Inside a Secretive Group Where Women Are Branded

By Barry Meier
Sarah Edmondson left Nxivm after being branded as part of a secret ritual.CreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times

ALBANY — Last March, five women gathered in a home near here to enter a secret sisterhood they were told was created to empower women.

To gain admission, they were required to give their recruiter — or “master,” as she was called — naked photographs or other compromising material and were warned that such “collateral” might be publicly released if the group’s existence were disclosed.

The women, in their 30s and 40s, belonged to a self-help organization called Nxivm, which is based in Albany and has chapters across the country, Canada and Mexico.

Sarah Edmondson, one of the participants, said she had been told she would get a small tattoo as part of the initiation. But she was not prepared for what came next.

Each woman was told to undress and lie on a massage table, while three others restrained her legs and shoulders. According to one of them, their “master,” a top Nxivm official named Lauren Salzman, instructed them to say: “Master, please brand me, it would be an honor.”

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A female doctor proceeded to use a cauterizing device to sear a two-inch-square symbol below each woman’s hip, a procedure that took 20 to 30 minutes. For hours, muffled screams and the smell of burning tissue filled the room.

“I wept the whole time,” Ms. Edmondson recalled. “I disassociated out of my body.”

Since the late 1990s, an estimated 16,000 people have enrolled in courses offered by Nxivm (pronounced Nex-e-um), which it says are designed to bring about greater self-fulfillment by eliminating psychological and emotional barriers. Most participants take some workshops, like the group’s “Executive Success Programs,” and resume their lives. But other people have become drawn more deeply into Nxivm, giving up careers, friends and families to become followers of its leader, Keith Raniere, who is known within the group as “Vanguard.”

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Keith Raniere, founder of Nxivm, in 2009. CreditPatrick Dodson

Both Nxivm and Mr. Raniere, 57, have long attracted controversy. Former members have depicted him as a man who manipulated his adherents, had sex with them and urged women to follow near-starvation diets to achieve the type of physique he found appealing.

Now, as talk about the secret sisterhood and branding has circulated within Nxivm, scores of members are leaving. Interviews with a dozen of them portray a group spinning more deeply into disturbing practices. Many members said they feared that confessions about indiscretions would be used to blackmail them.

Mark Vicente, a filmmaker and former top Nxivm official, said that after hearing about the secret society, he confronted Mr. Raniere.

“I said, ‘Whatever you are doing, you are heading for a blowup,’” Mr. Vicente said.

Several former members have asked state authorities to investigate the group’s practices, but officials have declined to pursue action.

In July, Ms. Edmondson filed a complaint with the New York State Department of Health against Danielle Roberts, a licensed osteopath and follower of Mr. Raniere, who performed the branding, according to Ms. Edmondson and another woman. In a letter, the agency said it would not look into Dr. Roberts because she was not acting as Ms. Edmondson’s doctor when the branding is said to have happened.

Separately, a state police investigator told Ms. Edmondson and two other women that officials would not pursue their criminal complaint against Nxivm because their actions had been consensual, a text message shows.

State medical regulators also declined to act on a complaint filed against another Nxivm-affilated physician, Brandon Porter. Dr. Porter, as part of an “experiment,” showed women graphically violent film clips while a brain-wave machine and video camera recorded their reactions, according to two women who took part.

The women said they were not warned that some of the clips were violent, including footage of four women being murdered and dismembered.

“Please look into this ASAP,” a former Nxivm member, Jennifer Kobelt, stated in her complaint. “This man needs to be stopped.”

In September, regulators told Ms. Kobelt they concluded that the allegations against Dr. Porter did not meet the agency’s definition of “medical misconduct,” their letter shows.

Mr. Raniere and other top Nxivm officials, including Lauren Salzman, did not respond to repeated emails, letters or text messages seeking comment. Dr. Roberts and Dr. Porter also did not respond to inquiries.

Former members said that, inside Nxivm, they are being portrayed as defectors who want to destroy the group.

It is not clear how many women were branded or which Nxivm officials were aware of the practice.

A copy of a text message Mr. Raniere sent to a female follower indicates that he knew women were being branded and that the symbol’s design incorporated his initials.

“Not initially intended as my initials but they rearranged it slightly for tribute,” Mr. Raniere wrote, (“if it were abraham lincolns or bill gates initials no one would care.)”

From the Message

Below is an excerpt of a text message Mr. Raniere sent to a female follower, which suggested that he knew women were being branded and that the symbol’s design incorporated his initials.

“… Not intended initially as my initials but they rearranged it slightly for tribute(if it were abraham lincolns or bill gates initials no one would care). The primary meaning and design of the brand symbol has nothing to do with my initials …”

Joining the Sisterhood

Ms. Edmondson, who lives in Vancouver and helped start Nxivm’s chapter there, was thrilled when Lauren Salzman arrived in January to teach workshops.

The women, both in their early 40s, were close and Ms. Edmondson regarded Ms. Salzman as a confidante and mentor.

“Lauren was someone I really looked up to as a rock star within the company,” said Ms. Edmondson, an actress who joined Nxivm about a decade ago.

During her visit, Ms. Salzman said she had something “really amazing” she wanted to share. “It is kind of strange and top secret and in order for me to tell you about it you need to give me something as collateral to make sure you don’t speak about it,” Ms. Edmondson recalled her saying.

The proposition seemed like a test of trust. After Ms. Edmondson wrote a letter detailing past indiscretions, Ms. Salzman told her about the secret sorority.

She said it had been formed as a force for good, one that could grow into a network that could influence events like elections. To become effective, members had to overcome weaknesses that Mr. Raniere taught were common to women — an overemotional nature, a failure to keep promises and an embrace of the role of victim, according to Ms. Edmondson and other members.

Submission and obedience would be used as tools to achieve those goals, several women said. The sisterhood would comprise circles, each led by a “master” who would recruit six “slaves,” according to two women. In time, they would recruit slaves of their own.

“She made it sound like a bad-ass bitch boot camp,” Ms. Edmondson said.

Ms. Edmondson and others said that during training, the women were required to send their master texts that read “Morning M” and “Night M.” During drills, a master texted her slaves “?” and they had 60 seconds to reply “Ready M.”

Trainees who failed had to pay penalties, including fasting, or could face physical punishments, two women said.

In March, Ms. Edmondson arrived for an initiation ceremony at Ms. Salzman’s home in Clifton Park, N.Y., a town about 20 miles north of Albany where Mr. Raniere and some followers live. After undressing, she was led to a candlelit ceremony, where she removed a blindfold and saw Ms. Salzman’s other slaves for the first time. The women were then driven to a nearby house, where the branding took place.

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Sarah Edmondson showed her brand. CreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times

In the spring, the sorority grew as women joined different circles. Slaves added compromising collateral every month to Dropbox accounts, and a Google Document was used to list a timetable for recruiting new slaves, several women said.

Around the same time, an actress, Catherine Oxenberg, said she learned her daughter had been initiated into the sorority.

“I felt sick to my stomach,” said Ms. Oxenberg, who starred in the 1980s television series “Dynasty.”

Ms. Oxenberg had become increasingly concerned about her 26-year-old daughter, India, who looked emaciated from dieting. She told her mother that she had not had a menstrual period for a year and that her hair was falling out.

Ms. Oxenberg said she invited her daughter home in late May to try to get her away from the group.

When Ms. Oxenberg confronted her about the sorority, her daughter defended its practices.

“She said it was a character-building experience,” Ms. Oxenberg said.

Photo

Catherine Oxenberg was informed that her daughter, India, had become part of Nxivm’s secret sorority.CreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times

‘Humans Can Be Noble’

By the time the secret group was taking shape, Mark Vicente, the filmmaker, had been a faithful follower of Mr. Raniere for more than a decade.

Mr. Vicente said he had been contacted by Ms. Salzman’s mother, Nancy, a co-founder of Nxivm who is known as “Prefect,” after the 2004 release of a documentary he co-directed that explored spirituality and physics.

Soon, Mr. Vicente was taking courses that he said helped him expose his fears and learn strategies that made him feel more resolute.

He also made a documentary called “Encender el Corazón,”or “Ignite the Heart,” which lionized Mr. Raniere’s work in Mexico.

“Keith Raniere is an activist, scientist, philosopher and, above all, humanitarian,” Mr. Vicente says in the film.

Mr. Raniere has used those words to describe himself. On his website, he said he spoke in full sentences by age 1, mastered high school mathematics by 12 and taught himself to play “concert level” piano. At 16, he entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

Before Nxivm, he helped run a company called Consumers’ Buyline Inc., which offered discounts to members on groceries and other products.

In the mid-1990s, several state attorneys general investigated it as a suspected pyramid scheme; Mr. Raniere and his associates agreed to shut it down.

Through Nxivm, Mr. Raniere transformed himself into a New Age teacher with long hair and a guru-like manner of speaking.

“Humans can be noble,” he says on his website. “The question is: will we put forth what is necessary?”

By many accounts, Mr. Raniere sleeps during the day and goes out at night to play volleyball or take female followers for long walks. Several women described him as warm, funny and eager to talk about subjects that interested them.

Others saw a different side. Nxivm sued several former members, accusing them of stealing its trade secrets, among other things.

Mr. Vicente said he was aware of the negative publicity, including a 2012 series by The Albany Times-Union that described alleged abuses inside Nxivm.

Mr. Vicente’s views began to change this year after his wife was ostracized when she left Nxivm and he heard rumors about the secret sorority.

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Mark Vicente and his wife, Bonnie Piesse, both former members of Nxivm. Mr. Vicente confronted Keith Raniere about the secret society within the group. CreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times

Mr. Vicente said he got evasive answers when he asked Mr. Raniere about the group. Mr. Raniere acknowledged giving “five women permission to do something,” but did not elaborate, other than to say he would investigate, Mr. Vicente said.

Mr. Vicente said he suspected Mr. Raniere was lying to him and might have done so before. Suddenly, self-awareness techniques he had learned felt like tools that had been used to control him.

“No one goes in looking to have their personality stripped away,” he said. “You just don’t realize what is happening.”

Followers Start to Flee

In May, Sarah Edmondson began to recoil from her embrace of the secret society.

Her husband, Anthony Ames, who was also a Nxivm member, learned about her branding and the couple both wanted out.

Before quitting, Mr. Ames went to Nxivm’s offices in Albany to collect money he said the group owed him.

He had his cellphone in his pocket and turned on its recorder.

On the recording, Mr. Ames tells another member that Ms. Edmondson was branded and that other women told him about handing over collateral. “This is criminal,” Mr. Ames says.

The voice of a woman — who Mr. Ames said is Lauren Salzman — is heard trying to calm him. “I don’t think you are open to having a conversation,” she said.

“You are absolutely right, I’m not open to having a conversation,” he replied. “My wife got branded.”

A few days later, many of Mr. Raniere’s followers learned of the secret society from a website run by a Buffalo-area businessman, Frank R. Parlato Jr. Mr. Parlato had been locked in a long legal battle with two sisters, Sara and Clare Bronfman, who are members of Nxivm and the daughters of Edgar Bronfman, the deceased chairman of Seagram Company.

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Nxivm’s Executive Success Programs offices in Albany. The organization has chapters across the United States, Canada and Mexico. CreditNathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

In 2011, the Bronfman sisters sued Mr. Parlato, whom they had hired as a consultant, alleging he had defrauded them of $1 million.

Four years later, in 2015, the Justice Department indicted him on charges of fraud and other crimes arising from alleged activities, including defrauding the Bronfmans. Mr. Parlato has denied the claims and the case is pending.

Mr. Parlato started a website, The Frank Report, which he uses to lambaste prosecutors, Mr. Raniere and the Bronfmans. In early June, Mr. Parlato published the first in a torrent of salacious posts under the headline, “Branded Slaves and Master Raniere.”

A Nxivm follower, Soukaina Mehdaoui, said she reached out to Mr. Raniere after reading the post. Ms. Mehdaoui, 25, was a newcomer to Nxivm, but the two had grown close.

She said Mr. Raniere told her the secret sorority began after three women offered damaging collateral to seal lifetime vows of obedience to him.

While Ms. Mehdaoui had joined the sorority, the women in her circle were not branded. She was appalled.

“There are things I didn’t know that I didn’t sign up for, and I’m not even hearing about it from you,” she texted Mr. Raniere.

Mr. Raniere texted back about his initials and the brand.

By then, panic was spreading inside Nxivm. Slaves were ordered to delete encrypted messages between them and erase Google documents, two women said. To those considering breaking away, it was not clear whom they could trust and who were Nxivm loyalists.

Late one night, Ms. Mehdaoui met secretly with another Nxivm member. They took out their cellphones to show they were not recording the conversation.

Both decided to leave Nxivm, despite concerns that the group would retaliate by releasing their “collateral” or suing them.

Ms. Mehdaoui said that when she went to say goodbye to Mr. Raniere, he urged her to stay.

“Do you think, I’m bad, I don’t agree with abuses,” she recalled him saying. He said the group “gives women tools to be powerful, to regain their power for the sake of building love.”

Nxivm recently filed criminal complaints with the Vancouver police against Ms. Edmondson and two other women accusing them of mischief and other crimes in connection with the firm’s now-closed center there, according to Ms. Edmondson. The women have denied the allegations. A spokesman for the Vancouver police declined to comment.

Ms. Edmondson and other former followers of Mr. Raniere said they were focusing on recovering.

“There is no playbook for leaving a cult,” she said.

Exclusive: Neo-Nazi and National Front organiser quits movement, opens up about Jewish heritage, comes out as gay

Original Article

By Paraic O’Brien

A white supremacist active as recently as the start of this year says today he is publicly renouncing 40 years of hate. Speaking on Channel 4 News he comes out as gay for the first time – and admits to a violent past.

 

After a lifetime of involvement with the far-right Kevin Wilshaw announces on Channel 4 News that he is leaving the movement – at the same time publicly coming out as gay.

The well known National Front organiser in the 1980s was still active in white supremacist groups earlier this year – including speaking at events.

But tonight on Channel 4 News he explains for the very first time why he is publicly disavowing the movement – sharing his secrets, explaining how he was both a Neo-Nazi and of Jewish heritage , while admitting to violent acts and what motivated his hatred.

Jewish heritage

Kevin Wilshaw also opens up about his Jewish mother.

“She was part Jewish, maiden name was Benjamin, we have Jewish blood on that side.

On an application form to join the National Front, he wrote about his hatred of “the Jews”.

“That term ‘the Jews’ is the global faceless mass of people you can’t personalise it, not individuals. That’s the generalisation that leads to 6 million people being deliberately murdered.

“I didn’t have many friends at school, I wanted to be a member of a group of people that had an aim, and I thought getting involved in that kind of thing would be comradeship. “

“Even though you end up being a group of people that through their own extreme views are cut off from society, you do have a sense of comradeship in that you’re a member of a group that’s being attacked by other people.”

Coming out

“On one or two occasions in the recent past I’ve actually been the recipient of the very hatred of the people I want to belong to … if you’re gay it is acceptable in society but with these group of people it’s not acceptable, and I found on one or two occasions when I was suspected of being gay I was subjected to abuse.”

Mr Wilshaw admits that being a Nazi who is gay – but with a Jewish background – is a contradiction.

“It’s a terribly selfish thing to say but it’s true, I saw people being abused, shouted at, spat at in the street – it’s not until it’s directed at you that you suddenly realise that what you’re doing is wrong.”

“You have other members leading National Front who are overtly gay. And nobody could see the contradiction of it that you have an overtly gay person leading a homophobic organisation, makes no sense.”

“Then you have someone like Nicky Crane, one of the hardest people who would be gay.”

“Even when people found out, they’d rationalise it, ‘He’s not really gay’ or ‘gay and ok’.”

Violent attack

He said he had hurt people, “but not unprovoked, in defence. In a by-election in Leeds I smashed a chair over someone’s head.”

But he denied ever having approached minorities and assaulted them.

“I’d never do that, but I have seen incidents where people were singled out because they were black by a group of people. It turned my stomach, I rejected that, I pushed it to the back of my mind.”

Mr Wilshaw was arrested for vandalising a mosque in Aylesbury in the early 1990s – and in March this year he was arrested for online race hate offences.

Extremist as recently as the start of this year

He joined the BNP after being part of the National Front and flirted with dangerous fringe groups like the Racial Volunteer Force.

Mr Wilshaw says he remembers meeting David Copeland – the Brixton and Soho nail bomber. More recently he took to social media – and until the start of year was still speaking at rallies.

Former National Front activist Matthew Collins, who now works for the anti-racist group Hope not Hate said: “One of things we noticed is there was someone who was struggling, he was becoming more and more extreme.”

“We almost expected the phone call and a cry for help, and that’s what he’s done.”

‘I want to hurt extremists’

“I feel appallingly guilty as well, I really do feel guilty, not only that, this is also a barrier to me having a relationship with my own family, and I want to get rid of it, it’s too much of a weight.”

“I want to do some damage as well, not to ordinary people but the people who are propagating this kind of rubbish – want to hurt them, show what it’s like for those who are living a lie and be on the receiving end of this type of propaganda, I want to hurt them.”

Fearing some level of revenge, Mr Wilshaw says “one or two would want to sort me.. they’d see it as betrayal.”

“I am going to find it difficult, granted, to fill a void that has occupied my life since childhood.”

It’s Now Legal to Liquefy a Dead Body in California

Original Article

By Yasmin Tayag

On Sunday, California Governor Jerry Brown passed AB 967, an innocuously named bill for a not-so-innocuous law. The bill, proposed by assembly member Todd Gloria, a San Diego democrat, will make it legal for Californians to liquefy their corpses after death in a bath of caustic juice.

The process, referred to as water cremation (or aquamation, resomation, bio-cremation, or flameless cremation), has been proposed as a much more environmentally friendly way to dispose of a body after death. The bill is sponsored by Qico, Inc., a “sustainable cremation” company that specializes in this form of corpse disposal, and it will go into effect by at least July 1, 2020.

“A lot of people view water creation as a more respectful option and we’re glad a lot of people will be able to have it,” Jack Ingraham, the CEO of Qico, tells Inverse. “We think this is a trend for the future. I think within 10 years to 20 years, cremation will be thought of as a water-based process, and the entire flame process will be replaced.”

Unfortunately, no actual liquid is returned to the survivors, only the remaining calcium, or the bones. “These are crushed into the ashes returned to the family,” Ingraham says, who adds that the process also results in about 20-30 percent more “ashes” being returned to the family. So while you can’t drink Uncle Frank, you will get more of his ashes.

These days, the only mainstream options available are burial or cremation, both of which aren’t especially green; coffins take up a lot of valuable space and are made of slowly biodegrading wood, and cremation requires reaching temperatures of up to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn’t exactly energy efficient. Then there’s the option of sending a dead body to space in a rocket, which is not green, for obvious reasons.

Aquamation, in contrast, dissolves a body, DNA and all, in a vat of liquid into a relatively unharmful solution of slightly alkaline water that can be neutralized and returned to the Earth. California is the latest state to make the procedure legal, joining 14 others.

The chemical process behind aquamation is called alkaline hydrolysis, which involves sticking a body into a solution of potassium hydroxide and water that’s heated to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit, a slightly lower temperature than boiling and waiting for it to dissolve.

Potassium hydroxide, often referred to as potash or lye, is a common chemical used in manufacturing soft soap and biodiesel. Its defining quality is that it’s chemically alkaline, which means that it’s packed with oxygen-hydrogen pairs known as hydroxide groups. In strong enough concentrations, hydroxides can dissolve organic solids into liquids; it’s essentially the same process that happens when you pour Drano into a sink clogged with fat or hair.

In aquamation, raising the temperature and pressure helps the process move along faster. Usually, it takes about four hours to dissolve a skeleton. By the end of the process, the only solid thing that’s left is a pile of soft bones (potassium hydroxide won’t eat through calcium phosphate) that gets crushed into a sterile powder for family members of the deceased to take home.

As for the flesh, blood, and guts? Everything else gets dissolved into a green-brown liquid that’s slightly less basic than it was at the start of the process. What starts as a solution with a very strongly alkaline pH of 14 (the most basic possible) ends up somewhere around pH 11. Truly neutral water has a pH of about 7, so technicians sometimes add an acidic substance, like vinegar, to balance out all the excess hydroxides floating around.

It’s “what happens in a natural burial in the ground, just in a faster time frame,” Ingraham says.

The process is already a popular way to dispose of a dead pet’s body; not only is it less energy-intensive than other methods, but it also kills potentially life-threatening pathogens, like viruses, bacteria, and prions that cause transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (the type that cause mad cow disease), which aren’t always inactivated by heat.

The thought of liquefying a body is pretty weird, but California is not the first state to make it legal: Oregon, Minnesota, Maryland, Maine, Kansas, Illinois, Florida, Colorado, Georgia, Wyoming, Idaho, and Nevada have already joined the ranks of the corpse dissolution supporters. It’s something we’d better get used to in the long run. The world is running out of space, both for living and dead bodies, so it’s in our best interest to figure out what to do with all of our future corpses. Besides, if humans aren’t going to do anything good for the Earth while we’re alive, we might as well find a way to do so in death.

What’s next for aquamation in California? Ingraham says his two-year-old company expects to have their technology ready by 2019 and to be in agreement with state regulators by then as well. Meanwhile, he’s hopeful that demand will grow for this new technology that he expects will cost a little more than traditional cremation but ultimately will be set by funeral homes.

While you can’t scatter traditional ashes at Venice Beach because they’re relatively toxic — they’re ashes, after all — you won’t have those restrictions with the result of a water cremation, Ingraham says.

“When people hear about it they tend to prefer it,” he says, noting that the white “ashes” from water-based cremation can be scattered in more places.

New All-Seeing Billboard Uses Hidden Cameras to Show Ads Based on Age, Emotions

Original Article

By Sidney Fussell

London’s famous Piccadilly Circus is getting an immense and terrifying new video display called Piccadilly Lights. According to its maker, the enormous screen (which is almost the size of two professional basketball courts) can detect the vehicles, ages, and even emotions of people nearby, and respond by playing targeted ads. Imagine New York’s Time Square with a makeover from John Carpenter’s They Live—but without any pretense of deception.

“Screen content can be influenced by the characteristics of the crowd around it, such as gender, age group and even emotions,” Landsec, which owns the screen, brags on its site. “It is also able to respond and deliver bespoke ad content triggered by surroundings in the area.”

A write-up of Piccadilly Lights by Wired specifically focusses on the advertising potential of passing cars:

Cameras concealed within the screen will track the make, model and colour of passing cars to deliver more targeted adverts. Brands can even pre-program triggers so that specific adverts are played when a certain model of car passes the screen, according to Landsec, the company the owns the screens.

According to the magazine, the screen and its hidden cameras won’t go live until later this month, but Landsec’s original press release contains more than enough dystopian marketing spin to start worrying now. In it, Piccadilly Lights is praised as a “live, responsive site” with “one of the highest resolution LED displays of this size in the world.” The hidden cameras go unmentioned, of course, but the installation is advertised as “creating experiences that emotionally resonate” using “social listening” so it can “be more agile and tailor our messages in real-time.”

Make no mistake, however, this is an enormous consumer surveillance apparatus that is being advertised as a way to monitor a public space to sell people TVs and sports bras. Adding to the creep factor, most of this tech is already being used by police to track and surveil suspects.

Police departments currently use object recognition to spot the make and model of cars. And back in February, the company formerly known as Taser announced their body cameras will soon recognize and sort people in real-time based on their age, gender and even what they’re wearing. Emotion detection has been touted as a way to predict violent attacks, as has monitoring Twitterand Facebook for keywords that may belie a threat or implicate criminals. Bill Bratton, who at different times in his life has led the NYPD and LAPD, said last year that social media often “forms the foundation” of New York City’s criminal cases against suspects.

Responding to The Verge, a Landsec spokesperson said the screen can react to “external factors,” but wouldn’t collect or store personal data. That’s reassuring, but it would certainly be valuable to advertisers (who are shelling out big money to be featured on this uber-screen) to know which ads people are responding to and what type of people (based on age, gender, and car model) responded to each ad.

Landsec gives the examples of cars, age and gender, but what else can their cameras spot? Presumably, if there are four Lamborghinis in the area, that means rich people with disposable income are nearby. Can the apparatus make similar income and lifestyle judgements based on factors like skin color and body type? Imagine realizing the 400-foot ad for a dieting campaign was meant specifically for you.

Emotion recognition is the wildcard in all this. Disney, for example, is using face recognition to spot smiles and frowns among moviegoers. How does Landsec do it? Does it similarly scans faces? Or does it use body language? What do four angry faces and a smile mean to the all-seeing eye of capitalism? Landsec could save us all some stress and tell us more about how it works and what it looks for.

We’ve reached out Landsec for comment and will update this story if and when we hear back. Until then, it’s easy to see this as just another step in surveillance capitalism’s death march to tracking every move we make.

 

Should Teens Own Smartphones

Original Article

By Tony Reinke

When Silicon Valley’s 20-something techno-prodigies were awing the world with new, shiny, unveilings of iPods and then iPhones and then iPads, many of the inventors didn’t have kids. Few had teens. Now, most of them have kids, and many have teens — teenagers addicted to gadgets their parents birthed into the world years ago.

This is the story of Tony Fadell, a former Senior VP at Apple, known as the grandfather of the iPod, and a key player on the early design team for the iPhone. On the 10-year anniversary of the iPhone in an interview, he made this admission: “I wake up in cold sweats every so often thinking, what did we bring to the world?”

Fadell, a father of three, has come to see the addictive power of the iPhone, an addiction that cannot be removed. “I know what happens when I take technology away from my kids. They literally feel like you’re tearing a piece of their person away from them — they get emotional about it, very emotional. They go through withdrawal for two to three days.”

“This self-absorbing culture is starting to [really stink],” Fadell said. “Parents didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know this was a thing they needed to teach because we didn’t know for ourselves. We all kind of got absorbed in it.”

Yes — we all got absorbed — techies and teens and parents. All of us. And now we’re trying to figure out how to wisely manage our devices.

Teens, Smartphones, and Depression

Digital absorption has coincided with the fast-changing dynamics of public high school life. Last winter, I asked an assistant principal at a large Twin Cities high school (of more than 2,000 students) how her job has changed over the past two decades.

Much remains the same, she said. “But the one thing that has changed drastically in working with teenagers for over twenty years is the dependency they have now on the instant gratification and feedback from others. How many likes do I have? How many followers? And there’s a compulsion to put something online to see how many likes I can get. And if that wasn’t enough, what does it say about me?”

“There’s a really strong connection to this behavior and the increased mental health issues we’re seeing in the school,” she said. “Over the past three-to-five years I would say my job has changed the most, because we’re now dealing with so much more mental health. I don’t think it’s singularly because of technology, but I genuinely believe digital technology is a major factor. It changes everything from the way people relate with others to the way they see themselves.”

Destroying a Generation?

The cold sweats of Fadell and the eyewitness testimony of this assistant principal are captured in the haunting headline over a recent feature article published in The Atlantic, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

iGen is the new label for those roughly 12-to-22-year-olds, born between 1995 and 2005. Among them, the warning signs are prevalent. “Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011,” wrote author Jean Twenge of the struggles faced by the iGen-ers. “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.

“The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression,” and, “girls have borne the brunt of the rise in depressive symptoms among today’s teens.” Twenge cites sources that show depression is on the rise among both boys and girls. For boys, depressive symptoms rose 21% between 2012–2015. In the same span, rates among girls increased by 50%. The rates of suicide for both increased, too. Male suicides doubled; female suicides increased threefold.

From what I know about these spikes in depression, and what I have discovered about the allure of our devices, what we are addressing here are existential questions about the meaning of life and acceptance from others — massive questions, weighing heavy on a young generation. These are redemptive questions, identity questions, gospel issues.

Digital media force a teen and preteen into the 24-7 pressure cooker of peer approval. But it’s not just teens; all of us feel this addictive draw of our social media. Smartphones seem to influence us all in at least 12 potent ways.

But the question here is pretty straightforward: Given these warning signs, is it possible for a teen to resist the powers of culture and go smartphone-free through the middle school and high school years?

Smartphone-Free Teens

I asked Jaquelle Crowe, the author of the excellent book, This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years, that question. She provides us with a rare example of an iGen teen who postponed the adoption of a smartphone until age 18. I asked her what it was like to wait so long.

Jaquelle, thanks for your time to share your experience. Studies are beginning to suggest that rates of teen depression are on the rise, and there is no single factor to get all the blame. But the pervasiveness of smartphones among iGen teens has to be considered as a significant cause. Would this connection surprise you?

Absolutely not. Smartphones contribute significantly to the 24-7 approval culture we live in. There’s no escaping it. This is something our parents don’t always understand, because when they were teenagers, that culture was largely limited to the 9–3 school day, and then they retreated to the boredom of family life.

But now there’s 24-7 social media. There’s a constant comparison and peer approval game that cannot be escaped. And it’s crippling, exhausting, and undeniably stressful. You can’t get away from the likes, the shares, the texts, the pictures. It’s like the popularity contest never ends. And it works both ways. Your smartphone gives you a front-row seat to watch the popularity contest, too.

That is a powerful dynamic, hard to escape the popularity culture on both fronts (feeding it and watching it play out). You did not get a smartphone until you were 18, but you had friends with smartphones, right?

Yes, I did, and I was well aware that most of my peers had access to something I didn’t. I could name every friend who had a phone, simply because I would see their phone. If Alison got a phone, I knew about it. If Jared got a phone, I knew about it. Not because they flaunted it or shamed me, but because it was always around. Even if we were talking together, it would buzz or ping or they’d be fidgeting with it. If there was a pause, a moment of silence, a break, they’d be on their phones, and I’d be left in the lingering awkwardness and boredom.

It definitely fed my FOMO (fear of missing out). It fed into some insecurity. Even though my friends never made me feel weird for not having a smartphone, it was an expectation, so they were surprised when they discovered I didn’t have one. There were times when I was the outlier. And not only with friends but also with my generation at large. I’d be walking through the mall or waiting in line or stopped on the sidewalk, and I would look around, fully present and disconnected — and stare at a sea of teens glued to smartphones. I was an exception, and that felt uncomfortable.

At times, I felt lonely — even if I was surrounded by people. They were constantly connected and I was isolated. I felt confined by my lack of access. At the same time, those feelings were largely emotional and visceral because I agreed theoretically with my parents — that I didn’t need a phone right then.

I applaud your parents for this foresight and conviction. Most parents, I fear, simply cave to the pressure, as their teen caves to the pressure — a domino effect of pressures, and certainly one I feel as a parent. But it’s worth giving this decision critical thought, because introducing a fully functioning smartphone is a decision that cannot easily be undone. For you, how much trust does this call for on the part of a teen, to wait? It seems like you have to trust your parents more than your peers, and that’s a main struggle of the teen years.

It calls for trust, definitely. And connected to that, a willingness to submit and obey. Ultimately, it requires a recognition that your parents are actually looking out for your best interests — emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically — and that they know you better than your peers do.

The thing is, deep down, most teens know that. They just push back because not owning a smartphone makes them feel ashamed.

I assume you had access to a phone of some sort?

Yes. If I was going out, I’d often borrow my mom’s flip phone for emergencies. I almost never used it.

That’s wise. As for digital media, what did you have access to before the smartphone?

I had a computer, I had email, I had access to some social media. I technically could do everything from home. But in a digital world with an expanding reach, that still somehow seemed limited.

For sure. Speaking as a 20-year-old now, what would you say to parents who are weighing the pros/cons and reading all the news and the testimonies of parents of teens, and who are coming to the conclusion that delaying the smartphone in the life of their teen would be wise? What kind of pushback should they expect to hear from their teen?

To parents, I’d say: It is worth it to have your kids wait. I’ve seen it and heard it and can attest to it since I got my own smartphone — smartphones change you. They give you overwhelming and shocking access. They zap your attention span. They are massively addictive. You can (and should!) put up safeguards, but a smartphone fundamentally changes your heart and mind. If it’s possible for teens to delay that change, I think it is a wise consideration.

Teach your teens discipline and discernment before you entrust them with the dangers of a smartphone. Of course, smartphones are not inherently evil; they have the potential for great good. But they need to be wielded well.

If you’re making your teen wait, don’t delegitimize the painful exclusion they’ll feel but use this time to prepare them to use technology wisely and faithfully. In the hands of unprepared, immature teens, smartphones can be deadly.

As for pushback that a parent is sure to hear, teens will feel left out. That might make them frustrated, confused, lonely, or hurt, and if they lash out, that’s why. They might feel like they’re separated from their friends. They might feel the pain of peer pressure. They might fear missing out. They might even have some legitimate concerns (e.g., having a phone with them when they’re out by themselves).

Parents, in the face of this pushback, be willing to explain your reasoning. When your teens ask you, “Why can’t I have a smartphone?” they really don’t want you to say, “Because I told you so.” Even if they don’t agree with it, they will likely respect your willingness to reason with them and the depth of critical thought you’ve put into this.

Share your research with them. Introduce them to other teens (in person or online) who don’t have smartphones. Instead of treating them like a child (just saying, “No” and moving on), pursue thoughtful, honest dialogue with them. Allow them to keep the conversation going, and be willing to do the hard work of communication for the greater good of your relationship.

Very good. And perhaps we can close with what you would say directly to the teens in this scenario. What should they expect to face by way of internal and peer struggle?

To the teens who take this countercultural move, you are an outlier in your generation. Obedience in life requires avoiding every clingy weight that will trip you up in the Christian life (Hebrews 12:1). I can only encourage you to hold fast. It comes down to this. Hold fast.

Jesus is better than a smartphone. You will rehearse this truth over and over in your heart.

And when you feel burdened by exclusion and isolation, don’t despair. Your identity is not in fitting in or meeting superficial expectations. It’s in Christ alone. And he gives you one task: be faithful. Right now, that looks like obeying your parents and trusting their good intentions for you — and that may mean not having a smartphone for a time.

Don’t run from this reality in shame; embrace it in faith. Your joy is not found in cultural connectivity; it’s found in union with Christ. So hold fast, and be faithful. Your reward is coming and it is far greater than any loss you will feel in this life.

 

Kid’s Spend Less Time Outdoors Than Prisoners.

Original Article

By Sara Burrows

Imagination Grove (a nature play area) at Sugar Grove Nature Center, McLean, IL, June 2011.

Imagination Grove (a nature play area) at Sugar Grove Nature Center, McLean, IL, June 2011.

While inmates at maximum security prisons in the U.S. are guaranteed at least 2 hours of outdoor time a day, half of children worldwide spend less than an hour outside, reports TreeHugger.com.

 

A survey of 12,000 parents in 10 countries found that one-third of children (ages 5 to 12) spend less than 30 minutes outside each day. The survey, sponsored by Unilever laundry detergent brands OMO and Persil, inspired a new marketing campaign – “Dirt is Good – Free the Children.”

The short film below – documenting prisoners’ responses to the survey – is part of that campaign:

Prisoners at a maximum security facility in Indiana called outdoor time the “highlight” of their day.  “You take all your problems and frustrations and just leave them out there,” one prisoner said. Another said “it keeps his mind right.”

 

When asked how they would feel about having their “yard time” reduced to one hour a day, inmates responded that it would build more anger and resentment. One inmate said it would be “torture.” A prison guard said it would be “potentially disastrous.”

The prisoners are shocked upon learning that most children have less than an hour of outdoor time per day, one of them calling the news “depressing.” Another said if he could have one wish granted it would be that he could take his kid to a park.

Another study found that one in nine children “have not set foot in a park, forest, beach or any other natural environment for at least 12 months.”

Huffington Post reported recently that with children today spending only half the time their parents did outdoors, we are producing an “unsociable, unimaginative and inactive generation.” Only half of children have ever built a sandcastle at the beach or had a picnic outside of their own yard, and over a third have never played in the mud. Also, about half of children opt for screen time alone over playing with others outdoors.

 

In addition to “unsociable, unimaginative and inactive” – our culture’s lack of outdoor time is producing children who are physically and mentally ill:

“We are physically active when we spend time outdoors, so we are less likely to become obese. When sunshine hits our skin, we form Vitamin D, which helps with a number of health issues. Peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that time spent outside lowers rates of heart disease, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, and some forms of cancer. Kids with ADHD focus better when they spend time outdoors. And, nature time leads to more positive moods, as well as lower stress and anxiety.”

Antibiotic Resistance Could Spell End Of Modern Medicine, Says Chief Medic.

England’s chief medical officer has repeated her warning of a “post-antibiotic apocalypse” as she urged world leaders to address the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.

Prof Dame Sally Davies said that if antibiotics lose their effectiveness it would spell “the end of modern medicine”. Without the drugs used to fight infections, common medical interventions such as caesarean sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements would become incredibly risky and transplant medicine would be a thing of the past, she said.

“We really are facing – if we don’t take action now – a dreadful post-antibiotic apocalypse. I don’t want to say to my children that I didn’t do my best to protect them and their children,” Davies said.

Health experts have previously said resistance to antimicrobial drugs could cause a bigger threat to mankind than cancer. In recent years, the UK has led a drive to raise global awareness of the threat posed to modern medicine by antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Each year about 700,000 people around the world die due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis, HIV and malaria. If no action is taken, it has been estimated that drug-resistant infections will kill 10 million people a year by 2050.

The UK government and the Wellcome Trust, along with others, have organised a call to action meeting for health officials from around the world. At the meeting in Berlin, the government will announce a new project that will map the spread of death and disease caused by drug-resistant superbugs.

BBC Radio 4 Today(@BBCr4today)

England’s chief medical officer has renewed her warning about what she’s described as a “post-antibiotic apocalypse” #r4todaypic.twitter.com/3EAUvmOTAv

October 13, 2017

Davies said: “This AMR is with us now, killing people. This is a serious issue that is with us now, causing deaths. If it was anything else, people would be up in arms about it. But because it is hidden they just let it pass.

“It does not really have a ‘face’ because most people who die of drug-resistant infections, their families just think they died of an uncontrolled infection. It will only get worse unless we take strong action everywhere across the globe. We need some real work on the ground to make a difference or we risk the end of modern medicine.”

She added: “Not to be able to effectively treat infections means that caesarean sections, hip replacements, modern surgery, is risky. Modern cancer treatment is risky and transplant medicine becomes a thing of the past.”

Davies said that if the global community did not act then the progress that had been made in Britain may be undermined.

She estimated that about one in three or one in four prescriptions in UK primary care were probably not needed. “But other countries use vastly more antibiotics in the community and they need to start doing as we are, which is reducing usage,” she said. “Our latest data shows that we have reduced human consumption by 4.3% in 2014-15 from the year before.”

Genes for Skin Color Rebut Dated Notions of Race, Researchers Say

By Carl Zimmer
A gallery of busts from the 19th century showing human diversity on display in the Museum of Mankind in Paris. Scientists have found that the genetic variations that determine skin color are widely shared. CreditRomuald Meigneux/SIPA, via Associated Press

For centuries, skin color has held powerful social meaning — a defining characteristic of race, and a starting point for racism.

“If you ask somebody on the street, ‘What are the main differences between races?,’ they’re going to say skin color,” said Sarah A. Tishkoff, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania.

On Thursday, Dr. Tishkoff and her colleagues showed this to be a profound error. In the journal Science, the researchers published the first large-scale study of the genetics of skin color in Africans.

The researchers pinpointed eight genetic variants in four narrow regions of the human genome that strongly influence pigmentation — some making skin darker, and others making it lighter.

These genes are shared across the globe, it turns out; one of them, for example, lightens skin in both Europeans and hunter-gatherers in Botswana. The gene variants were present in humanity’s distant ancestors, even before our species evolved in Africa 300,000 years ago

The widespread distribution of these genes and their persistence over millenniums show that the old color lines are essentially meaningless, the scientists said. The research “dispels a biological concept of race,” Dr. Tishkoff said.

Humans develop color much as other mammals do. Special cells in the skin contain pouches, called melanosomes, packed with pigment molecules. The more pigment, the darker the skin.

Skin color also varies with the kind of pigments: Melanosomes may contain mixtures of a brown-black called eumelanin and a yellow-red called pheomelanin.

To find the genes that help produce pigments, scientists began by studying people of European ancestry and found that mutations to a gene called SLC24A5 caused cells to make less pigment, leading to paler skin. Unsurprisingly, almost all Europeans have this variant.

We knew quite a lot about why people have pale skin if they had European ancestry,” said Nicholas G. Crawford, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and a co-author of the new study. “But there was very little known about why people have dark skin.”

Since the early 2000s, Dr. Tishkoff has studied genes in Africa, discovering variants important to everything from resistance to malaria to height.

