flag, it was a way to say that Banks High School is a safe place and a supportive community.”
Munda grew up in Banks, a small community in western Washington County home to about 1,700 residents, several Christmas tree farms and a 72-year tradition of truck and tractor pulls. Munda is graduating a year early and will study criminal justice at Ferris State University. Munda plans to become a police officer.
Last year, Munda began openly identifying as gender fluid and requesting they/them pronouns.
“I wanted people to start using my pronouns and the only way I could do that was to be open,” Munda said. “I lost a few friends. I used to go to church and was kicked out of church because I wouldn’t change. They wanted me to be a girl and to be straight.”
Munda bought the rainbow flag at a Portland Pride event last year. In December, Munda asked if it would be OK to hang it in the government and economics classroom, and the teacher said yes. The flag was a bit larger than sheet of legal paper.
“There didn’t seem to be a lot of space around the classroom so we put it up in front of the class where the projector is,” Munda said. “It was next to the American flag.”
There are now a total of three rainbow flags in three classrooms. Despite some parent complaints, they remain.
In email, Banks Superintendent Jeff Leo wrote the district was following legal advice that state law “allows a teacher to display such items as they are supportive of a class of persons protected by Oregon and federal law.”
Some of the parents objected because the rainbow flag was viewed as taking a political stance. But what stance is that?
This flag is only a political issue if you believe equity for LGBTQ students is still up for debate – and in Oregon public schools, it simply is not. Oregon public schools ban discrimination against sex or sexual orientation.
Racial equality, women’s suffrage and abolitionism are political views, too. We do not debate the worth of these topics in school. We should not debate the worth of gay youth either.
For every nasty online comment posted about the flag, there is a teenager who is absorbing those words.
Larson is right about one thing: The school exists to meet the needs of the children.
And for every adult who heard about the flag and was offended, there was a student who saw the flag and was assured.
At a secluded retreat center outside Austin, about a dozen, mostly middle-aged women are gathered in a quiet conference room. Some huddle under blankets to ward off the chill from an unusual Texas cold spell.
This session’s topic: guilt and shame.
“Does anybody feel like they’re still dealing with, like, shame? Like, feeling bad about yourself as a person, because of what you’ve done in the clinics?” Abby Johnson asks the women seated in a circle of chairs around her.
The room is mostly silent. But as the weekend goes on and the participants get more comfortable, they begin to cry and pray together, and to share their stories.
This is a retreat for women who used to work in health centers that perform abortions and now feel conflicted about that work. Johnson, 37, is the CEO and founder of the Texas-based anti-abortion group And Then There Were None. (She says when she came up with the name, she didn’t really think about the Agatha Christie mystery by the same title.)
Most anti-abortion rights groups aim to restrict the procedure through state legislatures and the court system, or by urging pregnant women to carry to term.
Johnson’s goal is to persuade as many workers as possible to leave the field.
She and other members of And Then There Were None visit clinics where abortions are performed. They hold up signs, pass out pamphlets and urge the workers to quit their jobs.
For those who do leave clinic work, the group offers temporary financial assistance, resume help, and spiritual and emotional support, including retreats like the one near Austin. The group does not have a formal religious affiliation, but has a “prayer team” and offers to connect former clinic workers with Christian churches and pastors.
Johnson, a mother of seven, generated headlines — and a fair amount of skepticismand controversy about her story — after she quit her job as a Planned Parenthood clinic director in Bryan, Texas, in 2009. She says she had a change of heart about her work after viewing an abortion through an ultrasound. She describes the moment as a “spiritual awakening.”
Planned Parenthood has disputed some of the details of Johnson’s story, and at one point filed a restraining order against her, fearing she would release confidential patient records from the clinic. Johnson responded that she never intended to disclose any private information, and a judge dismissed the case.
Retreat participant Annette Lancaster, 40, is currently a stay-at-home mom. For several months, ending in May 2016, she managed a Planned Parenthood health center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Lancaster says events like this one provide a place to talk about details that friends on both sides of the abortion debate can be reluctant to discuss.
“These are my sisters, who I can talk to about things I’ve seen and done in the clinic that other people would probably turn green and pass out about,” Lancaster says in a private moment away from the group.