African populations vary tremendously in skin color, and Dr. Tishkoff reasoned that powerful genetic variants must be responsible.

Studying 1,570 people in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Botswana, she and her colleagues discovered a set of genetic variants that account for 29 percent of the variation in skin color. (The remaining variation seems tied to genes yet to be discovered.)

One variant, MFSD12, was particularly mysterious: No one knew what it did anywhere in the body. To investigate its function, the researchers altered the gene in reddish lab mice. Giving them the variant found in darker-skinned Africans turned the mice gray.

As it turned out, MFSD12 can affect the production of brown-black eumelanin, producing a darker skin color.

The eight gene variants that Dr. Tishkoff and her colleagues discovered in Africans turned out to be present in many populations outside the continent. By comparing the DNA of these people, the researchers were able to estimate how long ago the genes appeared.

They turned out to be immensely old. A variant for light skin — found in both Europeans and the San hunter-gatherers of Botswana — arose roughly 900,000 years ago, for example.

Even before there were Homo sapiens, then, our distant forebears had a mix of genes for light and dark skin. Some populations may have been dark-skinned and others light-skinned; or maybe they were all the same color, produced by a blend of variants.

Neanderthals split off from our own ancestors an estimated 600,000 years ago, spreading across Europe and eastern Asia. While they became extinct about 40,000 years ago, some of their DNA has survived.

These hominins inherited the same combination of variants determining skin color, Dr. Tishkoff and her colleagues also discovered. It’s possible that some populations of Neanderthals, too, were light-skinned, and others dark-skinned.

Living humans come packaged in a wide range of hues — from pale and freckly in Ireland to dark brown in southern India, Australia and New Guinea. Researchers have argued that these varying colors evolved partly in response to sunlight.

The idea is that people who live with intense ultraviolet light benefited from dark color, pigments that shielded important molecules in their skin. In places with less sunlight, people needed lighter skin, because they were able to absorb more sunlight to make vitamin D.

The new genetic evidence supports this explanation, but adds unexpected complexity. The dark-skinned people of southern India, Australia and New Guinea, for example, did not independently evolve their color simply because evolution favored it.

They inherited the ancestral dark variants Dr. Tishkoff’s team found in Africans. “They had to be introduced from an African population,” said Dr. Tishkoff.

Yet the same is true for some genes that produce light skin in Asia and Europe. They also originated in Africa and were carried from the continent by migrants.

As Africans moved into Europe and Asia, they interbred with Neanderthals on several occasions. Last week, Michael Dannemann and Janet Kelso of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany reported that people in Britain still carry a number of Neanderthal variants that color skin.

Some of the newly discovered genes appeared relatively recently in our evolution.

The pale-skin variant of SLC24A5 that’s overwhelmingly common in Europe, for example, is a recent addition to the genome, arising just 29,000 years ago, according to the new study. It became widespread only in the past few thousand years.

Dr. Tishkoff and her colleagues found it frequently not just in Europe, but also in some populations of lighter-skinned Africans in East Africa and Tanzania. Studies of ancient DNA recently discovered in Africa point to an explanation.

Several thousand years ago, it seems, a migration of early Near Eastern farmers swept into East Africa. Over many generations of interbreeding, the pale variant of SLC24A5 became common in some African populations.

In all, the new study provides “a deeper appreciation of the genetic palette that has been mixed and matched through evolution,” said Nina Jablonski, an expert on skin color at Pennsylvania State University.

The Bechdel Test, and Other Media Representation Tests, Explained

Original Article

By Nick Douglas

In the latest episode of Rick & Morty alternative The Simpsons, guest star Alison Bechdel describes her famous Bechdel test for films: Do two female characters have at least one conversation that’s not about a man? Marge immediately brings up Homer, provoking Bechdel’s FAIL animation, shown here in handy exploitable form:

 

Bechdel’s test, popularized in her comic Dykes to Watch Out For, was never intended to wholly define a film as “feminist” or “sexist.” After all, “Baby Got Back” passes it. Bechdel invented the test with her friend Liz Wallace to set a low bar that many Hollywood movies still can’t clear. As her character Mo puts it in the comic, “Last movie I was able to see was Alien.”

Setting that low bar has many valid uses, which is why it’s so popular. For one, as the A.V. Club’s Caroline Siede points out, it raises basic awareness of the massive gender disparity in media: Very few movies would fail a reverse Bechdel test for men.

And it’s a strong measure of female representation across an industry. Multiple organizations keep a running Bechdel scorecard of feature films. One chart of over 7,000 films indicates representation slowly improving since the 70s:

The standard is used in industry revenue analysis (showing that passing films outperform failing ones) and in annual Oscar wrap-ups. It’s the basis of a ratings stamp in some Swedish theaters, and it’s one of many check-box criteria on screenplay database The Black List. But Bechdel’s isn’t the only popular test for media’s portrayal of women.

More Tests of Female Representation

Tumblr user Chaila invented the Mako Mori test after noting that Pacific Rimfails the Bechdel Test despite a strong female character, while Thor passes it. A film passes this test if “1) one female character 2) gets her own narrative arc 3) that is not about supporting a man’s story.” The test is more subjective than Bechdel’s, but of course so is the issue they both address.

Writer Roxane Gay proposed a six-part test: Is there a central female character, with supporting female characters, who doesn’t compromise herself for love or live extravagantly for no explained reason? And at least half the time, is this character a woman of color, transgender, and/or queer? Gay’s sixth point is a non-requirement: Female characters “shouldn’t have to live up to an unrealistic feminist standard.” They can be flawed, so long as they feel like real human beings.

The satirical Sexy Lamp test by comics writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (co-creator of Pretty Deadly and Bitch Planet) is the easiest to pass: If your female character could be replaced by a sexy lamp without the plot falling apart, “YOU’RE A FUCKING HACK.” Naturally, many movies fail it. Especially if, as Tumblr user shitifindon suggested, you’re allowed to stick a Post-It on the sexy lamp.

The Crystal Gems test, designed by critic Locuas and named after the cartoon heroes in Steven Universe, combines the three above tests, and adds a scale for each—because we deserve to raise our standards. An example of its tridimensional results:

The Ellen Willis test requires the story (or pop song) to make sense if the genders were flipped. (It’s meant, of course, to call out gender roles, not biological factors.)

Editor and fandom expert Jenn Northington’s Tauriel test just asks that in a given work, at least one woman be good at what she does.

Other Media Tests

But hey, women are only one of a beautifully wide range of people poorly represented in media! So there are tests for other marginalized groups as well. Some of the best:

The racial Bechdel test has the same simple rules as the Bechdel Test, applied to people of color: At least two of them must have a conversation that’s not about a white person. (The native Bechdel test applies a stricter version, to show that movies and shows with Native American characters still often fail.)

Similarly, actor Dylan Marron’s YouTube series Every Single Word features brief compilations of every line delivered by people of color in a given well-known film. Of the 34 compilations, only five are longer than a minute.

The Deggans rule (by TV critic Eric Deggans) requires a show that’s not about race to include at least two non-white human characters in the main cast.

The Morales rule, by actor Natalie Morales, asks that no one calls anybody Papi, dances to salsa music, or uses “gratuitious Spanish.”

The DuVernay test, proposed by film critic Manohla Dargis in honor of director Ava DuVernay, is more abstract. A work passes it if “African Americans and other minorities have fully realised lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories.”

GLAAD’s Vito Russo test has three requirements: The film must contain a lesbian, gay, bi, or transgender character. That character must not be predominantly defined by their orientation or gender identity—they need to be as unique as straight cis characters. And they must be important enough to affect the plot—they can’t just crack some jokes or “paint urban authenticity.

The Topside test for trans literature, created by literary editors Riley MacLeod (now at Kotaku) and Tom Leger, asks that a book include multiple trans characters who know each other, who talk to each other about something other than medical transition procedures. The goal is to set a higher bar than, say, Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex, which use trans characters as a prop for non-trans characters. (The link includes some recommended texts.)

For more media tests, like the Finkbeiner test for non-fiction and the Lauredhel test for toys, check out this list on the Geek Feminism Wiki. Remember, no one test can replace a qualitative examination of a film. Not all of them are even recommended in earnest. But each test opens up critical discussion, challenges and inspires creators, and provides another tool for measuring the industry.

Florida Superintendent Orders Ban on All Books Judged ‘Inappropriate’

Original Article

By Maren Williams

In response to a draconian censorship directive recently issued by the superintendent of schools in Dixie County, Florida, CBLDF this week joined with other member organizations of the Kids’ Right to Read Project in defending vast swathes of library and classroom materials in the district. The order from Superintendent Mike Thomas targets for removal any library materials, textbooks, or supplemental texts that contain “profanity, cursing, or inappropriate subject matter.”

It is unclear exactly what prompted Thomas’ action at this time, but if followed to the letter it would undoubtedly decimate both curricula and library collections. For just a small taste of the impact, consider the four books on the district’s summer reading list for 8th graders:

As the linked titles show, at least three out of four books on the list have been considered “inappropriate” at one time or another. Lord of the Flies and Summer of My German Soldier have both been challenged specifically for profanity among other complaints, while The Graveyard Book has been targeted due to violence. (Although Dixie County students were assigned to read the original prose novel, the graphic novel adaptation of Gaiman’s book was also challenged for violent imagery in 2015.)

The list above represents the only glimpse of curriculum that we were able to locate on Dixie District Schools website, and 75% of it would be wiped out by Thomas’ order. Now extrapolate that to the even more challenging and “mature” books that surely must be assigned to older students and available in library collections. The impact would be unfathomable–not to mention that such a content-based purge would be highly unconstitutional!

In the letter sent to Thomas yesterday, we outlined the wide variety of materials that could fall afoul of his order, judging by past challenges from various locations:

Excluding material because it may be subjectively considered ‘inappropriate’ and ‘questionable’  potentially affects a wide range of materials that address race, gender, religion, sex, political violence, history, science, politics, the environment, or any other issue on which people may disagree. Books that community members and parents have called inappropriate include Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, because of its depiction of poverty; Native Son by Richard Wright for its depiction of ghetto life; A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck because of its descriptions of farm life; The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank because it is a “real downer”; and a Shel Silverstein poem in A Light in the Attic because it “encourages children to  break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.” The September 8 directive provides no definition of, or criteria for determining what subject matter is “inappropriate.” This leaves teachers and librarians with no clear guidance and may encourage them to exclude any potentially controversial material from the library or the classroom.

Additionally, the letter points out that the superintendent’s order tramples the district’s own policies regarding selection of educational media (e.g. library) materials and instructional materials, as well as challenges to materials. Thomas claims that his order also reflects the will of the school board, but we hope they will prove him wrong at their next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 10.

Below, read the whole letter sent by NCAC and signed by Kids’ Right to Read Project partners CBLDF, the National Council of Teachers of English, American Booksellers for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, PEN America, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Georgia Mom Upset About Sexual ‘Identity Definitions’ Quiz At School

Original Article

By Fox News

The DeKalb County School District in Georgia is facing backlash after a “sexual identity” assignment was given to the sixth graders of Lithonia Middle School.

The middle school’s health teacher assigned a quiz that defined 10  “sexual identity” terms, such as gay, lesbian, and transgender. The quiz required the sixth graders to identify and differentiate between various sexual orientations and identities, FOX 5 Atlanta reported.

One mother, Octavia Parks, was particularly shocked when her 12-year-old daughter came home with the assignment.

“Why are they teaching that in school?” Parks said. “What does that have to do with life?”

Parks felt that the material was not appropriate for school, and that her daughter was too young to learn about sexual orientation.

‘WITNESSING WHITENESS’ INFLUENCING LESSONS FOR CHILDREN AT ST. LOUIS SCHOOL

“We’re talking about a sixth grader who still watches Nickelodeon,” Parks said. “I’m not ready to explain what these words are nor what they mean.”

Parks recalls an earlier conversation with the health teacher, during which she was assured that such material would not be taught.

“We had a brief conversation and she assured me that this sort of thing would not happen.” Parks said. “Nonetheless, it is happening.”

Now, Parks has signed a consent form to remove her child from the health class. She is not the only parent to find fault with the controversial quiz.

Eva McClain, the mother of a past Lithonia Middle School student, agrees that the material is inappropriate for school. She also said that the sexual orientation quiz was not part of the health class’ curriculum when her daughter was in school.

GEORGIA TEACHER ALLEGEDLY ASSIGNS STUDENTS TASK OF CREATING NAZI MASCOT

“If a kid wants to know about the gender or know about the sex preference, it should come from the parents, not from the school,” McClain said.

It is still unclear if the DeKalb County School District approved this curriculum, but the district did acknowledge the parent’s concern in a written statement.

“DCSD has been made aware of this alleged event, and is working to verify its authenticity. We will investigate this event and take action, as appropriate, once that investigation is completed,” a spokesman for the district said to FOX 5.

Park plans to bring her concerns to the school district headquarters Tuesday, as soon as their fall break ends.

“I will be removing her from that class, and I’m also going to take it to the board of education to see what they have to say about it, as well,” Parks said.

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Half the Universe’s Missing Matter Has Just Been Finally Found

Original Article

By Leah Crane

The missing links between galaxies have finally been found. This is the first detection of the roughly half of the normal matter in our universe – protons, neutrons and electrons – unaccounted for by previous observations of stars, galaxies and other bright objects in space.

You have probably heard about the hunt for dark matter, a mysterious substance thought to permeate the universe, the effects of which we can see through its gravitational pull. But our models of the universe also say there should be about twice as much ordinary matter out there, compared with what we have observed so far.

Two separate teams found the missing matter – made of particles called baryons rather than dark matter – linking galaxies together through filaments of hot, diffuse gas.

“The missing baryon problem is solved,” says Hideki Tanimura at the Institute of Space Astrophysics in Orsay, France, leader of one of the groups. The other team was led by Anna de Graaff at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

Because the gas is so tenuous and not quite hot enough for X-ray telescopes to pick up, nobody had been able to see it before.

“There’s no sweet spot – no sweet instrument that we’ve invented yet that can directly observe this gas,” says Richard Ellis at University College London. “It’s been purely speculation until now.”

So the two groups had to find another way to definitively show that these threads of gas are really there.

Both teams took advantage of a phenomenon called the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect that occurs when light left over from the big bang passes through hot gas. As the light travels, some of it scatters off the electrons in the gas, leaving a dim patch in the cosmic microwave background – our snapshot of the remnants from the birth of the cosmos.

Stack ‘em up

In 2015, the Planck satellite created a map of this effect throughout the observable universe. Because the tendrils of gas between galaxies are so diffuse, the dim blotches they cause are far too slight to be seen directly on Planck’s map.

Both teams selected pairs of galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey that were expected to be connected by a strand of baryons. They stacked the Planck signals for the areas between the galaxies, making the individually faint strands detectable en masse.

Tanimura’s team stacked data on 260,000 pairs of galaxies, and de Graaff’s group used over a million pairs. Both teams found definitive evidence of gas filaments between the galaxies. Tanimura’s group found they were almost three times denser than the mean for normal matter in the universe, and de Graaf’s group found they were six times denser – confirmation that the gas in these areas is dense enough to form filaments.

“We expect some differences because we are looking at filaments at different distances,” says Tanimura. “If this factor is included, our findings are very consistent with the other group.”

Finally finding the extra baryons that have been predicted by decades of simulations validates some of our assumptions about the universe.

“Everybody sort of knows that it has to be there, but this is the first time that somebody – two different groups, no less – has come up with a definitive detection,” says Ralph Kraft at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts.

“This goes a long way toward showing that many of our ideas of how galaxies form and how structures form over the history of the universe are pretty much correct,” he says.

Jerry Jones gives Cowboys players ultimatum: Stand for anthem or sit for game

Original Article

By Ryan Gaydos

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Sunday any player who disrespects the flag will not play.

Jones’ comments, the strongest made on the anthem controversy, came after he was asked about Vice President Mike Pence leaving the game in Indianapolis early after several San Francisco 49ers players took a knee during the national anthem.

“I know this, we cannot … in the NFL in any way give the implication that we tolerate disrespecting the flag,” he said following the Cowboys’ 35-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers. “We know that there is a serious debate in this country about those issues, but there is no question in my mind that the National Football League and the Dallas Cowboys are going to stand up for the flag. So we’re clear.”

Jones and the rest of the team kneeled arm-in-arm before the national anthem before a game against the Arizona Cardinals two weeks ago, days after President Trump reignited the anthem-protest controversy.

The Dallas Cowboys, led by owner Jerry Jones, center, take a knee prior to the national anthem prior to an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The Dallas Cowboys, led by owner Jerry Jones, center, take a knee prior to the national anthem prior to an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)  (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Dallas players have stood on the sideline, many with hands over their hearts, during the anthem ever since former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling last season in protest of what he believed were instances of racial injustice in the U.S.

Jones said showing respect for the flag and the anthem is more important to him than any potential issues of team unity.

“There is no room here if it comes between looking non-supportive of our players and of each other or creating the impression that you’re disrespecting the flag, we will be non-supportive of each other,” Jones said. “We will not disrespect the flag.”

Jones said he wasn’t aware of whether any of his players had raised a fist at the end of the anthem before the Green Bay game.

“I don’t know about that,” Jones said. “But if there’s anything that is disrespectful to the flag, then we will not play. OK? Understand? If we are disrespecting the flag, then we won’t play. Period.”

1009 jerry jones

Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, wants his team to stand for the national anthem.  (AP)

Additionally, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said he changed his view on how his team should handle the national anthem. Ross said because Trump made standing for the national anthem about “patriotism,” he evolved the way he looks at the protest, according to the Miami Herald.

Ross now wants all of the Dolphins players to stand for the anthem. Three Dolphins players – Kenny Stills, Julian Thomas and Michael Thomas – remained off to the sideline during the anthem Sunday.

The NFL has said the game operations manual distributed to teams includes a reference to players standing for the anthem, but that it’s a policy and not a rule. The league has said it doesn’t plan to punish players over anthem protests.

“The league in mind should absolutely take the rules we’ve got on the books and make sure that we do not give the perception that we’re disrespecting the flag,” Jones said.

Different Meditation Practices Reshape Brain in Different Ways

Original Article

By Tereza Pultarova

Credit: Mooshny/Shutterstock

Different types of meditation change the brain in different ways, a new study finds.

In one of the largest studies on meditation and the human brain to date, a team of neuroscience researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany examined 300 participants in a nine-month meditation program. The project, called ReSource, consisted of three periods of three months each. During this program, the participants each practiced different three types of meditation focused on improving attention, compassion or cognitive skills.

At the beginning of the program, and then again at the end of each three-month period, the researchers took measurements of the participants’ brains using a variety of techniques, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The researchers found that not only did certain brain regions change substantially within the three-month periods, but these regions also changed differently based on the type of meditation the participants had practiced. [Mind Games: 7 Reasons You Should Meditation]

“We were surprised [by] how much can actually happen in three months, because three months isn’t that long,” said Veronika Engert, a neuroscience researcher at Max Planck. Engert was the lead author of one of two papers published on Oct. 4 by the research group in the journal Science Advances.

Engert told LiveScience that while changes in brain structure after intensive meditation programs have been observed before, this is the first time that researchers could clearly see the changes that followed a period of practicing a specific type of meditation.

The participants were divided into three groups, and practiced each type of meditation in a different order. This allowed the researchers to more reliably link the changes in the brain to the type of meditation that was being practiced.

For example, in one part of the study, a group of participants was asked to practice mindfulness-based attention for 30 minutes daily six days a week for three months. During this type of meditation, the participants were taught to focus on their breath with their eyes closed or to monitor tension in their bodies. At the end of the three-month period, the participants showed thickening in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area involved in complex thinking, decision-making and attention, Engert said.

After the three-month session that focused on mindfulness, that group moved on to types of mediation focused on developing social skills such as compassion and understanding a situation from a perspective of another person. As with the first session, the researchers observed different changes in the people’s brains after each of the next two sessions.

“If people train [in the skill of] perspective-taking, we see changes in brain regions that are important for these cognitive processes” Engert said. Or, if people focus on affect, or emotion, “then we see changes in brain regions that are important for emotional regulation,” she said.

But the participants’ brains weren’t the only things that were changing. The researchers also observed changes in the behavior of the participants, and these changes matched up with the changes in their brains.

In another part of the study, the researchers measured how the participants responded to a stressful situation similar to a job interview or an exam. The scientists found that all respondents who were practicing meditation reported feeling less stressed than people who were not meditating. However, only those participants practicing compassion and perspective-taking showed consistently lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva after the stressful situation, according to Engert.

“After this type of a stress test we usually see that cortisol rises after about 20 minutes,” said Engert. “This rise in cortisol was lower by 51 percent in those subjects who had the social training.”

One limitation of the study was that the participants included only healthy people who did not have any type of mental health condition. Engert said the researchers haven’t looked at whether meditation could be used to, for example, help people suffering from depressionor anxiety. However, Engert said, considering the fact that stress is a major contributor to a wide range of diseases that plague the modern world, the findings could help tailor approaches that could be used as preventive measures. Stress, according to Engert contributes not only to the development of depression but also cardiovascular or metabolic diseases.

In addition, the findings could help researchers develop tailored training programs for specific areas of the brain to help people perform better in various areas of their lives, she said, however, more research is needed to understand exactly how such programs affect the brain.

The team will now focus on studying the effects of the three mind-training techniques on children and people working in highly stressful professions, Engert said.

Originally publishedon Live Science.

Satanist Wins Transfer of Her Abortion Rights Case to the Missouri Sepreme Court

Original Article

By Max Londberg

A Missouri woman who is an adherent of the Satanic Temple won a victory in court last week in her quest to show that state abortion law violates her religious beliefs.

The Western District Court of Appeals ruled in her favor Tuesday, writing that her constitutional challenge — rare for its basis in religion — presented “a contested matter of right that involves fair doubt and reasonable room for disagreement.”

The woman, identified as Mary Doe in court documents, argued that her religion does not adhere to the idea that life begins at conception, and, because of that, the prerequisites for an abortion in Missouri are unconstitutionally violating her freedom of religion protected by the First Amendment.

The court ordered a transfer of the woman’s case to the Missouri Supreme Court.

The suit names Gov. Eric Greitens, Attorney General Josh Hawley and others as defendants.

Her claims were originally rejected by the Cole County Circuit Court, but she appealed the decision.

Doe underwent an abortion in May 2015 in St. Louis. But before she was able to have the procedure, she had to comply with the state’s informed consent law.

The law compels women to wait 72 hours between their initial visit and the procedure, view an active ultrasound and sign a form pledging that they’ve read a booklet that includes the line, “[t]he life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”

She declined to hear her fetus’ heartbeat and felt “guilt and shame,” according to court documents.

She claims that “the sole purpose of the law is to indoctrinate pregnant women into the belief held by some, but not all, Christians that a separate and unique human being begins at conception,” according to the court’s opinion. “Because the law does not recognize or include other beliefs, she contends that it establishes an official religion and makes clear that the state disapproves of her beliefs.”

The case would be the first of its kind to be heard by either the Missouri Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court, according to the Western District Court.

“Neither the Missouri Supreme Court nor the U.S. Supreme Court has considered whether a Booklet of this nature, an Ultrasound, an Audible Heartbeat Offer, and a seventy-two-hour Waiting Period violate the Religion Clause rights of pregnant women,” the court wrote.

Judge Thomas Newton issued the unanimous opinion. He wrote that Doe argued she must not support religious, philosophical or political beliefs that imbue her fetal tissue with an existence separate, apart or unique from her body.

“Because we believe that this case raises real and substantial constitutional claims, it is within the Missouri Supreme Court’s exclusive jurisdiction…” Newton wrote, “and we hereby order its transfer.”

Doe is an adherent of the Satanic Temple, according to court documents.

2015 New York Times profile of the Satanic Temple — formed by two people with a “shared distaste for organized religion” — pointed out how the group has used social media, its “eye-catching name” and imagery such as Baphomet, the “sabbatic goat,” to attract widespread media attention to its lawsuits.

The group’s mission is “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.”

The Satanic Temple is also a plaintiff in another, similar case in federal court, according to Missouri Lawyers Weekly.

Hawley said in a statement that he would vigorously defend “Missouri’s sensible waiting period law from this challenge by the Satanic Temple in the Missouri Supreme Court.”

Doe argues that the prerequisites to having an abortion reveal preferential treatment afforded to some in the state but not others.

“The State of Missouri is using its power to regulate abortion to promote some, but not all, religious beliefs that Fetal Tissue is, from conception, a separate and unique human being whose destruction is morally wrong,” she argued.

Doe is requesting that the sections in question of Missouri’s informed consent law be voided.

Some Private Citizens Complain of Health Symptoms After Visiting Cuba

Original Article

By Steve Dorsey

Some private U.S. citizens who traveled to Cuba say they have experienced symptoms similar to those suffered by at least 22 U.S. diplomats after mysterious acoustic attacks in Havana.

“Since we issued the September 29 Travel Warning, we have received a handful of reports from U.S. citizens who report they experienced similar symptoms following stays in Cuba,” a State Department official told CBS News. “We have no way of verifying whether they were harmed by the same attacks targeting official U.S. employees.”

At this point, nearly a year since the attacks targeting diplomats began in Havana, Cuba, U.S. investigators are no closer to determining either the source or the methods, according to officials close to the investigation underway by several agencies including the FBI and CIA.

Investigators have been probing whether the attacks were caused by something more than just mysterious sonic devices after U.S. government personnel complained about hearing loud, bizarre and unexplained noises in homes and hotels.

Medical records examined by CBS News show some Americans suffered mild traumatic brain injury, cognitive problems, hearing loss and other health issues. The victims include a handful of Americans connected to the U.S. intelligence community, according to sources.

The U.S. has ordered most of its personnel and all families to leave Cuba, and is expelling a proportional number of Cuban embassy officials from its embassy in Washington. But the U.S. has stopped short of blaming Cuba for the attacks, as investigators consider whether another country could be involved.

AG Directive Protects Religious Objectors to LGBT Rights

Original Article

By Rachel Zoll, Eric Tucker, and Sadie Gurman.

WASHINGTON (AP) — In an order that undercuts protections for LGBT people, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a sweeping directive to agencies Friday to do as much as possible to accommodate those who say their religious freedoms are being violated.

The guidance, an attempt to deliver on President Donald Trump’s pledge to his evangelical and other religious supporters, effectively lifts a burden from religious objectors to prove that their beliefs about marriage or other topics are sincerely held.

Under the new policy, a claim of a violation of religious freedom would be enough to override concerns for the civil rights of LGBT people and anti-discrimination protections for women and others. The guidelines are so sweeping that experts on religious liberty are calling them a legal powder-keg that could prompt wide-ranging lawsuits against the government.

“This is putting the world on notice: You better take these claims seriously,” said Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “This is a signal to the rest of these agencies to rethink the protections they have put in place on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Trump announced plans for the directive last May in a Rose Garden ceremony where he was surrounded by religious leaders. Since then, religious conservatives have anxiously awaited the Justice Department guidance, hoping for greatly strengthened protections for their beliefs amid the rapid acceptance of LGBT rights. Religious liberty experts said they would have to see how the guidance would be applied by individual agencies, both in crafting regulations and deciding how to enforce them. But experts said the directive clearly tilted the balance very far in favor of people of faith who do not want to recognize same-sex marriage.

“Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law,” Sessions wrote. “To the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian law firm, called it “a great day for religious freedom.” The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT-rights group, called the guidelines an “all-out assault” on civil rights and a “sweeping license to discriminate.”

The new document lays the groundwork for legal positions that the Trump administration intends to take in future religious freedom cases, envisioning sweeping protections for faith-based beliefs and practices in private workplaces, at government jobs, in awarding government grants and in running prisons.

In issuing the memo, Sessions is injecting the department into a thicket of highly charged legal questions that have repeatedly reached the U.S. Supreme Court, most notably in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case that said corporations with religious objections could opt out of a health law requirement to cover contraceptives for women.

The memo makes clear the Justice Department’s support of that opinion in noting that the primary religious freedom law — the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 — protects the rights not only of people to worship as they choose but also of corporations, companies and private firms.

In what is likely to be one of the more contested aspects of the document, the Justice Department states that religious organizations can hire workers based on religious beliefs and an employee’s willingness “to adhere to a code of conduct.” Many conservative Christian schools and faith-based agencies require employees to adhere to moral codes that ban sex outside marriage and same-sex relationships, among other behavior.

The document also says the government improperly infringes on individuals’ religious liberty by banning an aspect of their practice or by forcing them to take an action that contradicts their faith. As an example, Justice Department lawyers say government efforts to require employers to provide contraceptives to their workers “substantially burdens their religious practice.” Separately Friday, the Health and Human Services Department allowed more employers with religious objections to opt out of the birth control coverage rule in the Affordable Care Act.

Session’s directive affirms Trump’s earlier directive to the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce the Johnson Amendment, which bars churches and tax-exempt groups from endorsing political candidates. The policy has only rarely been enforced in the past.

The department’s civil rights division will now be involved in reviewing all agency actions to make sure they don’t conflict with federal law regarding religious liberty. Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council, in a statement lauding Trump, said his group has set up a hotline for federal employees and others who feel they’ve faced discrimination over their religious beliefs.

New Observations Deepen Mystery of “Alien Megastructure” Star

Original Article

By Mike Wall

Artist’s illustration depicting a hypothetical dust ring orbiting KIC 8462852, also known as Boyajian’s Star or Tabby’s Star. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

There’s a prosaic explanation for at least some of the weirdness of “Tabby’s star,” it would appear.

The bizarre long-term dimming of Tabby’s star—also known as Boyajian’s star, or, more formally, KIC 8462852—is likely caused by dust, not a giant network of solar panels or any other “megastructure” built by advanced aliens, a new study suggests.

Astronomers came to this conclusion after noticing that this dimming was more pronounced in ultraviolet (UV) than infrared light. Any object bigger than a dust grain would cause uniform dimming across all wavelengths, study team members said. [13 Ways to Hunt Intelligent Aliens]

“This pretty much rules out the alien megastructure theory, as that could not explain the wavelength-dependent dimming,” lead author Huan Meng of the University of Arizona said in a statement. “We suspect, instead, there is a cloud of dust orbiting the star with a roughly 700-day orbital period.”

STRANGE BRIGHTNESS DIPS

KIC 8462852, which lies about 1,500 light-years from Earth, has generated a great deal of intrigue and speculation since 2015. That year, a team led by astronomer Tabetha Boyajian (hence the star’s nicknames) reported that KIC 8462852 had dimmed dramatically several times over the past half-decade or so, once by 22 percent.

No orbiting planet could cause such big dips, so researchers began coming up with possible alternative explanations. These included swarms of comets or comet fragments, interstellar dust and the famous (but unlikely) alien-megastructure hypothesis.

The mystery deepened after the initial Boyajian et al. study. For example, other research groups found that, in addition to the occasional short-term brightness dips, Tabby’s star dimmed overall by about 20 percent between 1890 and 1989. In addition, a 2016 paper determined that its brightness decreased by 3 percent from 2009 to 2013.

The new study, which was published online Tuesday (Oct. 3) in The Astrophysical Journal, addresses such longer-term events.

From January 2016 to December 2016, Meng and his colleagues (who include Boyajian) studied Tabby’s star in infrared and UV light using NASA’s Spitzer and Swift space telescopes, respectively. They also observed it in visible light during this period using the 27-inch-wide (68 centimeters) telescope at AstroLAB IRIS, a public observatory near the Belgian village of Zillebeke.

The observed UV dip implicates circumstellar dust—grains large enough to stay in orbit around Tabby’s star despite the radiation pressure but small enough that they don’t block light uniformly in all wavelengths, the researchers said.

MYSTERIES REMAIN

The new study does not solve all of KIC 8462852’s mysteries, however. For example, it does not address the short-term 20 percent brightness dips, which were detected by NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope. (Kepler is now observing a different part of the sky during its K2 extended mission and will not follow up on Tabby’s star for the forseeable future.)

And a different study—led by Joshua Simon of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Pasadena, California—just found that Tabby’s star experienced two brightening spells over the past 11 years. (Simon and his colleagues also determined that the star has dimmed by about 1.5 percent from February 2015 to now.)

“Up until this work, we had thought that the star’s changes in brightness were only occurring in one direction—dimming,” Simon said in a statement. “The realization that the star sometimes gets brighter in addition to periods of dimming is incompatible with most hypotheses to explain its weird behavior.”

You can read the Simon et al. study for free at the online preprint site arXiv.org.

The FBI’s Hunt for Two Missing Piglets Reveals the Federal Cover-Up of Barbaric Factory Farms

Original Article

By Glenn Greenwald

This article includes graphic images some readers may find disturbing.

FBI AGENTS ARE devoting substantial resources to a multistate hunt for two baby piglets that the bureau believes are named Lucy and Ethel. The two piglets were removed over the summer from the Circle Four Farm in Utah by animal rights activists who had entered the Smithfield Foods-owned factory farm to film the brutal, torturous conditions in which the pigs are bred in order to be slaughtered.

While filming the conditions at the Smithfield facility, activists saw the two ailing baby piglets laying on the ground, visibly ill and near death, surrounded by the rotting corpses of dead piglets. “One was swollen and barely able to stand; the other had been trampled and was covered in blood,” said Wayne Hsiung of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), which filmed the facility and performed the rescue. Due to various illnesses, he said, the piglets were unable to eat or digest food and were thus a fraction of the normal weight for piglets their age.

Rather than leave the two piglets at Circle Four Farm to wait for an imminent and painful death, the DxE activists decided to rescue them. They carried them out of the pens where they had been suffering and took them to an animal sanctuary to be treated and nursed back to health.

Smithfield-Circle-Four-Farms-piglets-pigs-factory-pig-aminal-cruelty-abuse-08-1506966754

DxE photograph depicting piglets huddled up against their mothers at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah. DxE says the piglets were sick or starving.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

This single Smithfield Foods farm breeds and then slaughters more than 1 million pigs each year. One of the odd aspects of animal mistreatment in the U.S. is that species regarded as more intelligent and emotionally complex — dogs, dolphins, cats, primates — generally receive more public concern and more legal protection. Yet pigs – among the planet’s most intelligent, social, and emotionally complicated species, capable of great joy, play, love, connection, suffering and pain, at least on a par with dogs — receive almost no protections, and are subject to savage systematic abuse by U.S. factory farms.

At Smithfield, like most industrial pig farms, the abuse and torture primarily comes not from rogue employees violating company procedures. Instead, the cruelty is inherent in the procedures themselves. One of the most heinous industry-wide practices is one that DxE activists encountered in abundance at Circle Four: gestational crating.

Where that technique is used, pigs are placed in a crate made of iron bars that is the exact length and width of their bodies, so they can do nothing for their entire lives but stand on a concrete floor, never turn around, never see any outdoors, never even see their tails, never move more than an inch. That was the condition in which the activists found the rotting piglet corpses and the two ailing piglets they rescued.

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Piles of dead and rotting piglets are piled up behind a sow, who is wedged into a crate so tightly that she cannot move away from the mess at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Female pigs give birth in this condition. They are put in so-called farrowing crates when they give birth, and their piglets run underneath them to suckle and are often trampled to death. The sows are bred repeatedly this way until their fertility declines, at which point they are slaughtered and turned into meat.

The pigs are so desperate to get out of their crates that they often spend weeks trying to bite through the iron bars until their gums gush blood, bash their heads against the walls, and suffer a disease in which their organs end up mangled in the wrong places, from the sheer physical trauma of trying to escape from a tiny space or from acute anxiety (called “organ torsion”).

So cruel is the practice that in 2014, Canada effectively banned its usage, as the European Union had done two years earlier. Nine U.S. states, most of which host very few farms, have banned gestational crating (in 2014, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, with his eye on the GOP primary in farm-friendly Iowa, vetoed a bill that would have made his state the 10th).

But in the U.S. states where factory farms actually thrive, these devices continue to be widely used, which means a vast majority of pigs in the U.S. are subjected to them. The suffering, pain, and death these crates routinely cause were in ample evidence at Smithfield Foods, as accounts, photos, and videos from DxE demonstrate.

FBI raids animal sanctuaries

Under normal circumstances, a large industrial farming company such as Smithfield Foods would never notice that two sick piglets of the millions it breeds and then slaughters were missing. Nor would they care: A sick and dying piglet has no commercial value to them.

Yet the rescue of these two particular piglets has literally become a federal case — by all appearances, a matter of great importance to the Department of Justice. On the last day of August, a six-car armada of FBI agents in bulletproof vests, armed with search warrants, descended upon two small shelters for abandoned farm animals: Ching Farm Rescue in Riverton, Utah, and Luvin Arms in Erie, Colorado.

These sanctuaries have no connection to DxE or any other rescue groups. They simply serve as a shelter for sick, abandoned, or otherwise injured animals. Run by a small staff and a team of animal-loving volunteers, they are open to the public to teach about farm animals.

The attachments to the search warrants specified that the FBI agents could take “DNA samples (blood, hair follicles or ear clippings) to be seized from swine with the following characteristics: I. Pink/white coloring; II. Docked tails; III. Approximately 5 to 9 months in age; IV. Any swine with a hole in right ear.”

The FBI agents searched the premises of both shelters. They demanded DNA samples of two piglets they said were named Lucy and Ethel, in order to determine whether they were the two ailing piglets who had been rescued weeks earlier from Smithfield.

A representative of Luvin Arms, who insisted on anonymity due to fear of the pending criminal investigation, described the events. The FBI agents ordered staff and volunteers to stay away from the animals and then approached the piglets. To obtain the DNA samples, the state veterinarians accompanying the FBI used a snare to pressurize the piglet’s snout, thus immobilizing her in pain and fear, and then cut off close to two inches of the piglet’s ear.

The piglet’s pain was so severe, and her screams so piercing, that the sanctuary’s staff members screamed and cried. Even the FBI agents were so sufficiently disturbed by the resulting trauma, that they directed the veterinarians not to subject the second piglet to the procedure. The sanctuary representative recounted that the piglet who had part of her ear removed spent weeks depressed and scared, barely moving or eating, and still has not fully recovered. The FBI “receipt” given to the sanctuaries shows they took DNA samples “from swine.”

Several volunteers at one of the raided animal shelters said they were followed back to their homes by FBI agents, who dramatically questioned them in front of family members and neighbors. And there is even reason to believe that the bureau has been surveilling the activists’ private communications regarding the rescue of this piglet duo.

The FBI specified as part of its search that it was seeking DNA samples from piglets they said were named “Lucy” and “Ethel.” But those were not the names the activists used when publicly discussing the rescue of the two piglets. In their videos about the rescue, they called the pair “Lily” and “Lizzie.” Lucy and Ethel were code names the activists used internally, suggesting that agents were surveilling the activists’ communications — either electronically or through informants — in an effort to find the two piglets and build a criminal case against the group.

Subsequent events confirmed that this show of FBI force was designed to intimidate the sanctuaries, which played no role in the rescue. Weeks after the FBI’s execution of the two search warrants, Luvin Arms — in the midst of an interview with The Intercept — received a telephone call from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, claiming the agency had received “a complaint” that the sanctuary lacked the legally required licenses for animal shelters that are open to the public. “We had never had an FBI visit or a USDA call about licenses, and now suddenly, within weeks, both happened,” the sanctuary representative said.

Lily-Screen-Shot-2017-07-09-at-4.59.35-PM-1506978012

A piglet that was ill and close to death at Smithfield recovers as she is cared for after being rescued.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Retaliation for exposing cruel treatment

What has vested these two piglets with such importance to the FBI is that their rescue is now part of what has become an increasingly visible public campaign by DxE and other activists to highlight the barbaric suffering and abuse that animals endure on farms like Circle Four. Obviously, the FBI and Smithfield — the nation’s largest industrial farm corporation — don’t really care about the missing piglets they are searching for. What they care about is the efficacy of a political campaign intent on showing the public how animals are abused at factory farms, and they are determined to intimidate those responsible.

Deterring such campaigns and intimidating the activists behind them is, manifestly, the only goal here. What made this piglet rescue particularly intolerable was an article that appeared in the New York Times days after the rescue, which touted the use of virtual reality technology by animal rights activists to allow the public to immerse in the full experience of seeing what takes place in these companies’ farms. The article featured a photograph of the DxE activists rescuing the piglets from the Smithfield farm:

The Times article was published July 6. The search warrant against the sanctuaries was obtained the following month, in mid-August, and then executed on August 31. In the interim, the piglets had become stars of a clearly effective campaign against Smithfield Foods. 

In response to questions from The Intercept, Smithfield insisted that it does not abuse its animals. But, as is typical for factory farms, the company offered little more then generalized denials, accompanied by vague accusations that the videos and photos the activists took are somehow “distorted.”

After they rescued the two piglets, the DxE activists did not try to hide what they had done: They did the opposite. They used a tactic known as “open rescue,” the purpose of which is to publicly detail what has been done to help the public understand the true nature of the abuses.

The activists wrote about the rescue in social media postings that went viral, detailing the horrific conditions they witnessed at Smithfield and describing the suffering of the piglets. They posted videos to Facebook and YouTube that they filmed of the farm and the rescue as it happened, with other videos showing Lily and Lizzie being treated at the sanctuaries and growing into happy, playful, healthy adolescents.

Video: Direct Action Everywhere

Plainly, the “crime” of these activists that has galvanized the FBI is not the “theft” of two dying piglets; it is political activism and investigative journalism, which exposes the cruelty and abuse at the heart of this powerful industry.

In response to a few media reports on the FBI raids at the sanctuaries, bureau spokesperson Sandra Barker told the Washington Post: “I can say that we were at the two locations conducting court-authorized activity related to an ongoing investigation. Because it’s ongoing, I’m not able to provide any more details at this time.”

To an industry feeling endangered by growing public disgust over conditions at industrial farms — driven by scandals within the meat, pork, and poultry sectors — Lily and Lizzie are political and journalistic threats. Animals like them are vital for enabling animal rights activists to demonstrate to the public in a visceral, personalized way that this industry generates massive profit by monstrously and unnecessarily torturing living beings who are emotionally complex and experience great suffering.

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Rescued piglets Lizzie and Lily.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Government power abused to intimidate and punish activists

The Justice Department’s grave attention to a case of two missing piglets reflects how vigilantly the U.S. government uses extreme measures to protect the agricultural industry — not from unjust economic loss, violent crime, or theft, but from political embarrassment and accurate reporting that damages the industry’s reputation.

A sweeping framework of draconian laws — designed to shield the industry from criticism and deter and punish its critics — has been enacted across the country by federal and state legislatures that are captive to the industry’s high-paid lobbyists. The most notorious of these measures are the “ag-gag” laws, which make publishing videos of farm conditions taken as part of undercover operations a felony, punishable by years in prison.

Though many courts, including most recently a federal court in Utah, have struck down these laws as an unconstitutional assault on speech and press freedoms, they continue to be used in numerous states to harass and, in some cases, prosecute animal rights activists. As the Times article notes, these ag-gag laws are one reason activists are forced to turn to virtual reality: to show what really happens inside industrial farms without running the risk of prosecution.

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Many mother pigs had nipples that were torn into bloody shreds from feeding starving piglets.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Even more extreme and menacing is the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. As I described previously when reporting on the arrest of two young activists — who faced 10 years in prison for freeing minks from farm cages before the animals could be sliced to death and turned into luxury coats — nonviolent animal rights activists are often designated as “terrorists” under the AETA and are treated in the court system as such, even when no human beings are hurt and the economic loss is minimal:

As is typical for lobbyist and industry-supported bills, the AETA passed with overwhelming bipartisan support (its two prime Senate sponsors were James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.) and then was signed into law by George W. Bush.

This “terrorism” law is violated if one “intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property (including animals or records) used by an animal enterprise … for the purpose of damaging or interfering with” its operations. If you do that — and note that only “damage to property” but not to humans is required — then you are guilty of “domestic terrorism” under the law.

Prior to the 2006 enactment of the AETA, animal rights activism that damaged property was already illegal under a 1992 federal law, as well as various state laws, and subject to severe punishments. The primary purpose of the new 2006 law was to expand the scope of criminal offenses to include plainly protected forms of political protest, and to heighten the legal punishments and intensify social condemnation by literally labeling animal-rights activists as “domestic terrorists.”

The factory farm industry and its armies of lobbyists wield great influence in the halls of federal and state power, while animal rights activists wield virtually none. This imbalance has produced increasingly oppressive laws, accompanied by massive law enforcement resources devoted to punishing animal activists even for the most inconsequential nonviolent infractions — as the FBI search warrant and raid in search of “Lucy and Ethel” illustrates.

The U.S. government, of course, has always protected and served the interests of industry. Beginning when most of the nation was fed by small farms, federal agencies have been particularly protective of agricultural industry. That loyalty has only intensified as family farms have nearly disappeared, replaced by industrial factory farms where animals are viewed purely as commodities, instruments for profit, and treated with unconstrained cruelty.

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Downed pigs languish in their own feces at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Lately, opposition is emerging from unusual places. Utah federal judge Robert J. Shelby, an Obama appointee who is a lifelong Republican, recently struck down the state’s ag-gag law on First Amendment grounds, noting in his ruling:

For as long as farmers have put food on American tables, the government has endeavored to support and protect the agricultural industry. … In short, governmental protection of the American agricultural industry is not new, and has taken a variety of forms over the last two hundred years. What is new, however, is the recent spate of state laws that have assumed an altogether novel approach: restricting speech related to agricultural operations.

As Shelby detailed, those ag-gag laws were not used until activists began having success in showing the public the true extent of cruelty that industrial farms impose on animals:

Nobody was ever charged under these [early ag-gag] laws, and for nearly two decades no new ag-gag legislation was introduced. That changed, however, after a series of high profile undercover investigations were made public in the mid to late 2000s.

To name just a few, in 2007, an undercover investigator at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company in California filmed workers forcing sick cows, many unable to walk, into the “kill box” by repeatedly shocking them with electric prods, jabbing them in the eye, prodding them with a forklift, and spraying water up their noses. A 2009 investigation at Hy-Line Hatchery in Iowa revealed hundreds of thousands of unwanted day-old male chicks being funneled by conveyor belt into a macerator to be ground up live.

That same year, undercover investigators at a Vermont slaughterhouse operated by Bushway Packing obtained similarly gruesome footage of days-old calves being kicked, dragged, and skinned alive. A few years later, an undercover investigator at E6 Cattle Company in Texas filmed workers beating cows on the head with hammers and pickaxes and leaving them to die. And later that year, at Sparboe Farms in Iowa, undercover investigators documented hens with gaping, untreated wounds laying eggs in cramped conditions among decaying corpses.

The publication of these and other undercover videos had devastating consequences for the agricultural facilities involved. The videos led to boycotts of facilities by McDonald’s, Target, Sam’s Club, and others. They led to bankruptcy and closure of facilities and criminal charges against employees and owners. They led to statewide ballot initiatives banning certain farming practices. And they led to the largest meat recall in United States history, a facility’s entire two years’ worth of production.

Over the next three years, sixteen states introduced ag-gag legislation.

In other words, both the legislative process and law enforcement agencies are being blatantly exploited — misused — to protect not the property rights but the reputational interests of this industry. Having the FBI — in the midst of real domestic terrorism threats, hurricane-ravaged communities, and intricate corporate criminality — send agents around the country to animal sanctuaries in search of DNA samples for two missing piglets may seem like overkill to the point of being laughable. But it is entirely unsurprising in the context of how law enforcement resources are used, and on whose behalf.

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A piglet at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Smithfield Food’s defenses

It makes sense that Smithfield Foods would be petrified of the public learning of many of its practices. But in this particular case, they are specifically trying to hide the pure evils of gestational crates. This video, taken by an investigator with the Humane Society in 2012, shows the widespread but hideous reality of gestational crates at a Smithfield farm:

In response to the public controversy over this practice, generated by activists filming what was going on, Smithfield announced in 2012 that they would phase out gestational crating in 10 years — by 2022. They then claimed that by the end of 2017, they would transition completely to “group housing systems.” But as the DxE videos show, gestation crates are exactly what activists found in abundance when they visited Smithfield’s Circle Four.

Indeed, when Wayne Hsiung and DxE visited Circle Four over the summer, they saw no signs whatsoever of any construction or reform efforts to move away from gestational crates, Hsiung told the Intercept. As the videos show, Circle Four had thousands of pigs suffering in such crates. That was where the activists found the two piglets, close to death.

When Smithfield learned that The Intercept was reporting on these issues, a spokesperson emailed a statement and invited further questions. The statement claims that in response to DxE’s reporting, Smithfield “immediately launched an investigation and completed a third-party audit,” and “the audit results show no findings of animal mistreatment.”

This is a typical industry tactic: When they claim, as they almost always do, that their paid auditors discovered “no findings of animal mistreatment,” what they mean is that there was no evidence that their employees engaged in activities that corporate procedures explicitly prohibit (such as beating the animals or administering electric shock).

But what the audit does not do is ask whether the procedures themselves (such as gestational crating) are abusive and thus constitute “mistreatment.” Smithfield failed to provide a response to The Intercept’s follow-up questions about what it does and does not mean when their auditors claim no “mistreatment” was discovered; the company simply reiterated that “the animals observed on the farm by the audit team were in good condition, appeared comfortable, free of clinical disease, and showed no signs of fear or intimidation in the presence of people.” Simply review the DxE video above, and the featured photos showing what they found at Circle Four, to judge for yourself.

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Cramped conditions lead to many pigs being trampled to death at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

In its statement, Smithfield also accused the activists who rescued the two piglets of “risk[ing] the life of the animals they stole and the lives of the animals living on our farms by trespassing” — an odd claim from a company that plans to slaughter all of those same animals. When asked to specify how the activists endangered the lives of the sick animals they rescued, Smithfield told The Intercept that “the video’s creators violated Smithfield’s strict biosecurity policy, which prevents the spread of disease on farms.” The statement added: “The piglets were not ‘extremely ill’ or ‘on the verge of death.’ These piglets, along with other animals living on the farm, are well cared for throughout their lifetime.”

But in response, Hsiung told the Intercept: “Our activists use better biosecurity protocols than the company’s own employees, as evidenced by the dead, rotting piglets on the farm. Allowing baby animals to rot to death is, in fact, a serious violation of biosecurity and food safety. Taking photographs of animal cruelty is not.”

Smithfield also accused the activists of manipulating their film, claiming that “the video appears to be highly edited and even staged in an attempt to manufacture an animal care issue where one does not exist.” But Smithfield did not respond to this question from The Intercept about the staging allegation: “How would these activists stage hundreds of pigs in gestation crates and dozens of piglets rotting to death — all in virtual reality, no less? It would take a Hollywood blockbuster budget and the most sophisticated team of computer-generated imagery for that. What’s Smithfield’s theory about what they fabricated in this video?”

The only specifics Smithfield offered was the assertion that “based on the review of animal care experts, it appears piglets were moved from one section of the barn to another to support the inaccuracies and falsehoods described in the video by its creators.”

But Hsiung said: “The video speaks for itself. I don’t know how we can fake a rotting piglet.” Regarding the accusation that they moved piglets, he added: “I imagine what they are seeing is piglets in the wrong sort of pen, gestation rather than farrowing. But that is a testament to their own failed animal care practices. We were shocked and horrified, as well, to see piglets born and housed in inappropriate conditions that left them exposed to trauma.”

In sum, the industry has long responded to these videos — which they tried in the first instance to use their lobbying power to criminalize — by insisting that the videos are distorted. Yet they never specify what these supposed distortions are. Now that activists are using virtual reality technology, which allows the viewer to see everything the activists see, such claims are even more untenable than they were before.

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A rescued piglet, named Lily, recovers under a blanket.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Revolving door with agribusiness

A recent change in U.S. political discourse — spurred by events such as the 2008 financial crisis, the Occupy movement, and the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign — is the increasingly common use of the words “oligarchy” and “plutocracy” to describe the country’s political system. Though dramatic, the terms, melded together, describe a fairly simple and common state of affairs: power exerted by and exercised for the exclusive benefit of a small group of people who wield the greatest financial power.

It is hard to imagine a more vivid illustration than watching FBI agents don bulletproof vests and execute DNA search warrants for Lily and Lizzie, all to deter and intimidate critics of a savage industry that funds politicians and the lobbyists that direct them.

Substantial attention has been paid over the last several years to the “revolving door” that runs Washington — industry executives being brought in to run the agencies that regulate their industries, followed by them returning to that industry once their industry-serving government work is done. That’s how Wall Street barons come to “regulate” banks, how factory owners come to “regulate” workplace safety laws, how oil executives come to “regulate” environmental protections — only to leave the public sector and return back to lavish rewards from those same industries for a job well done.

Though it receives modest attention, this revolving door spins faster, and in more blatantly sleazy ways, when it comes to the USDA and its mandate to safeguard animal welfare. The USDA is typically dominated by executives from the very factory farm industries that are most in need of vibrant regulation.

For that reason, animal welfare laws are woefully inadequate, but the ways in which they are enforced is typically little more than a bad joke. Industrial farming corporations like Smithfield know they can get away with any abuse or “mislabeling” deceit (such as misleading claims about their treatment of animals) because the officials who have been vested with the sole authority to enforce these laws — federal USDA officials — are so captive to their industry. Courts have repeatedly ruled that private individuals, animal rights groups, and even state authorities have no right to sue to enforce animal welfare laws, because the “exclusive authority” lies with the U.S. government, which has no real interest in actually enforcing those laws.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue addressed the School Nutrition Association convention at the Georgia World Congress Center Wednesday, July 12, 2017, in Atlanta. The former Georgia governor spoke about his decision to relax requirements spearheaded by the Obama administration. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on July 12, 2017, in Atlanta.

Photo: Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP

The current secretary of agriculture, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (pictured, right), is just one example, but he vividly highlights the revolving door form of legalized corruption that dominates this industry.

Perdue was raised on a Georgia row farm and obtained his doctorate in veterinary medicine. Despite those seemingly benign credentials, the factory farm industry celebrated the news of his nomination by President Donald Trump. The National Chicken Council, for instance, demanded that he be “confirmed expeditiously.” The enthusiasm was for good reason.

“Georgia was pretty friendly to food-industry interests during Perdue’s two terms,” Grub Street reported, and Perdue “took about $330,000 in contributions from Monsanto and other agribusinesses for his campaigns.” In 2009, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, the lobbying group for genetically modified foods, named Perdue its “Governor of the Year” because, it said, “he has been a stalwart advocate of the biosciences in Georgia and truly understands the promise of our industry.” As Georgia governor, Perdue supported the rapid expansion of factory farm giant Perdue Farms (to which he has no familial relation), with its long history of allegations of animal abuse.

And Perdue has extensive ties to the agribusiness sector he’s now supposed to oversee and regulate. The firm of which he is the founding partner and his family owns and runs, Perdue Partners LLC, is an agribusiness at the heart of this industry:

After being confirmed, Perdue wasted little time lavishing his agribusiness industry with gifts. In February, the USDA “abruptly removed inspection reports and other information from its website about the treatment of animals at thousands of research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities,” reported the Washington Post. Then, two senators who have received large sums from farmers and ranchers — Democrat Debbie Stabenow and Republican Pat Roberts — agitated for the recession of the Obama administration’s mild regulations on organic eggs, designed to improve conditions for chickens, and the Perdue-led USDA “put the new standard on hold and suggested that it might even be withdrawn.”

In sum, with industry insiders dominating the sole agency (USDA) with the authority to regulate factory farms, animals that are captive, abused, tortured, and slaughtered en masse have little chance, even when it comes to just applying existing laws with a minimal amount of diligence. The politics of the U.S. — including the fact that a key farm state, Iowa, plays such a central role in presidential elections — means there are massive forces arrayed behind factory farms, and very few in support of animal welfare.

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Piglets are raised in cramped, filthy conditions at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

From fringe to the mainstream

But the animal rights movement, despite receiving relatively scant media attention and operating under the threat of federal prosecutions for terrorism, boasts some of the nation’s more effective, shrewd, and tenacious political activists. They have made significant strides in turning the public against the worst of the prevailing practices on these farms, and more generally, in forcing into the public consciousness the knowledge of how this industry imposes suffering, abuse, and torture on living beings on a mass and systematic scale, all to maximize profits. 

Just a decade ago, the cause of animal cruelty and exploitation was a fringe position, rarely appearing outside far-left circles. That has all changed, thanks largely to the efforts of these activists, many of whom have been imprisoned for their efforts. Most activists say that it was unimaginable even a decade ago for major newspaper columnists such as the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof or Frank Bruni to take up their cause, yet that’s precisely what they have done in a series of columns over the last several years.

“If you torture a single chicken and are caught, you’re likely to be arrested. If you scald thousands of chickens alive, you’re an industrialist who will be lauded for your acumen,” Kristof wrote in one 2015 column. He described the savagery of the process used to slaughter chickens by the millions and scornfully dismissed industry’s claim that no abuse or mistreatment was found by their auditors.

In a column the year before, Kristof detailed the barbarism and misleading claims that chickens are “humanely raised” at Perdue Farms — the company USDA Secretary Perdue helped to expand — and concluded: “Torture a single chicken and you risk arrest. Abuse hundreds of thousands of chickens for their entire lives? That’s agribusiness.”

And that’s to say nothing of the other significant costs from industrial farming. There are serious health risks posed by the fecal waste produced at such farms. And the excessive, reckless use of antibiotics common at factory farms can create treatment-resistant bacterial strains capable of infecting and killing humans. There is also increasing awareness that industrial farming meaningfully exacerbates climate problems, with some research suggesting that it produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined. Reviewing the meat industry in 2014, Kristof summarized what he learned this way:

Our industrial food system is unhealthy. It privatizes gains but socializes the health and environmental costs. It rewards shareholders — Tyson’s stock price has quadrupled since early 2009 — but can be ghastly for the animals and humans it touches.

Bruni wrote in a 2014 column headlined “According Animals Dignity” of “a broadening, deepening concern about animals that’s no longer sufficiently captured by the phrase ‘animal welfare.’” Instead of simply curbing the most egregious abuses, he wrote, a more principled awareness of the intrinsic worth and rights of animals is emerging: “an era of what might be called animal dignity is upon us.”

Some progress is indeed undeniable. Laws are being re-written to recognize that dogs and other pets are more than property; places such as Sea World and Ringling Brothers’ circuses can no longer feature imprisoned animals forced to perform; and some states are enacting laws criminalizing the worst extremes of animal cruelty.

One U.S. Senator, Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey, has placed animal rights protections as one of his legislative priorities. Booker, who has been a vegetarian since college and recently announced his transition to full veganism, has sponsored a spate of bills to fortify the rights of animals: from banning the selling of shark fins to limiting the legal uses of animals for testing to requiring humane treatment of animals in all federal facilities.

While he has been attacked by the New York Post for “animal rights extremism” after he announced his veganism, Booker now regularly and unflinchingly invokes the core principles of animal rights: “I want to try to live my own values as consciously and purposefully as I can. Being vegan for me is a cleaner way of not participating in practices that don’t align with my values.” Rather than these legislative efforts being scorned, a spokesman for Booker told the Intercept that “Sens. Merkley and Whitehouse have been reliable allies on animal testing and other efforts; the Shark Fin effort has a number of cosponsors as well; and Sens. Schatz, Markey, Warren, Feinstein, Blumenthal have been partners as well.”

The devastating costs of industrial farming and the mass torture and slaughter on which it depends — moral, spiritual, physical, environmental — are being documented in scholarly circles with increasing clarity. A group of public health specialists jointly wrote in a New York Times op-ed in May: “This sweeping change in meat production and consumption has had grave consequences for our health and environment, and these problems will grow only worse if current trends continue.”

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Rescued pig Lizzie gives affection to her rescuer, Wayne Hsuing of DxE.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

In general, the core moral and philosophical question at the heart of animal rights activism is now being seriously debated: Namely, what gives humans the right or justification to abuse, exploit, and torture non-human species? If there comes a day when some other species (broadly defined) — such as machines — surpass humans in intellect and cognitive complexity, will they have a valid moral claim to treat humans as commodities whose suffering and death can be assigned no value?

The irreconcilable contradiction of lavishing love and protection on dogs and cats, while torturing and slaughtering farm animals capable of a deep emotional life and great suffering, is becoming increasingly apparent. British anthropologist Jane Goodall, in the preface to Amy Hatkoff’s groundbreaking book “The Inner World of Farm Animals,” examined the science of animal cognition and concluded: “Farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear, and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined … They are individuals in their own right.”

All of these changes have been driven by animal rights activists who, often at great risk to themselves, have forced the public to be aware of the savagery and cruelty supported through food consumption choices. That’s precisely why this industry is so obsessed with intimidating, threatening, and outlawing this form of activism: because it is so effective.

Dissidents are tolerated to the extent they remain ineffectual and unthreatening. When they start to become successful — that is, threatening to powerful interests — the backlash is inevitable. The tools used against them are increasingly extreme as their success grows.

To call the FBI’s actions in raiding these animal sanctuaries a profound waste of its resources is both an understatement and beside the point. The real short-term goal is to target those most vulnerable — volunteer-supported animal shelters — to scare them out of taking care of rescued animals. And the ultimate goal is to fortify and intensify a climate of intimidation and fear designed to deter animal rights activists from reporting on the horrifying realities of these factory farms.

There is a temptation to turn away from and ignore this mass suffering and cruelty because it’s so painful to confront, so much more pleasant to remain unaware of it. Animal rights activists are determined to prevent us from doing so, and we should all feel gratitude for their increasing success in making us see what we are enabling when we consume the products of this barbaric and sociopathic industry.

Correction: October 7, 2017
An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed authorship of the book “The Inner World of Farm Animals” to Jane Goodall. It was written by Amy Hatkoff. Goodall wrote the foreword to the book, from which her quote in this story was drawn.

Indiana Supreme Court: Sex With Minors OK, But It’s Illegal to Sext Them

Original Article

By David Kravets

Ullstein Bild/ Getty Images

In Indiana, it’s legal for adults to have consensual sex with minors aged 16 and 17. But it’s illegal to sext those same minors, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled this week. The decision reinstated sexting charges against an adult who texted nude images of himself to a girl he knew was 16.

The state’s highest court, ruling 5-0, noted that the charges against 40-year-old defendant Sameer Thakar, a high school teacher who has been removed from his post, are “inconsistent” when balanced against the state’s laws on consensual sex. But state lawmakers, and not the Supreme Court, can rectify that if they want to, the court ruled.

“The Dissemination Statute clearly protects minors under the age of 18 from the dissemination of matter harmful to them,” Justice Mark S. Massa wrote (PDF). “Whether this inconsistent statutory treatment of minors aged 16 and 17 is advisable with respect to sexually-related activity is a matter for the legislature, and whether Thakar’s alleged conduct violated the Dissemination Statute is a matter for the jury.”

A lower court had tossed the charges last year because Indiana’s law allowed minors as young as 16 to consent to have sexual relations. Thakar did not have sex with the girl, who was in Oregon. The defendant, who faces a maximum of three years in prison if convicted, argued that it was “patently illogical” to hold someone criminally liable for sending nude pictures to a minor—yet it’s legal to expose themselves to minors in person.

The Indiana ruling is among a string of cases in which sexting laws are clearly nonsensical. Last month, for example, the Washington Supreme Court upheld the conviction under state child porn laws of a 17-year-old boy who sent a picture of his own erect penis to a 22-year-old woman. The case illustrates a bizarre situation in which the juvenile defendant was both the perpetrator of transmitting child porn and the victim of it.

Last year, we reported on a similar case out of Texas, where it’s legal to have sex with somebody as young as 17 years old. But it’s considered child pornography to have nude pictures of somebody under 18, even if he or she is 17 and is the same person you had sex with.

Then there was the 2015 case of two North Carolina teens charged with child porn accusations for consensually sexting one another. One of the teens was accused of possessing child pornography because he had nude photos of himself on his phone. The arrest warrant for the boy’s girlfriend described her as both a victim and a perpetrator.

The Changing Reasons Why Women Cheat on Their Husbands

Original Article

By Kim BrooksHumans are now mostly monogamous, but this has been the norm for just the past 1,000 years.<br /><br />Scientists at University College London believe monogamy emerged so males could protect their infants from other males in ancestral groups who may kill them in order to mate with their mothers.

Photos: Which animals are monogamous?

One of the more interesting facts in Esther Perel’s new book, State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, comes near the beginning.

 

Since 1990, notes the psychoanalyst and writer, the rate of married women who report they’ve been unfaithful has increased by 40 percent, while the rate among men has remained the same.
More women than ever are cheating, she tells us, or are willing to admit that they are cheating — and while Perel spends much of her book examining the psychological meaning, motivation, and impact of these affairs, she offers little insight into the significance of the rise itself.
So what exactly is happening inside marriages to shift the numbers? What has changed about monogamy or family life in the past 27 years to account for the closing gap? And why have so many women begun to feel entitled to the kind of behavior long accepted (albeit disapprovingly) as a male prerogative?

One of the more interesting facts in Esther Perel’s new book, State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, comes near the beginning.

 

Since 1990, notes the psychoanalyst and writer, the rate of married women who report they’ve been unfaithful has increased by 40 percent, while the rate among men has remained the same.
More women than ever are cheating, she tells us, or are willing to admit that they are cheating — and while Perel spends much of her book examining the psychological meaning, motivation, and impact of these affairs, she offers little insight into the significance of the rise itself.
So what exactly is happening inside marriages to shift the numbers? What has changed about monogamy or family life in the past 27 years to account for the closing gap? And why have so many women begun to feel entitled to the kind of behavior long accepted (albeit disapprovingly) as a male prerogative?
What surprised me most about these conversations was not that my friends were cheating, but that many of them were so nonchalant in the way they described their extramarital adventures. There was deception but little secrecy or shame.
Often, they loved their husbands, but felt in some fundamental way that their needs (sexual, emotional, psychological) were not being met inside the marriage. Some even wondered if their husbands knew about their infidelity, choosing to look away.
“The fact is,” one of these friends told me, “I’m nicer to my husband when I have something special going on that’s just for me.” She found that she was kinder, more patient, less resentful, “less of a bitch.” It occurred to me as I listened that these women were describing infidelity not as a transgression but a creative or even subversive act, a protest against an institution they’d come to experience as suffocating or oppressive.
In an earlier generation, this might have taken the form of separation or divorce, but now, it seemed, more and more women were unwilling to abandon the marriages and families they’d built over years or decades. They were also unwilling to bear the stigma of a publicly open marriage or to go through the effort of negotiating such a complex arrangement.
These women were turning to infidelity not as a way to explode a marriage, but as a way to stay in it. Whereas conventional narratives of female infidelity so often posit the unfaithful woman as a passive party, the women I talked to seemed in control of their own transgressions. There seemed to be something new about this approach.
In The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife: Power, Pragmatism, and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity, another book on infidelity to be published this November, the sociologist Alicia Walker elaborates on the concept of female infidelity as a subversion of traditional gender roles.
To do so, she interviews 40 women who sought or participated in extramarital relationships through the Ashley Madison dating site.
Like The State of Affairs, Walker’s text offers valuable insight simply by way of approaching its subject from a position of curiosity as opposed to prevention or recovery, and she investigates which factors led the women in her study to go outside their marriages.
Surely, one might think, a woman who would do such a thing must be acting out of a desire to escape a miserable marriage. And yet it turns out, this isn’t always the case: Many of the women Walker interviewed were in marriages that were functional. Like the women I knew who cheated, many of the interviewees said they liked their husbands well enough. They had property together. They had friendships together. They had children that they were working together to raise.
But at the same time, they found married life incredibly dull and constraining and resented the fact that as women, they felt they consistently did a disproportionate amount of the invisible labor that went into maintaining their lifestyle.
One woman in Walker’s book told her, “The inequality of it all is such an annoying factor that I am usually in a bad mood when my spouse is in my presence,” and another said that while her husband was a competent adult in the world, at home he felt like “another child to clean up after.”
Many of the friends I spoke to expressed similar feelings. “I shop and cook, my husband does dishes and empties the trash,” one told me. “We each do our own laundry. But I’ve always been in charge of the ‘calendar,’ and what I didn’t realize until recently is that in some way I’m in charge of managing many of our relationships.
My husband is a homebody and I initiate/plan almost all of our social endeavors. My mom got this phrase from her therapist: ‘keeping the pulse of the household’ — this idea that someone has to be managing the emotional heart of your tiny community. I think women do that a lot.”
And as Perel repeats frequently in this book, and in her previous one, little does as much to muffle erotic desire as this kind of caretaking and enmeshment.
“I think there’s an incredible amount of deep resentment for women in America about divisions of labor,” said sociologist Lisa Wade when I asked her to comment on this contradiction. “And what social scientists are finding now is that there is a correlation between equal division of labor and better sex.”
No matter how much attention is paid to these issues, she told me, “these kind of cultural beliefs hang on a long time after they’re relevant. They hang on in ways that are often invisible. A lot of women have tried to address these problems and have faced a lot of stubbornness from husbands. They feel there’s no way to win this battle. So maybe now what women are deciding is that infidelity is a third way.”
Of course, it’s a “third way” that is not feasible for everyone, even if more women are taking it up, usually women who feel financially secure and independent enough to risk potential fallout.
These women seem to be finding that no amount of sensitivity or goodwill on the part of their husbands can save them from the fact that in every arena, from work to marriage to parenthood, they’re always doing more for less.
As Wade put it, “It’s such a precarious balance keeping everyone happy, that for many women, to start a long conversation about her own sexual satisfaction seems like a bad idea. We now tell women that they can have it all, that they can work and have a family and deserve to be sexually satisfied. And then when having it all is miserable and overwhelming or they realize marriage isn’t all it’s cracked it up to be, maybe having affairs is the new plan B.”
I tested this idea out on a few of the friends who had confided in me about their affairs, and most of them agreed. Twenty or thirty years ago they might have opted for divorce, because surely there was another man out there who could do better in this role, who could satisfy them completely. But a lot of these women are children of divorce. They lived through the difficulties divorce can create.
“Even now,” all these years later, one told me, “Do you know what my most vivid memory of Christmas is? Driving through a blizzard up I-95 in the back of one of their cars, and then they’d pull over on the side of the highway and hand off me and my brother without speaking. That was our Christmas. Why did these people marry in the first place?”
Maybe that’s the essential question, the question preceding those Perel explores in her book. Why do women still marry when, if statistics are to be believed, marriage doesn’t make them very happy?
I confided in a friend once that, after 15 years of marriage, the institution and the relationship itself continued to mystify me. At the time I married, marriage had felt like a panacea; it was a bond that would provide security, love, friendship, stability, and romance — the chance to have children and nice dishes, to be introduced as someone’s wife. It promised to expand my circle of family and improve my credit score, to tether me to something wholesome and give my life meaning.
Could any single relationship not fall short of such expectations? Maybe these women were on to something — valuing their marriages for the things it could offer and outsourcing the rest, accepting the distance between the idealization and the actual thing, seeing marriage clearly for what it is and not what we’re all told and promised it will be.
My friend told me she felt this way of thinking was the only answer, and the way she’d come to reconcile her feelings about the relationship. She said that she used to compare her marriage to her parents’, who always seemed totally in love. “Until the end of my mom’s life they were spooning together every night in a double bed … not even a queen. But,” she added, “they were awful and narcissistic, with very little to give to their children.”
My friend felt she and her husband were much better parents, more involved and attuned to their kids.
“But often,” she went on, “it can feel like my husband and I are running a family corporation together and that our emotional intimacy consists of gossiping about our friends and watching Game of Thrones. Sometimes I wonder if when the kids leave I should either (a) have a passionate affair or (b) find another husband. I may do neither, but it seems like (a) is more likely than (b). I don’t have any illusions that marrying someone else will make me happy, not anymore.”

White House Wants to End Social Security Numbers as A National ID

Original Article

By David Kravets

Rob Joyce, the White House cybersecurity czar, said on Tuesday that the government should end using the Social Security number as a national identification method.

“I believe the Social Security number has outlived its usefulness,” said Joyce, while speaking at The Washington Post‘s Cybersecurity Summit. “Every time we use the Social Security number, you put it at risk.”

One problem with the Social Security number, he said, is that a victim of identity theft cannot get it changed after it has been stolen.

Joyce’s comments come a month after the Equifax hack, in which hackers gained access to the Social Security numbers of as many as 143 million Americans.

The Social Security number, originally a code for federal retirement benefits, has grown to become a personal identifier used for everything from getting a job to buying auto insurance.

The Hill said that Joyce has “raised the issue” with the Trump administration. Bloomberg said the Trump administration has asked federal departments and agencies “to look into the vulnerabilities of employing the identifier tied to retirement benefits, as well as how to replace the existing system.”

Joyce said, “It’s really clear there needs to be a change.”

 

“The concept of a Social Security number in this environment being private and secure—I think it’s time as a country to think beyond that,” Smith testified. “What is a better way to identify consumers in our country in a very secure way? I think that way is something different than an SSN, a date of birth, and a name.”

And now what?

Joyce said the government is examining the use of a “modern cryptographic identifier,” like public and private keys.

“I personally know my Social Security number has been compromised at least four times in my lifetime. That’s just untenable,” Smith said.

According to Bloomberg, financial services firm Cowen said in a research note to investors that the White House’s plotting of a move to a new form of identification might stall congressional efforts to regulate the credit industry.

The “White House may be indirectly coming to Equifax’s rescue,” Cowen wrote. “This reduces the risk of business-model-busting legislation such as a requirement that consumers opt-in to a credit bureau collecting their data.”

Researchers Claim to Have Found Proof We Are Not Living In A Simulation

Original Article

By Cheyenne MacDonald

It’s a question that has persisted in science fiction and philosophical discussion alike: are we living in a computer simulation?

Scientists have long argued both sides of the theory, with some even suggesting if we did live in a simulated reality, we’d never know the truth.

But now, a new study could finally put the debate to rest.

Theoretical physicists have discovered that it is impossible, by principle, to simulate a quantum phenomenon that occurs in metals – and, ultimately, something as complex as the entire universe.

Scroll down for video 

Scientists have long argued both sides of the theory, with some even suggesting if we did live in a simulated reality, we¿d never know the truth anyway. But now, a new study could finally put the debate to rest. A stock image is pictured 

Scientists have long argued both sides of the theory, with some even suggesting if we did live in a simulated reality, we’d never know the truth anyway. But now, a new study could finally put the debate to rest. A stock image is pictured

In a new study published to the journal Science Advances, the team from the University of Oxford and the Hebrew University used a technique known as Monte Carlo simulation to investigate a phenomenon said to be a gravitational anomaly.

The effect, called thermal Hall conductance, can be seen in systems with high magnetic fields and low temperatures.

But in their work, the researchers found that the simulation is unable to capture a system with gravitational anomalies, such as the quantum Hall effect.

As the number of particles required for the simulation increased, the researchers found the simulation itself became far more complex.

It’s a question that has persisted in science fiction and philosophical discussion alike: are we living in a computer simulation?

Scientists have long argued both sides of the theory, with some even suggesting if we did live in a simulated reality, we’d never know the truth.

But now, a new study could finally put the debate to rest.

Theoretical physicists have discovered that it is impossible, by principle, to simulate a quantum phenomenon that occurs in metals – and, ultimately, something as complex as the entire universe.

Scroll down for video 

Scientists have long argued both sides of the theory, with some even suggesting if we did live in a simulated reality, we¿d never know the truth anyway. But now, a new study could finally put the debate to rest. A stock image is pictured 

Scientists have long argued both sides of the theory, with some even suggesting if we did live in a simulated reality, we’d never know the truth anyway. But now, a new study could finally put the debate to rest. A stock image is pictured

In a new study published to the journal Science Advances, the team from the University of Oxford and the Hebrew University used a technique known as Monte Carlo simulation to investigate a phenomenon said to be a gravitational anomaly.

The effect, called thermal Hall conductance, can be seen in systems with high magnetic fields and low temperatures.

But in their work, the researchers found that the simulation is unable to capture a system with gravitational anomalies, such as the quantum Hall effect.

As the number of particles required for the simulation increased, the researchers found the simulation itself became far more complex.

 

The Latest Discovery of Organics in Space Is Nothing to Get Excited About

Original Articles

By George Dvorsky

Image: JPL-Caltech/NASA

Astronomers have detected traces of an organic compound known as methyl chloride around a group of young stars. The discovery comes as a complete surprise to scientists, but instead of signifying the presence of alien life, it’s forcing them to re-evaluate the source of this molecule and its role as a basic building block for habitability.

Methyl chloride, also known as Freon-40, is a colorless, sweet-smelling gas that’s highly flammable. Here on Earth, this organic compound is produced by industrial and biological processes, which is why astrobiologists thought it might be a good idea to search for methyl chloride in the atmospheres of distant exoplanets as a way to detect alien life. But as new research published in Nature Astronomy shows, this substance appears to be more common than we realized, showing up in significant quantities during the formation of stars. So while its use as a potential biosignature is now diminished, the new study still tells us something we didn’t know before about the environments around nascent star systems.

Astronomers and astrobiologists received their first hint that methyl chloride isn’t anything particularly special when the Rosetta probe, using its ROSINA instrument, detected traces of the organic compound in the ultra thin atmosphere of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P/C-G). Now, astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) detected the gas wafting around a collection of infant stars, or protostars, in a system known as IRAS 16293-2422. Located 400 light-years away, the protostars in this system are so young that they’re still enveloped in gas and dust.

Image: CfA

The authors of the new study, led by Edith Fayolle from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), say it’s the the first time that this class of molecule, known as organohalogens, has ever been detected in deep space. Halogens are reactive, non-metallic elements that produce acidic compounds when introduced to hydrogen, and include the elements fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine, and astatine. The new study also shows that organic chemistry in the the interstellar medium involves halogens, which is something we didn’t know before.

“Finding organohalogens near these young, Sun-like stars was surprising,” said Fayolle in a statement. “We simply didn’t predict its formation and were surprised to find it in such significant concentrations. It’s clear now that these molecules form readily in stellar nurseries, providing insights into the chemical evolution of solar systems, including our own.”

As noted, scientists had speculated that the presence of this compound would be a good indicator of biological life, but now we know it’s a common component of young star systems, forming naturally in interstellar clouds and enduring long enough to weave itself into the fabric of young star systems. Indeed, because this compound was detected around Comet 67P/C-G, we also know that methyl chloride clings to comets—objects that happen to form during the primordial phase of star systems.

“ALMA’s discovery of organohalogens in the interstellar medium also tells us something about the starting conditions for organic chemistry on planets,” said study co-author Karin Öberg, who’s also with CfA. “Based on our discovery, organohalogens are likely to be a constituent of the so-called ‘primordial soup,’ both on the young Earth and on newly formed rocky exoplanets.”

The astronomers were able to detect the methyl chloride by taking advantage of ALMA’s molecule sniffing capabilities. This dish can detect faint radio signals emitted by collections of molecules in space. Each molecule produces its own unique spike in the radio spectrum, so like a fingerprint, scientists can match it to a particular molecule.

Looking ahead, the researchers are hoping to find more traces of methyl chloride around other protostars and comets to understand how much of this substance is produced during the early stages of star formation, and how it’s disbursed.

‘Faux’ Male Feminists Draw Ire in Hollywood

Original Article

By Monica Corcoran Harel

CreditPeter Horvath

It’s a tough time to be a male feminist, especially in Hollywood.

A few weeks ago, Kai Cole, the ex-wife of Joss Whedon, the man who created “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and who has been honored for creating strong female characters, wrote a highly personal takedown of him for The Wrap, a Hollywood industry website.

In the post, Ms. Cole, a film producer, said that Mr. Whedon “hid multiple affairs” with “his actresses, co-workers, fans and friends” during their 16-year marriage. His explanation for why he had so many female friends, she said, was that “his mother raised him as a feminist.”

Moreover, Ms. Cole called out his “hypocrisy” for “preaching feminist ideals” while using their marriage as a “shield” to commit adultery. In essence, she branded Mr. Whedon, the director of the coming “Justice League” superhero film, a fake male feminist.

It’s a label that appears to be gaining cultural currency, especially in the Trump era.

“Saturday Night Live” aired a sketch last season called “Girl at a Bar” in which a succession of seemingly sensitive male feminists (“I worked for Hillary,” one says) try to pick up a woman at a bar, only to resort to misogynistic language when rebuffed.

Girl at a Bar – SNL Video by Saturday Night Live

The three-minute sketch seemed to have hit a chord. Myriad essays that decried wolves in pink pussy hats and “woke misogynists” followed. “Watch S.N.L. Demolish Fake Male Feminists,” read a Vanity Fair headline. “Hating Trump Doesn’t Make a Man a Feminist,” said Bustle, an online culture magazine for women, which argued that “male feminists” have become a “powerful cultural niche,” and cited numerous celebrity examples including Ryan Gosling, Mark Ruffalo and Chris Pratt.