She says the job began to make her feel “dark and morbid,” and she was troubled by the way she says she and some of the other workers referred to fetal remains.
“I just now started being able to use the deep freezer in my home by going through [therapy], because we used to call the freezer the ‘nursery’ … And we used to think that was funny,” she says.
Lancaster says she felt pressure to keep up the number of abortions performed at the clinic each month, even if patients seemed hesitant.
In a statement to NPR, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic denies those claims. The organization says Lancaster was fired for reasons related to her job performance.
The statement, attributed to Associated Affiliate Medical Director Dr. Matt Zerden, reads, in part:
“I would never tolerate my staff using disrespectful language, and Planned Parenthood does not have a fixed number required for any of its services. Planned Parenthood follows all applicable laws and advises patients on the full range of pregnancy options, including choosing adoption, ending a pregnancy, or raising a child. We insist on extremely high standards for all of our staff.”
After her departure, Lancaster says And Then There Were None helped cover a couple months’ salary and a few other expenses.
The group also provided temporary financial support to Noemi Padilla, a 47-year-old licensed practical nurse, who left her job at Tampa Woman’s Health Center last year.
“I just woke up one Monday morning and I was like, this is it. Today is the day,” Padilla says.
The Tampa clinic performs abortions well into the second trimester of pregnancy — up to 23 weeks, six days gestation. Padilla says the work had begun to plague her conscience.
In an interview with NPR, clinic director Dorothy Brown said several other workers have also left the clinic with assistance from Johnson’s group. She believes many were motivated by the chance to quit their jobs and still get a temporary paycheck.
Abby Johnson says it’s likely that a small number of former workers are primarily motivated by her group’s offer of money. But she says And Then There Were None remains in regular contact with more than 300 people who have left abortion-related jobs.
Abortion-rights advocates say they’re skeptical about that figure.
“The numbers just don’t add up,” says Elizabeth Toledo, a former vice president at Planned Parenthood who now runs a communications firm.
Toledo notes that only around a dozen people (And Then There Were None’s count is slightly higher) have gone public with their regrets about working in clinics where abortions are provided. Johnson’s group counters that many former workers are hesitant to speak out about their experiences because they are ashamed that they worked at a clinic, or they fear retaliation from former employers.
Whatever the total number of healthcare workers who’ve left abortion-related jobs as a result of Johnson’s advocacy, Toledo says it’s not enough to make a major impact on the availability of services. But, she says, the attrition can affect workers and patients nonetheless.
“It’s just another stressor on people who are already going to work in a highly-charged political environment,” Toledo says. “And I don’t think that they’re going to be successful, but they are going to make people have to deal with an additional layer of stress — about their workplace, about their decisions, about their families, and their lives.”
Abby Johnson says after she left her job at Planned Parenthood, she also suffered from that highly charged environment. Some abortion-rights opponents refused to accept her into the movement, calling her “disgusting” and saying she deserved imprisonment or eternal damnation because of her work at the clinic.
“They were, like, ‘You either need to go to jail or hell’ — those were the options,” she says with a laugh.
But Johnson says now those comments have largely faded. She has gradually been embraced by the anti-abortion-rights movement, as one of the rare people who has spent time publicly on each side of this divisive issue.
Witnesses and overseas activists said the paramilitary People’s Armed Police used dynamite and excavators to destroy the Golden Lampstand Church, which has a congregation of more than 50,000, in the city of Linfen in Shanxi province.
ChinaAid, a US-based Christian advocacy group, said local authorities planted explosives in an underground worship hall to demolish the building following, constructed with nearly $2.6m (£1.9m) in contributions from local worshippers in one of China’s poorest regions.
The church had faced “repeated persecution” by the Chinese government, said ChinaAid. Hundreds of police and hired thugs smashed the building and seized Bibles in an earlier crackdown in 2009 that ended with the arrest of church leaders.
Those church leaders were given prison sentences of up to seven years for charges of illegally occupying farmland and disturbing traffic order, according to state media.
There are an estimated 60 million Christians in China, many of whom worship in independent congregations like the Golden Lampstand. Millions of Christians, Buddhists and Muslims also worship in state-sanctioned assemblies.
But the surging popularity of non-state-approved churches has raised the ire of authorities, wary of any threats to the officially atheist Communist Party’s rigid political and social control.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed under China’s constitution, so local authorities are often seen as using technicalities to attack unregistered churches. Charges of land or building violations and disturbing the peace are among the most common.
The state-run Global Times newspaper reported the official reason for the demolition was the building did not hold the necessary permits.
“A Christian offered his farmland to a local Christian association and they secretly built a church using the cover of building a warehouse,” a government department official was quoted as saying.
Religious groups must register with local religious affairs authorities under Chinese law, the report said, adding the church was illegally constructed nearly a decade ago in violation of building codes.
Pictures distributed by ChinaAid showed the church’s steeple and cross toppled in a large pile of rubble.
“The repeated persecution of Golden Lampstand Church demonstrates that the Chinese government has no respect for religious freedom or human rights,” said ChinaAid president and founder Bob Fu.
He added: “ChinaAid calls on the international community to openly condemn the bombing of this church building and urge the Chinese government to fairly compensate the Christians who paid for it and immediately cease these alarming demolitions of churches.”
A pastor at a nearby church, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he saw large numbers of paramilitary police on Tuesday surrounding the area around the church, which was being taken apart by heavy machinery. He later heard a loud explosion.
The Golden Lampstand Church was built by husband and wife evangelists Wang Xiaoguang and Yang Rongli as a permanent home for their followers.
The couple had been preaching around Linfen since 1992, establishing congregations in improvised spaces such as factory dormitories and greenhouses.
While authorities did not block the church’s construction, they later cracked down on it, and the couple and other church leaders were sent to prison.
ChinaAid said authorities also demolished a Catholic church in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, on 27 December. Officials smashed crosses and confiscated statues, the Eucharistic altar, and other religious artefacts as they demolished the building with heavy machinery, the organisation said.
The demolition prompted more 100 church members to protest in front of government offices this week.
OTTAWA — Canada launched the opening salvo in a trade war with the United States Wednesday, lodging an international complaint about the superpower’s use of punitive duties.
The move drew a sharp rebuke from Donald Trump’s trade czar and came amid reports that Canadian government officials say there’s an increasing likelihood the president will withdraw from the three-nation North American Free Trade Agreement.
“Even if Canada succeeded on these groundless claims, other countries would primarily benefit, not Canada. Canada’s complaint is bad for Canada,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
“Canada’s claims are unfounded and could only lower U.S. confidence that Canada is committed to mutually beneficial trade.”
Canada lodged a World Trade Organization complaint accusing the U.S. of regularly breaching international trade laws through various countervailing and anti-dumping duties, citing nearly 200 examples spanning several decades.
In a statement, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said, “This WTO action is part of our broader litigation to defend the hundreds of thousands of good, middle class forestry jobs across our country.”
Canada cited five reasons for the complaint, saying the U.S. levies penalties beyond what’s allowed by the WTO, improperly calculates rates, unfairly declares penalties retroactive, limits evidence from outside parties, and has a tilted voting system in domestic trade panels that, in the case of a 3-3 tie, awards the win to American companies.
The complaint marks Canada’s most exhaustive attempt yet to counter recent import duties imposed by the U.S., particularly on Canadian softwood lumber products.
“It’s (saying), ‘The entire way in which the U.S. — you — are conducting your anti-dumping, countervailing procedures, is wrong,”’ said Chad Bown, a trade expert at Washington’s Peterson Institute. “This is effectively Canada bringing a dispute on behalf of all exporters in the world — the Europeans, Japan, China — because they’re making a systemic challenge.”
Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations called it a precarious moment for NAFTA and the global trading system, both of which are under threats and criticism from Trump: “Canada has just detonated a bomb under both.”
Ottawa’s ramped-up efforts come amid an increasingly fragile trade relationship between the two countries. The Canadian government is preparing for the possibility that Trump will withdraw from NAFTA, senior officials say, though they aren’t entirely convinced that he will.