Tal Peretz, an assistant professor at Auburn University who specializes in gender studies, sees the criticism of male feminists as an inevitable consequence of social progress. “More men are getting involved in the feminist and women’s rights movements, and I think that the learning curve for them is really steep and really long,” said Dr. Peretz, who is an author of “Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women.” “Our bar for men in feminism is getting higher, too, and rightly so.”

Continue reading the main story

Examples of these higher standards abound.

Critics of men who sport “The Future is Female” T-shirts also maintain that some are using the word “feminist” inappropriately. The preferred term, they argue, is “feminist allies.” The rationale is that white people who fight against racism wouldn’t call themselves “black,” just as straight people who rally for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights wouldn’t call themselves “transgender.”

BuzzFeed recently published “17 Types of Male ‘Feminists’ That Need to Be Stopped,” an illustrated list that included a new father who suddenly becomes a feminist after he has a daughter, and a male manager who congratulates himself for hiring a female employee.

“It’s something I encounter all the time, but that man Robbie Tripp was the real kick in the pants in inspiring the post,” said Loryn Brantz, who wrote and illustrated the article and is also the author of the book “Feminist Baby.”

Mr. Tripp is the San Francisco man who became an internet sensation this summer when he posted a gushing ode to his wife’s “curvy body” on Instagram. People were divided on his seemingly self-congratulatory realization that “the media marginalizes women,” and his appreciation of his wife’s “thick thighs, big booty, cute little side roll.” Some cooed and said “Ah”; others sneered and said “Ew.”

“Good Morning America” interviewed the couple in a segment titled “Hero Husband or Fake Feminist?” The culture site Refinery29 dismissed Mr. Tripp’s paean as “the worst type of ‘male feminism.’”

Celebrities also weighed in. Melanie Lynskey, who will star in the TV series “Castle Rock,” said on Twitter: “Public announcements of devotion are very sexy to me,” she said. “What isn’t sexy is acting as though you’re one of the few men on earth who could possibly love a woman who looks like that.”

Dr. Peretz has coined a term, “the Pedestal Effect,” to describe how men are given special treatment for small acts of gender equality, like changing a diaper or Mr. Tripp’s love letter. “It is basically when guys get a whole lot of bonus points just for being nominal feminists,” he said.

Mr. Whedon’s agent did not respond to requests for comment, but a representative released a statement to The Wrap that read: “While this account includes inaccuracies and misrepresentations which can be harmful to their family, Joss is not commenting, out of concern for his children and out of respect for his ex-wife.”

Mr. Whedon did, however, give an interview to BuzzFeed in 2015 that seems to have foreshadowed the current hubbub.

“When you declare yourself politically, you destroy yourself artistically,” he said in an article about why he deleted his Twitter account (he has since returned). “Because suddenly that’s the litmus test for everything you do — for example, in my case, feminism. If you don’t live up to the litmus test of feminism in this one instance, then you’re a misogynist,” he added. “It circles directly back upon you.”

DNA From Old Skeleton Suggests Humanity’s Been Here Longer Than We Thought

Original Article

By John Timmer

Enlarge / Our family tree, with the dates inferred from this new data. Note how many major branches there are within Africa, and the recent exchange of DNA at the bottom.
Schlebusch et al., Science

When did humanity start? It’s proven to be a difficult question to answer. Anatomically modern humans have a distinct set of features that are easy to identify on a complete skeleton. But most old skeletons are partial, making identification a challenge. Plus, other skeletons were being left by pre-modern (or archaic) human relatives like Neanderthals who were present in Africa and Eurasia at the same time. While Neanderthals et al. have distinct features as well, we don’t always have a good idea how variable those features were in these populations.

So, when a recent paper argued that a semi-modern skull meant that humanity was older than we thought, some people dismissed it as an overhyped finding.

All around Africa

Genetics and paleontology have both agreed that Africa gave rise to modern humans. The earliest clearly modern skeletons are found there, and genetics have suggested a group of African hunter-gatherers represent the earliest ethnic group on Earth. This group, the Khoe-San, have the most genetic diversity of any human population we’ve sampled. Since diversity accumulates with time, this implies they’re the oldest. Thus, it appears that the Khoe-San were the earliest group to branch off the modern human family tree and survive to the present.

Given some measures—like the frequency of mutations and the typical time for each generation of humans to reproduce—it’s possible to use that diversity to estimate the age of the Khoe-San split at between 100,000 and 150,000 years ago. Humanity as a whole, therefore, has to be at least that old. When first estimated, it was consistent with the appearance of modern human skeletal features in the paleontological record. So nearly everyone was happy.

But more recently, there have been finds like the skeleton mentioned above. And others have questioned whether the Khoe-San had such a neat genetic split from the rest of us. The region of southwest Africa they inhabit was swept through by the immense Bantu expansion, which spread agriculture and Iron Age technology throughout sub-Saharan Africa. If some Bantu DNA ended up spreading into the Khoe-San population, then our estimates would be off.

 

(The team also sequenced DNA from four Iron Age African skeletons at the same time and showed that the Bantu didn’t just bring technology; they carried genetic variants that provided some resistance to malaria and sleeping sickness. These were absent from the Stone Age skeletons.)

You look old

The authors only got one decent-quality genome out of the three Stone Age bones from which they obtained DNA. But that skeleton clearly groups with the Khoe-San genetically, indicating that the researchers’ expectation about its affinities were correct. A comparison with modern Khoe-San genomes, however, indicated that the modern ones have gotten contributions from an additional human lineage. All indications are that this DNA originated in East Africa and came from a population that had already been interbreeding with Eurasians.

This doesn’t mean that the Khoe-San aren’t the oldest lineage of humanity, but it does mean that they haven’t been genetically isolated from the rest of us. Which would throw off the date of their split from all of humanity’s other lineages.

So, how old are they? Comparing the Stone Age genome with other modern human genomes produces values of 285,000 to 365,000 years. The most extreme split is with the Mandinka, a population that currently occupies much of West Africa; the date of that appears to be 356,000 years.

Again, the Khoe-San are modern humans. And if they split off that long ago, then modern humans have existed for at least that long. And that’s substantially older than earlier genetic estimates.

But there are caveats. These estimates are very sensitive to the frequency at which new mutations arise in human lineages, as well as the typical human generation time. Both of those values have been in dispute in recent years. If the field arrives at a different consensus value, then these estimates will change. The authors also point out it’s possible that the split looks older because the ancestors of the Khoe-San had interbred with a population of archaic humans, much as the ancestor of non-Africans interbred with Neanderthals. That possibility’s going to be hard to exclude.

In the big picture of human evolution, a date of roughly 300,000 years ago would place the origin of modern humans almost half way between the present and when Neanderthals and Denisovans split off from our lineage. It also happens to be about the same time as the technology of the Middle Stone Age. It’s appealing to think that whatever breakthrough made us “modern” led to some sort of mental leap that enabled new technology. But, as the Bantu themselves demonstrated, the connection between a skeleton’s appearance and the technology its owner used can be extremely tenuous.

 

Nobel Prize Awarded for Biological Clock Discoveries

Original Article

By Jordana Cepelewicz

 

Ninety minutes before dawn in the eastern United States, the Nobel committee announced that it was awarding this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to three American biologists for their research on the control of circadian rhythms. Jeffrey C. Hallat the University of Maine, Michael Rosbash at Brandeis University and Michael W. Young at the Rockefeller University share the prize for their discoveries of the genetic and biomolecular mechanisms that help the cells of plants and animals (including humans) mark the 24-hour cycle of day and night. That research became a cornerstone of the science of chronobiology, the study of how organisms track time and adapt to its cycles.

“It’s a really beautiful example of basic research that has led to incredible discoveries,” commented Paul Hardin, who studies chronobiology at Texas A&M University. “Almost every aspect of physiology and metabolism will be controlled by the circadian clock.” For example, in the case of mammals, he said, 20–30 percent of the genes in any given tissue may be under the control of an internal clock. “But if you take all the tissues of the body, the vast majority of genes are under clock control in one tissue or another.”

Josephine Arendt, an emeritus professor of endocrinology at Surrey University who studies circadian rhythms, agreed about the importance of the work winning this year’s prize. Health and fitness can be profoundly affected by disorders that throw off that 24-hour timekeeping mechanism or any of the neurological and hormonal systems that rely on it. “Their work underpins [that of] people like me who are interested in applying circadian principles to human health,” she said.

Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young (left to right) are new Nobel laureates in celebration of their discoveries about the genetic and biomolecular mechanism that governs the circadian rhythm.

Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young (left to right) are new Nobel laureates in celebration of their discoveries about the genetic and biomolecular mechanism that governs the circadian rhythm.

Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young (left to right) are new Nobel laureates in celebration of their discoveries about the genetic and biomolecular mechanism that governs the circadian rhythm.

Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young (left to right) are new Nobel laureates in celebration of their discoveries about the genetic and biomolecular mechanism that governs the circadian rhythm.

The Gairdner Foundation (Hall and Young); Mike Lovett/Brandeis University (Rosbash)

The study of circadian rhythms goes back to at least the 18th century, when scientists noticed that certain plants would open their leaves at sunrise and close them at sunset even in the absence of lighting cues. Later evidence showed that essentially all organisms had some internal biological clock that allowed them to match their physiology to the day-night cycle. Work in the 1970s by Ronald Konopka and Seymour Benzer showed that this clock was under genetic control because mutations could disrupt it. The name period was given to that gene but little else was known about it. Indeed, how a gene could allow cells to keep time remained a mystery.

Answers began to fall into place in 1984, when Hall and Rosbash working at Brandeis and Young at Rockefeller independently isolated the period gene in fruit flies. Hall and Rosbash showed that the cellular concentrations of the protein made by period, PER, were high during the day and then dropped at night, befitting a 24-hour timekeeping gene.

The Brandeis researchers hypothesized that a feedback loop might be governing this gene-protein system: When concentrations of PER climbed high enough, they shut down the activity of period. When PER degraded, period could start up again. PER could thereby inhibit its own synthesis. The hitch in this scheme was that for it to work, something had to transport PER from the cell’s cytoplasm, where it was made, into the nucleus where period dwelled. Hall and Rosbash showed that PER was getting into the nucleus but it was unclear how until 1994, when Young discovered the timeless gene, which was also essential for proper circadian rhythms. The protein made by timeless, TIM, latches on to cytoplasmic PER and escorts it into the nucleus to inhibit period. Young later identified a third gene, doubletime, that also delays the build-up of PER in cells to further improve the linkage of this circadian mechanism to the time of day.

Lucy Reading-Ikkanda/Quanta Magazine

Andrew Millar, the chair of systems biology at the University of Edinburgh and an expert on plant circadian rhythms, noted that the precise genetic clock mechanism that Hall, Rosbash and Young identified was specific to animals, but that conceptually similar mechanisms built around analogous genes were soon identified in plants, fungi, bacteria and other organisms by other researchers. “It’s the breadth of application of biological rhythm research that makes it so fascinating,” he said.

Chronobiology is consequently a field in its early days. Researchers are still trying to fully understand the connection between the circadian rhythm within cells and animals’ need for sleep. Not only do diverse organisms use a variety of mechanisms to maintain circadian rhythms and other temporal cycles, some cells of the body may use specialized timekeeping systems for specialized functions. New biological rhythms — and their influence on organisms — continue to be discovered. Nevertheless, the dissection of this circadian timekeeping system by these scientists already stands as a landmark achievement.

This post was updated on October 2 with additional comments from

Highest-Ever Number of STDs Recorded in U.S. Last Year

Original Article

By Angela Chen

NIAID/Flickr

STDs are on the rise in the US, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The highest-ever number of cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were recorded in 2016.

There were 2 million cases overall. Of those, 1.6 million were chlamydia and nearly half of these diagnoses were young women, according to the annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report. Syphilis rates grew about 18 percent from 2015 to 2016, and most of these cases were men, especially gay and bisexual men. Still, there was a 36 percent increase in women with the disease, and a 28 percent increase in babies born with syphilis.

In contrast, there was a 22 percent increase in gonorrhea diagnoses for men (again, especially among gay and bisexual men). Growing rates of gonorrhea are concerning, given that the disease is becoming resistant to the two antibiotics used to treat it.

All three diseases are treatable for now, but if they’re not diagnosed in time, they can lead to infertility or infant stillbirth.

Colorado Town Officially Declares Opposition to Conversion Therapy

Original Article

By John Paul Brammer

A view of the front range mountains seen from Westminster, Colorado on March 8, 2016.Katie Wood / Denver Post Via Getty Images

Westminster became the first city in Colorado to officially declare its opposition to “conversion therapy” when earlier this week the mayor and town council issued a proclamation against the controversial practice.

“The City of Westminster acknowledges that conversion therapy to change one’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is a harmful abuse to those subjected to these practices,” the proclamation stated.

 A view of the front range mountains seen from Westminster, Colorado on March 8, 2016.Denver Post Via Getty Images / 2016 The Denver Post, MediaNews Group

Brianna Titone, secretary and treasurer of the Jefferson County Democrats LGBTQ+ Caucus, applauded the move.

“After three years of state legislation banning the practice getting stymied before it could reach a vote in the state senate … action on a local level was pivotal,” Titone said in a statement. “It is important that the people of Colorado know that this dangerous practice is happening in our state … Colorado needs to stand on the right side of history, and today, Westminster did just that.”

Conversion therapy is a controversial practice which claims to “treat” homosexuality and turn gay people heterosexual. It is currently legal in Colorado and 40 other states. Nine states and Washington, D.C., have banned the practice.

 One Colorado at Denver Pride. One Colorado

“These harmful practices use rejection, shame, and psychological abuse to force young people to try to change who they are. Unfortunately, many young people are coerced and subjected to these harmful practices in our state, which puts them at a higher risk for depression, substance abuse, and suicide,” Daniel Ramos, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group One Colorado said.

While the proclamation is not legally binding, advocates see it as an important first step.”We extend our gratitude to Westminster City Council for the proclamation and hope this action is another step toward getting a ban to pass in the Colorado Legislature,” Ramos said.

RELATED: BRAZIL JUDGE RULES HOMOSEXUALITY A DISEASE, APPROVES ‘CONVERSION THERAPY’

Ramos told NBC News the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative Christian legal group that has also supported anti-transgender “bathroom bills” across the country, is one of the main forces speaking out in favor of conversion therapy. He also noted, however, that there are other religious organizations and faith leaders in Colorado “who are speaking out on behalf of LGBTQ young people.”

A request for comment from the ADF was not immediately returned.

The American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association and a number of other health organizations have issued statements against conversion therapy (also known as “reparative therapy).

“The potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great and include depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient,” a position statement from the American Psychiatric Association states.

“APA opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy, that is based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or is based on the a priori assumption that the patient should change his or her homosexual orientation.”

We should all make sure that no young person is told that who they are or who they love is wrong.

We should all make sure that no young person is told that who they are or who they love is wrong.

Conversion therapy survivor Samuel Brinton, who recently helped launch 50 Bills 50 States, a grass-roots campaign that is trying to end conversion therapy across the U.S., told NBC News he welcomes Westminster’s decision.

“The flurry of cities, counties, and local districts taking matters into their own hands when it comes to protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy is nothing short of exhilarating,” Brinton said. “As state after state submits and passes legislation to end the practice of licensed therapists from selling the snake oil of the dangerous and discredited notion of conversion therapy for minors, cities from Westminster, Colo., to Palm Beach County, Fla., are standing up to let LGBTQ youth know they are safe and don’t need to change.”

Ramos urged politicians on both sides of the aisle to come out against the controversial practice and ban it for good.

“This is a way for us to say that banning conversion therapy is not a partisan issue,” he said. “We should all make sure that no young person is told that who they are or who they love is wrong.”

Church Where Jesus Died Suffers Roof Collapse As Hundreds Worship

Original Article

By Callum Paton

Part of the of the roof of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher collapsed Friday as hundreds of worshippers visited the site.

The church, one of the holiest locations in the Christian faith, had to be closed in the wake of the collapse while officials made sure it was safe for the congregation to return.

Read more: Israel prepares for another war with Hezbollah as IDF practices Lebanon invasion

Local media reported that the ceiling collapsed in an area where around 50 Ethiopian Christian worshippers had just finished praying.

“After the prayer and after the worshippers had left, some of the ceiling fell, causing great damage to the church, but thanks to God and His kindness there were no casualties at all,” Adeeb Joudeh Husseini, a church custodian explained.

09_27_Holy_Sepulcher Christian worshippers surround the Edicule as they take part in a Sunday Easter mass procession in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City, April 16.REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD

Following the incident, Israeli police sealed the courtyard of the church. Work has begun on repairing damaged area.

For the Christian faithful, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher marks the sites where Jesus was crucified and where he was buried and resurrected. The church is one of the principal points of pilgrimage for Christians of all denominations.

The fourth century church is shared between the Greek Orthadox, Roman Catholic, Armenian, Coptic Syriac and Ethiopian Christian denominations. For 250 years a complicated system of sharing the places of worship has been observed

Earlier this month church leaders in Jerusalem issued a rare joint statement spoke out against the Israeli government saying it was weakening the Christian faith in the middle east.

The heads of Jerusalem’s major churches—including its Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Lutheran denominations, among others—criticized Israel’s lawmakers and its courts following a ruling that mandates the sale of church buildings to a Jewish settler organization.

The church leaders protested the transfer of the ownership of three church buildings belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem’s Old City to the Ateret Cohanim Association, a right-wing Israeli Jewish settler organization which has purchased properties in East Jerusalem. They also put themselves in direct opposition to a bill which would make all church land sold to private citizens the property of the state.

“We see in these actions a systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and to weaken the Christian presence,” the statement from the church leaders read.

Maggie Gyllenhaal: ‘Pornography Is An Art Form’

By Jane Mulkerrins
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Candy in The Deuce

 

Set in the grimy, trash-strewn New York of 1971, The Deuce is named after a notoriously seedy stretch of West 42nd Street that was populated by pimps and prostitutes, and home to live peep shows and porn shops. Written by David Simon, who created The Wire, and his frequent collaborator George Pelecanos, the series charts the rise of the pornography industry in New York City. Simon has said that the show is about “the commodification of women” and from the female bar staff poured into skimpy leotards by James Franco’s bar manager, Vinnie, to the violent control the pimps exert over the prostitutes they run, every woman in the show, and her sexuality, is being packaged and profited from. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Eileen “Candy” Merrell, a prostitute and single mother who rejects street-walking protocol and refuses to be controlled by a pimp, stating that “nobody makes money off my pussy but me”.

“Somebody asked me the other day whether I thought porn was exploitative or empowering for women,” says Gyllenhaal. “At the time, I didn’t actually know how to answer. Then a couple of days later, I thought, can the answer just be: ‘Yes?’”

It is a typically nebulous answer from an actor, who, in spite of roles in mainstream films such as The Dark Knight and Nanny McPhee Returns, has spent much of her career in the independent film sector. She is famed for playing the kind of complex, unconventional women who are now increasingly emerging from the small screen; her most famous role to date, of course, was the troubled, submissive assistant to the masochistic James Spader in 2002’s Secretary. While initially wary of the extensive shooting schedules of most series, the enormous success of The Honourable Woman – the BBC miniseries that won her a Golden Globe for her role as Baroness Nessa Stein – opened up Gyllenhaal to television. With The Deuce – set to be one of HBO’s biggest shows of the year – how did she feel about the high levels of nudity the part required?

“You know, I spent no time moralising it. I am pretty comfortable with it,” Gyllenhaal says when we meet in a slick boutique hotel on the Brooklyn waterfront. “I have never been very shy about my body, and this is something I really believe in.” She lets out a small laugh. “This is so silly, but the only place I have felt shy is imagining those people who I see when I pick up my kids from school watching it. And I have to be honest and say that I don’t think I ate any bread at all while I was making this show. When you know you are going to have to wear very short shorts all summer long, you don’t.”

The show has already been commissioned for a second season, which will jump forward to the late 1970s; while a pending third season will take place in the mid-1980s, thus charting the effects of the boom in pornography on its players over a 15-year stretch. In order to explore the intricacies of such a shrouded, changing industry, Gyllenhaal was faced with a challenge. “There is so much about sex work that is in the dark, because it’s illegal, so how do you get that information in a reliable way?” she asks.

She was directed to Annie Sprinkle, a 63 year-old writer and television presenter, and former porn actor, who had also worked as a prostitute in the early 1970s in San Francisco and New York.

“She has a support group for women who are involved in porn and prostitution,” says Gyllenhaal. “So she introduced me to this world of women in their 60s who had been, and some of whom still are, involved in sex work.” Their experiences challenged many received ideas about prostitutes as victims. “They all said: ‘Don’t write us off,’” reports Gyllenhaal. “They said: ‘Yes, there is often an element of damage [in their past].’ But there are a lot of other things too; there’s curiosity, and an actual love of sexuality. And I saw both elements.”

Maggie Gyllenhaal with James Franco in The Deuce
 I am the barfly … Gyllenhaal with James Franco in The Deuce. Photograph: HBO

And, contradictory though it may sound, in a show that features both graphic sex and violence, there is also an innocence to the trade it portrays. “Annie said that sex work then really had a different feeling about it than now,” nods Gyllenhaal. “That they were just coming out of the 1960s, and there was a celebration of freedom. People had this idea that they were smoking pot and making love.” Similarly, her ideas about pornography were transformed. “I thought of all pornography the same way, and what I realised is that pornography is an art form. And that there are actresses who are very proud of what they did in pornography.” The growth of the embryonic porn industry is seen primarily through Candy’s lens, both figuratively and literally: over the course of eight episodes, she develops an ambition not merely to star in porn films, but to direct them. “It’s like a light goes on inside her, and she starts thinking of herself as an artist,” says Gyllenhaal.

A similar shift took place with Gyllenhaal’s ambitions, too. “I wanted some kind of guarantee that I would be a part of the storytelling, part of considering what it is we want to be saying,” she says. Gyllenhaal asked for a production credit, but people around her said that given a show of this size and profile she shouldn’t expect to get one. “And I thought, ‘Well, I’m still going to ask for it.’” To her surprise her request was granted. When this happened she felt a “real shift in my sense of myself as a woman and an artist. Which was like a meta version of what the piece is about.”

As a producer, she was empowered to suggest additions to the script. For example, a deeply intimate scene in which we see Candy masturbate was Gyllenhaal’s own idea. “It wasn’t that I had a burning desire to pretend to masturbate on television,” she says, wryly. “It was that I wanted to find a way to express the difference between performative, transactional sex, and sex that is about someone’s actual desire. And I thought that was an interesting way to do it. But that was the scene I felt the most vulnerable about. Because I was trying to create something that looked and felt real.”

Maggie Gyllenhaal with James Spader in Secretary
 Pushing the envelope … Gyllenhaal with James Spader in Secretary. Photograph: Sportsphoto/Allstar/Lionsgate

Other challenging scenes included a porn shoot in episode two in which Gyllenhaal’s character “gets Campbell’s soup sprayed on her face with a fucking turkey baster,” she says, looking suitably horrified. “I can’t actually think of anything more degrading. And I knew it was in service of having a conversation about degrading women – which we are having – but I still had to do it, and I found that very difficult.”

So far, The Deuce has been widely applauded for its exploration of the female gaze, and Gyllenhaal claims that it is “absolutely, definitely a feminist project”. But therein also lies a challenge: how to make a show about the sex trade and pornography without it becoming pornographic itself. Gyllenhaal, however, believes that is part of the show’s power and what it has in common with The Handmaid’s Tale and The Girlfriend Experience.

“If it turns you on, but then makes you horrified to consider what’s actually turning you on, and what the consequences are for the characters that are turning you on, then it’s a better show,” she says. “If you’re patting yourself on the back and just thinking how terrible porn is, then it doesn’t make you consider your position as a person in the world right now, and how sex is commodified everywhere today.”

The Deuce continues on 3 October, 10pm, Sky Atlantic

Tillerson Says U.S. Has Direct Channels to Talk to North Korea

Original Article

By Christopher Bodeen and Matthew Pennington

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged on Saturday that the United State is maintaining direct channels of communications with North Korea even as tensions rise over the North’s nuclear and missile programs and the countries’ leaders spar through bellicose name-calling.

Tillerson said the U.S. was probing North Korea’s willingness to talk, and called for a calming of the situation on the Korean Peninsula, adding it was incumbent on the North to halt the missile launches.

“We have lines of communication to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation, a blackout,” Tillerson told reporters during a visit to China. “We have a couple … three channels open to Pyongyang. We can talk to them, we do talk to them.”

No elaboration about those channels or the substance of any discussions came from Tillerson, who met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other top officials in Beijing.

While Tillerson affirmed that the U.S. would not recognize North Korea as a nuclear power, he also said the Trump administration had no intention of trying to oust Kim. “Despite assurances that the United States is not interested in promoting the collapse of the current regime, pursuing regime change, accelerating reunification of the peninsula or mobilizing forces north of the DMZ, North Korean officials have shown no indication that they are interested in or are ready for talks regarding denuclearization,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war, and the Demilitarized Zone divides North and South Korea.

Since President Donald Trump took office in January, the U.S. has restored a diplomatic back-channel between the State Department and North Korea’s mission at the United Nations. That’s traditionally been a way for the two sides to communicate because they lack formal diplomatic ties.

The main aim of the initial contacts was to seek the freedom of several American citizens imprisoned in North Korea, although U.S. officials have told The Associated Press that there were broader discussions about U.S.-North Korean relations. Those contacts, however, have failed to reduce the deep mistrust between the adversaries and it’s unclear to what extent they have endured the current spike in tensions.

North Korea has in recent months tested long-range missiles that potentially could reach the U.S., and on Sept. 3 conducted its largest nuclear test explosion to date. The standoff has entered a new, more dangerous phase since then as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Trump have exchanged personal insults and threats of war.

“I think the most immediate action that we need is to calm things down,” Tillerson said. “They’re a little overheated right now. And I think we need to calm them down first.” He did not directly address the impact of Trump’s own rhetoric.

“Obviously it would help if North Korea would stop firing off missiles. That would calm things down a lot,” Tillerson said.

Trump gave a combative speech recently at the U.N. General Assembly in which he mocked Kim as “Rocket Man” on a “suicide mission.” Trump said that if “forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” Kim responded by saying he would “tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”

Tillerson’s stop in the Chinese capital was helping lay the groundwork for a November state visit by Trump, part of a five-nation swing through Asia. Trump has pressed for sterner measures against the North by China, the North’s chief trading partner and source of aid and diplomatic support.

Beijing adamantly opposes steps that could bring down Kim’s government, but appears increasingly willing to tighten the screws. China has agreed to tough new U.N. penalties that would substantially cut foreign revenue for the isolated North.

On Thursday, Beijing ordered North Korean-owned businesses and ventures with Chinese partners to close by early January, days after it said it would cut off gas and limit shipments of refined petroleum products, effective Jan. 1. China made no mention of crude oil, which makes up the bulk of Chinese energy supplies to North Korea and is not covered by U.N. sanctions.

China has banned imports of North Korean coal, iron and lead ore, and seafood since early September. Still, Washington hopes China will exert even greater pressure.

China argues that sanctions alone cannot solve the impasse, and has urged Washington to cool its rhetoric and open a dialogue with North Korea. But the North is coming closer to having a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike America, and says it will only discuss the weapons programs if the U.S. abandons its “hostile policy” toward the North.

This was Tillerson’s second visit to China as America’s top diplomat. China is the world’s No. 2 economy and chief U.S. rival for influence in Asia, and increasingly, the world.

In addition to North Korea, the U.S. and China have other security concerns to address.

They are at odds over Beijing’s military buildup and assertive claims to disputed islands in the South China Sea. Trump is also looking to reduce China’s massive trade surplus with the U.S. — $347 billion last year — and what American companies say are unfair barriers to investment, including pressure to hand over their technology.

In opening remarks at his meeting with Xi, Tillerson said relations between the sides continue to “grow and mature on the strength of the relationship between yourself and President Trump.”

He added: “We look forward to advancing that relationship at the upcoming summit.”

Trump and Xi met in April at Trump’s estate in Florida. Trump’s planned visit next month will come weeks after Xi is expected to receive a new five-year term as leader of the ruling Communist Party.

The presidents’ upcoming meeting promises to be grander and more choreographed than the informal talks in Florida that were most memorable for Trump’s ordering a missile strike on Syria and then informing Xi about it afterward as they ate chocolate cake.

The Next Giant Leap: US Will Return to the Moon, Pence Says

Original Article

By Mike Wall

The Trump administration is committed to sending astronauts to the moon as part of a broader push to prioritize human spaceflight and firm up U.S. dominance in the final frontier, Vice President Mike Pence said.

“We will return American astronauts to the moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but [also] to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” Pence said today (Oct. 5) at the first meeting of the newly reinstated National Space Council (NSC).

“The moon will be a stepping stone, a training ground, a venue to strengthen our commercial and international partnerships as we refocus America’s space program toward human space exploration,” Pence added. [From Ike to Trump: Presidential Visions for Space Exploration]

Under the previous administration, that stepping stone was much smaller: President Barack Obama had directed NASA to prep for Mars trips by visiting a near-Earth asteroid. In response, the space agency devised a plan to pluck a boulder off a space rock and haul that fragment into orbit around the moon.

Vice President Mike Pence delivers opening remarks during the National Space Council's first meeting on Oct. 5, 2017 at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.
Vice President Mike Pence delivers opening remarks during the National Space Council’s first meeting on Oct. 5, 2017 at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.

Credit: Joel Kowsky/NASA

Yesterday (Oct. 4) was the 60th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1, which kicked off the Space Age and the Cold War space race. Pence referenced that seminal event during his remarks today, while lamenting a perceived lack of direction in U.S. space policy.

“Rather than lead in space, too often, we’ve chosen to drift,” he said. “And, as we learned 60 years ago, when we drift, we fall behind.”

As evidence of this drift, Pence cited the fact that NASA astronauts haven’t gone beyond low-Earth orbit since the final Apollo moon mission, in 1972. In addition, he noted, the country has had to pay Russia to ferry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station since the space shuttle retired in 2011. That service currently costs $76 million per seat. (Two U.S. companies, SpaceX and Boeing, are both developing capsules to take over this taxi service for NASA astronauts; these spacecraft could begin crewed flights next year.)

Pence pledged that the Trump administration, with the help of the NSC, will develop and implement a coherent, long-term U.S. space strategy.

That strategy will focus heavily on human spaceflight, economic development and national security, if Pence’s words today and in an op-ed published yesterday in The Wall Street Journal are any guide.

“We will renew America’s commitment to creating the space technology needed to protect national security. Our adversaries are aggressively developing jamming and hacking capabilities that could cripple critical military surveillance, navigation systems and communication networks. In the face of this threat, America must be as dominant in the heavens as it is on Earth,” Pence wrote in the op-ed. (A subscription is required to read the full piece, but some snippets are available for free at whitehouse.gov.)

“We will promote regulatory, technological and educational reforms to expand opportunities for American citizens and ensure that the U.S. is at the forefront of economic development in outer space,” he added. “In the years to come, American industry must be the first to maintain a constant commercial human presence in low-Earth orbit, to expand the sphere of the economy beyond this blue marble. ”

The primacy of these stated goals was reflected in the makeup of the panelists at today’s meeting, which was held at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. (The space shuttle Discovery is on display at Udvar-Hazy, providing a dramatic backdrop.)

Two of the three panels consisted of executives of the spaceflight companies SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corp., Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Orbital ATK. The third panel focused on national security and featured retired Navy Adm. James Ellis, the former chief of U.S. Strategic Command; former NASA astronaut and former DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Deputy Director Pamela Melroy; and former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.

“We won the race to the moon half a century ago, and now we will win the 21st century in space,” Pence said at today’s meeting, a full replay of which you can see here.

The NSC was last active in the early 1990s, during the presidency of George H.W. Bush. President Trump resurrected the council via executive order on June 30.

Flatliners Remake Holds a 0 Percent On Rotten Tomatoes

Original Article

By Mansoor Mithaiwala

The new Flatliners film isn’t doing well with critics, evidenced by its current 0 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s no secret that movie studios have been pushing for more remakes and reboots these past few years, as well as finally getting around to producing those long-gestating sequels (e.g. Blade Runner: 2049). After all, if films and franchises have done well in the past, they could presumably perform as well, if not better, today.

Sony Pictures is one of the culprits who have been diving deep into their expansive library in recent years, having already gone through new installments in their Ghostbusters and Karate Kid franchises, not to mention the impending release of Jake Kasdan’s Jumanjisequel, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. What’s more, the studio recently decided it was time to bring Joel Schumacher’s Flatliners – starring the likes of Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, and Kevin Bacon – back to the big screen, this time continuing the story in the present-day with an all-new cast. Unfortunately, audiences don’t seem interested in another Flatliners story.

RELATED: FLATLINERS ASKS ‘BIG AND PERTINENT QUESTIONS’ ABOUT THE AFTERLIFE

Niels Arden Oplev’s Flatliners sequel/reboot – starring Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, Kiersey Clemons, and James Norton, along with Sutherland reprising his role as Nelson Wright/Dr. Barry Wolfson – opened domestically today, and critics have chastised the movie, calling it an unnecessary remake that’s indistinguishable from the year’s other failed thrillers. Currently, it sits at 0 percent on review-aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s, therefore, on-track to earn an undesirable “rotten” classification.

Kiefer Sutherland in Flatliners 2017 Flatliners Remake Holds a 0 Percent On Rotten Tomatoes

So far, 2017 has seen long-gestating adaptations and sequels achieve critical and commercial success, while others have seen dismal returns and turned into critical failures. It’s not that remakes and reboots don’t work, it’s that they need to stand apart from past chapters and pave their own path. Of course, the 0 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes only accounts for critic reviews. The site’s audience score, although much more optimistic, is still “rotten” at 44 percent. It’ll be interesting to see how the cast and crew respond to the abhorrent rating, especially considering the dichotomy between critics and audiences when it comes to Rotten Tomatoes and how much influence critics have over a movie’s box office success.

Regardless of how well Flatliners performs commercially, it appears that Sony Pictures is determined to move forward with their planned Charlie’s Angels reboot, which is currently eyeing Kristen Stewart and Lupita Nyong’o, as well as the newly-announced Men in Blackspinoff and potential Resident Evil reboot.

Cheap Sex and the Decline of Marriage

Original Article

By Mark Regnerus

ILLUSTRATION: JULIETTE BORDA

Kevin, a 24-year-old recent college graduate from Denver, wants to get married someday and is “almost 100% positive” that he will. But not soon, he says, “because I am not done being stupid yet. I still want to go out and have sex with a million girls.” He believes that he’s figured out how to do that:

“Girls are easier to mislead than guys just by lying or just not really caring. If you know what girls want, then you know you should not give that to them until the proper time. If you do that strategically, then you can really have anything you want…whether it’s a relationship, sex, or whatever. You have the control.”

Kevin (not his real name) was one of 100 men and women, from a cross-section of American communities, that my team and I interviewed five years ago as we sought to understand how adults in their 20s and early 30s think about their relationships. He sounds like a jerk. But it’s hard to convince him that his strategy won’t work—because it has, for him and countless other men.

Marriage in the U.S. is in open retreat. As recently as 2000, married 25- to 34-year-olds outnumbered their never-married peers by a margin of 55% to 34%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2015, the most recent year for which data are available, those estimates had almost reversed, with never-marrieds outnumbering marrieds by 53% to 40%. Young Americans have quickly become wary of marriage.

Many economists and sociologists argue that this flight from marriage is about men’s low wages. If they were higher, the argument goes, young men would have the confidence to marry. But recent research doesn’t support this view. A May 2017 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, focusing on regions enriched by the fracking boom, found that increased wages in those places did nothing to boost marriage rates.

Another hypothesis blames the decline of marriage on men’s fear of commitment. Maybe they just perceive marriage as a bad deal. But most men, including cads such as Kevin, still expect to marry. They eventually want to fall in love and have children, when their independence becomes less valuable to them. They are waiting longer, however, which is why the median age at marriage for American men has risen steadily and is now approaching 30.

My own research points to a more straightforward and primal explanation for the slowed pace toward marriage: For American men, sex has become rather cheap. As compared to the past, many women today expect little in return for sex, in terms of time, attention, commitment or fidelity. Men, in turn, do not feel compelled to supply these goods as they once did. It is the new sexual norm for Americans, men and women alike, of every age.

This transformation was driven in part by birth control. Its widespread adoption by women in recent decades not only boosted their educational and economic fortunes but also reduced their dependence on men. As the risk of pregnancy radically declined, sex shed many of the social and personal costs that once encouraged women to wait.

These forces have been at work for more than a half-century, since the birth-control pill was invented in 1960, but it seems that our norms and narratives about sexual relationships have finally caught up with the technology. Data collected in 2014 for the “Relationships in America” project—a national survey of over 15,000 adults, ages 18 to 60, that I oversaw for the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture—asked respondents when they first had sex in their current or most recent relationship. After six months of dating? After two? The most common experience—reported by 32% of men under 40—was having sex with their current partner before the relationship had begun. This is sooner than most women we interviewed would prefer.

The birth-control pill is not the only sexual technology that has altered expectations. Online porn has made sexual experience more widely and easily available too. A laptop never says no, and for many men, virtual women are now genuine competition for real partners. In the same survey, 46% of men (and 16% of women) under 40 reported watching pornography at some point in the past week—and 27% in the past day.

Many young men and women still aspire to marriage as it has long been conventionally understood—faithful, enduring, focused on raising children. But they no longer seem to think that this aspiration requires their discernment, prudence or self-control.

When I asked Kristin, a 29-year-old from Austin, whether men should make sacrifices to get sex, she offered a confusing prescription: “Yes. Sometimes. Not always. I mean, I don’t think it should necessarily be given out by women, but I do think it’s OK if a woman does just give it out. Just not all the time.”

Kristin rightly wants the men whom she dates to treat her well and to respect her interests, but the choices that she and other women have made unwittingly teach the men in their lives that such behavior is noble and nice but not required in order to sleep with them. They are hoping to find good men without supporting the sexual norms that would actually make men better.

For many men, the transition away from a mercenary attitude toward relationships can be difficult. The psychologist and relationship specialist Scott Stanley of the University of Denver sees visible daily sacrifices, such as accepting inconveniences in order to see a woman, as the way that men typically show their developing commitment. It signals the expectation of a future together. Such small instances of self-sacrificing love may sound simple, but they are less likely to develop when past and present relationships are founded on the expectation of cheap sex.

Young people in the U.S. continue to marry, even if later in life, but the number of those who never marry is poised to increase. In a 2015 article in the journal Demography, Steven Ruggles of the University of Minnesota predicted that a third of Americans now in their 20s will never wed, well above the historical norm of just below 10%.

Most young Americans still seek the many personal and social benefits that come from marriage, even as the dynamics of today’s mating market conspire against them. It turns out that a world in which it is possible to satisfy our sexual desires much more immediately carries with it a number of unhappy and unintended consequences.

—Dr. Regnerus is associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. This essay is adapted from his new book, “Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage and Monogamy” (Oxford University Press).

In The U.S., 110 Million S.T.D. Infections

Original Article

By Nicholas Bakalar

A colored transmission electron microscopy image of the chlamydia sp. bacterium.CreditDavid M. Phillips/Science Source, via Getty Images

The incidence of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis is increasing, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At any given time, there are an estimated 110 million sexually transmitted infections in the United States.

While HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease, according to the C.D.C., chlamydia is the most common type that can be easily cured, yet the number of cases rose 4.7 percent from 2015 to 2016. The increases occurred nationwide; rates were highest in the South and lowest in the Northeast.

Chlamydia is usually asymptomatic, and the number of reported cases may have grown in part because of newer, more sensitive screening techniques.

Adolescents and young adult women have the highest rates of chlamydia: one survey found that 9.2 percent of girls aged 15 to 19 were infected, as were 8.0 percent of women aged 20 to 24.

Rates declined 3.5 percent among African-Americans and 6.4 percent among Native Americans and Alaska Natives, but chlamydia still is most common in these groups. Rates rose among all other races and ethnicities.

Continue reading the main story

From 2015 to 2016, gonorrhea infections increased 22.2 percent among men and 13.8 percent among women, the C.D.C. reported. Almost 92 percent of cases are in people 15 to 44 years old.

The only recommended treatment is to take two antibiotics simultaneously, ceftriaxone and azithromycin. Resistance to azithromycin is becoming more common, however, and there is some evidence of growing resistance to ceftriaxone, as well.

“Several drug trials are going on now that we hope will provide new treatments for gonorrhea,” said Dr. Gail Bolan, the director of sexually transmitted disease prevention at the C.D.C.

“But these treatment trials take years, and we don’t know if these new drugs will be safe and effective.”