After reports Wednesday that Canada now considered it inevitable that Trump would try to withdraw the U.S. from the treaty, one Canadian official with knowledge of the NAFTA negotiation offered a more nuanced position in an email to the Post, saying, “it’s not accurate to say we’re convinced,” but that there was “no question we think there’s a chance it could happen.”
The confusion over Canadian expectations comes ahead of the next round of negotiations, scheduled to be held in Montreal Jan. 23-28.
Trump withdrawing from NAFTA “was always a risk, but that risk is clearly more elevated now,” said Brian DePratto, senior economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank.
An official with the Foreign Affairs Ministry said Ottawa’s most recent complaint aims to add weight to Canada’s argument that import duties have been levied unfairly.
But it also goes well beyond Canada-U.S. softwood lumber spats, citing alleged international trade breaches by the U.S. against a host of imported products, from Argentine lemon juice to frozen shrimp from India.
The complaint is “certainly not typical,” said Greg Kanargelidis, an international trade lawyer at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP.
Under WTO dispute resolution rules, other countries named in the complaint can decide to take part in consultations after an initial reading.
“In a normal situation you wouldn’t expect this to impact the long-term trading relationship that we’ve got under NAFTA,” he said. “But with the Trump administration being relatively new, and because of the protectionist noises we’ve been hearing from them, it’s not at all clear what sort of reaction the U.S. might have.”
Publication of the complaint came just hours after the U.S. Commerce Department placed preliminary duties on Canadian exports of uncoated groundwood paper, which is used to manufacture newspapers, soft-cover books and phone directories.
Steep import duties leveled by the U.S. have become a regular fixture of the industry, according to Joel Neuheimer, a vice-president at the Forest Products Association of Canada.
“This has been a chronic problem for us,” he said. “It’s the same horror show over and over.”
Tanisha Agee-Bell said she knew her 13-year-old son Nathan was probably acting up in class.
Still, the mother from Mason, Ohio, told Cincinnati.com that the teacher didn’t have to seemingly threaten her son, who is black, with lynching.
Agee-Bell told WLWT5 that teacher Renee Thole admitted to telling her son in her social studies class that “if you don’t get back on task, your friends are going to form an angry mob and lynch you.” The mother said she had confronted Thole and the teacher confessed to making the statement.
Tracey Carson, a spokesman for Mason schools, said in a statement obtained by the Associated Press that Thole didn’t mean to offend the student — and that sometimes teachers can “mess up.”
And Thole, when confronted by Nathan in class, questioned why the student thought her comment was racist and offensive, Agee-Bell told Cincinnati.com. Carson said that Thole apologized in class and felt “awful” about the comment.
Nathan said he feared his mom would be upset that he questioned his teacher, and didn’t tell her about the comment for around a week, according to Cincinnati.com.
But when he finally told her, Agee-Bell said she went to the superintendent with her complaints.
“For her not to understand that the words that she said were a direct pull from what has been, what was a practice in the United States, is unacceptable,” Agee-Bell told WLWT5. “She shouldn’t be in the classroom. She shouldn’t be in the classroom at all.
“And I’m not saying she should never go back in the classroom, but until she can demonstrate that she understands what the impact of the language that she used and what she did can have, has had on my son, has on his peers and is having on our community, then she doesn’t need to be in the classroom.”
The school district released a statement about the incident that was published by Fox19.
“Growing Greatness Together is our district’s vision. But, we have not arrived. We have work to do.
“Sometimes we mess up. Clearly, that was the case here. And, even though this teacher did not set out to hurt a child – clearly that happened too. It was amazing that this young black man was brave enough to confront his teacher when the incident happened. …
“Our district will continue to invest in training and resources on culturally proficient practices for administrators, educators and classified staff members that lift up our district’s values.”
Thole was removed from Nathan’s social studies class, Cincinnati.com reported.
It’s unknown if the teacher will face any other disciplinary action, local outlets reported.
“For me, that’s enough for her, as a social studies teacher especially, to be removed from the classroom,” Agee-Bell said to Fox19. “I don’t know if she’s racist, but I know that what she said is racist.”