The rate of primary and secondary syphilis in 2016 is the highest it has been since 1993, and it increased among both men and women from 2015 to 2016. Men account for almost 90 percent of cases, and most are among men who have sex with men.

Rates of syphilis increased in every age group and all races, and they were highest among people in their twenties. The number of babies born infected with syphilis increased to 628 cases in 2016, from 492 in 2015 — each case, in Dr. Bolan’s words, “a needless tragedy.”

”The enormity of the S.T.D. epidemic requires everyone play a role in reversing these trends,” Dr. Bolan said.

Correction: October 2, 2017 
An earlier version of this article misstated the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. It is human papillomavirus not chlamydia.

Correction: October 3, 2017 
An earlier version of this story misstated the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States. There are 110 million such infections, not 110 million people with infections, at any given time. (Some people may have more than one infection.)

1 93 Late night reacts to Las Vegas shooting: Cyrus, Sandler offer duet; Kimmel tears up

Original Article

By Andrea Mandell

With a nation in mourning, late-night hosts grappled with how to address the worst mass shooting in U.S. history Monday night.

Jimmy Kimmel’s eyes welled up and his voice shook as he recounted the violence in his childhood hometown.

“It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to throw up or give up,” said the Jimmy Kimmel Live!host. “It’s too much to even process, all these devastated families that have to live with this pain forever because one person with a violent and insane voice in his head managed to stockpile a collection of high-powered rifles and use them to shoot people.”

Kimmel castigated Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan who “sent their thoughts and their prayers today. Which is good. They should be praying for God to forgive them for letting the gun lobby run this country.”

Then he broadcast photos of over 50 senators who voted against closing loopholes on background checks following the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre.

“With all due respect, your thoughts and your prayers are insufficient,” said Kimmel.

Over at Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, Trevor Noah also took on the argument that now is “not the right time” to discuss gun control.

The South African host said he’s been exposed to 20 mass shootings since moving to the U.S. two years ago. “When is the time (to talk about guns)?” asked Noah. “If you say after a mass shooting is never the time, then you’ll never have the conversation in America because there’s a mass shooting almost every single day.”

He continued: “When a plane crashes we talk about plane safety immediately. When a bridge collapses we talk about infrastructure immediately … we seem to do everything to avoid talking about guns,” said Noah, before pivoting to news clips of talking heads questioning if hotel security was tight enough. “So, just to keep track of the argument: Mass shooting, mass shooting, mass shooting…’We have to take care of this hotel check-in issue.‘”

“We’ve talked about gun violence on this show before,” said the Late Night with Seth Meyers host. “I also know nothing I say will make any difference at all. But to Congress I would like to say: Are there no steps we can take as a nation to prevent gun violence? Or is this just how it is and how it’s going to continue to be?”

Conan O’Brien tried to make sense of the escalation in deadly mass shootings. He traced his career back to 1993, when “occasions like this were extremely rare.”

That was then. The Conan host said his head writer met him at the office on Monday with a stack of remarks O’Brien made after the Sandy Hook and Pulse nightclub mass shootings. “You might want to look at them to see what you might want to say tonight,” his staffer told him.

“That struck me,” said O’Brien. “How could there be a file of mass shooting remarks for a late night host? When did that become normal?”

O’Brien acknowledged that he’s not the most political of his late-night brethren. “I never have been,” he stated. “But I don’t think it should be so easy for one demented person to kill so many people so quickly … Something needs to change. It really does.”

Stephen Colbert dangled a different sort of carrot in front of President Trump.

“Now, President Trump, you’ve said you want to be a transformative president, who doesn’t care about the way things have always been done in Washington D.C.” Colbert began.

“This is your chance to prove it! And I mean this sincerely. You do not owe the Republicans anything. You know the Republicans tried to stop you from being president. Well, screw ‘em!”

Colbert then went full MAGA. “You want to make America great again? Do something the last two presidents haven’t been able to do: Pass any kind of common sense gun legislation that the vast majority of Americans want.”

Over on The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon let music take the lead.

“In the face of tragedies and acts of terror, we need to remember that good still exists in this world,” said Fallon, who scrapped his monologue and had Adam Sandler and Miley Cyrus open the show singing a cover of Dido’s ballad, No Freedom.

“In honor of the lives lost, injured and affected by the tragic shooting in Vegas, (Jimmy Fallon) & I dedicated this show to not only mourning this horrific event but using this platform to encourage unity, peace & hopefulness!” wrote Cyrus on Twitter.

Cyrus also sang The Climb, a song she said she hasn’t performed live in years. “These words mean more now to me than ever,” she tweeted.

1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days: America’s gun crisis – in one chart

Original Article

The attack at a country music festival in Las Vegas that left at least 58 people dead is the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history – but there were six other mass shootings in America this past week alone.

No other developed nation comes close to the rate of gun violence in America. Americans own an estimated 265m guns, more than one gun for every adult.

Data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive reveals a shocking human toll: there is a mass shooting – defined as four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter – every nine out of 10 days on average.

This 40-Year-Old Married Herself. Is ‘Sologamy’ Becoming A Trend?

Original Article

By Mandy Matney

Laura Mesi, a 40-year-old fitness instructor, married herself earlier in September in a full ceremony with four bridesmaids, a three-layer cake, watermelon, 70 guests and a $12,000 wedding dress, The New York Times reports.

She even went on her own honeymoon to Egypt.

The ceremony carried no legal weight, but who cares? To Mesi, it was all about loving herself .

“You can have a fairytale without the prince,” she told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper. “I firmly believe that each of us must first of all love ourselves.”

Mesi got the idea two years ago when her 12-year relationship ended and she told her girlfriends if she didn’t find her soul mate by 40, she’d marry herself.

And unlike most women who make strange deadlines and promises for their future love lives, Mesi stuck to it.

The trend can be traced back to 1993 when Linda Baker, a dental hygienist from Los Angeles, was sick and tired of showering her married friends with gifts and decided to host her own self-marriage ceremony, according to Vice.

Sologamy gained pop culture steam in a 2003 episode of “Sex and the City” when Carrie Bradshaw was annoyed after attending another baby shower (naturally) and it dawned on her that single people get no holidays or special occasions to celebrate themselves while being forced to spend hundreds on their married friends’ showers and wedding celebrations.

Carrie then told her friend she’s marrying herself and registered at Manolo Blahnik so her annoying friend would feel obligated to buy her the shoes she wanted, inspiring single woman everywhere.

Several other single brides and even a groom have held “self-marriage” ceremonies. A Houston woman married herself in 2015, according to ABC News. A Naples man married himself earlier in 2017, according to BBC.

There is even a American company “I Married Me” that specializes in self-marriage kits.

But while websites like Mashable are calling Mesi “heroic,” not everyone is impressed.

“The fairy tale? and which? the fairy tales have a story, what is yours? TV?” one commenter wrote.

The Daily Wire calls sologamy “the saddest trend you’ve ever heard of.”

But is it? This watermelon is anything but sad.

We’ve Grossly Underestimated How Much Cow Farts Are Contributing to Global Warming

Original Article

By George Dvorsky

Image: AP

A new NASA-sponsored study shows that global methane emissions produced by livestock are 11 percent higher than estimates made last decade. Because methane is a particularly nasty greenhouse gas, the new finding means it’s going to be even tougher to combat climate change than we realized.

We’ve known for quite some time that greenhouse gases produced by cattle, sheep, and pigs are a significant contributor to global warming, but the new research, published in Carbon Balance and Management, shows it’s worse than we thought. Revised figures of methane produced by livestock in 2011 were 11 percent higher than estimates made in 2006 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—a now out-of-date estimate.

It’s hard to believe that belches, farts, and poop from livestock could have any kind of global atmospheric effect, but it’s an issue of scale, and the nature of methane itself.

There are approximately 1.5 billion cows on the planet, each and every one of them expelling upwards of 30 to 50 gallons of methane each day. We typically think of farts as being the culprit, but belches are actually the primary source of cattle-produced methane, accounting for 95 percent of the problematic greenhouse gas.

And problematic it is. Methane is about 30 times more efficient at trapping the Sun’s radiative heat than carbon dioxide over a timescale of about a century. There may be more CO2 in the atmosphere than methane, but by unit, it’s the more destructive greenhouse gas. Both NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System research initiative and the Joint Global Change Research Institute (JGCRI) contributed to the study.

Wolf’s team re-evaluated the data used to produce the IPCC 2006 methane emissions estimates. The prior estimates were based on relatively modest rates of methane increases from 2000 to 2006, but things changed dramatically afterwards, increasing 10-fold over the course of the next 10 years. The new figures factor an 8.4 percent increase in methane emissions from digestion (otherwise known as “enteric fermentation”) in dairy cows and other cattle, and a 36.7 percent increase in methane from manure, compared to previous IPCC-based estimates. The new report shows that methane accounted for approximately 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. Other human activities, such as the production and transport of gas, oil and coal, along with the decay of our organic waste, also contribute to global methane emissions.

Importantly, the new estimates are 15 percent higher than global estimates produced by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and four percent higher than EDGAR (Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research).

“In many regions of the world, livestock numbers are changing, and breeding has resulted in larger animals with higher intakes of food,” noted Wolf in a release. “This, along with changes in livestock management, can lead to higher methane emissions.” To which she added: “Direct measurements of methane emissions are not available for all sources of methane. Thus, emissions are reported as estimates based on different methods and assumptions. In this study, we created new per-animal emissions factors—that is measures of the average amount of CH4 discharged by animals into the atmosphere—and new estimates of global livestock methane emissions.”

The new research shows that methane emissions slowed in the US, Canada, and Europe, but they’re rising elsewhere. Very likely, the rest of the world is catching up to first-world standards in terms of meat and dairy consumption.

“Among global regions, there was notable variability in trends in estimated emissions over recent decades,” said Ghassem Asrar, Director of JGCRI and a co-author of the new study. “For example, we found that total livestock methane emissions have increased the most in rapidly developing regions of Asia, Latin America, and Africa…We found the largest increases in annual emissions to be over the northern tropics, followed by the southern tropics.”

It’s not immediately clear how, or even if, these revised figures will impact livestock production or public policy, but at the individual level, it suggests we should cut back on our consumption of meat and dairy. The privilege we have over these animals, it would appear, now comes at a hefty price.

Update: An earlier version of this article included a statement suggesting that methane will exert a global warming potential 28 times greater than that of CO2 over then next 100 years. While methane has a unit for unit GWP that’s about 30 times that of CO2 on 100 year timescales, CO2 is still the dominant greenhosue gas in our atmosphere because there is so much more of it. The sentence in question has been removed.

‘God Makes No Mistakes’: Couple Ignores Warning That Baby Could Die, Rejects Doctors, Police Say

Original Article

By Christopher Haxel

LANSING, Mich. — A mom refused to seek medical treatment for her newborn daughter even after a midwife warned that the infant’s jaundice could lead to brain damage or death, according to a police detective.

“God makes no mistakes,” Rachel Joy Piland told her midwife, according to court testimony last week from Peter Scaccia, a Lansing Police detective.

Two days later, infant Abigail was dead.

Abigail died Feb. 9 from unconjugated hyperbilirubinemia and kernicterus, according to an autopsy that Dr. Patrick Hansma, a medical examiner at Sparrow Hospital here, conducted later. Both conditions are related to jaundice, a common condition in newborns that can clear up on its own but needs a physician to monitor.

“He said if treated, most likely she would’ve been alive,” Scaccia testified.

Piland, 30, and her husband, Joshua Barry Piland, 36, were charged with involuntary manslaughter, a charge that carries up to 15 years of prison time. The two were released from jail Sept. 21 after posting $75,000 bond and did not answer their door Wednesday evening.

Records indicate the couple has requested that the court appoint lawyers for them.

The case likely will pit the Pilands’ apparent belief in divine healing and the religious group they have been involved in, Faith Tech Ministries, against government officials who contend that parents are responsible for seeking medical care for their child.

Abigail was born at about 9:50 p.m. ET Feb. 6 at the Pilands’ Lansing home. A midwife, who previously helped deliver two of Rachel Piland’s children, expressed no concerns about the baby’s health when she and an assistant left around midnight.

But the midwife’s assessment changed the next day when she saw Abigail’s jaundiced skin. She advised Rachel Piland to take her infant to a pediatrician or emergency room, Scaccia said.

“Rachel declined to seek any medical treatment for Abigail, stating God makes no mistakes,” the detective said. “She indicated to the midwife that the baby was fine.”

The midwife scheduled another appointment for the next day, but Rachel Piland later canceled it.

On Feb. 8, Abigail wasn’t eating properly and coughed up blood. At one point Rachel Piland’s mother, Rebecca Kerr, told her daughter that Abigail’s skin was not the right color.

“Rachel told Rebecca about (the midwife’s) concern,” Scaccia said. “And then Rachel went to listen to sermons.”

grandmother noticed blood coming out of the newborn’s nose, problems with her breathing and a lack of desire to eat. Rachel Piland wouldn’t allow her mother to call for help.

By 11 a.m., Abigail’s mother found the infant not breathing and lifeless in a bouncy seat. Rachel Piland took the body to her husband, who attempted one round of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and decided not to try cardio-pulmonary resuscitation because he did not know how to perform it on children, according to court records.

“They then brought Abigail upstairs to pray for her,” Scaccia said. “Joshua continued to massage Abigail, attempting to get her good air. Both Josh and (Rachel) reached out to friends and fellow church members to come to their home and pray for Abigail’s resurrection but never called the police.”

Authorities learned of the baby’s death because Rachel Piland’s brother called them from California. When police arrived at the Pilands’ home, “went upstairs and found a baby that had passed away and three other people praying for it,” Scaccia said.

Joshua Piland has posted videos of missionary trips to Kenya with a Lansing-based Faith Tech Ministries, which describes itself online as nondenominational but similar to other “full gospel” or Pentecostal organizations. Its website says the Bible school has a strong message in the area of divine healing.

In 2016 Joshua Piland was listed as a speaker at a Divine Healing Conference that the ministry organized. His LinkedIn profile indicates he left the organization in February, the same month his daughter died.

No one at Faith Tech Ministries answered the phone Wednesday afternoon and evening.

The couple is scheduled to appear Oct. 5 in Lansing’s 54A District Court.

Joshua Piland worked for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. from 2009 until sometime this month, said Lynne Feldpausch, the public-private partnership’s executive vice president. She would not say which day was Joshua Piland’s last nor why he left.

On Wednesday he still was listed as a senior project manager in the organization’s online directory, but by Thursday afternoon, his name had been removed.

 

Star Trek: Discovery’s Female Lead Character Is Named Michael Burnham and I Can’t Stop Thinking About It

Original Article

By Kaila Hale-Stern

Names have power: just ask Rumpelstiltskin. As someone with a longstanding interest in the meaning of names, the first thing that caught my attention while watching Discovery was that the First Officer played by Sonequa Martin-Green has a traditionally masculine name. I had to know more.

I assumed—erroneously—that Martin-Green’s part was written with a man in mind and when she was cast, they decided to keep the original name for the hell of it. But according to TV Guide, this was not the case. The idea for the name originated with Discovery‘s former showrunner Bryan Fuller, who exited the project but co-wrote the pilot episode, “The Vulcan Hello.” Fuller has a history of giving his female protagonists masculine-sounding names: “See: Dead Like Me’s George (Ellen Muth); Pushing Daisies’ Chuck (Anna Friel); and Wonderfalls’ unisex Jaye (Caroline Dhavernas).”

Discoverexecutive producer Aaron Harberts described naming lead women with male-associated names as Fuller’s “signature move,” calling it “a motif.” Harberts himself came up with “Michael,” explaining in an interview that he “pitched the name after thinking of female columnist Michael Sneed, who writes for the Chicago Sun-Times, and The Bangles’ bassist Michael Steele.” He added, “And, of course, an archangel is named Michael as well, and it just had a lot of potency for us.”

Michael Burnham is hardly the first female Michael in pop culture, and she’s not the first woman to sport a gender-ambiguous name on Star Trek, where officers are often referred to by their last names. “Dax” is a much more recognized moniker among fans than “Jadzia,” for example. But that still doesn’t stop me from noticing every time Martin-Green’s character introduces herself or is called by her full name, because the name stands out even as she stands next to aliens aboard a starship. Michael herself is a fascinating character, fearless and brilliant from what we’ve seen of her so far, caught between her Vulcan upbringing and her human emotions.

Actress Sonequa Martin-Green was enthusiastic about the name, liking the symbolism and anticipating a more gender-fluid and equal opportunity future. Of Michael, she said: “I appreciated the statement it makes all on its own to have this woman with this male name, just speaking of the amelioration of how we see men and women in the future.”

Martin-Green gave Michael’s name a special history that we may end up exploring with her on-screen. “I also just decided for my creation and for my background and whatnot, that I was named after my father. And so, we get a little bit of exploration of the father‑daughter dynamic … I think it’s a lovely symbol.” After all, considering the centuries-long tradition of the eldest boy inheriting their father’s first name, why shouldn’t a girl?

On the flip side, it would be interesting to see the reception of a lead male character with a firmly female-associated name. (Look at how often Firefly’s Jayne, an ensemble member, is made fun of for his name). Because as much as I love Martin-Green rocking the hell out of “Michael,” that’s partially the thrill of seeing a woman of color own both the lead part for the first time on Star Trek and assume another badge of cultural power—the inherited name of the patriarch. But some men with traditionally unisex names that have come to be thought of as more “female”—think Stacey or Alexis —report being teased for this attribute, because in the patriarchal culture we’ve all been raised in, the association with femininity is something to mock in a man while simultaneously undervaluing women (“you throw like a girl”). Why can we take Michael Burnham seriously, but would never see Jason Isaacs’ character introduce himself as Captain Susan Lorca?

I’m looking forward to the far more gender-fluid future where gendered stereotypes lose ground, and anyone can be named anything that they damn well please, though we’ll still have to grapple with the cultural weight of names. Names have an impact all on their own, and it is often centered around gender and race. I would be far more likely to have a manuscript accepted for publishing if I used a male or gender-neutral pen name. Names conjure racist fears and discrimination from thin air: “[a] study of mostly white participants shows that men with black-sounding names are more likely to be imagined as physically large, dangerous and violent than those with stereotypically white-sounding names.” People with perceived “ethnic” names are much less likely to be interviewed or hiredfor a job than people with “white” names, even when their resumes are identical otherwise. Names have power.

If you’re curious, the meaning of the name “Michael” is a rhetorical question: “Who is like God?” with the implied answer that no one is, so there is no answer. Michael is also a powerful archangel, the leader of God’s armies against the forces of Satan—and one of two archangels named in both the old and new Testament. The other archangel? Gabriel, which just so happens to be the first name of Jason Isaacs’ Captain Lorca. I’d like to imagine that from this Biblical symbolism, Star Trek: Discovery has some epic stories in store.

 

 

Kim Jong Un Is Preparing For Big War As 4.7 Million People Volunteer To Join North Korean Army

Original Article

By IndiaTimes

Is North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un preparing for war? Well, it seems so. Amid his continuous threats and testing of missiles, some 4.7 million North Koreans have volunteered to join the ranks of the military, said state-run media reports.

The figure includes “students and workers” including 1.22 million women who in the past six days have been asked to join the ranks of the Korean People’s Army, the Rodong Sinmun daily report said.

embed

AFP

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un issued a statement on September 22 criticising a speech that US President Trump made at the UN, threatening to “totally destroy North Korea”, reports Efe news.

Kim called Trump “mentally deranged” and said Pyongyang would give a response “at the highest level” to what he considered the US President’s insult.

These Gender-Neutral Schools Want to Crush Gender Stereotypes

Original Article

By Katy Scott

From the moment a child is born, its gender pretty much determines how they will dress, which toys they’ll be given and ultimately how they are meant to behave within society.

But some schools in Sweden are trying to strip away such gender norms.
There’s nothing obviously out of the ordinary at Sweden’s gender-neutral preschools at first glance.
There are no designated areas to play with dolls or building blocks. The toys have been strategically jumbled to create an environment for girls and boys to play together.
These two preschools in Sweden — Nicolaigarden and Egalia (meaning ‘equality’ in Latin) — go to great lengths to de-emphasize gender. Children are given the freedom to challenge and cross gender boundaries.
Rather than encourage children to do particular things, the teachers are careful not to box children based on their gender or subtly discourage them from doing certain things.
The school has removed the terms “girl” and “boy” completely. Instead they make a deliberate effort to call each child by their first name or the gender-neutral pronoun “hen”.
But is it necessary to intervene at such a young age, and what are the long-term effects?
Children play in the garden of Egalia.

Removing the ‘gender straitjacket’

A new global study found that young girls and boys are outfitted with “gender straitjackets” by the age of 10, resulting in lifelong negative consequences.
The Global Early Adolescent Study analyzed how gender is learned, enforced and reinforced among early adolescents in 15 countries.
It concluded that culturally-enforced gender stereotypes — which are linked to an increased risk of mental and physical health problems — are firmly rooted between the ages of 10 and 14. The study found these stereotypes leave girls at greater risk of exposure to physical and sexual violence, child marriage, and HIV. For boys, the risks can include substance abuse and suicide.
In Sweden, which is ranked as the fourth-most equal country in the world when it comes to gender, the government has made a concerted effort to emphasize equality in the Education Act.
Following a new amendment introduced in 1998 requiring all schools to work against gender stereotyping, Lotta Rajalin set up her first gender-neutral preschool for one to five-year-olds in Stockholm’s Old Town.
The gender-neutral policies at Rajalin’s schools ensure that stories, songs and dramatizations are screened or re-scripted to include non-nuclear families (single parents or same-sex couples) and heroines sweeping princes off their feet.
Teachers opt for non-traditional plot twists to ensure that they’re not reinforcing gender stereotypes.

How to be a gender-neutral teacher

Perhaps the most important distinction in these preschools is the way the teachers treat each child.
To help identify any unconscious bias they have when dealing with girls and boys, the teachers filmed themselves interacting with children and took note of how they responded to the different sexes.
“After we had been filming and observing each other, we understood that it’s not the children we have to change, it’s ourselves,” Rajalin tells CNN.
Lotta Rajalin, director at Nicolaigarden and Egalia gender-neutral preschools.

They discovered they used different tones of voice when talking to girls or boys, and tolerated rowdiness in boys while discouraging it in girls. Similarly, they found themselves to be more likely to comfort a crying girl, while they would tell a crying boy to brush it off.
“When you change yourself and your thinking and your expectations, you will see new things and you will see that it’s better for children’s development,” she says.
Rajalin believes gender stereotypes limit the opportunities available to a child. Her gender-neutral teaching methods stem from what she calls “the whole life spectra” or “circle of opportunity.” This circle is often divided into two semi-circles — one for boys and one for girls.
Through gender-neutral teaching, Rajalin hopes to open up this circle of opportunities for all children to define themselves.
“We try to take away the barriers which stop both girls and boys doing what they want to do,” she says.
“We want all children to have the same opportunities to feel, to express themselves, to like what color they like, to play the sport they’re in, and so on. We don’t want to limit them.”

Rajalin wants to open the “circle of opportunities” to all children, regardless of their gender.
Following a small, structured observation of children at one of Rajalin’s preschools, Ben Kenward, a researcher in psychology at Uppsala University in Sweden and Oxford Brookes University in England, found these children had a reduced tendency to be influenced by gender stereotypes, compared to a control group of children from a typical Swedish preschool.
“The [gender neutral] pedagogy is having some of the effects that it’s intended to have, and if you’re committed to giving these young children the same opportunities … then our study suggests that this kind of pedagogy is a good tool.”

‘Brainwashing children’

However, these gender-neutral policies have generated much criticism over the years.
Swedish psychiatrist and author David Eberhard considers calling boys and girls “hen” to be “intellectually dishonest” as it is being “blind to biological differences.”
“This is the kind of brainwash that works when the kids are small and in the short run they adapt to this, but what happens when they go to normal school and they find out they were living in a sect?” he tells CNN.
“This is a sort of a religious sect to say there’s no differences between men and women, it has nothing to do with science.”
Eberhard explained that he does not oppose boys choosing to play with dolls, but he draws the line at calling a girl or boy “it” or “hen”.
Rajalin believes a lot of criticism is misguided, as people do not fully understand what they are trying to do. “We are not trying to say girls should be boys or boys should be girls, we just want every person to have the right to be the person they are, regardless of gender,” she says.
Rajalin says her gender-neutral preschools give children the same opportunities, obligations and rights, regardless of gender.

Harmless ‘experiment’

While Eberhard’s views are strong, he says gender-neutral schooling is unlikely to have any negative long-term effects on young children.
“I suppose that they [the children] are so sure about their identity that it doesn’t matter,” he says. “But, as individuals, you may very well have young kids of different sexes that become very frustrated or confused.”
He believes Sweden would be better off solving the problem of gender inequality in the real world.
Rajalin, however, believes adopting gender-neutral methods and exposing children to teachers of various different ethnicities, religions, sexes and sexual orientations, will better prepare them for the nuances of the real world. It will boost their self-confidence and set them up to be more successful in life, she says.
Psychology professor Philip Hwang from the University of Gothenburg is not convinced. He thinks Rajalin’s gender-neutral preschools are harmless but overrated.
“I don’t really see any harm in it, but I think it pleases the parents more than it changes the children,” he tells CNN.
He says he has met a couple of parents that really believe sending their children to gender-neutral preschool will have lasting effects and that they will grow up in a gender-neutral society.
“It’s a statement more than something that has actual effect on children’s long-term development with regard to gender issues,” he says.
“It takes generations to change norms and values like this.”
Even Kenward, who is optimistic that the gender-neutral pedagogy is creating equal opportunities for children of both genders, is unsure what the long-term effects will be.
“It’s an open question what happens to these children when they move into primary school,” he says. “My guess is it [gender neutral pedagogy] could continue to influence their behavior potentially, not in a very strong way necessarily. But it may have some lasting effects.”

DNA Surgery on Embryos Removes Disease

Original Article

By James Gallagher

Precise “chemical surgery” has been performed on human embryos to remove disease in a world first, Chinese researchers have told the BBC.

The team at Sun Yat-sen University used a technique called base editing to correct a single error out of the three billion “letters” of our genetic code.

They altered lab-made embryos to remove the disease beta-thalassemia. The embryos were not implanted.

The team says the approach may one day treat a range of inherited diseases.

Base editing alters the fundamental building blocks of DNA: the four bases adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine.

They are commonly known by their respective letters, A, C, G and T.

All the instructions for building and running the human body are encoded in combinations of those four bases.

DNAImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

The potentially life-threatening blood disorder beta-thalassemia is caused by a change to a single base in the genetic code – known as a point mutation.

The team in China edited it back.

They scanned DNA for the error then converted a G to an A, correcting the fault.

Junjiu Huang, one of the researchers, told the BBC News website: “We are the first to demonstrate the feasibility of curing genetic disease in human embryos by base editor system.”

He said their study opens new avenues for treating patients and preventing babies being born with beta-thalassemia, “and even other inherited diseases”.

The experiments were performed in tissues taken from a patient with the blood disorder and in human embryos made through cloning.

Genetics revolution

Base editing is an advance on a form of gene-editing known as Crispr, that is already revolutionising science.

Crispr breaks DNA. When the body tries to repair the break, it deactivates a set of instructions called a gene. It is also an opportunity to insert new genetic information.

Base editing works on the DNA bases themselves to convert one into another.

Prof David Liu, who pioneered base editing at Harvard University, describes the approach as “chemical surgery”.

He says the technique is more efficient and has fewer unwanted side-effects than Crispr.

He told the BBC: “About two-thirds of known human genetic variants associated with disease are point mutations.

“So base editing has the potential to directly correct, or reproduce for research purposes, many pathogenic [mutations].”

EmbryoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

The research group at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou hit the headlines before when they were the first to use Crispr on human embryos.

Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, from the Francis Crick Institute in London, described parts of their latest study as “ingenious”.

But he also questioned why they did not do more animal research before jumping to human embryos and said the rules on embryo research in other countries would have been “more exacting”.

The study, published in Protein and Cell, is the latest example of the rapidly growing ability of scientists to manipulate human DNA.

It is provoking deep ethical and societal debate about what is and is not acceptable in efforts to prevent disease.

Prof Lovell-Badge said these approaches are unlikely to be used clinically anytime soon.

“There would need to be far more debate, covering the ethics, and how these approaches should be regulated.

“And in many countries, including China, there needs to be more robust mechanisms established for regulation, oversight, and long-term follow-up.”

Earth Had Life From Its Infancy

Original Article

By Ed Yong

The Torngat Mountains in northeastern Canada are full of life. Reindeer graze on lichen, polar bears prowl the coastlines, and great whales swim in the offshore waters. Scientists patrol the land, too, looking for the oldest rocks on the planet, which were formed almost 4 billion years ago, when the Earth was just an infant world.

Back then, the landscape would have been very different. The Earth was a hellish place that had only just acquired a firm crust. Its atmosphere was devoid of oxygen, and it was regularly pelted with asteroids. There were no reindeer, whales, polar bears, or lichen. But according to new research, there was life.

In a rock formation called the Saglek Block, Yuji Sano and Tsuyoshi Komiya from the University of Tokyo found crystals of the mineral graphite that contain a distinctive blend of carbon isotopes. That blend suggests that microbes were already around, living, surviving, and using carbon dioxide from the air to build their cells. If the two researchers are right—and claims about such ancient events are always controversial—then this Canadian graphite represents one of the earliest traces of life on Earth.

The Earth was formed around 4.54 billion years ago. If you condense that huge swath of prehistory into a single calendar year, then the 3.95-billion-year-old graphite that the Tokyo team analyzed was created in the third week of February. By contrast, the earliest fossils ever found are 3.7 billion years old; they were created in the second week of March.

Those fossils, from the Isua Belt in southwest Greenland, are stromatolites—layered structures created by communities of bacteria. And as I reported last year, their presence suggests that life already existed in a sophisticated form at the 3.7-billion-year mark, and so must have arisen much earlier. And indeed, scientists have found traces of biologically produced graphite throughout the region, in other Isua Belt rocks that are 3.8 billion years old, and in hydrothermal vents off the coast of Quebec that are at least a similar age, and possibly even older.

“The emerging picture from the ancient-rock record is that life was everywhere,” says Vickie Bennett from Australian National University, who was not involved in the latest study. “As far back as the rock record extends—that is, as far back as we can look for direct evidence of early life, we are finding it. Earth has been a biotic, life-sustaining planet since close to its beginning.”

This evidence hinges on a quirk of chemistry. Carbon comes in two stable isotopes—carbon-12, which is extremely common, and carbon-13, which is rarer and slightly heavier. When it comes to making life, carbon-12 is the more pliable building block. It’s more reactive than its heavier cousin, and so easier to transform into molecules like carbohydrates and proteins.

So living organisms concentrate carbon-12 in their cells—and when they die, that signature persists. When scientists find graphite that’s especially enriched in carbon-12, relative to carbon-13, they can deduce that living things were around when that graphite was first formed. And that’s exactly what the Tokyo team found in the Saglek Block—grains of graphite, enriched in carbon-12, encased within 3.95-billion-year-old rock.

But are those graphite grains the same age? The rocks around them are metamorphic—they’ve been warped and transformed at extreme temperatures and pressures. During that process, and all the subsequent geological tumult that this region has experienced, it’s possible that much younger graphite somehow infiltrated the older rock, creating a false signal of early life.

To rule out that possibility, the Tokyo team looked at the structure of the graphite grains. The more orderly and crystalline those structures, the hotter the grains were when they formed. Based on that relationship, the team calculated the graphite was created at temperatures between 536 and 622 Celsius—a range that’s consistent with the temperatures at which the surrounding metamorphic rocks were transformed. This suggests that the graphite was already there when the rocks were heated and warped, and didn’t sneak in later. It was truly OG—original graphite.

There’s still room for doubt, though. Given how ancient these rocks are, and how much geological tumult they have experienced, it’s hard to fully exclude the possibility that the graphite got there later. Also, other processes that have nothing to do with living things could potentially change the ratio of carbon-12 and carbon-13. It’s concerning that the ratio varies a lot in the samples that the Tokyo team analyzed, says Andrew Knoll from Harvard University. But he also says that the team has been careful, and their combined evidence “makes a strong case that life existed on earth nearly 4 billion years ago.”

“The authors have done as many checks as they could for whether they are indeed analyzing 3.95-billion-year-old graphite rather than later contamination,” adds Elizabeth Bell, a geochemist from the University of California, Los Angeles. “They make a plausible case that the graphite is original.”

Bell herself found the oldest graphite that’s been measured to date. It lurked within a 4.1-billion-year-old zircon gemstone from Western Australia, and also contained a blend of isotopes that hinted at a biological origin. That discovery is also controversial, especially since the graphite was completely cut off from its source environment, making it hard to know the conditions in which it was formed.

Still, all of this evidence suggests Earth was home to life during its hellish infancy, and that such life abounded in a variety of habitats. Those pioneering organisms—bacteria, probably—haven’t left any fossils behind. But Sano and Komiya hope to find some clues about them by analyzing the Saglek Block rocks. The levels of nitrogen, iron, and sulfur in the rocks could reveal which energy sources those organisms exploited, and which environments they inhabited. They could tell us how life first lived.

Group Accuses Pope Francis of Heresy

Original Article

By Steve Reilly

A group of Catholic scholars and clergy has accused Pope Francis of heresy in connection with a 2016 papal document that discusses divorce and remarriage, according to a 25-page letter made public by the group.

The letter, made public Saturday, asserts that portions of Francis’ document “The Joy of Love,” contains propositions which “contradict truths that are divinely revealed, and that Catholics must believe with the assent of divine faith.”

More than 60 priests, professors and others signed the letter, which accuses Francis of seven specific heresies because of the pope’s “words, deeds, and omissions” as well as specific passages in document.

The criticism centers on receipt of Communion by Catholics who have been civilly remarried. A spokesman for the Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Experts on the Catholic Church said the letter represents only a small minority of the church, and that it is unlikely to be met with any response from Francis.

Massimo Faggioli, a professor at Villanova University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies, said the signatories represent a “tiny, extreme fringe of the opposition to Francis” and do not include any cardinals or bishops with formal standing in the Catholic Church.

“The Catholic Church that has more than 200 cardinals now and more than 5,000 bishops,” he said. “And they couldn’t find one.”

The only bishop who signed the letter is Bishop Bernard Fellay of the Society of St. Pius X, who experts said does not have formal standing in the church because he is from a breakaway group.

David Gibson, director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture, said the letter is “akin to an online petition,” and is unlikely to have any effect.

“It’s a great headline anytime the pope is accused of heresy,” he said. “But these are really, kind of, the usual suspects of really far right types who have been upset with not only this pope, but other popes in recent years.”

Joseph Shaw, a religious scholar at Oxford University who signed the letter, said in a statement that it was first hand-delivered to Francis more than a month ago. The group only made it public after it did not receive a response.

“It is designed to make clear the importance of what is (at) stake,” Shaw said, “and the urgency of keeping a correct view of these matters.”

Mass Shooting Reported in Tennessee Church

Original Article

By Whitney Kimball

Image tweeted by @NashvilleFD

A mass shooting has been reported in a church in Antioch, Tennessee, the Tennessean reports. Police responded to calls at 11:15 AM and are investigating.

The Nashville fire department has tweeted that eight people have been wounded, including the shooter.

They add that all but one of the victims is over the age of 60.

Motives remain unclear. We will update the post as more news arrives.

Update 1:57PM EST: WKRN reports that Nashville fire officials have confirmed at least one death among the eight wounded.

Update 2:04PM EST: Fox News has reported that the shooter was also shot and is in custody at the hospital.

Update 6:34PM EST: The New York Post reports that police have identified 25-year-old Emanuel Kidega Samson as the suspect. One church member says that he was wearing a clown mask; police confirm that it was “at least a ski mask.” He was stopped in an altercation with the church usher, whom the shooter pistol-whipped in the head before accidentally shooting himself in the leg.

Fans Petition Warner Bros. to Make Wonder Woman Bisexual

Original Article

By Kevin Melrose

Fans Petition Warner Bros. to Make Wonder Woman Bisexual

A year after Wonder Woman comics writer Greg Rucka acknowledged that his interpretation of the iconic heroine is “queer,” fans are lobbying Warner Bros. to depict her big-screen counterpart as bisexual in the 2019 sequel.

A petition launched on Change.org by Gianna Collier-Pitts, a GLAAD campus ambassador at New York University, calls on the studio to “directly acknowledge Diana Prince for who she is, who she has always been (regardless of her current love interest), and what her character could potentially represent for millions of people.”

More than 2,200 people have signed the petition since its launch on Thursday.

Wonder Woman’s Diana Prince hails from Themyscira, land of the Amazons and inhabited exclusively by women,” Collier-Pitts wrote. “This alone should serve as reason enough to confirm her sexuality, since any close relationship she could have had prior to her romantic storyline with Steve Trevor would have had to have been with another woman. Some of you may be thinking that this specificity doesn’t make a difference but for people like me who rarely see themselves reflected in media, believe me. It does. […] Making Wonder Woman canonically bisexual on the big screen would make her the first openly LGBTQ superhero of any gender from either DC or Marvel’s cinematic universes, and would solidify her place as a true role model for women of all ages and identities.”

Rucka noted in September 2016 that the sexuality of Wonder Woman, and the Amazons, is “complicated,” explaining, “This is inherently the problem with Diana: We’ve had a long history of people — for a variety of reasons, including sometimes pure titillation, which I think is the worst reason — say, ‘Ooo. Look. It’s the Amazons. They’re gay!’ And when you start to think about giving the concept of Themyscira its due, the answer is, ‘How can they not all be in same sex relationships?’ Right? It makes no logical sense otherwise.”

Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot addressed the issue shortly thereafter, acknowledging that, while it wasn’t explored in the original film, “when you talk theoretically about all the women on Themyscira and how many years she was there, then what he said makes sense. In this movie she does not experience any bisexual relationships. But it’s not about that. She’s a woman who loves people for who they are. She can be bisexual. She loves people for their hearts.”

Directed by Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman has grossed $819.5 million worldwide. The sequel, which will reteam Jenkins and Gadot, is in development for release on Dec. 13, 2019.

Love in the Time of Individualism

Original Article

By Julie Beck

C.S. Lewis’s wife, Joy Davidman, died of bone cancer on July 13, 1960. The next day, the famous author wrote a letter to Peter Bide, the priest who had married them, to tell him the news.

“I’d like to meet,” Lewis writes, suggesting the two grab lunch sometime soon. “For I am—oh God that I were not—very free now. One doesn’t realize in early life that the price of freedom is loneliness. To be happy is to be tied.”

When it comes to romance, Americans are freer than they’ve ever been. Freer to marry, freer to divorce, freer to have sex when and with whom they like with fewer consequences, freer to cohabitate without getting married, freer to remain single, freer to pursue open relationships or polyamory.

But what if the price of freedom is loneliness? Would you pay it?

Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, thinks a lot about the price of human relationships. His new book, Cheap Sex, is all about how the modern dating scene has been shaped by sexual economics, a theory which sees human mating as a marketplace. His idea, as you might suspect from the title, is that sex is not as costly to access as it once was—in terms of time, effort, and risk. Contraception makes sex less risky; online dating platforms make it more accessible. If that doesn’t work out, there’s always porn, which requires next to no effort to find. These factors, Regnerus argues, “have created a massive slowdown in the development of committed relationships, especially marriage.”

Marriage rates have indeed plummeted among young adults, to the point that a demographer cited by  Regnerus estimates that one-third of people currently in their early 20s will never get married. But another new book about modern relationships, Eli Finkel’s The All-or-Nothing Marriage, contends that while “the institution of marriage in America is struggling … the best marriages today are better than the best marriages of earlier eras; indeed, they are the best marriages that the world has ever known.”

Because marriage for many is no longer a gateway to adulthood, but rather an optional “capstone,” it’s held to a higher standard. Regnerus asserts that modern mating dynamics make it hard for people to find a relationship that seems worth committing to; Finkel argues that when marriages manage to live up to today’s lofty expectations, they can be extremely fulfilling. One may be more optimistic than the other, but both show how increasing romantic freedom has changed romance itself.

* * *

Regnerus’s description of sexual economics relies on a stark division of gender roles: Men provide the demand and women are the supply. There is a long history of what he calls the “exchange relationship,” in which women control men’s access to sex. In order to get it, men bring to the table resources, commitment, and fidelity.

In previous eras, this exchange was effective at producing marriages (though it also went hand-in-hand with strict sexual mores and women’s subjugation). But now that sex before marriage and sex outside of relationships is common, safe, and less stigmatized, men don’t have to work as hard for it, according to Regnerus. So they ghost and flake and dither about committing to one person. Many women don’t need what resources men have to offer, anyway; they have their own. But men have more power in the mating market in this model, which leads to women also embracing, or at least going along with, cheap sex and some of the rude behavior that comes with it.

Regnerus doesn’t talk much about LGBT relationships, except to say that these market dynamics might make women more likely to “experiment with same-sex relationships,” to circumvent the problem of noncommittal men. He also writes that because there is no gatekeeper in gay men’s relationships, they are less likely to be sexually monogamous.

When it comes to heterosexual relationships, Regnerus sums up his theory like this: “It’s not that love is dead, but the sexual incentives for men to sacrifice and commit have largely dissolved, spelling a more confusing and circuitous path to commitment and marriage than earlier eras.”

This all smacks strongly of gender essentialism. Regnerus’s underlying premise is sound: Many studies have found that, on average, men want sex more than women, and women value having sex in the context of commitment more than men do (though of course individuals differ). Still, throughout the book, Regnerus takes this theory pretty far. He sounds a bit like your proverbial grandma cautioning that a man will never buy the cow if he’s getting the milk for free.

Regnerus writes about one woman who would sometimes have casual sex with men she didn’t like that much and who felt frustrated because she wasn’t finding men she did like: “She wishes to be a free rider—in this case, to find a good man—without contributing to the kinds of normative relationship behavior that make men better. It won’t work. It can’t work.”

He goes on: “In the domain of sex and relationships men will act as nobly as women collectively demand. This is an aggravating statement for women to read, no doubt. They do not want to be responsible for ‘raising’ men. But it is realistic.”

Even under a theory that believes women, through sexual gatekeeping, control how relationships unfold, it’s quite something to imply that men do not have responsibility for contributing to norms around how romantic partners should treat each other.

Regnerus also argues that the easy availability of sex makes men less motivated in their professional lives, because they don’t need to become successful, i.e., marriageable, to woo women to their beds. While this may sound dubious, there is an established precedent for this theory in the field. Regnerus quotes the famous psychologists Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs, who write that “giving young men easy access to abundant sexual satisfaction deprives society of one of its ways to motivate them to contribute valuable achievements to the culture.” Still, it seems extreme to suggest that men need to be dragged by the dick into being productive citizens.

Overall, sexual economics discounts the other things men and women have to offer each other—besides sex and “resources” and commitment. Am I naïve to think that companionship and attention should have some place in this equation? If the modern mating market has made people more isolated, and if smartphones and other technology are increasingly mediating human relationships and driving us to distraction, shouldn’t the value of a present and proximate companion increase?

Still, there is a lot in Regnerus’s analysis that is uncomfortably astute. He’s right that it can be hard to escape these old gender dynamics when dating, especially online dating. Popular dating apps put women in the position of gatekeeping, whether deliberately or not. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a smartphone will swipe right on basically everyone. This forces women to be choosier about who they say yes to. Even if they also swipe with abandon, they end up with more matches to sort through—yet more gatekeeping. On Hinge and OkCupid, which don’t require a mutual opt-in before people can send messages, women’s inboxes are deluged with men whom they must then sort through. Bumble just went all-in and made gatekeeping a selling point: Women have to message men first, putting them in control of who has access to their attention.

While Regnerus believes that the “cheap sex” mating market gives men the upper hand in relationships, he notes that after spending a long time in the market, men and women alike grow frustrated and exhausted. This is something I’ve found inmy own reporting as well—that prolonged use of dating apps often leads to burnout and ambivalence. “Online dating,” Regnerus writes, “forces participants to play by its rules.” And many find that being able to hyperefficiently move through romantic options doesn’t actually make it easier to find a relationship.

This is only further complicated by the fact that what Americans want from their relationships is radically different than it’s been for most of history.

* * *

In The All-or-Nothing Marriage, Finkel, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, traces the history of the institution over what he sees as three thematic eras. For a very long time, people married for pragmatic reasons. Most of the clothing, food, and other goods a family used were produced by the household itself, so an eternal bachelorhood would be a serious liability. People needed the labor of a partner—and often multiple children—to survive.

Things eventually became less dire, and people started marrying for love. Finkel dates that transition to around 1850, but notes that it was a shift that took place over centuries. In contrast, the transition from love-based marriages to the current era of what Finkel calls “self-expressive” marriages only took about 15 years, thanks to the counterculture shake-ups of the 1960s and 70s. During those years, the second-wave feminist movement pushed back against breadwinner/homemaker marriages and helped women earn more individual freedom. Meanwhile, concepts like “self-esteem” and New-Agey “self-discovery” found footholds in the culture.

What Americans want from their marriages nowadays, Finkel argues, is love, yes, but also someone who will give their lives meaning, and make them into the best versions of themselves. “Marriage has a self-expressive emphasis that places a premium on spouses helping each other meet their authenticity and personal-growth needs,” he writes. “The pursuit of self-expression through marriage simultaneously makes achieving marital success harder and the value of doing so greater.”

Taken together, the changes described in Finkel’s and Regnerus’s books illustrate how intensely modern American relationships have been shaped by that most star-spangled of values: individualism.

“The marriages Americans are fashioning today seldom emphasize the idea of marriage as a functional form, enabling two people to accomplish things they otherwise could not alone,” Regnerus writes, very much seeming to mop what Finkel is spilling. “Now we can accomplish a great deal—certainly enough—on our own. Hence, marriage in America has shifted away from being a populist institution—a social phenomenon in which most adults participated and benefited—to becoming an elite, individualist, voluntary, consumption-oriented arrangement.”

Even outside of marriage, in any romantic entanglement, Westerners value what British sociologist Anthony Giddens calls the “pure relationship.” The pure relationship is one which people are a part of only because they want to be, because it satisfies both individuals. It’s different than romantic love, which assumes you’ll find The One and stay with them forever, for better and for worse. In a pure relationship, if someone is no longer satisfied, it’s assumed they’ll leave.

“While the dyad—the couple—is the basic structure to the union, it is never to usurp the individual’s primacy and will,” Regnerus writes.

According to Baumeister and another psychologist, Michael MacKenzie, the self is now seen as a “value base”—that is, a good so self-evident that it doesn’t even need to be questioned. Just as a devout Christian would not question the importance of God’s will, a modern Westerner would likely not question the importance of being “true to yourself.”

But Americans are unique, Finkel writes, in that they not only believe in being true to themselves, but they also still strongly value commitment. So the United States has higher rates of both marriage and divorce than many other countries. The sociologist Andrew Cherlin calls this “the marriage-go-round.”

* * *

Modern Americans are freer than ever to spend their time finding the right person, the one who will improve their lives. And they’re freer than ever to leave. Not just in the sense of “you can get divorced now,” but cultural norms have created an environment where it’s easy to feel like if something doesn’t work out right away, you should pull out your phone and look for other options. Where high expectations are often disappointed. Where, after enough letdowns, people may lose faith in finding the kind of fulfillment they seek outside of themselves. Where they wander through the mating market, halfheartedly picking up the bruised wares, then putting them back in the bin when they’re not shiny enough.

Regnerus recounts a post he saw online where a man in a long-distance relationship discovered his girlfriend had posed for some racy pictures and was asking for advice on how to talk to her about it. One of the responses the man received was “She doesn’t belong to you.” True enough—she’s her own person who can make her own choices. The phrasing, however, prompted Regnerus to “reflect on the place of belongingness in the ‘pure relationship’ era. Do people belong to other people?”

As people’s search for romance becomes increasingly divorced from their communities, many relationships start with two individuals, who know next to nothing of each other’s context, trying to figure out if they’d fit into each other’s lives. In the best of circumstances, according to Finkel, they each elevate the other, and live meaningfully—if not always happily—ever after. In less ideal circumstances, individualism leads to loneliness.

“Interdependence has faded, leaving only independence,” Regnerus writes. “It is freer but also far more vulnerable than many wish to acknowledge.”

C.S. Lewis would likely agree.

White Woman Discusses Her ‘Black Woman’ Transition on Maury

Original Article

By Yesha Callahan

Maury via YouTube screenshot

Martina Big started out as a white woman, and now she’s here … with Maury Povich, explaining why she chose to drastically change her appearance. The plastic-surgery-obsessed Big appeared on Maury, wearing a gigantic “Black Girls Rock” necklace and her best kinky weave. Even as the audience sat dumbfounded and confused, you could tell Maury was thinking, “I should have just done my usual paternity-testing show.”

“Martina, do you think you’re a black person?” Maury asked.

“Yes,” Big replied. “But 80 percent. I have to learn a lot. I know.”

Big’s “transitioning” into a black woman included her taking supplements to darken her skin, lip implants, a nose job, various lipo procedures and a kinky weave. The breast enhancements were done previously during her foray into “these damn plastic surgeons should know better” breast-enlargement surgeries and the fact that she wanted to look like Pamela Anderson.

“Everyone who’s watching this who’s a person of color is going to say it’s not just skin-deep. You think you want to learn about the black culture, and you can absorb all of that,” Maury said.

“Yeah,” Big replied. She then went on to state that hopefully she won’t need extensions in her hair once her blond hair starts to grow in darker “naturally

“Being black is not about extensions,” Maury stated.

When Maury Povich is a voice of reason, you need to check your life decisions. What would have made the segment television gold would have been Maury ending it with, “You are not the father a black woman!”

But, of course, as with every post involving a Rachel Dolezal-type woman, there will be those nimrods who want to compare putting on makeup and having surgeries to try to become a black woman to being a transgender person. Before you even start banging on your keyboards trying to be witty and contrary, don’t embarrass yourself.

Las Vegas Shooting: 59 Killed and More Than 500 Hurt Near Mandalay Bay

Original Article

By Andrew Blankstein, Pete Williams, Rachel Elbaum, and Elizabeth Chuck.

A lone gunman unleashed a rapid-fire barrage of bullets from the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel late Sunday, killing at least 59 people and injuring more than 500 others attending a country music festival below, officials said.

It was the worst mass shooting in modern American history, and Stephen Craig Paddock was “solely responsible for this heinous act,” Assistant Clark County Sheriff Todd Fasulo told reporters Monday night.

Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, fired shot after shot from his room at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino down on the crowd of about 22,000, sending terrified concertgoers running for their lives.

“We heard what sounded like firecrackers going off. Then all of a sudden we heard what sounded like a machine gun. People started screaming that they were hit,” witness Meghan Kearney told MSNBC. “When we started running out, there were probably a couple hundred [people] on the ground.”

She added: “People kept dropping and dropping. … People were getting shot one foot away from us. People were trying to save their friends. There were gunshots everywhere. Helping them would’ve meant that we got shot, too.”


The Latest:

  • 59 people were killed and at least 527 others were injured in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
  • Authorities identified the gunman as Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada. They said he acted alone.
  • Investigators found 23 firearms in Paddock’s room at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and 19 more at his home.
  • President Donald Trump, who will visit Las Vegas on Wednesday, called the shooting “an act of pure evil.”

Police responded to reports of the shooting just after 10 p.m. (1 a.m. ET). Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters Monday that authorities believe Paddock killed himself before police entered his room. Officials had said earlier that police fatally shot Paddock.

Authorities were digging into Paddock’s history. Other than a citation he received several years ago that was “handled as a normal practice” by the courts, he had no criminal background, Lombardo said.

Paddock is believed to have checked into the hotel on Thursday, Lombardo said. Fasulo said that he had 23 firearms in his room and that investigators found 19 more at his home.

It wasn’t clear whether Paddock had specifically requested a room on a high floor that overlooked the concert venue. Hotel employees had been in his room before the shooting and didn’t notice anything unusual, according to Lombardo.

Two broken windows could be seen from the 32nd floor of the hotel, curtains billowing out. Law enforcement officials said Paddock had connecting rooms or a suite and ran between the windows, firing out of both, either to get a different vantage point or to avoid return fire.

They believe he smashed the windows with a something like a hammer before he started firing.

The shooting started while performer Jason Aldean was onstage. Witnesses described a chaotic scene of back-to-back bullets raining down from above, lasting for up to 10 minutes.

Fellow performer Jake Owen said he was standing about 50 feet from Aldean when the shots started.

“It got faster and faster, almost like it was an automatic rifle,” Owen said. “At that point, everyone on stage started running everywhere.”

Owen dashed by victims covered in blood and eventually found shelter in his bus. The gunfire still hadn’t stopped by the time he got there, he said.

“It wasn’t something that was quick. It was chaos for a pure seven to 10 minutes,” he said.

Image: A map shows the area of the shooting in Las Vegas
A map shows the area of the shooting in Las Vegas. NBC News

Flags at the White House and the U.S. Capitol were lowered at half-staff on Monday. President Donald Trump, who said he would visit Las Vegas on Wednesday, called the shooting “an act of pure evil.”

“Hundreds of our fellow citizens are now mourning the loss of a loved one,” Trump said at a news conference. “We cannot fathom their pain. We cannot imagine their loss. To the families of the victims, we are praying for you, and we are here for you.”

The shooting isn’t believed to be connected to international terrorism. Authorities haven’t said what kinds of weapons were found.

A former Clark County sheriff, Bill Young, said his 22-year-old daughter was at the concert. Young told MSNBC that his daughter said that the weapon “sounded like a machine gun” and that she and her friends took cover under a desk.

“I picked up the phone, my cellphone, and she was screaming and yelling, ‘Dad, dad, dad, dad, somebody’s shooting at us, and I don’t know what to do.’ She was hysterical, and I tried to just calm her down,” Young said.

“She could hear the gunshots — sounded like a machine gun, she said — and they didn’t know where they were coming from,” Young said. “She had nowhere to take cover, so I told her just to run as fast as she could, as quick as she could, out of the arena. Get as far away from it as she could where she thought the line of fire might be.”

At least one off-duty Las Vegas police officer was shot, Lombardo said. Several other off-duty police officers are believed to be among the dead and injured.

The massacre put the normally bustling Strip at a standstill. Flights in and out of the Las Vegas airport were temporarily halted.

Police found Paddock’s roommate, Marilou Danley, 62, and don’t think she was involved, Lombardo said, adding that the investigation is ongoing.

Police searched their home in Mesquite, about 80 miles from Las Vegas.

The suspect’s brother Eric Paddock, of Orlando, Florida, told NBC News that he was “dumbfounded” by the shooting.

“He was just a guy,” Eric Paddock said of his brother. “He lives in Mesquite, he went to the hotels, he gambled, he went to shows.”

“We are completely at a loss,” he added.

Senior law enforcement officials and a Las Vegas casino executive said Stephen Paddock had made several large gambling transactions in recent weeks, including some of more than $30,000 a day. It wasn’t known whether they were losses or wins.

In 2012, Paddock sued the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas for a slip and fall. Martin Kravitz, the lead attorney for the hotel, described him Monday as “bizarre” and said “he dressed slovenly to the deposition.”

“His answers were vague, not very thoughtful,” Kravitz said. “He wasn’t angry. … This is not a guy who would have really stood out in your mind.”

He added that Paddock was wearing “crappy flip-flops.”

“You wonder what a guy like this is doing at the Cosmo,” he said.

Aldean, who was named the Academy of Country Music’s Entertainer of the Year in April, was performing on the final night of the three-day Route 91 Harvest festival at the Las Vegas Village when the shots started. He later said via Instagram that he and his band were safe.

“I still don’t know what to say but wanted to let everyone know that Me and my Crew are safe. My Thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved tonight,” he wrote.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted his condolences after the “senseless violence.”

“The hearts and prayers of the American people are with you. You have our condolences and sympathies,” he wrote. “To the courageous first responders, thank you for your acts of bravery.”

Hillary Clinton also expressed her grief in a tweet: “The crowd fled at the sound of gunshots. Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get.”

She added: “Our grief isn’t enough. We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again.”

Police urged families looking to locate missing loved ones to call 1-866-535-5654.

Richie Duchon and Andrew Blankstein reported from Los Angeles. F. Brinley Bruton, Rachel Elbaum and Yuliya Talmazan reported from London. Pete Williams reported from Washington. Elizabeth Chuck and Tracy Connor reported from New York. Alex Johnson reported from Los Angeles.

Mysterious Apocalyptic Message Interrupts TV Broadcasts in California: ‘Violent Times Will Come’

Original Article

By Jennings Brown

 

The mushroom cloud from “Ivy Mike” rises above in the Marshall Islands in 1952. (Photo: AP)

Many Californians’ regularly scheduled broadcasts were interrupted Thursday morning with strange emergency messages warning of extraterrestrial invasions and the beginning of Armageddon. The bizarre warnings aired on TVs in the Orange County area, affecting Cox and Spectrum cable users, according to the Orange County Register.

One video of the broadcast uploaded to YouTube includes a terrified, breathless voice saying: “The space program made contact with… They are not what they claim to be. They have infiltrated a lot of, uh, a lot of aspects of military establishment, particularly Area 51. The disasters that are coming—the military—I’m sorry the government knows about them…”

Gizmodo found that the audio comes from a call that Art Bell, the host of the conspiracy theory-themed radio show Coast to Coast AM, received in 1997 from a man claiming to be a former Area 51 employee.

Other videos of the emergency broadcast feature a different voice warning that “extremely violent times will come.” Redditor smittenkitten77 discovered the audio came from the Christian radio program Insight for Living with Chuck Swindoll.

“It almost sounded like Hitler talking,” one Cox customer told the Register. “It sounded like a radio broadcast coming through the television.”

It’s still unclear whether the messages were broadcast intentionally or by accident, but broadcast signal intrusions by pranksters aren’t unheard of, even in the digital era. Most famously, still-unidentified hackers hijacked TV signals in the Chicago area in 1987, broadcasting footage of a person wearing a Max Headroom mask and a man’s bare buttocks being spanked with a flyswatter. More recently, a suspect was arrested in 2013 after allegedly overlaying broadcasts in several states with emergency alerts about dead bodies “rising from their graves.”

Cox spokesperson Todd Smith told Gizmodo that the company does not know how many customers were affected and is still trying to determine where the originating signal came from. Cox believes its system got the message after a radio station or multiple stations were conducting their monthly emergency test, which cable networks piggyback on. Usually, radio stations transmit an end “tone” to complete their alerts. However, this time, it seems no such tone was transmitted.

Spectrum did not immediately respond to a Gizmodo request for comment but spokesperson Dennis Johnson told the Register, “We have confirmed that we were fed an incorrect audio file.”

Many viewers reported being alarmed and confused by yesterday’s broadcast—though we assume some were relieved at the possibility that the end times were imminent.

 

 

Gender Stereotypes Are Destroying Girls, And They’re Killing Boys

Original Article

By Alia E. Dastagir

In almost every society, from Baltimore to Beijing, boys are told from a young age to go outside and have adventures, while young girls are encouraged to stay home and do chores Time

It doesn’t matter where in the world you live. Lessons about gender start early, and they have lifelong consequences.

A new study in the Journal of Adolescent Healthfound many norms around gender, what’s expected of boys and girls, become entrenched in adolescence and have negative impacts that carry into adulthood.

We knew some of this already. Existing research shows gender roles can harm both sexes. But the Global Early Adolescent Study — which looked at girls and boys between 10-14 years old in 15 countries with varying income levels — found many of these stereotypes are universal, and they become entrenched before 10 years old.

“We were actually anticipating more differences than similarities, and one of the big findings is that there are still very consistent forms of patriarchy around the world,” said Kristin Mmari, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the lead qualitative researcher on the study.

The ideas girls and boys have about gender, the study found, form earlier in adolescence than had previously been measured, Mmari said.

“There seems to be a shift as soon as girls and boys enter this stage, where their attitudes and beliefs about the opposite sex change dramatically,” she said. “And they talked about how this was not so in childhood. That they could have these friends — opposite sex friends — and they were given equal amounts of freedom. They were treated the same, they thought. But once they began puberty, and their bodies developed, their worlds changed.”

The biggest myth perpetuated about gender, researchers found, is that once girls hit puberty, they are vulnerable and in need of protection to preserve their sexual and reproductive health, while boys are seen as strong and independent. It’s this myth, Mmari said, that changes how the world sees both sexes during adolescence, and how it continues to treat them throughout their lives.

“How you perceive girls and boys is socially driven,” Mmari said. “It’s not biologically driven.”

Among consequences that the study noted when girls conform to gender stereotypes:

  • Depression
  • Child marriage
  • Leaving school early
  • Exposure to violence

And consequences when boys conform to gender stereotypes:

  • Engaging in physical violence to a much greater extent than girls
  • Dying more frequently from unintentional injuries
  • Being more prone to substance abuse and suicide
  • Having a shorter life expectancy than women

Mmari said one of the major takeaways from the study is that it’s important to challenge gender stereotypes when children are young.

“You can look at it as a window of opportunity to really address these attitudes and beliefs before they become cemented later on,” she said.

The next phase of the study, which Mmari said will take about four or five years, will measure how gender norms change over time, what factors influence those changes and how they relate to health-outcomes for boys and girls.

“We need to view gender as more of a system,” Mmari said. “One of the problems … is we typically look at things on an individual level. So we feel like if we just empower girls, make them feel good, then we’ll change. But the problem is they go back to their homes where they’re given messages from their parents that are contradictory. They go to the schools where they’re given messages from their teachers that are contradictory. They look at the media — it’s a whole system out there that’s transmitting these inequitable norms, and so we have to think of it more on that level.”

New Antibody Attacks 99% of HIV Strains

Original Article

By James Gallagher

HIVImage copyright SPL

Scientists have engineered an antibody that attacks 99% of HIV strains and can prevent infection in primates.

It is built to attack three critical parts of the virus – making it harder for HIV to resist its effects.

The work is a collaboration between the US National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical company Sanofi.

The International Aids Society said it was an “exciting breakthrough”. Human trials will start in 2018 to see if it can prevent or treat infection.

Our bodies struggle to fight HIV because of the virus’ incredible ability to mutate and change its appearance.

These varieties of HIV – or strains – in a single patient are comparable to those of influenza during a worldwide flu season.

So the immune system finds itself in a fight against an insurmountable number of strains of HIV.

Super-antibodies

But after years of infection, a small number of patients develop powerful weapons called “broadly neutralising antibodies” that attack something fundamental to HIV and can kill large swathes of HIV strains.

Researchers have been trying to use broadly neutralising antibodies as a way to treat HIV, or prevent infection in the first place.

The study, published in the journal Science, combines three such antibodies into an even more powerful “tri-specific antibody”.

Dr Gary Nabel, the chief scientific officer at Sanofi and one of the report authors, told the BBC News website: “They are more potent and have greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that’s been discovered.”

The best naturally occurring antibodies will target 90% of HIV strains.

“We’re getting 99% coverage, and getting coverage at very low concentrations of the antibody,” said Dr Nabel.

Experiments on 24 monkeys showed none of those given the tri-specific antibody developed an infection when they were later injected with the virus.

Dr Nabel said: “It was quite an impressive degree of protection.”

The work included scientists at Harvard Medical School, The Scripps Research Institute, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

‘Exciting’

Clinical trials to test the antibody in people will start next year.

Prof Linda-Gail Bekker, the president of the International Aids Society, told the BBC: “This paper reports an exciting breakthrough.

“These super-engineered antibodies seem to go beyond the natural and could have more applications than we have imagined to date.

“It’s early days yet, and as a scientist I look forward to seeing the first trials get off the ground in 2018.

“As a doctor in Africa, I feel the urgency to confirm these findings in humans as soon as possible.”

Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it was an intriguing approach.

He added: “Combinations of antibodies that each bind to a distinct site on HIV may best overcome the defences of the virus in the effort to achieve effective antibody-based treatment and prevention.”

Poliovirus Kills Off Cancer Cells Stops Tumor Regrowth

Original Article

By Ana Sandoiu

Researchers from Duke University in Durham, NC, may have discovered a new way of killing off cancer cells.

The team was jointly led by Dr. Matthias Gromeier, a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery, and Prof. Smita Nair, who is an immunologist in the Department of Surgery.

The new research – which is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine – shows how a modified poliovirus enables the body to use its own resources to fight off cancer. The modified virus bears the name of recombinant oncolytic poliovirus (PVS-RIPO).

PVS-RIPO has been in clinical trials since 2011 and preliminary results have offered hope to patients with one of the most aggressive forms of brain tumor: recurrent glioblastoma. So, the researchers set out to investigate more deeply how exactly PVS-RIPO works.

Explaining the rationale behind their research endeavor, Dr. Gromeier says, “Knowing the steps that occur to generate an immune response will enable us to rationally decide whether and what other therapies make sense in combination with poliovirus to improve patient survival.”

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Poliovirus attacks tumors, inhibits regrowth

The researchers examined the behavior of the poliovirus in two human cell lines: melanomaand triple-negative breast cancer. They observed that the poliovirus attaches itself to cancerous cells. These cells have an excess of the CD155 protein, which acts as a receptor for the poliovirus.

Then, the poliovirus starts to attack the malignant cells, triggering the release of antigens from the tumorAntigens are toxic substances that the body does not recognize, therefore setting off an immune attack against them.

So, when the tumor cells release antigens, this alerts the body’s immune system to start attacking. At the same time, the poliovirus infects the dendritic cells and macrophages.

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Dendritic cells are cells whose role it is to process antigens and “present” them to T cells, which are a type of immune cell. Macrophages are another type of immune cell – namely, large white blood cells whose main role is to rid our bodies of debris and toxic substances.

The cell culture results – which the researchers then verified in mouse models – showed that once PVS-RIPO infects the dendritic cells, these cells “tell” T cells to start the immune attack.

Once started, this process seems to be continuously successful. The cancer cells continue to be vulnerable to the immune system’s attack over a longer period of time, which appears to stop the tumor from regrowing.

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As Prof. Nair explains, “Not only is poliovirus killing tumor cells, it is also infecting the antigen-presenting cells, which allows them to function in such a way that they can now raise a T cell response that can recognize and infiltrate a tumor.”

“This is an encouraging finding, because it means the poliovirus stimulates an innate inflammatory response.”

Prof. Smita Nair

Speaking to Medical News Today about the clinical implications of the findings and the scientists’ directions for future research, Dr. Gromeier said, “Our findings provide clear rationales for moving forward with clinical trials in breast cancer, prostate cancer, and malignant melanoma.”

“This includes novel combination treatments that we will pursue,” he added.

More specifically, he explains, because the study revealed that after treatment with the poliovirus “immune checkpoints are increased on immune cells,” a future strategy the researchers plan to explore is “[oncolytic] poliovirus combined with immune checkpoint blockade.”

The Invention of A.I. ‘Gaydar’ Could Be the Start of Something Much Worse

Original Article

By James Vincent

Two weeks ago, a pair of researchers from Stanford University made a startling claim. Using hundreds of thousands of images taken from a dating website, they said they had trained a facial recognition system that could identify whether someone was straight or gay just by looking at them. The work was first covered by The Economist, and other publications soon followed suit, with headlines like “New AI can guess whether you’re gay or straight from a photograph” and “AI Can Tell If You’re Gay From a Photo, and It’s Terrifying.”

As you might have guessed, it’s not as straightforward as that. (And to be clear, based on this work alone, AI can’t tell whether someone is gay or straight from a photo.) But the research captures common fears about artificial intelligence: that it will open up new avenues for surveillance and control, and could be particularly harmful for marginalized people. One of the paper’s authors, Dr Michal Kosinski, says his intent is to sound the alarm about the dangers of AI, and warns that facial recognition will soon be able to identify not only someone’s sexual orientation, but their political views, criminality, and even their IQ.

With statements like these, some worry we’re reviving an old belief with a bad history: that you can intuit character from appearance. This pseudoscience, physiognomy, was fuel for the scientific racism of the 19th and 20th centuries, and gave moral cover to some of humanity’s worst impulses: to demonize, condemn, and exterminate fellow humans. Critics of Kosinski’s work accuse him of replacing the calipers of the 19th century with the neural networks of the 21st, while the professor himself says he is horrified by his findings, and happy to be proved wrong. “It’s a controversial and upsetting subject, and it’s also upsetting to us,” he tells The Verge.

But is it possible that pseudoscience is sneaking back into the world, disguised in new garb thanks to AI? Some people say machines are simply able to read more about us than we can ourselves, but what if we’re training them to carry out our prejudices, and, in doing so, giving new life to old ideas we rightly dismissed? How are we going to know the difference?

CAN AI REALLY SPOT SEXUAL ORIENTATION?

First, we need to look at the study at the heart of the recent debate, written by Kosinski and his co-author Yilun Wang. Its results have been poorly reported, with a lot of the hype coming from misrepresentations of the system’s accuracy. The paper states: “Given a single facial image, [the software] could correctly distinguish between gay and heterosexual men in 81 percent of cases, and in 71 percent of cases for women.” These rates increase when the system is given five pictures of an individual: up to 91 percent for men, and 83 percent for women.

On the face of it, this sounds like “AI can tell if a man is gay or straight 81 percent of the time by looking at his photo.” (Thus the headlines.) But that’s not what the figures mean. The AI wasn’t 81 percent correct when being shown random photos: it was tested on a pair of photos, one of a gay person and one of a straight person, and then asked which individual was more likely to be gay. It guessed right 81 percent of the time for men and 71 percent of the time for women, but the structure of the test means it started with a baseline of 50 percent — that’s what it’d get guessing at random. And although it was significantly better than that, the results aren’t the same as saying it can identify anyone’s sexual orientation 81 percent of the time.

As Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who wrote a blog post critiquing the paper, told The Verge: “People are scared of a situation where you have a private life and your sexual orientation isn’t known, and you go to an airport or a sporting event and a computer scans the crowd and identifies whether you’re gay or straight. But there’s just not much evidence this technology can do that.”

Kosinski and Wang make this clear themselves toward the end of the paper when they test their system against 1,000 photographs instead of two. They ask the AI to pick out who is most likely to be gay in a dataset in which 7 percent of the photo subjects are gay, roughly reflecting the proportion of straight and gay men in the US population. When asked to select the 100 individuals most likely to be gay, the system gets only 47 out of 70 possible hits. The remaining 53 have been incorrectly identified. And when asked to identify a top 10, nine are right.

If you were a bad actor trying to use this system to identify gay people, you couldn’t know for sure you were getting correct answers. Although, if you used it against a large enough dataset, you might get mostly correct guesses. Is this dangerous? If the system is being used to target gay people, then yes, of course. But the rest of the study suggests the program has even further limitations.

WHAT CAN COMPUTERS REALLY SEE THAT HUMANS CAN’T?

It’s also not clear what factors the facial recognition system is using to make its judgements. Kosinski and Wang’s hypothesis is that it’s primarily identifying structural differences: feminine features in the faces of gay men and masculine features in the faces of gay women. But it’s possible that the AI is being confused by other stimuli — like facial expressions in the photos.

This is particularly relevant because the images used in the study were taken from a dating website. As Greggor Mattson, a professor of sociology at Oberlin College, pointed out in a blog post, this means that the images themselves are biased, as they were selected specifically to attract someone of a certain sexual orientation. They almost certainly play up to our cultural expectations of how gay and straight people should look, and, to further narrow their applicability, all the subjects were white, with no inclusion of bisexual or self-identified trans individuals. If a straight male chooses the most stereotypically “manly” picture of himself for a dating site, it says more about what he thinks society wants from him than a link between the shape of his jaw and his sexual orientation.

To try and ensure their system was looking at facial structure only, Kosinski and Wang used software called VGG-Face, which encodes faces as strings of numbers and has been used for tasks like spotting celebrity lookalikes in paintings. This program, they write, allows them to “minimize the role [of] transient features” like lighting, pose, and facial expression.

But researcher Tom White, who works on AI facial system, says VGG-Face is actually very good at picking up on these elements. White pointed this out on Twitter, and explained to The Verge over email how he’d tested the software and used it to successfully distinguish between faces with expressions like “neutral” and “happy,” as well as poses and background color.

A figure from the paper showing the average faces of the participants, and the difference in facial structures that they identified between the two sets. 
Image: Kosinski and Wang

Speaking to The Verge, Kosinski says he and Wang have been explicit that things like facial hair and makeup could be a factor in the AI’s decision-making, but he maintains that facial structure is the most important. “If you look at the overall properties of VGG-Face, it tends to put very little weight on transient facial features,” Kosinski says. “We also provide evidence that non-transient facial features seem to be predictive of sexual orientation.”

The problem is, we can’t know for sure. Kosinski and Wang haven’t released the program they created or the pictures they used to train it. They do test their AI on other picture sources, to see if it’s identifying some factor common to all gay and straight, but these tests were limited and also drew from a biased dataset — Facebook profile pictures from men who liked pages such as “I love being Gay,” and “Gay and Fabulous.”

Do men in these groups serve as reasonable proxies for all gay men? Probably not, and Kosinski says it’s possible his work is wrong. “Many more studies will need to be conducted to verify [this],” he says. But it’s tricky to say how one could completely eliminate selection bias to perform a conclusive test. Kosinski tells The Verge, “You don’t need to understand how the model works to test whether it’s correct or not.” However, it’s the acceptance of the opacity of algorithms that makes this sort of research so fraught.

IF AI CAN’T SHOW ITS WORKING, CAN WE TRUST IT?

AI researchers can’t fully explain why their machines do the things they do. It’s a challenge that runs through the entire field, and is sometimes referred to as the “black box” problem. Because of the methods used to train AI, these programs can’t show their work in the same way normal software does, although researchers are working to amend this.

In the meantime, it leads to all sorts of problems. A common one is that sexist and racist biases are captured from humans in the training data and reproduced by the AI. In the case of Kosinski and Wang’s work, the “black box” allows them to make a particular scientific leap of faith. Because they’re confident their system is primarily analyzing facial structures, they say their research shows that facial structures predict sexual orientation. (“Study 1a showed that facial features extracted by a [neural network] can be used to accurately identify the sexual orientation of both men and women.”)

Experts say this is a misleading claim that isn’t supported by the latest science. There may be a common cause for face shape and sexual orientation — the most probable cause is the balance of hormones in the womb — but that doesn’t mean face shape reliably predicts sexual orientation, says Qazi Rahman, an academic at King’s College London who studies the biology of sexual orientation. “Biology’s a little bit more nuanced than we often give it credit for,” he tells The Verge. “The issue here is the strength of the association.”

The idea that sexual orientation comes primarily from biology is itself controversial. Rahman, who believes that sexual orientation is mostly biological, praises Kosinski and Wang’s work. “It’s not junk science,” he says. “More like science someone doesn’t like.” But when it comes to predicting sexual orientation, he says there’s a whole package of “atypical gender behavior” that needs to be considered. “The issue for me is more that [the study] misses the point, and that’s behavior.”

Is there a gay gene? Or is sexuality equally shaped by society and culture?

Reducing the question of sexual orientation to a single, measurable factor in the body has a long and often inglorious history. As Matton writes in his blog post, approaches have ranged from “19th century measurements of lesbians’ clitorises and homosexual men’s hips, to late 20th century claims to have discovered ‘gay genes,’ ‘gay brains,’ ‘gay ring fingers,’ ‘lesbian ears,’ and ‘gay scalp hair.’” The impact of this work is mixed, but at its worst it’s a tool of oppression: it gives people who want to dehumanize and persecute sexual minorities a “scientific” pretext.

Jenny Davis, a lecturer in sociology at the Australian National University, describes it as a form of biological essentialism. This is the belief that things like sexual orientation are rooted in the body. This approach, she says, is double-edged. On the one hand, it “does a useful political thing: detaching blame from same-sex desire. But on the other hand, it reinforces the devalued position of that kind of desire,” setting up hetrosexuality as the norm and framing homosexuality as “less valuable … a sort of illness.”

And it’s when we consider Kosinski and Wang’s research in this context that AI-powered facial recognition takes on an even darker aspect — namely, say some critics, as part of a trend to the return of physiognomy, powered by AI.

YOUR CHARACTER, AS PLAIN AS THE NOSE ON YOUR FACE

For centuries, people have believed that the face held the key to the character. The notion has its roots in ancient Greece, but was particularly influential in the 19th century. Proponents of physiognomy suggested that by measuring things like the angle of someone’s forehead or the shape of their nose, they could determine if a person was honest or a criminal. Last year in China, AI researchers claimed they could do the same thing using facial recognition.

Their research, published as “Automated Inference on Criminality Using Face Images,” caused a minor uproar in the AI community. Scientists pointed out flaws in the study, and concluded that that work was replicating human prejudices about what constitutes a “mean” or a “nice” face. In a widely shared rebuttal titled “Physiognomy’s New Clothes,” Google researcher Blaise Agüera y Arcas and two co-authors wrote that we should expect “more research in the coming years that has similar … false claims to scientific objectivity in order to ‘launder’ human prejudice and discrimination.” (Google declined to make Agüera y Arcas available to comment on this report.)

An illustration of physiognomy from Giambattista della Porta’s De humana physiognomonia

Kosinski and Wang’s paper clearly acknowledges the dangers of physiognomy, noting that the practice “is now universally, and rightly, rejected as a mix of superstition and racism disguised as science.” But, they continue, just because a subject is “taboo,” doesn’t mean it has no basis in truth. They say that because humans are able to read characteristics like personality in other people’s faces with “low accuracy,” machines should be able to do the same but more accurately.

Kosinski says his research isn’t physiognomy because it’s using rigorous scientific methods, and his paper cites a number of studies showing that we can deduce (with varying accuracy) traits about people by looking at them. “I was educated and made to believe that it’s absolutely impossible that the face contains any information about your intimate traits, because physiognomy and phrenology were just pseudosciences,” he says. “But the fact that they were claiming things without any basis in fact, that they were making stuff up, doesn’t mean that this stuff is not real.” He agrees that physiognomy is not science, but says there may be truth in its basic concepts that computers can reveal.

For Davis, this sort of attitude comes from a widespread and mistaken belief in the neutrality and objectivity of AI. “Artificial intelligence is not in fact artificial,” she tells The Verge. “Machines learn like humans learn. We’re taught through culture and absorb the norms of social structure, and so does artificial intelligence. So it will re-create, amplify, and continue on the trajectories we’ve taught it, which are always going to reflect existing cultural norms.”

We’ve already created sexist and racist algorithms, and these sorts of cultural biases and physiognomy are really just two sides of the same coin: both rely on bad evidence to judge others. The work by the Chinese researchers is an extreme example, but it’s certainly not the only one. There’s at least one startup already active that claims it can spot terrorists and pedophiles using face recognition, and there are many others offering to analyze “emotional intelligence” and conduct AI-powered surveillance.

FACING UP TO WHAT’S COMING

But to return to the questions implied by those alarming headlines about Kosinski and Wang’s paper: is AI going to be used to persecute sexual minorities?

This system? No. A different one? Maybe.

Kosinski and Wang’s work is not invalid, but its results need serious qualifications and further testing. Without that, all we know about their system is that it can spot with some reliability the difference between self-identified gay and straight white people on one particular dating site. We don’t know that it’s spotted a biological difference common to all gay and straight people; we don’t know if it would work with a wider set of photos; and the work doesn’t show that sexual orientation can be deduced with nothing more than, say, a measurement of the jaw. It’s not decoded human sexuality any more than AI chatbots have decoded the art of a good conversation. (Nor do its authors make such a claim.)

Startup Faception claims it can identify how likely people are to be terrorists just by looking at their face. 
Image: Faception

The research was published to warn people, say Kosinski, but he admits it’s an “unavoidable paradox” that to do so you have to explain how you did what you did. All the tools used in the paper are available for anyone to find and put together themselves. Writing at the deep learning education site Fast.ai, researcher Jeremy Howard concludes: “It is probably reasonably [sic] to assume that many organizations have already completed similar projects, but without publishing them in the academic literature.”

We’ve already mentioned startups working on this tech, and it’s not hard to find government regimes that would use it. In countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia homosexuality is still punishable by death; in many other countries, being gay means being hounded, imprisoned, and tortured by the state. Recent reports have spoken of the opening of concentration camps for gay men in the Chechen Republic, so what if someone there decides to make their own AI gaydar, and scan profile pictures from Russian social media?

Here, it becomes clear that the accuracy of systems like Kosinski and Wang’s isn’t really the point. If people believe AI can be used to determine sexual preference, they will use it. With that in mind, it’s more important than ever that we understand the limitations of artificial intelligence, to try and neutralize dangers before they start impacting people. Before we teach machines our prejudices, we need to first teach ourselves.

North Korea Could Test Hydrogen Bomb Over Pacific Ocean, Says Foreign Minister

Original Article

By Joshua Berlinger and Zahra Ullah, CNN

(CNN)North Korea could test a powerful nuclear weapon over the Pacific Ocean in response to US President Donald Trump’s threats of military action, the country’s foreign minister has warned.