Early last year, a piece of Mac malware came to light that left researchers puzzled. They knew that malware dubbed Fruitfly captured screenshots and webcam images, and they knew it had been installed on hundreds of computers in the US and elsewhere, possibly for more than a decade. Still, the researchers didn’t know who did it or why.
An indictment filed Wednesday in federal court in Ohio may answer some of those questions. It alleges Fruitfly was the creation of an Ohio man who used it for more than 13 years to steal millions of images from infected computers as he took detailed notes of what he observed. Prosecutors also said defendant Phillip R. Durachinsky used the malware to surreptitiously turn on cameras and microphones, take and download screenshots, log keystrokes, and steal tax and medical records, photographs, Internet searches, and bank transactions. In some cases, Fruitfly alerted Durachinsky when victims typed words associated with porn. The suspect, in addition to allegedly targeting individuals, also allegedly infected computers belonging to police departments, schools, companies, and the federal government, including the US Department of Energy.
The indictment, filed in US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio’s Eastern Division, went on to say that Durachinsky developed a control panel that allowed him to manipulate infected computers and view live images from several machines simultaneously. The indictment also said he produced visual depictions of one or more minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct and that the depiction was transported across state lines. He allegedly developed a version of Fruitfly that was capable of infecting Windows computers as well. Prosecutors are asking the court for an order requiring Durachinsky to forfeit any property he derived from his 13-year campaign, an indication that he may have sold the images and data he acquired to others.
Wednesday’s indictment largely confirms suspicions first raised by researchers at antivirus provider Malwarebytes, who in January 2017 said Fruitfly may have been active for more than a decade. They based that assessment on the malware’s use of libjpeg—an open-source code library that was last updated in 1998—to open or create JPG-formatted image files. The researchers, meanwhile, identified a comment in the Fruitfly code referring to a change made in the Yosemite version of macOS and a launch agent file with a creation date of January 2015. Use of the old code library combined with mentions of recent macOS versions suggested the malware was updated over a number of years.
More intriguing still at the time, Malwarebytes found Windows-based malware that connected to the same control servers used by Fruitfly. The company also noted that Fruitfly worked just fine on Linux computers, arousing suspicion there may have been a variant for that operating system as well.
Last July, Patrick Wardle, a researcher specializing in Mac malware at security firm Synack, found a new version of Fruitfly. After decrypting the names of several backup domains hardcoded into the malware, he found the addresses remained available. Within two days of registering one of them, almost 400 infected Macs connected to his server, mostly from homes in the US.
While Wardle did nothing more than observe the IP addresses and user names of the infected Macs that connected, he had the same control over them as the malware creator. Wardle reported his findings to law enforcement officials. It’s not clear if Wardle’s tip provided the evidence that allowed authorities to charge the defendant or if Durachinsky was already a suspect.
According to Forbes, which reported the indictment, Durachinsky was arrested in January of last year and has been in custody ever since. Forbes also reported that Durachinsky was charged in a separate criminal complaint filed in January 2017 that accused him of hacking computers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. The suspect has yet to enter a plea in the case brought Wednesday. It’s not clear if he has entered a plea in the earlier complaint.
It’s also not yet clear how Fruitfly managed to infect computers. There’s no indication it exploited vulnerabilities, which means it probably relied on tricking targets into clicking on malicious Web links or attachments in e-mails. Wednesday’s indictment provided no details about the Windows version of Fruitfly or whether Linux computers were targeted as well.
In the midst of the “fake news” hysteria last year, Google launched a project to help curate reliable information for its readers by identifying articles and sites that need fact-checking. And this may come as a surprise to some of you, but it looks like the tech giant’s truth project is imbued with a tiny bit of ideological and political bias.
Eric Lieberman at The Daily Caller recently found that the fact checks displayed in Google’s search engine results are targeted almost exclusively at conservative publications. You can test it out yourself.
Now, you may believe that conservatives are hopeless liars in need of relentless correcting, so I’ll concede the point for argument’s sake. Even then, you’d have to admit it’s a small miracle that, according to Google’s search engine, not a single prominent liberal or mainstream site in the entire universe has ever uttered a dubious or questionable claim.
Luckily for us, there are methods available to analyze the veracity of Google’s project. One way, for example, is to take a “reviewed claim” made against The Federalist, the site I happen to know best, and contrast it to the coverage of other sites.
Consider the case of a woman named Eileen Wellstone. Out of many thousands of pieces published by The Federalist over the past four years, a single one mentions the name Eileen Wellstone. That article, detailing the sordid history of Bill Clinton, mentions her name exactly once: “Another woman, Eileen Wellstone, claimed Clinton raped her while he was at Oxford University in the late 1960s.”
For some reason, in this “reviewed claim” against The Federalist, Google sends the reader to a Snopes fact-check that argues that Clinton wasn’t expelled from Oxford over this alleged rape — a point I concede sounds completely accurate and is also an assertion that no one has ever made in this publication.
So the question is, does Google tag every article that relays accusations of sexual misconduct or rape as “unproven,” or just the ones against Bill Clinton? Or is the mention of Wellstone specifically worthy of a claim? The Wellstone case has not only been cited in all types of publications (and not in efforts to debunk it, either; 1,2,3,4,5, and so on) but by The Washington Post’s own fact-checker.
In a 2016 article detailing allegations against Bill Clinton that might be brought up by then-candidate Donald Trump, WaPo notes, “Eileen Wellstone says she was assaulted by Clinton when he was a student at Oxford University in 1969.” There is virtually no difference between that statement and the one published in The Federalist. Not that Google search engines users would know this when they search for the influential newspaper.
Or take another purported fact-check regarding climate change, which creates the impression that there’s something inaccurate about a specific arguable claim because the larger notions about the topic happen to be true.
What’s most amusing about this fact-check is that Google sends people who searched for “The Federalist” to an article correcting a claim made by someone on CNN, an outlet that, somehow, even though they apparently feature contributors who make questionable claims about science, is spared from search-engine truth-police grilling.
Moreover, the quote featured in the “reviewed claim” section is not even in The Federalist article. Google’s go-to site, Climate Feedback, an ideologically motivated site itself, argues that “Observed warming since the 1970s is consistent with climate model projections.” This is at the very least an arguable contention. Feel free to use your Google search engine to find thousands of pieces debating the accuracy modeling over the decades. This seems to be a normal, appropriate, and completely scientific debate to be engaged in.
More importantly, the article’s position is that the “alarmist” partisans cherry-pick projections hoping to scaremonger voters into making political decisions. That doesn’t necessarily mean that climate change isn’t happening. Then again, once you begin reading through the fact-check, you’ll quickly notice that it’s not really debunking The Federalist’s assertion at all (The Federalist is once again never even mentioned in the fact-check that allegedly debunks The Federalist); the participants are simply claiming that models, in general, have been correct that it’s getting hotter overall — which does not conflict with anything the article contends.
But if it rings true, it is true, I guess.
In theory, opinion sites will offer more speculation about what events and policy mean. These claims are prone to be challenged, and they should be. That’s part of our discourse. But as Lieberman points out, the Google fact-checking itself is often unconvincing and offered by biased sources.
Take the other “unproven” charge against The Federalist. This one, also by Snopes, claims to debunk an article that argues that vandals burned down a century-old bust of Abraham Lincoln in Chicago in broader protests about Confederate statues. Again, that wasn’t what the article argued. It argued that the vandalism — a term used by an alderman in Chicago, as well — was part of a broader effort to tear down “history” and monuments. Since a number of statues, including the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, had also been vandalized right around the same time, it’s certainly not out of bounds for a columnist to treat these incidents as a trend.
But if this is the standard for corrections and dissuading people from visiting a site, what possible reason could there be for left-wing sites that regularly make arguable or false assertions about economics, history, science, and politics, like Vox and ThinkProgress and many others, to be spared from this fact-checking? It’s one thing for us to read publications through filters. We do it all the time. But it’s another for a search engine to manipulate perceptions about those sites — and only conservative ones — before people even read them.
(Update 10/12: Google’s ‘fact-checker’ has removed two of the above claims – leaving the third claim, which I concede is the most speculative. Now let’s see it hold other sites to the same standard.)