Ri Yong Ho spoke to reporters in New York shortly after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made an unprecedented televised statement, accusing Trump of being “mentally deranged.”

The forceful rhetoric from Pyongyang came after Trump threatened to”totally destroy” North Korea in a speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. Trump tweeted Friday that Kim was “obviously a madman” who would be “tested like never before.”
In a rare direct statement delivered straight to camera, Kim said that Trump would “pay dearly” for the threats, and that North Korea “will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.”
“I am now thinking hard about what response he could have expected when he allowed such eccentric words to trip off his tongue,” Kim said. “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire.”
Kim said Trump’s comments were reflective of “mentally deranged behavior.”
Hours later, Kim’s foreign minister told reporters in New York that Pyongyang could launch a nuclear missile test in response. “This could probably mean the strongest hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean. Regarding which measures to take, I don’t really know since it is what Kim Jong Un does,” said Ri.

Photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un taken from the front page of state paper Rodong Sinmun on Friday, September 22.

Japan’s defense minister Itsunori Onodera said the country must ready itself for the sudden escalation in tensions and be prepared for a missile launch.
“We cannot deny the possibility it may fly over our country,” Onodera said Thursday. Japan has been subject to two North Korean missile test flyovers in recent weeks.
In response, Trump said on Twitter: “Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn’t mind killing or starving his people, will be tested like never before!”

First-person first?

The phrase “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” could be considered an escalation in the choice of language used, said Vipin Narang, a professor of political science at MIT and expert on deterrence and nuclear policy.
“This is clearly trying to coerce the US into playing ball,” Narang told CNN.
In his first address to the United Nations as US President, Trump said that the US was ready to “totally destroy” North Korea if it was forced to defend its allies, a warning seen as unprecedented for a US president delivering an address to the world’s leaders and top diplomats.
Trump at UN threatens to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea 04:35
Responding to the speech, Kim said Trump’s comments amounted to an insult. “I’d like to advise Trump to exercise prudence in selecting words and to be considerate of whom he speaks to when making a speech in front of the world,” Kim said.
A handful of North Korea analysts believe Kim’s response — the first time he has ever released a first-person statement — could show how personally the young leader took Trump’s speech.
“This is unprecedented, as far as we can tell,” Narang said. “It’s written by him, it’s signed by him … He was clearly offended by the speech, and what concerns me most is the response he says he is considering.”
“The message is chilling,” Narang said.
Asked to respond to Kim’s statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told CNN on Thursday night, “Not at this time.”
North Korea was scheduled to speak at the UN General Assembly Friday night, but dropped off of its planned roster spot. The country could still get a slot at another time.
Ri Yong Ho: Trump’s threats ‘a dog’s barking’ 00:34

More sanctions

The White House, meanwhile, took the another step in its so-called “peaceful pressure” campaign to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear program, expanding sanctions on North Korea and those who do business with the country.
Though the majority of North Korea’s imports come from China, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said “This action is directed at everyone” and the steps are “in no way specifically directed at China.”
The executive order Trump inked just ahead of the lunch enhances Treasury Department authorities to target individuals who provide goods, services or technology to North Korea, Trump said. He said the order would also allow the US to identify new industries — including textiles, fishing and manufacturing — as potential targets for future actions.

Scientists Just Discovered the First Brainless Animal That Sleeps

Original Article

By Sarah Kaplan


Cassiopea jellyfish rests upside-down on black sand and pulses, rhythmically contracting and relaxing its bell. At night, Cassiopea jellies pulse less frequently — a clue that they’re sleeping, researchers report. (Photo by JanEaster.com)

It was well past midnight when Michael Abrams, Claire Bedbrook and Ravi Nath crept into the Caltech lab where they were keeping their jellyfish. They didn’t bother switching on the lights, opting instead to navigate the maze of desks and equipment by the pale blue glow of their cellphones. The students hadn’t told anyone that they were doing this. It wasn’t forbidden, exactly, but they wanted a chance to conduct their research without their PhD advisers breathing down their necks.

“When you start working on something totally crazy, it’s good to get data before you tell anybody,” Abrams said.

The “totally crazy” undertaking in question: an experiment to determine whether jellyfish sleep.

It had all started when Bedbrook, a graduate student in neurobiology, overheard Nath and Abrams mulling the question over coffee. The topic was weird enough to make her stop at their table and argue.

“Of course not,” she said. Scientists still don’t fully know why animals need to snooze, but research has found that sleep is a complex behavior associated with memory consolidation and REM cycles in the brain. Jellyfish are so primitive they don’t even have a brain — how could they possibly share this mysterious trait?

Her friends weren’t so sure. “I guess we’re going to have to test it,” Nath said, half-joking.

Bedbrook was dead serious: “Yeah. Yeah, we are.”

After months of late-night research, Bedbrook has changed her mind. In a paper published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, she, Nath and Abrams report that the upside-down jellyfish Cassiopea exhibit sleeplike behavior — the first animals without a brain known to do so. The results suggest that sleep is deeply rooted in our biology, a behavior that evolved early in the history of animal life and has stuck with us ever since.

Further study of jellyfish slumber might bring scientists closer to resolving what Nath called “the paradox of sleep.”

Think about it, he urged. If you’re asleep in the wild when a predator comes along, you’re dead. If a food source strolls past, you go hungry. If a potential mate walks by, you miss the chance to pass on your genetic material.

“Sleep is this period where animals are not doing the things that benefit from a natural selection perspective,” Nath said.

Abrams chimed in: “Except for sleep.” Nath laughed.

“We know it must be very important. Otherwise, we would just lose it,” Bedbrook said. If animals could evolve a way to live without sleep, surely they would have. But many experiments suggest that when creatures such as mice are deprived of sleep for too long, they die. Scientists have shown that animals as simple as the roundworm C. elegans, with a brain of just 302 neurons, need sleep to survive.

Cassiopea has no brain to speak of — just a diffuse “net” of nerve cells distributed across their small, squishy bodies. These jellyfish barely even behave like animals. Instead of mouths, they suck in food through pores in their tentacles. They also get energy via a symbiotic relationship with tiny photosynthetic organisms that live inside their cells.

“They’re like weird plant animals,” Bedbrook said.

They’re also ancient: Cnidarians, the phylogenetic group that includes jellies, first arose some 700 million years ago, making them some of Earth’s first animals. These traits make Cassiopea an ideal organism to test for the evolutionary origins of sleep. Fortuitously, Abrams already had some on hand.

So the trio designed an experiment. At night, when the jellies were resting and their professors were safely out of the picture, the students would test for three behavioral criteria associated with sleep.

First: Reversible quiescence. In other words, the jellyfish become inactive but are not paralyzed or in a coma. The researchers counted the jellyfish’s movements and found they were 30 percent less active at night. But when food was dropped into the tank, the creatures perked right up. Clearly not paralyzed.

Second: An increased arousal threshold. This means it’s more difficult to get the animals’ attention; they have to be “woken up.” For this, the researchers placed sleeping jellies in containers with removable bottoms, lifted the containers to the top of their tank, then pulled out the bottom. If the jellyfish were awake, they’d immediately swim to the floor of the tank. But if they were asleep, “they’d kind of strangely float around in the water,” Abrams said.

 Play Video 0:34
Watch a magnificent jellyfish at a depth of more than 12,000 feet
This jellyfish was seen during a dive on April 24, while exploring Enigma Seamount at a depth of more than 12,000 feet. (NOAA)

“You know how you wake up with vertigo? I pretend that maybe there’s possible chance that the jellyfish feel this,” Nath added. “They’re sleeping and then they wake up and they’re like, ‘Ahhhh!’ ”

And third: The quiescent state must be homeostatically regulated. That is, the jellyfish must feel a biological drive to sleep. When they don’t, they suffer.

“This is really equivalent to how we feel when we pull an all-nighter,” Bedbrook said. She’s all too familiar with the feeling — getting your PhD requires more late nights than she’s willing to count.

The jellyfish have no research papers to keep them awake past their bedtimes, so the scientists prevented them from sleeping by “poking” them with pulses of water every 20 minutes for an entire night. The following day, the poor creatures swam around in a daze, and the next night they slept especially deeply to make up for lost slumber.


Jellyfish in their tank. (Caltech)

Realizing they really had something here, the students clued their professors in on what they were doing. The head of the lab where Nath worked, Caltech and Howard Hughes Medical Institute biologist Paul Sternberg, offered the trio a closet in which they could to continue their experiments.

“It’s important,” Sternberg said, “because it’s [an organism] with what we think of as a more primitive nervous system. … It raises the possibility of an early evolved fundamental process.”

Sternberg, along with Abram and Bedbrook’s advisers, is a co-author on the Current Biology paper.

Allan Pack, the director of the Center for Sleep and Respiratory Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania, was not involved in the jellyfish research, but he’s not surprised by the finding, given how prevalent sleep is in other species.

“Every model that has been looked at … shows a sleep-like state,” he said.

But the revelations about jellyfish sleep are important, he said, because they show how basic sleep is. It appears to be a “conserved” behavior, one that arose relatively early in life’s history and has persisted for millions of years. If the behavior is conserved, then perhaps the biological mechanism is too. Understanding why jellyfish, with their simple nerve nets, need sleep could lead scientists to the function of sleep in humans.

“I think it’s one of the major biological questions of our time,” Pack said. “We spend a third of a life sleeping. Why are we doing it? What’s the point?”

 

The Rise of Genderless Beauty

Original Article

By Ashleigh Austen

Apart from rock stars like Keith Richards wearing eyeliner and footage of the annual Mardi Gras parade, men-wearing-makeup have remained largely under the radar – until now.Yes, gender fluidity has well and truly hit the mainstream, seeing unisex makeup jumping from the stage to the street.

“Boy beauty” has seen male beauty bloggers become gender-fluid muses for the likes of big brands like CoverGirl and Maybelline, not only democratizing the use of makeup but changing the way we talk about gender in the process.

If the millions of social media followers being racked up by the likes of male makeup artists Patrick Starr, Manny Gutierrez and Jeffree Star are anything to go by, then the inclusivity message is being heard loud and clear. But is gender-blending beauty really here to stay?

https://www.instagram.com/p/BS4lI_5AaWb/embed/?cr=1&v=7&wp=770#%7B%22ci%22%3A0%2C%22os%22%3A5426.625000000001%7DAccording to a recent report by global market research company Mintel, brands are becoming increasingly aware of the shift in gender barriers (with regards to both sexes,) as being something they need to both cater to and celebrate.

“Consumers are moving away from traditional gender stereotypes, in part driven by the increased visibility of gender diversity. As such, the traditional gender boundaries associated with fashion and beauty trends are becoming progressively blurred,” a spokesperson for the company stated.

Here, the brands we’re giving three big gender-neutral claps for embracing unisex beauty.

Calvin Klein

https://www.instagram.com/p/BNSaQ2-Bhov/embed/?cr=1&v=7&wp=770#%7B%22ci%22%3A1%2C%22os%22%3A5437.6900000000005%7DThe original unisex fragrance creators, Calvin Klein launched CK One in 1994 and the light, citrusy, herbaceous scent was a best-seller. Their follow-up, CK2, is a woody, fresh scent making it still the OG androgynous cologne.

ASOS Face + Body

https://www.instagram.com/p/BYxQEmLj0og/embed/?cr=1&v=7&wp=770#%7B%22ci%22%3A2%2C%22os%22%3A5443.125%7DNot content with being your go-to for on-trend clothes and accessories, ASOS last week launched an entire collection of inclusive in-house beauty products that all genders and skin tones should feel free to use.

CoverGirl

https://www.instagram.com/p/BLbN-CzAJsz/embed/?cr=1&v=7&wp=770#%7B%22ci%22%3A3%2C%22os%22%3A12910.225%7DCoverGirl made worldwide headlines when they announced that a 17-year-old makeup artist from New York, James Charles, would be its first “CoverBoy” – gaining him 2.4 million Instagram followers in the process.

M.A.C

https://www.instagram.com/p/BFbyuKeOOYD/embed/?cr=1&v=7&wp=770#%7B%22ci%22%3A4%2C%22os%22%3A12924.01%7DOne of the original supporters of inclusive cosmetics, M.A.C has always proudly stated their products are for all ages, races and sexes. They’ve twice collaborated with model Stephanie Seymour’s sons, Harry and Peter Brant, on a collection of gender-neutral products, which included brow gels, lip stains and eyeshadows.

Maybelline New York

https://www.instagram.com/p/BZRsJDxAClb/embed/?cr=1&v=7&wp=770#%7B%22ci%22%3A5%2C%22os%22%3A12937.595000000001%7DEarlier this year Maybelline announced Manny Gutierrez (known as Manny MUA) would front their Big Shot Mascara product launch – making him the first male to ever star in a major campaign for the company.

Rimmel London

https://www.instagram.com/p/BPaoBrugJth/embed/?cr=1&v=7&wp=770#%7B%22ci%22%3A6%2C%22os%22%3A18132.085%7DRimmel London joined the ranks of high-profile beauty brands extending their advertising inclusivity to men when they featured 17-year-old British YouTube blogger Lewys Ball in their major campaign.

L’Oreal Paris

https://www.instagram.com/p/BUCbkg2FqNU/embed/?cr=1&v=7&wp=770#%7B%22ci%22%3A7%2C%22os%22%3A18384.195000000003%7DL’Oreal Paris jumped on-board to support the inclusivity cause with their True Match foundation campaign, which featured makeup artist Gary Thompson from The Plastic Boy. Seriously, that highlighter though
.

An Apocalyptic Mass Extinction Will Begin in 2100, Scientists Say

Original Article

By Jasper Hamill

A mass extinction that wipes out humanity will be under way by the year 2100, scientists have claimed.

By the end of the century, it’s feared that so much carbon will have been added to the oceans that the planet will have passed a “threshold of catastrophe” which leads to the destruction of our species.

In the past 540 million years, the planet has endured five such wipeouts — including the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The worst took place 252 million years ago and is known as the Great Dying.

This disaster killed off more than 95 percent of marine life when the seas suddenly became more acidic.

Now geophysicist Professor Daniel Rothman says we are seeing a disturbing parallel today — this time because of man-made global warming.

He came up with a simple mathematical formula that predicts that the oceans will soon hold so much carbon that a mass extinction is inevitable.

It showed the critical extra amount required is about 310 gigatons — which is the best-case scenario projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

And it’s well below the worst of more than 500 gigatons — which would far exceed the line.

In all scenarios, the study found that by the end of the century, the carbon cycle will either be close to or well beyond the threshold for catastrophe.

Although mass extinction won’t soon follow at the turn of the century, the world may have tipped into “unknown territory.”

Rothman, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says it would take some time — about 10,000 years — for such ecological disasters to play out.

He said: “This is not saying disaster occurs the next day.

“It’s saying — if left unchecked — the carbon cycle would move into a realm which would be no longer stable and would behave in a way that would be difficult to predict.

“In the past this type of behavior is associated with mass extinction.”

In the modern era, CO2 emissions have risen steadily since the 19th century, but deciphering whether this could lead to mass extinction has been challenging.

Humans have emitted 1,540 billion tons of CO2 since the Industrial Revolution — equivalent to burning enough coal to form a square tower 72 feet wide stretching 240,000 miles from Earth to the moon.

Half of these have remained in the atmosphere, causing a rise in levels at least 10 times faster than any known natural increase during Earth’s long history.

Most of the other half has dissolved into the ocean — causing acidification.

Will this lead to the destruction of humanity?

Your grandchildren will probably find out, unless something changes now.

California School Board Will Allow Transgender Books in Elementary School

 

Original Article

Should children in kindergarten be taught about transgender people?

That’s the question at the center of a controversy that erupted in June after a transgender student at Rocklin Academy Gateway, a charter school in northern California, brought the children’s book “I Am Jazz” to school to share with classmates. The book chronicles the life of a real-life transgender girl named Jazz Jennings.

In a Monday night vote after an impassioned, emotional debate, the Rocklin school board decided to keep its current literature policies in place, which allow similar types of books to be read to children during story time. However, the board passed a provision stating that teachers “will endeavor to notify parents in advance of controversial topics being discussed when they are part of the school’s curriculum or a teacher’s lesson plan so that parents can also share their views at home.”

The policy adopted further states, if advance notice is not possible,
teachers will “endeavor to notify parents via email or verbally after the fact.”

Some parents raised objections that they were not notified, while others at the meeting supported the school’s policies and did not object to the reading material.

Wendy Sickler, a parent of two children at the school, said her “concern is that a book that was read was outside the curriculum, and it was a sensitive topic, and the parents weren’t notified.”

Sickler said she’s not opposed to a transgender child being in the classroom.

“I know that our kids are going to be exposed to different lifestyles, and that to me reinforces that they should notify parents,” she said, according to the Sacramento Bee, adding that she thinks that additional changes are needed other than the issues brought before the school board.

According to the newspaper, Beryl Mayne, of Auburn, arrived before the meeting with other members of the LGBT community holding signs that said: “Trans Rights are Human Rights,” “Trans Kids Have Courage” and “Love and Let Love.”

“It’s important tonight to support transgender children. It’s not about me. It’s about transgender children,” Mayne told the Bee.

After the vote, one school board member urged the community to come together and move forward now that a decision had been made.

“Please let this end tonight,” Larry Steiner said, according to the Bee. “We cannot forget Rocklin Academy is a school of choice. The hostility has to end. Let’s bring back our sense of community.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

British Supermarket Offers ‘Finger Vein’ Payment In Worldwide First

Original Article

By Katie Morley

A UK supermarket has become the first in the world to let shoppers pay for groceries using just the veins in their fingertips.

Customers at the Costcutter store, at Brunel University in London, can now pay using their unique vein pattern to identify themselves.

The firm behind the technology, Sthaler, has said it is in “serious talks” with other major UK supermarkets to adopt hi-tech finger vein scanners at pay points across thousands of stores.

It works by using infrared to scan people’s finger veinsand then links this unique biometric map to their bank cards. Customers’ bank details are then stored with payment provider Worldpay, in the same way you can store your card details when shopping online. Shoppers can then turn up to the supermarket with nothing on them but their own hands and use it to make payments in just three seconds.

 

It comes as previous studies have found fingerprint recognition, used widely on mobile phones, is vulnerable to being hacked and can be copied even from finger smears left on phone screens.

But Sthaler, the firm behind the technology, claims vein technology is the most secure biometric identification method as it cannot be copied or stolen.

Sthaler said dozens of students were already using the system and it expected 3,000 students out of 13,000 to have signed up by November.

Finger print payments are already used widely at cash points in Poland, Turkey and Japan.

Vein scanners are also used as a way of accessing high-security UK police buildings and authorising internal trading at least one major British investment bank.

The firm is also in discussions with nightclubs, gyms about using the technology to verify membership and even Premier League football clubs to check people have the right access to VIP hospitality areas.

Fingerprint 
Fingerprint technology could be coming to a supermarket near you CREDIT: FABRIZIO BENSC/REUTERS

The technology uses an infrared light to create a detailed map of the vein pattern in your finger. It requires the person to be alive, meaning in the unlikely event a criminal hacks off someone’s finger, it would not work. Sthaler said it take just one minute to sign up to the system initially and, after that, it takes just seconds to place your finger in a scanner each time you reach the supermarket checkout.

Simon Binns, commercial director of Sthaler, told the Daily Telegraph: ‘This makes payments so much easier for customers.

“They don’t need to carry cash or cards. They don’t need to remember a pin number. You just bring yourself. This is the safest form of biometrics. There are no known incidences where this security has been breached.

“When you put your finger in the scanner it checks you are alive, it checks for a pulse, it checks for haemoglobin. ‘Your vein pattern is secure because it is kept on a database in an encrypted form, as binary numbers. No card details are stored with the retailer or ourselves, it is held with Worldpay, in the same way it is when you buy online.”

Nick Telford-Reed, director of technology innovation at Worldpay UK, said: “In our view, finger vein technology has a number of advantages over fingerprint. This deployment of Fingopay in Costcutter branches demonstrates how consumers increasingly want to see their payment methods secure and simple.”

Big Business Wins the Fight for DRM Standards for Video Streaming.

Original Article

By Kate Conger

Photo: Getty

A fight over the future of video streaming has been brewing for years—and it finally came to a head today, with a major electronic privacy organization bowing out of the consortium that sets standards for the web.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) resigned from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) today over the W3C’s freshly-released recommendations on protecting copyright in streaming video. W3C, which is directed by the inventor of the internet Tim Berners-Lee, should be a natural ally of the EFF—but the fight over protecting security researchers who uncover vulnerabilities in video streaming has driven a wedge between the two organizations.

“The whole problem that we have here is this is a super technical, relatively boring, unbelievably important issue. That’s such a horrific toxic cocktail,” Cory Doctorow, the EFF’s advisory committee representative to W3C, told Gizmodo. “The W3C is using its patent pool and moral authority to create a system that’s not about empowering users but controlling users.”

The dispute focuses on Digital Rights Management (DRM), which enables media companies to surveil their consumers and make sure they’re just binge-watching episodes of Game of Thrones, not binge-pirating. (Although DRM is most commonly found in video streaming platforms, it also makes appearances in everything from coffee machines to tractors.) DRM gets legal backing from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which makes it a felony for security pros to find and disclose vulnerabilities in DRM.

DRM is usually managed by plugins like Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight, but W3C’s recommendations make it possible for DRM to be managed by browsers. The EFF and other organizations wanted browsers that adopt the standard to agree to protect security researchers and not pursue them under the DMCA, but W3C didn’t make that part of the standard—pissing off a bunch of security professionals and open web advocates. It feels cynical and hypocritical for an organization founded on principles of openness to cave to the constraints of DRM and not stick up for researchers and users.

W3C normally makes decisions based on consensus, but switched to a majority-vote system because DRM was so divisive among its members, Doctorow said. CEO Jeff Jaffe called the dispute “one of the most divisive debates in the history of the W3C Community.”

“I know from my conversations that many people are not satisfied with the result,” Jaffe wrote of the recommendations. “And there is reason to respect those who want a better result. But my personal reflection is that we took the appropriate time to have a respectful debate about a complex set of issues and provide a result that will improve the web for its users.”

Doctorow told Gizmodo that he proposed a compromise to protect security researchers from prosecution, but that W3C rejected it. “We will stand down on our views on DRM but you have to promise that you’ll only use DRM law like the DMCA when there is some other cause of action like a copyright infringement,” he explained. That way, if researchers broke DRM only to expose a security flaw, they would be protected. But W3C members like Netflix weren’t interested in discussing a compromise, he said.

“The irony here is that Netflix only exists because they did and continue to do something that outraged the entertainment industry,” Doctorow explained. “The web should have the same standard that you guys had when you were starting. It should be legal to do things that are legal, and if that upsets you you should make a better product or convince Congress to stop it.”

Because of the changes to W3C rules, the EFF lost faith in the process. “We don’t think that there’s any use in throwing our donor’s money, our energy and our limited time at a process where we don’t think the other side carried themselves in good faith,” Doctorow said.

In an open letter explaining EFF’s decision to walk away from W3C, Doctorow wrote: “The business values of those outside the web got important enough, and the values of technologists who built it got disposable enough, that even the wise elders who make our standards voted for something they know to be a fool’s errand.”

In addition to the lack of protections for security research, EFF says the W3C recommendations harm the automation of making video accessible to people with disabilities and archiving the internet.

For their part, W3C members Netflix, Microsoft, Comcast, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America
all praised the decision.

“Integration of DRM into web browsers delivers improved performance, battery life, reliability, security and privacy to users watching their favorite TV shows and movies on Netflix and other video services,” wrote Netflix in a statement. “We can finally say goodbye to third-party plugins, making for a safer and more reliable web.”

New Research Suggest Climate Change Not As Threatening As Previously Thought

Original Article

By Henry Bodkin

the planet than previously thought because scientists got their modelling wrong, a new study has found. New research by British scientists reveals the world is being polluted and warming up less quickly than 10-year-old forecasts predicted, giving countries more time to get a grip on their carbon output.

An unexpected “revolution” in affordable renewable energy has also contributed to the more positive outlook.

Experts now say there is a two-in-three chance of keeping global temperatures within 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the ultimate goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Paris climate change deal: Moment agreement announcedParis climate change deal: Moment agreement announced

They also condemned the “overreaction” to the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, announced by Donald Trump in June, saying it is unlikely to make a significant difference.

According to the models used to draw up the agreement, the world ought now to be 1.3 degrees above the mid-19th-Century average, whereas the most recent observations suggest it is actually between 0.9 and 1 degree above.

We’re in the midst of an energy revolution and it’s happening faster than we thoughtProfessor Michael Grubb, University College London

The discrepancy means nations could continue emitting carbon dioxide at the current rate for another 20 years before the target was breached, instead of the three to five predicted by the previous model.

“When you are talking about a budget of 1.5 degrees, then a 0.3 degree difference is a big deal”, said Professor Myles Allen, of Oxford University and one of the authors of the new study.

Published in the journal Nature Geoscience, it suggests that if polluting peaks and then declines to below current levels before 2030 and then continue to drop more sharply, there is a 66 per cent chance of global average temperatures staying below 1.5 degrees.

The goal was yesterday described as “very ambitious” but “physically possible”.

Another reason the climate outlook is less bleak than previously thought is stabilising emissions, particularly in China.

Renewable energy has also enjoyed more use than was predicted.

China has now acquired more than 100 gigawatts of solar cells, 25 per cent of which in the last six months, and in the UK, offshore wind has turned out to cost far less than expected.

Professor Michael Grubb, from University College London, had previously described the goals agreed at Paris in 2015 as “incompatible with democracy”.

Outrage at Trump's withdrawal from Paris climate agreementOutrage at Trump’s withdrawal from Paris climate agreement

But yesterday he said: “We’re in the midst of an energy revolution and it’s happening faster than we thought, which makes it much more credible for governments to tighten the offer they put on the table at Paris.”

He added that President Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement would not be significant because “The White House’s position doesn’t have much impact on US emissions”.

“The smaller constituencies – cities, businesses, states – are just saying they’re getting on with it, partly for carbon reduction, but partly because there’s this energy revolution and they don’t want to be left behind.”

The new research was published as the Met Office announced that a “slowdown” in the rate of global temperature rises reported over roughly the first decade of this century was now over.

The organisation said the slowdown in rising air temperatures between 1999 and 2014 happened as a result of a natural cycle in the Pacific, which led to the ocean circulation speeding up, causing it to pull heat down in the deeper ocean away from the atmosphere.

However, that cycle has now ended.

Claire Perry, the climate change and industry minister, claimed Britain had already demonstrated that tackling climate change and running a strong economy could go “hand in hand”.

“How is the time to build on our strengths and cement our position as a global hub for investment in clean growth,” she said.

 

Studies of Pregnant Mice Highlight Link Between Immune Response and Autism

Original Article

A century ago, a largely forgotten, worldwide epidemic that would kill nearly a million people was beginning to take hold. Labelled as sleepy sickness — or more properly encephalitis lethargica — the disease caused a number of bizarre mental and physical symptoms and frequently left people in a catatonic state, sometimes for decades. (Oliver Sacks described his successful treatment of some of them in 1969, in the book Awakenings.) The cause has never been officially pinned down, but the most common suggestion is that some kind of infectious agent triggered an autoimmune response, which targeted and inflamed part of the brain.

The role of the immune system in mental disorders is subject to much important research at the moment. The onset of conditions from depression and psychosis to obsessive–compulsive disorder has been linked to the abrupt changes in biology and physiology that occur when the body responds to infection, especially in childhood. And some researchers have traced the possible chain of events back a generation. Studies have highlighted that pregnant women could react to infection in a way that influences their baby’s developing brain, which could lead to cognitive and neurodevelopmental problems in the child.

One consequence of this ‘maternal immune activation’ (MIA) in some women could be to increase the risk of autism in their children. And two papers published online this week in Nature (S. Kim et alNaturehttp://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature23910; 2017 and Y. S. Yim et al. Naturehttp://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature23909; 2017) use animal models to examine how this might happen, as well as suggest some possible strategies to reduce the risk.

Kim et al. looked at the impact of MIA on the brains and behaviour of mice. They found that pregnant female animals exposed to circumstances similar to a viral infection have offspring that are more likely to show atypical behaviour, and they unpick some of the cellular and molecular mechanisms responsible. Some of their results confirm what scientists already suspected: pregnancy changes the female mouse’s immune response, specifically, by turning on the production of a protein called interleukin-17a. But the authors also conducted further experiments that give clues about the mechanisms at work.

“It’s tempting to draw parallels with mechanisms that might increase the risk of autism in some people.”

The types of bacteria in the mouse’s gut seem to be important. When the scientists used antibiotics to wipe out common gut microorganisms called segmented filamentous bacteria in female mice, this seemed to protect the animals’ babies from the impact of the simulated infection. The offspring of mice given the antibiotic treatment did not show the unusual behaviours, such as reduced sociability and repetitive actions. Segmented filamentous bacteria are known to encourage cells to produce more interleukin-17a, and an accompanying News & Views article (C. M. Powell Nature http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature24139; 2017) discusses one obvious implication: some pregnant women could use diet or drugs to manipulate their gut micro­biome to reduce the risk of harm to their baby if an infection triggers their immune response. Much science still needs to be done before such a course could be recommended — not least further research to confirm and build on these results.

Yim et al. analysed the developing brain of mice born to mothers who showed MIA. They traced the abnormalities to a region called the dysgranular zone of the primary somato-sensory cortex (S1DZ). The authors genetically engineered the mice so that neurons in this region could be activated by light, and they showed that activation of S1DZ induced the same telltale atypical behaviours, even in mice that were born to mothers with no MIA.

It’s unusual to be able to demonstrate such a direct link between the activities of brain regions and specific behaviours — although plenty of work on mental disorders makes a strong theoretical case for linking particular conditions to over- and under-active brain zones and circuitry.

Encephalitis lethargica, for example, has been linked to changes in the deep regions of the basal ganglia, and the disease produces symptoms that are similar to those often seen in autism, including stereotyped and repetitive behaviours. Yim et al.’s study shows that the S1DZ region projects to one of those deep brain regions — the striatum — and that this connection helps to trigger repetitive actions in the animals. But S1DZ also connects to a separate, distinct, region in the cortex, and this is what seems to drive the changes in sociability.

Taking the two studies together, it’s tempting to draw parallels with mechanisms that might increase the risk of autism in some people and explain some of its symptoms. Scientists and others should be cautious about doing so — much can change when results from animal models are applied to human biology. But the studies do offer some intriguing leads.

Light Has Been Stored as Sound For the First Time

Original Article

By Fiona Macdonald

For the first time ever, scientists have stored light-based information as sound waves on a computer chip – something the researchers compare to capturing lightning as thunder.

While that might sound a little strange, this conversion is critical if we ever want to shift from our current, inefficient electronic computers, to light-based computers that move data at the speed of light.

Light-based or photonic computers have the potential to run at least 20 times faster than your laptop, not to mention the fact that they won’t produce heat or suck up energy like existing devices.

This is because they, in theory, would process data in the form of photons instead of electrons.

We say in theory, because, despite companies such as IBM and Intel pursuing light-based computing, the transition is easier said than done.

Coding information into photons is easy enough – we already do that when we send information via optical fibre.

But finding a way for a computer chip to be able to retrieve and process information stored in photons is tough for the one thing that makes light so appealing: it’s too damn fast for existing microchips to read.

This is why light-based information that flies across internet cables is currently converted into slow electrons. But a better alternative would be to slow down the light and convert it into sound.

And that’s exactly what researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia have now done.

“The information in our chip in acoustic form travels at a velocity five orders of magnitude slower than in the optical domain,” said project supervisor Birgit Stiller.

“It is like the difference between thunder and lightning.”

stylised chip designUniversity of Sydney

This means that computers could have the benefits of data delivered by light – high speeds, no heat caused by electronic resistance, and no interference from electromagnetic radiation – but would also be able to slow that data down enough so that computers chips could do something useful with it.

“For [light-based computers] to become a commercial reality, photonic data on the chip needs to be slowed down so that they can be processed, routed, stored and accessed,” said one of the research team, Moritz Merklein.

“This is an important step forward in the field of optical information processing as this concept fulfils all requirements for current and future generation optical communication systems,” added team member Benjamin Eggleton.

The team did this by developing a memory system that accurately transfers between light and sound waves on a photonic microchip – the kind of chip that will be used in light-based computers.

You can see how it works in the animation below:

First, photonic information enters the chip as a pulse of light (yellow), where it interacts with a ‘write’ pulse (blue), producing an acoustic wave that stores the data.

Another pulse of light, called the ‘read’ pulse (blue), then accesses this sound data and transmits as light once more (yellow).

While unimpeded light will pass through the chip in 2 to 3 nanoseconds, once stored as a sound wave, information can remain on the chip for up to 10 nanoseconds, long enough for it to be retrieved and processed.

The fact that the team were able to convert the light into sound waves not only slowed it down, but also made data retrieval more accurate.

And, unlike previous attempts, the system worked across a broad bandwidth.

“Building an acoustic buffer inside a chip improves our ability to control information by several orders of magnitude,” said Merklein.

“Our system is not limited to a narrow bandwidth. So unlike previous systems this allows us to store and retrieve information at multiple wavelengths simultaneously, vastly increasing the efficiency of the device,” added Stiller.

The research has been published in Nature Communications.

 

War With North Korea Starts to Look Inevitable

Original Article

By Gordon G. Chang

“We have pretty much exhausted all the things that we could do at the Security Council at this point,” said Nikki Haley on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, referring to North Korea. “We wanted to be responsible and go through all diplomatic means to get their attention first,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said. “If that doesn’t work, General Mattis [Defense Secretary James Mattis] will take care of it.”

The comments, no off-the-cuff remarks, mirrored her words at a White House press briefing Friday, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, standing next to Haley at that briefing, was even more explicit. “I think we ought to make clear what’s different about this approach is, is that we’re out of time,” he noted, referring to sanctions. “As Ambassador Haley said before, we’ve been kicking the can down the road, and we’re out of road.”

When senior Trump administration officials talk about the end of diplomacy they raise the prospect of war. But have all measures short of war been exhausted?

CNN’s Barbara Starr reported Saturday, “North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test has renewed discussion at the highest levels of the Trump administration about how military force could be used to stop [North Korean Leader] Kim Jong Un’s development of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.”

The war talk is the result of exasperation by American officials who see that their actions so far have not convinced Kim, the North Korean supremo, to slow down the testing of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

Take Haley’s CNN comment. Even as President Donald Trump, a U.N. skeptic, prepares to address the United Nations General Assembly, many Americans, viewing the nine ineffective sets of sanctions on North Korea since 2006, say the Security Council itself is broken.

But the Security Council is not “broken.” It was never designed to work in an era of disagreement among the five veto-wielding permanent members.

What is not working is the United States. Unfortunately, from administration to administration, American leaders have failed to use all the elements of American power. If China and Russia use their vetoes to frustrate efforts to disarm North Korea—and they do—it is because the United States has not been willing to coerce them into acting responsibly.

With regard to Moscow, recent American policymakers have been more worried about a weak Russia than a strong one. Therefore, they have opted for mild sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s dangerous behavior. Ronald Reagan, at a time when the U.S. was far weaker than it is today and the Soviet Union was far stronger than Russia is now, used American economic might to end the Cold War. Putin today is able to bedevil the U.S. at the Security Council only because Americans are afraid of what happens if they move to take him down.

At the same time, the U.S. has not stopped the People’s Republic of China. Washington has allowed Chinese banks, large and small, to launder money for the North Koreans for decades. Americans reportedly have permitted Chinese leaders to help Pyongyang transfer missiles to the Iranians. The White House did nothing when enterprises connected to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army sold mobile launchers for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missiles. The U.S. has not asked the Chinese, at least in public, how North Korea’s most advanced missiles appear to be derived from China’s Jl-1. And Washington acted as if it did not matter when Chinese businesses allegedly sold uranium hexafluoride, components, and equipment for the Kim regime’s nuclear-weapons program.

No wonder the Chinese feel free to support their North Korean allies. U.S. policymakers, they can see, have been feckless. It is one thing for, say, Liechtenstein to fail to convince Beijing to do the right thing. It is quite another for the United States of America to fail to do so. American policymakers have simply failed to coerce Beijing, failed to leave it no choice but to join in the effort to disarm the Kims.

What can the United States do to China? It can declare its largest banks “primary money-laundering concerns” under Section 311 of the Patriot Act, thereby denying them the ability to transact business in the world’s dominant currency. That would be essentially imposing a death sentence on the Chinese banking system and possibly China’s economy, perhaps the Communist Party itself.

Trump can also remind China’s leaders that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in the middle of last month formally initiated, pursuant to Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, an investigation into Chinese intellectual-property theft. A finding of such theft—virtually assured—can lead to the imposition of high across-the-board tariffs on Chinese goods.

And this month, the People’s Bank of China, the central bank, appears to have driven the renminbi lower, an indication central technocrats are once again “manipulating” their currency as that is defined by U.S. law. That gives Trump another point of leverage.

The Chinese economy, debt-fueled for years, is particularly vulnerable, especially in the run-up to the historic 19th Communist Party Congress, which begins Oct. 18. General Secretary Xi Jinping, who seeks to grab unprecedented power, cannot afford to see a major disruption of relations with the United States at this sensitive time.

The Trump administration, with the series of actions it took in the last week of June, signaled it would move against China for its support for North Korea. For instance, the Treasury Department sawed off Bank of Dandong, a small Chinese financial institution, from the global economy due to its persistent money-laundering. The Chinese, unfortunately, have continued their support for the Norks at the Security Council.

So what should the United States do? It could just give up efforts to disarm Pyongyang, as James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, suggested in widely reported comments to CNN last month. There is an air of defeatism in American policy circles these days.

The assumption among Clapper and others is that the U.S. can deter the North Koreans indefinitely. Perhaps Washington can do that and, at the same time, stop their sale of nuclear-weapons technology to Iran and make sure they do not begin merchandising thermonuclear devices to established weapons customers, some of them terrorist groups.

But perhaps deterrence is not possible. Kim Jong Un, who surely knows what Clapper and others are saying, is obviously defiant these days. And the core goal of the Kim regime—the basis of its legitimacy—is taking over the other Korea, the one governed from Seoul.

Kim, once confident about his nukes and the means to deliver them, will almost surely attempt to use the threat of war to break America’s 64-year-old mutual-defense treaty with South Korea and get America’s 28,500 service personnel off the peninsula. Once he accomplishes that, he surely thinks he can intimidate the South into submission.

Kim has recently been talking about “final victory,” a reference to taking over the South. An overconfident despot could miscalculate and begin a chain of events spiraling into war.

Although Americans are confident in their “overwhelming” capabilities, as Trump’s comments at Joint Base Andrews on Friday indicate, the North Koreans probably do not view it that way. They have long memories and they know they grabbed the Pueblo, an unarmed U.S. Navy reconnaissance vessel, from international waters in 1968 and held the crew for almost a year, killing one sailor and even getting an apology from the Johnson administration. They no doubt recall they killed 31 Americans when, a year later, they shot down a Navy EC-121. In 1976, they hacked to death two U.S. Army officers in the Demilitarized Zone. In no case, did North Korea pay a price. So Americans do not look especially intimidating to the Kim family.

And although many Americans call Kim “irrational,” would it be crazy for him to think, now, that Washington will not stop him?

War, through miscalculation and misconception, is beginning to look probable, if not inevitable.

LA School District To Try Out Sex-Ed Classes for Fourth Graders.

Original Article

By Antonie Boessenkool

The Los Angeles Unified School District will test new sex education lessons this year for children as young as 9 years old.

Nurse and educator Wendy Sellers is the author of "Puberty: The Wonder Years." (Courtesy photo)
Nurse and educator Wendy Sellers is the author of “Puberty: The Wonder Years.” (Courtesy photo) 

“Puberty: The Wonder Years,” a course authored by renowned health educator and nurse Wendy Sellers, is among the lessons that will be offered to fourth-grade students, as well as those in fifth and sixth grades at a handful of schools.

Why is sex ed necessary for students who are so young? Because ignorance doesn’t help anyone, Sellers said.

“(Students) should be able to learn about the very normal natural changes that happen for everyone as they grow,” she said. When they reach puberty — sooner now than in decades past — students need to be armed with information.

Sellers, who lives in Michigan, says her curriculum of about six to 11 lessons has been used at schools in 27 states. If it’s adopted here on a permanent basis, LAUSD would be the largest school district to use it.

TIME FOR A CHANGE

“Sex education has not changed much over the decades,” Sellers said.

Among the hundreds of teachers she has trained on her curriculum, most told her their own sex education consisted of a video on menstruation for girls in the sixth grade and something separate for the boys in another classroom. It was highly secretive, and not a positive memory.

Sellers said her course aims to change that. It’s also inclusive of LGTBQ identities and doesn’t assume traditional gender roles in describing relationships. There’s no specific lesson to define same-sex relationships, but rather examples of same-sex couples are integrated into lessons, she said.

“Kids are just unflapped by this,” she said. “It’s old people that are having a hard time getting used to it.”

CONTRACEPTION LESSON OPTIONAL

Sellers’ “Puberty” course also promotes delaying sex. But schools can include — in sixth grade — an optional lesson on condoms and contraception.

In LAUSD, teachers will decide whether to use that lesson, said Timothy Kordic, in charge of sexual health and HIV/AIDS prevention education for the district.

“We’re not talking about overload. We’re talking about the basics, what kids need to know so they don’t freak out when something happens,” Kordic said of Sellers’ course and others the district is testing out. “We’re sensitive to the idea that this is a sensitive topic.”

Public schools in California can’t teach “abstinence-only” sex ed, according to California’s Education Code. And most kids in middle school are not having sex, he said. So an “abstinence-based” focus is still important.

However, past LAUSD surveys show some middle school students are already having sex. A 2015 report said that among eighth-grade students, 10 percent had had intercourse and 11 percent had had oral sex.

Kordic said LAUSD is testing Sellers’ course, plus a few others for this age group, in anticipation that the district will have a new health textbook in two to three years. The state Board of Education is working on that textbook now, and the district might adopt one of these sex ed courses to augment the textbook, he said.

MODERN RESOURCES ‘DIFFICULT TO FIND’

But the other reason LAUSD is testing out new sex ed courses is to standardize those lessons across the district. Starting in the fourth grade, students get some information on sexuality, and then more is offered in fifth grade, Kordic said.

“It’s also been very difficult to find updated, modern resources for middle school” on sexual education, he said. “Our goal is to have something that’s medically accurate, current and nonbiased.”

Sellers is set to visit Los Angeles at the end of this month to train LAUSD teachers on the curriculum. The district has bought enough teaching sets, with a $24,000 federal grant, to use the curriculum in up to about 50 schools, though 10 or 15 schools are more likely.

It will be up to teachers to go to the training and bring Sellers’ course to their classrooms, Kordic said. Then “Puberty” could be taught in LAUSD schools as soon as October.

Turkey Scraos The Theory of Evolution From Schools Curriculum

Original Article

The theory of evolution and Charles Darwin is being scrapped from school textbooks in Turkey, after the country’s education minister said the topic was “too controversial”.

Students in Turkey are returning to school where they will be taught evolution for the last time in their biology classes.

Next autumn, evolution and Charles Darwin will be scrapped from their textbooks.Turkey has announced an overhaul of more than 170 topics in the country’s school curriculum, including removing all direct references to evolution from biology classes.

Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz said the new “value-based” curriculum would teach evolutionary mechanisms such as natural selection but evolution itself was too advanced for high school and would not be taught until college.

“We have excluded controversial subjects for students at an age unable yet to understand the issues’ scientific background,” he told a seminar in Ankara in June, according to Hurriyet Daily News.

“As the students at ninth grade are not endowed with antecedents to discuss the ‘Origin of Life and Evolution’ section in biology classes, this section will be delayed until undergraduate study.”

The upcoming changes have caused an uproar, with critics calling them a reshaping of education along the conservative, Islam-oriented government’s line.

Some biologists say the move will leave Turkish students unable to understand even basic science, while other academics pointed out the only other country to exclude evolutionary theory from schools was Saudi Arabia.

Some Muslims, like some Christians, believe in creation, not natural selection. Turkey is majority Muslim, with a constitution that emphasises its secular character.

But a battle has been underway between secular and religious Turks ever since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power. He was elected prime minister in 2003, and president in 2014.

Erdogan’s critics have long accused the president of eating away at the secular pillars of modern Turkey as set up by its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk when he established the Turkish republic in 1923.

Christian Researcher Warns Rapture Will Begin Saturday

Original Article

David Meade, a Christian researcher, told The Washington Post the rapture will happen Saturday–33 days after last month’s eclipse.

The rapture is an event where Christians claim Jesus Christ will return to Earth and carry the “saved” to heaven while the Earth descends into a chaotic “tribulation” period for those who are left. Meade believes the rapture won’t be the end of the Earth per say, just the end as we know it.

“Jesus lived for 33 years. The name Elohim, which is the name of God to the Jews, was mentioned 33 times [in the bible]. It’s a very biblically significant, numerologicaly significant number,” Meade said.

Meade thinks the catastrophe will be caused by a secret planet called Nibiru passing the Earth on Saturday. Nearly every astronomer denies the existence of Nibiru.

Fellow Christians are also rejecting Meade’s doomsday predictions.

“Meade is a made-up leader in a made-up field, and should not be on the front page of anything,” Ed Stetzer of Christianity today said.

In anticipation for the event, several related videos have gone viral.

“Destiny 2”: Bungie Explains Why White Supremacist Symbol Was In The Game

Original Article

By Kyle Orland

Earlier this week, when it became clear that a gauntlet in Destiny 2 resembled a “Kekistan” flag design that has been repurposed by neo-Nazis, developer Bungie was quick to apologize and work to remove the item from the game. Now, the developer is using a public blog post to try to explain how the symbol ended up in the game in the first place.

Community Manager David “DeeJ” Dague writes that the gauntlet in question, which features a “kek” symbol that resembles the “Kekistan flag” popularized by 4chan, was originally created by the game’s developers back in June of 2015. Dague says the gauntlet was one of many items in the game that “reference real world art, iconography, typeface, and other design elements” and that “some of the reference imagery featured the simple mirrored chevron shapes found in the finished piece.”

That gauntlet was eventually flagged by an internal Bungie team that reviews content for “cultural, geographical, and other sensitive issues,” Dague writes. “Unfortunately, that review was conducted to explore whether or not we were comfortable with the connection to the original, innocuous ‘kek’ internet meme. The more contemporary, vile derivation that has been repurposed by hate groups was not surfaced through this process, and therefore, the armor was approved for ship.”

As Know Your Meme explains, the “kek” meme did start out as a pretty innocuous replacement for “lol” that started to become popular in games like Starcraft and World of Warcraft more than a decade ago. In recent months, though, the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified the meme, and the similarly repurposed Pepe the Frog meme, as “a favorite new way for white nationalists to troll liberals, while spreading their meme-driven strategy.”

Dague is clear in calling the kek imagery in Destiny 2 an oversight and says directly that “we know there was no degree of malicious intent from anyone on our team.” That said, Dague says Bungie isn’t “asking you for the benefit of the doubt. We know we are judged by our actions.” The team is working “to determine how we can more deeply vet our game content to shield us, and our community, from inappropriate imagery,” he added.

“We want everyone to know their identity is welcome in our studio and in the worlds we create. This isn’t merely a platitude, but an official pillar we hold ourselves, and our work to. It is also a clarion call for the type of people we want to bring into our studio to help us make better games.”

This post originated on Ars Technica

‘The Orion Bionic Eye’ To Begin Huma Trails. Hopes To Restore Sight of Blind Patients

Original Article

American medical company, ‘Second Sight’ manufacture implantable visual prosthetics to provide vision to people that suffer from a variety of different visual impairments. Their most advanced piece of technology so far is ‘The Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System’ that can restore some functional vision for people suffering from blindness. Although a very successful product, it only provides a limited about of restored vision to the patient, so the company have been working on it’s successor, ‘The Orion’.

The Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System

The Orion™ Cortical Visual Prosthesis System

The idea behind The Orion is to convert images captured by a small video camera mounted on a pair of glasses that the patient wears daily, these images are then converted into a series of small electrical impulses.

The Orion would then wirelessly transmit these pulses to an array of electrodes that have been implanted into the patient. The electrodes bypass the retina and optic nerve to directly stimulate the visual cortex. This is the area of the brain that processes visual data, effectively allowing a person to see.

This technology has the potential to essential “cure” all forms of blindness including glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and forms of cancer and trauma. The Argus II had been approved for use in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the U.S., so you can expect to see The Orion in the same, if not more countries.

Second Sight’s Argus II Restores Vision to Blind Patient

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Says It Is ‘Too Late’ To Recover From Climate Change

Original Article

By Alexandra King

Scientist and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said Sunday that, in the wake of devastating floods and damage caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, climate change had become so severe that the country “might not be able to recover.”

In an interview on CNN’s “GPS,” Tyson got emotional when Fareed Zakaria asked what he made of Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert’s refusal to say whether climate change had been a factor in Hurricanes Harvey or Irma’s strength — despite scientific evidence pointing to the fact that it had made the storms more destructive.
“Fifty inches of rain in Houston!” Tyson exclaimed, adding, “This is a shot across our bow, a hurricane the width of Florida going up the center of Florida!”
“What will it take for people to recognize that a community of scientists are learning objective truths about the natural world and that you can benefit from knowing about it?” he said.
Tyson told Zakaria that he had no patience for those who, as he put it, “cherry pick” scientific studies according to their belief system.
“The press will sometimes find a single paper, and say, ‘Oh here’s a new truth, if this study holds it.’ But an emergent scientific truth, for it to become an objective truth, a truth that is true whether or not you believe in it, it requires more than one scientific paper,” he said.
“It requires a whole system of people’s research all leaning in the same direction, all pointing to the same consequences,” he added. “That’s what we have with climate change, as induced by human conduct.”
Tyson said he was gravely concerned that by engaging in debates over the existence of climate change, as opposed to discussions on how best to tackle it, the country was wasting valuable time and resources.
“The day two politicians are arguing about whether science is true, it means nothing gets done. Nothing,” he said. “It’s the beginning of the end of an informed democracy, as I’ve said many times. What I’d rather happen is you recognize what is scientifically truth, then you have your political debate.”
Tyson told Zakaria that he believed that the longer the delay when it comes to responding to the ongoing threat of climate change, the bleaker the outcome. And perhaps, he hazarded, it was already even too late.
“I worry that we might not be able to recover from this because all our greatest cities are on the oceans and water’s edges, historically for commerce and transportation,” he said.
“And as storms kick in, as water levels rise, they are the first to go,” he said. “And we don’t have a system — we don’t have a civilization with the capacity to pick up a city and move it inland 20 miles. That’s — this is happening faster than our ability to respond. That could have huge economic consequences.”

 

Tribal Leaders Urge Yellowstone Park To Change Name

Original Article

By The Associated Press

GARDINER, Mont. – Leaders of Native American tribes gathered this weekend to urge the U.S. government to rename a valley and a mountain in Yellowstone National Park.

They say the names are associated with a man who advocated killing Native Americans and another who did just that.

The tribal leaders delivered a petition Saturday to park officials noting their opposition to the names of Hayden Valley and Mount Doane.

Doane was attached to a U.S. Army cavalry company that participated in a massacre of non-combatant Indians.

Hayden, whose explorations were a key element in the eventual creation of the park, called for exterminating American Indians who wouldn’t become farmers and ranchers.

Israel to Legalize Children Adoption By Same-Sex Families

Original Article

Israel’s government announced on Sunday that it will legalize children adoption by same-sex families by 2018.

Responding to a petition filed to the Supreme Court by same-sex couples, a representative of the State promised to the court that the government will start the legislation of a law to regulate equal adoption rights to same-sex couples.

The petition was filed by the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement, a progressive Jewish center.

“We will continue to monitor the legislative process,” Riki Shapira, a lawyer who represented the petitioners, told the Hebrew-language Ynet news site.

“We will insist on the full implementation of the law in an egalitarian manner,” she said.

The recent statement came after in its first response to the court, the State said it will not recognize gay family rights to adopt a child, stating such parenthood might harm the child.

Currently, in Israel, gay people can adopt a child if he or she are over five years old at the time of the adoption or the child was born and legally adopted outside Israel.

North Korea Fired Missile That Flew Over Japan And Landed In Ocean

Original Article 

By Jacob Pramuk

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on “all nations to take new measures” against North Korea after the pariah state launched another missile over Japan on Friday local time.

Tillerson added that “China and Russia must indicate their intolerance for these reckless missile launches by taking direct actions of their own.”

“These continued provocations only deepen North Korea’s diplomatic and economic isolation,” the secretary of state added.

North Korea launched an unidentified missile Thursday that landed in the sea after passing over Japan, the latest escalation as the isolated regime flaunts its nuclear weapon ambitions, according to multiple reports.

The missile was launched from the communist dictatorship’s capital of Pyongyang at about 6:57 a.m. local time Friday headed east, reports said. The projectile passed over Japan before landing in the sea at roughly 7:16 a.m., roughly 2,000 kilometers (about 1,240 miles) east of Japan’s Cape Erimo, according to reports.

South Korea conducted its own missile exercise as Pyongyang fired its missile, taking into account the distance to North Korea’s firing site, according to NBC News.

The United Nations Security Council will meet at 3 p.m. ET on Friday to discuss missile test, diplomats said, at the request of the United States and Japan.

This story is developing. Please check back for further updates.

—Reuters and CNBC’s Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.

Liberals Tired of The Alt-Right Taking “The Red Pill”

Original Article

By Elizabeth Ames

The mainstream media failed to see the rise of Donald Trump in 2016. Now it’s overlooking another grassroots movement that may soon be of equal significance— the growing number of liberals “taking the red pill.”  People of all ages and ethnicities are posting YouTube videos describing “red pill moments”—personal awakenings that have caused them to reject leftist narratives imbibed since childhood from friends, teachers, and the news and entertainment media.

You might say that those who take the red pill have been “triggered.” But instead of seeking out “safe spaces,” they’re doing the opposite, posting monologues throwing off the shackles of political correctness.

Their videos can feature the kind of subversiveness that was once a hallmark of the left—before the movement lost its sense of humor.

Candace Owens, a charismatic young African American, posts commentaries on her YouTube channel whose titles seem expressly designed to make PC heads explode.

A sample: “I Don’t Care About Charlottesville, the KKK, or White Supremacy.” The commentary calls out liberal fearmongering over white supremacists. “I mean there are, what, 6,000 Klansmen left in our nation. You want me to actually process that as a legitimate fear every day when I wake up?”

Not insignificantly, her video got nearly 500,000 views and overwhelmingly enthusiastic comments. (“you rock, girl!” “this woman is awesome.”)

A later episode about Black Lives Matter got nearly 700,000 views and had the distinction of being briefly taken down by YouTube. Unapologetic, Owens responded with a follow-up commentary — “What YouTube and Facebook REALLY Think of Black People.”

She declared, “There was only one version of a black person that these platforms are willing to help propel towards fame and notoriety—and that is an angry black victim.”  Owens calls her channel “Red Pill Black.” It invites viewers: “Sick of the alt-left. Welcome, I prescribe red pills.”

The term “taking the red pill” derives from the movie “The Matrix,” the trippy sci-fi classic. Morpheus, the resistance leader played by Laurence Fishburne offers Neo, the movie’s hero played by Keanu Reeves, a choice: He can take the blue pill and remain in the repressive artificial world known as the Matrix where “you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.” Or he can take the red pill and tumble down the “rabbit hole” where he will come to realize that everything about his life was a lie.

The left’s intensifying war on free speech has produced a surge of red pill videos. Some take Owens’ in-your-face approach. Others are meandering, hipster confessionals delivered with the wordy earnestness of characters in a Duplass brothers movie.

In his YouTube Channel, Dissent Report, a young, one-time “Bernie Sanders supporting progressive Democrat” admits from behind large sunglasses that he’s made “a pretty hard turn to the right.”

He took the red pill after seeing friends “moving …towards an authoritarian sort of Progressivism.”  He explains, “They were just standing up for a divisive brand of politics that would tolerate no dissent whatsoever.”

Not surprisingly, the mainstream media has largely dismissed the red pill phenomenon. Coverage has mainly stressed the connection to men’s rights activists —the Red Pill forum on Reddit and the documentary, “The Red Pill,” are both about men’s rights. This narrow focus, however, misses the larger story.

Those who have been “red pilled” may start out questioning feminism. But that’s often just the beginning.

A red pill blogger who calls himself “Pat Riarchy” (“also known as the patriarchy”) recalls that his journey down the rabbit hole began when a Facebook friend derisively called him a “cis male.” He came to recognize that, “it’s been one narrative pretty much.”  He concluded, “I have my own objective view…I didn’t want a bigger government. I realized I didn’t like the universal healthcare plan…I realized I didn’t really have an issue with guns.” Several books and discussions later, he emerged as a libertarian.

Red pill bloggers are increasingly characterizing PC culture as a first step on a slippery slope towards authoritarian socialism.

One who articulates this best is Dave Rubin, a married gay man and former left liberal whose show, The Rubin Report, has explored the red pill phenomenon.

In his commentary, “The left is no longer liberal”, he explained his own disillusionment with the “regressive left,” whose “backward ideology” of identity politics “puts the collective ahead of the individual. It loves all of its minority groups to behave as a monolith.

“So if you’re a true individual—meaning you don’t subscribe to the ideas that the groupthink has attributed to you based on those immutable characteristics—you must be cast out.”  Rubin calls this mindset “the biggest threat to freedom and Western civilization that exists today.”

One of his recent guests was Cassie Jaye, producer of the The Red Pill” documentary, which chronicled her personal journey away from feminism.

Jaye had intended to make a feminist film about the men’s rights movement. But her perspective began to change upon interviewing activists, who were anything but the angry women-bashers so often portrayed by the mainstream media. Instead they were men—and also women—concerned about issues such as unfair child custody laws, pregnancy fraud, and even domestic violence.  It turned out that men are also victims of domestic abuse perpetrated by women with surprising frequency.

Jaye’s film met with immediate resistance from radical feminists, who trolled her online while she was fundraising for the film. Her documentary has been largely ignored by most of the mainstream media. But it has had widespread impact on the Internet.

Laci Green, one of YouTube’s best known personalities whose left-leaning videos about sex and gender have an immense following, posted “Taking The Red Pill?”

Green’s relatively tame confession of discomfort with feminists who shut down opposing views, as well as the revelation that she was dating an anti-SJW YouTuber, enraged her fans. They waged an online campaign against her and reportedly “doxxed” her — published her personal information on the internet.

Many who proclaim themselves “red pilled” express a yearning for traditional values. “Pat Riarchy” wants to see a return to an era where comedians can “attack everyone,” not just Trump. “PC culture is going down,” he says. “A lot of people want this to stop.” Kirsten Lauryn, a 20-something hipster sitting amidst empty church pews, worries that,  “A lot of our society has drawn away from religion as an important way of instilling values.” She observes, “The pendulum is swinging back to a more traditional lifestyle. I see this with my generation Generation Z.”

The media has very likely ignored red pilling for the same reason it underestimated support for Donald Trump: An entrenched establishment always resists disrupters, especially those who reject its worldview.

That said, red pill bloggers are not necessarily Trump supporters—in many cases, quite the reverse. What they do share, however, is their questioning of mainstream media tropes.

Not all their videos would pass muster with Reagan conservatives or even libertarians. But, taken together, they give hope to those worried about the future of capitalism and free speech in America.

 

Eric Julien’s “Alien Message” To Mankind

Original Article

By Joe Martino

We’re about to dive into a ‘transmission’ or ‘channeled’ message that allegedly came into a man by the name of Jean Ederman aka Eric Julien. Jean had been practicing projecting his mind when he came in contact with what he called benevolent ET beings, this is when he received the message. Note: we will refer to him as Eric from here on out.

Before we get into the message, it’s important to dive into a background about Eric, attempt to determine who he really is and whether or not his background can be considered credible. Either way even as we move through this information, we strongly suggest you use your own intuition on this to explore. Blind denial doesn’t do us good in the same way blind acceptance doesn’t.

A few quick things to get out of the way right away: the reality of remote viewing, astral projection, channeling, and the existence of ET’s. There is a ton of credible evidence exploring these topics at a black budget and military level. These abilities are used and millions have been spent exploring them within the US military. You can learn more about CIA remote viewing programs here, the military use and study of psychic abilities here, and more about ET’s and the documents to prove the reality of them in a groundbreaking film here.

With those resources laid out to help open up to the reality of how all of this is possible, we can continue with an open mind. I find it important to lay out those resources before hand because quite simply, most people do not realize that all of these “abilities” or “pseudoscientific frauds” are actually very well studied, documented and real. In fact, it’s likely your tax dollar paid for the extensive study and training of these very abilities.

Eric’s Story

Eric claims to have been a military jet pilot, air traffic controller and airport manager, and holds a masters in economics. He states that since the age of 6, he has been having experiences with ET’s and UFO’s.

Eric has published a book called The Science of Extraterrestrials in 2006. That work was reviewed by a number of ET and UFO researchers and it obtained high regard. As a pilot in the military, he claimed to have had contact with extraterrestrial technology, including piloting an ET craft.

A prominent UFO researcher named Michael Salla had this to say about Eric’s book and work, “A number of prominent French researchers/scientists have reviewed his book and thought very highly of it, and concluded that it is not a plagiarized work which was one of the initial criticisms leveled against him. I have read one of these critiques and it is clear that the author who was initially very skeptical was impressed by Eric’s work.”

Over time, Eric has gone on to speak at a number of ET and UFO conferences and has shared interesting accounts he claims to have been involved in regarding ET’s and ET technology.

The Style of The Message

There are a few key notes to look at when exploring the channeled message below. The style of the message is deliberate and with purpose. It is not ‘dictative’  or condescending . This is typically seen when people are attempting to inform as opposed to pushing beliefs onto others. The choices for how humanity deals with the challenges it currently faces is left as a choice for humanity, as opposed to a dictation of precisely what to do. This is in alignment with many other messages that allow for the spiritual growth and evolution of a species to take responsibility for where they are and empower themselves to make a change, as opposed to waiting for someone to save them. This is an important note.

The overall text is coherent and intelligent, drawing on a number of difficult challenges humanity faces and does not seem to contain any self bolstering or ego gratification tactics that other messages often contain.

The Message

On a final summation of the above, regardless of whether Eric’s story is a fact or not, the message below still provides great value to us. I say this because we cannot know for certain whether or not he did channel this message, but we have the control and power to take value from the message.

I wanted to pull out some key pieces to this that I thought were meaningful to provide value and things to reflect on when we read this. A channeled message is only valuable when we decide what to do with the information and act upon it from within.

“We are not mere observations; we are consciousnesses just like you. Our existence is a reality, but the majority of you do not perceive it yet because we remain invisible to your senses and instruments most of the time.”

“We wish to fill this void at this moment in your history. We made this collective decision on our side, but this is not enough — we need yours as well.” (They are saying here that humanity must be open and asking for ET communication if we want it.)

“A great roller wave is on the horizon. It entails very positive but also very negative potentials. At this time wonderful opportunities of progress stand side by side with threats of destruction.”(referring to the shift in consciousness taking place that we touch on A LOT. Watch our documentary about it here.)

“We are sad to see men, women and children suffering to such a degree in their flesh and in their hearts when they bear such an inner light. This light can be your future.”

“Our relationships could develop in stages. Several stages of several years or decades would occur: demonstrative appearance of our ships, physical appearance beside human beings, collaboration in your technical and spiritual evolution, discovery of parts of the galaxy.”

There are plenty of memorable moments in the text below, but those are a start. Read on and enjoy!

Eric writes: “… after having learned how to mentally project myself to a place in the presence of benevolent extraterrestrials, I received the following message…”

[This channeling was translated from French into English by Dan Drasin, a Marin-based film-maker and researcher].

Begin Message:

Each one of you wishes to exercise your free will and experience happiness. Your free will depends upon the knowledge you have of your own power. Your happiness depends upon the love that you give and receive.

Like all conscious races at this stage of progress, you may feel isolated on your planet. This impression gives you a certain view of your destiny. Yet you are at the brink of big upheavals that only a minority is aware of.

It is not our responsibility to modify your future without your choosing it. So consider this message as a worldwide referendum, and your answer as a ballot.

Neither your scientists nor your religious representatives speak knowledgeably about certain unexplained aerial and celestial events that mankind has witnessed for thousands of years.

To know the truth, one must face it without the filter of one’s beliefs or dogmas, however respectable
they may be.

A growing number of anonymous researchers of yours are exploring new paths of knowledge and are getting very close to reality. Today, your civilization is flooded with an ocean of information of which only a tiny part, the less upsetting one, is notably distributed.

Bear in mind that what in your history seemed ridiculous or improbable has often become possible, then realized — in particular in the last fifty years.

Be aware that the future will be even more surprising. You will discover the worst as well as the best.

Many of those who study our appearances point to lights in the night, but without lighting the way. Often they think in terms of objects when it is all about conscious beings.

Who are we?

Like billions of others in this galaxy, we are conscious creatures that some call “extraterrestrials,” even though the reality is subtler. There is no fundamental difference between you and us, save for having experienced certain stages of evolution.

As with any other organized society, a hierarchy exists in our internal relationships. Ours, however, is based upon the wisdom of several races. It is with the approval of this hierarchy that we turn to you.

Like most of you, we are in quest of the Supreme “Being” or “State of Being.”

Therefore we are not gods or lesser gods but virtually your equals in the Cosmic Brotherhood. Physically we are somewhat different from you but most of us are humanoid-shaped.

We are not mere observations; we are consciousnesses just like you. Our existence is a reality, but the majority of you do not perceive it yet because we remain invisible to your senses and instruments most of the time.

We wish to fill this void at this moment in your history. We made this collective decision on our side, but this is not enough — we need yours as well.

Through this message you can become the decision-makers. You, personally. We have no human representative on Earth who could guide your decision.

Why aren’t we visible?

At certain stages of evolution, cosmic “humanities” discover certain scientific principles regarding matter. Structured dematerialization and materialization are among them.

Your humanity has achieved this in a few laboratories, in close collaboration with other extraterrestrial creatures — at the cost of hazardous compromises that remain purposely hidden from you by some of your representatives.

In addition to the aerial or space-based objects or phenomena known to your scientific community as physical “UFOs,” there are essentially multidimensional manufactured spaceships that possess these expanded capacities.

Many human beings have been in visual, auditory, tactile or psychic contact with such ships — some of which, it should be noted with caution, are under the influence of hidden powers that govern you, which we often term “the third party.”

The relative scarcity of your observations is due to the dematerialized state of these ships. Being unable to perceive them yourselves, you cannot acknowledge their existence. We fully understand this.

When most observations do occur, they are arranged on an individual basis so as to touch the individual soul and not to influence or intrude on any organized social system.

This is deliberate on the part of the various races that surround you, but for a variety of reasons and results. For negative multidimensional beings that play a part in the exercise of power in the shadow of human oligarchy, discretion is motivated by their desire to keep their existence unknown.

For us, discretion has been motivated by the respect of the human free will that people can exercise to manage their own affairs so that they can reach technical and spiritual maturity on their own.

However, humankind’s entrance into the family of galactic civilizations is greatly expected.

We can appear in broad daylight to help you attain this union, but we have not done it so far, as too few of you have genuinely desired it because of ignorance, indifference or fear, and because the urgency of the situation did not justify it.

Who are you?

You are the offspring of many traditions that throughout time have been mutually enriched by each others’ contributions.

Your goal is to unite, while respecting these diverse roots, to accomplish a common purpose, a united project. The appearances of your cultures help keep you separated because you give them far greater importance than you give your deeper beings.

Shape, or form, has been deemed more important than the essence of your subtle nature. For the powers in control, this emphasis on differences of form constitutes a bulwark against any form of positive change.

Now you are being called on to overcome the identification with form while still respecting it for its richness and beauty. Understanding the consciousness behind form allows us to love all humans in their diversity.

Peace does not mean simply not making war; it consists in becoming what you, collectively, are in reality: a fraternity.

The solutions available to achieve this are decreasing, but one that could still catalyze it would be open contact with another race that would reflect the image of what you are in a deeper reality.

Except for rare occasions, our past interventions intentionally had very little influence on your capacity to make collective and individual decisions about your own future.

This was motivated by our knowledge of your deep psychological mechanisms. We reached the conclusion that freedom is built every day as a being becomes aware of himself and of his environment, getting progressively rid of constraints and inertias, whatever they may be.

However, despite the actions of numerous brave and willing human souls, those inertias have been successfully maintained for the benefit of a growing, centralized power.

What is your situation?

Until recently, mankind lived in satisfactory control of its decisions. But it is losing more and more the control of its own fate, partly because of the growing use of advanced technologies that affect your body as well as your mind and will eventually have irreversibly lethal consequences for earthly and human ecosystems.

Independently of your own will, your resilience will artificially decrease and you will slowly but surely lose your extraordinary capacity to make life desirable. Such plans are on their way.

Should a collective reaction of great magnitude not happen, this individual power is doomed to vanish. The period to come shall be one of rupture.

This break, however, can be a positive break with the past as long as you keep this creative power alive in you, even if it cohabits, for the time being, with the dark intentions of your potential lords.

What now? Should you wait for the last moment to find solutions? Should you anticipate or undergo pain?

Your history has never ceased to be marked by encounters between peoples whose discovery of one another occurred in circumstances of conflict and conquest.

Earth has now become a village where everyone knows everyone else, but still conflicts persist and threats of all kinds get worse in intensity and duration.

Individuals who have many potential capacities cannot exercise them with dignity. This is the case for the greatest majority of you, for reasons that are essentially geopolitical.

There are several billion of you, but the education of your children and your living conditions, as well as the conditions of numerous animals and much plant life are under the thumb of a small number of your political, financial, military and religious representatives.

Your thoughts and beliefs are modeled after partisan interests while at the same time giving you the feeling that you are in total control of your destiny — which in essence is the reality, but there is a long way between a wish and a fact when the true rules of the game at hand are kept hidden.

This time, you are not the conqueror. Spreading biased information is an effective strategy for manipulating human beings. Inducing thoughts and emotions, or even creating organisms, that do not belong to you is an even older strategy.

A great roller wave is on the horizon. It entails very positive but also very negative potentials. At this time wonderful opportunities of progress stand side by side with threats of destruction.

However, you can only perceive what is being shown to you. The diminishing of many natural resources is inevitable and no long-term collective remediation project has been launched. Ecosystem exhaustion mechanisms have exceeded irreversible limits.

The scarcity of resources whose entry price will rise day after day — and their unfair distribution — will bring about fratricidal fights on a large scale, from the hearts of your cities to your countrysides.

This is the reason why, more than ever in your history, your decisions of today will directly and significantly impact your survival tomorrow.

Hatred grows… but so does love. That is what keeps you confident in your ability to find solutions.

However, human behaviors, formed from past habits and trainings, have great inertia that leads to a dead end. The critical mass has not been reached, while the work of sabotage is being carried out cleverly and efficiently.

You entrust your problems to representatives whose awareness of common well being inexorably fades away before corporatist interests.

These putative servants of the people are far more often debating the form than the content. Just at the moment of action, delays accumulate to the point when you have to submit rather than choose.

This inertia is in many ways typical of any civilization. What event could radically modify it? Where could a collective and unifying awareness come from that will stop this blind rushing ahead?

Tribes, populations and human nations have always encountered and interacted with one another. Faced with the threats weighing upon the human family, it is perhaps time that a greater interaction occurred.

There are two ways to establish a cosmic contact with another civilization: via its standing representatives or directly with ordinary individuals.

The first way entails fights of interests, the second way brings awareness. The first way was chosen by a group of races motivated by keeping mankind in slavery, thereby controlling Earth’s resources, its gene pool, and the mass of human emotional energy.

The second way was chosen by a group of races allied with the cause of the Spirit of Service. Some years ago we did introduce ourselves to representatives of the human power structure, but they refused our outstretched hand on the basis of interests that were incompatible with their strategic vision.

That is why today individuals are to make this choice by themselves without any representatives interfering. What we proposed in the past to those whom we believed were in a capacity to contribute to your happiness, we propose now — to you.

Few of you are aware that non-human creatures have been involved in the centralizing of power in your world, and in the subtle taking of control. These creatures do not necessarily stand on your material plane, which is precisely what could make them extremely efficient and frightening in the near future.

However, also be aware that quite a few of your representatives are in fact fighting this danger, that not all alien abductions are conducted to your detriment, and that resistance also exists amongst those dominance-oriented races.

Peace and reunification of your peoples would be a first step toward harmony with civilizations other than yours. That is precisely what those who manipulate you behind the scenes want to avoid at all cost because, by dividing, they reign.

They also reign over those who more visibly govern you. Their strength comes from their capacity to instill mistrust and fear. This considerably harms your very cosmic nature.

This message would be of no interest if these manipulators’ influence were not reaching its peak and if their misleading and murderous plans did not materialize within a few years from now.

Their deadlines are close and mankind will undergo unprecedented difficulties for the next ten cycles [years?]. To defend yourselves against this aggression that bears no face, you need at least to have enough information that points to the solution.

Here again, appearance and body type will not be enough to tell the dominator from the ally.

At your current state of psychic development it is extremely difficult for you to distinguish between them. In addition to your intuition, training will be necessary when the time has come. Being aware of the priceless value of free will, we are inviting you to an alternative.

What can we offer?

We can offer you a more holistic vision of the universe and of life, constructive interactions, the experience of fair and fraternal relationships, liberating technical knowledge, eradication of suffering, controlled exercise of individual powers, access to new forms of energy and, finally, a better comprehension of consciousness.

We cannot help you overcome your individual and collective fears, or bring you laws that you would not have chosen. You must also work on your own selves, apply individual and collective efforts to build the world you desire, and manifest the spirit to quest for new skies.

What would we receive?

Should you decide that such a contact take place, we would rejoice over the safeguarding of fraternal equilibrium in this region of the universe, fruitful diplomatic exchanges, and the intense Joy of knowing that you are united to accomplish what you are capable of.

The feeling of Joy is strongly sought in the universe, for its energy is divine. What is the question we ask you?

“DO YOU WISH THAT WE SHOW UP?”

How can you answer this question? The truth of soul can be read telepathically, so you only need to clearly ask yourself this question and give your answer as clearly, on your own or in a group, as you wish.

Being in the heart of a city or in the middle of a desert does not impact the efficiency of your answer. YES or NO.

Just do it as if you were speaking to yourself but thinking about the message. This is a universal question, and these mere few words, put in their context, have a powerful meaning.
This is why you should calmly think about it, in all conscience. In order to perfectly associate your answer with the question, it is recommended that you answer after another careful reading of this message.

Do not rush to answer. Breathe and let all the power of your own free will penetrate you. Be proud of what you are! Then do not let hesitation get in the way.

The everyday problems that you may have can weaken you. To be yourselves, forget about them for a few minutes. Feel the force that springs up in you. You are in control of yourselves!

A single thought, a single answer can drastically change your near future, in one way as in another. Your individual decision of asking in your inner self that we show up on your material plane and in broad daylight is precious and essential to us.

Even though you can choose the way that best suits you, rituals per se are essentially useless. A sincere request made with your heart and your own will, will always be perceived by those of us to whom it is sent. In your own private polling booth of your secret will, you will determine the future.

What is the lever effect?

This decision should be made by the greatest possible number among you, even though it might seem like a minority.

It is recommended to spread this message, in all envisageable fashions, in as many languages as possible, to those around you, whether or not they seem receptive to this new vision of the future. Do it using a humorous tone or derision if that can help you.

You can even openly and publicly make fun of it if it makes you feel more comfortable, but do not be indifferent, for at least you will have exercised your free will. Forget about the false prophets and the beliefs that have been transmitted to you about us.

This request is one of the most intimate that can be asked to you. Making a decision by yourself, as an individual, is your right as well as your responsibility. Passivity only leads to the absence of freedom.

Similarly, indecision is never efficient. If you really want to cling to your beliefs, which is something that we understand, then forcefully say NO.

If you do not know what to choose, do not say YES because of mere curiosity. This is not a show, this is real daily life. We exist. We are alive.

Your history has had plenty of episodes when determined men and women were able to influence the thread of events despite their small number.

Just as a small number is enough to take temporal power on Earth and influence the future of the majority, a small number of you can radically change your fate as an answer to the impotence in face of so much inertia and so many hurdles. You can ease mankind’s birth to Brotherhood.

One of your thinkers once said:

“Give me a hand-hold and I’ll raise the Earth.”
Spreading this message will then be the strengthening of the hand-hold. We will be the light-years long lever and you will be the craftsmen to “raise the Earth” as a consequence of our appearance.

What would be the consequences of a positive decision?

For us, the immediate consequence of a collective favorable decision would be the materialization of many ships, in your sky and on Earth.

For you, the direct effect would be the rapid abandoning of many certitudes and beliefs. A simple conclusive visual contact would have huge repercussions for your future.

Much knowledge would be modified forever. The organization of your societies would be deeply upheaved forever, in all fields of activity.

Power would become individual because you would see for yourself that we exist as living beings, not accepting or rejecting that fact on the word of any external authority. Concretely, you would change the scale of your values.

The most important thing for us is that humankind would form a single family before this “unknown” we would represent!

Danger would slowly melt away from your homes because you would indirectly force the undesirable ones, those we name the “third party,” to show up and vanish. You would all bear the same name and share the same roots: Mankind.

Later on, peaceful and respectful exchanges would be thus possible if such is your wish. For now, he who is hungry cannot smile, he who is fearful cannot welcome us.

We are sad to see men, women and children suffering to such a degree in their flesh and in their hearts when they bear such an inner light. This light can be your future.

Our relationships could develop in stages. Several stages of several years or decades would occur: demonstrative appearance of our ships, physical appearance beside human beings, collaboration in your technical and spiritual evolution, discovery of parts of the galaxy.

At every stage new choices would be offered to you. You would then decide by yourself to enter new stages if you think it necessary to your external and inner well-being. No interference would be decided upon unilaterally. We would leave as soon as you would collectively wish that we do.

Depending upon the speed to spread the message across the world, several weeks, or even several months will be necessary before our “great appearance,” if such is the decision made by the majority of those who will have used their capacity to choose, and if this message receives the necessary support.

The main difference between your daily prayers to entities of a strictly spiritual nature and your current decision is extremely simple: we are technically equipped to materialize.

Why such a historical dilemma?

We know that “foreigners” are considered as enemies as long as they embody the “unknown.” In a first stage, the emotion that our appearance will generate will strengthen your relationships on a worldwide scale.

How could you know whether our arrival is the consequence of your collective choice? For the simple reason that we would have otherwise shown up long ago at your level of existence. If we are not there yet, it is because you have not made such a decision explicitly.

Some among you might think that we would make you believe in a deliberate choice of yours so as to justify our arrival, though this would not be true. If that were the case, what interest would we have in openly giving you access to these opportunities for the benefit of the greatest number of you?

How could you be certain that this is not yet another subtle maneuver of the “third party” to better enslave you? Because one always more efficiently fights something that is identified than what is kept hidden.

Isn’t the terrorism that corrodes you a blatant example? Whatever, you are the sole judge in your own heart and soul. Whatever your choice, it would be respectable and respected.

In the absence of human representatives who could potentially seduce into error you ignore everything about us as well as from about those who manipulate you without your consent.

[There seems to be some text missing in the translation here.]

In your current situation, the precautionary principle that consists in not trying to discover us no longer prevails. You are already in the Pandora’s box that the “third party” has created around you. Whatever your decision may be, you will have to get out of it.

In the face of such a dilemma, one ignorance against another, you need to ask your intuition. Do you want to see us with your own eyes, or simply believe what your “authorities” say? That is the real question! After thousands of years, one day this choice was going to be inevitable: choosing between two unknowns.

Why spread such a message among yourselves?

Translate and spread this message widely. This action will affect your future in an irreversible and historical way at the scale of millennia. Otherwise, it will postpone a new opportunity to choose until several years later — at least one generation, if that generation can survive.

Not choosing stands for undergoing other people’s choice. Not informing others stands for running the risk of obtaining a result that is contrary to one’s expectations. Remaining indifferent means giving up one’s free will.

It is all about your future. It is all about your evolution. It is possible that this invitation will not receive your collective assent and will be disregarded. Nevertheless no individual desire goes unheeded in the universe.

Imagine our arrival tomorrow. Thousands of ships. A unique cultural shock in today’s mankind’s history. It will then be too late to regret not making a choice and spreading the message because this discovery will be irreversible.

We do insist that you do not rush into it, but do think about it… And decide. The big media will not necessarily be interested in spreading this message. It is therefore your task, as an anonymous yet an extraordinary thinking and loving being, to transmit it.

You are still the architects of your own fate…

“DO YOU WISH THAT WE SHOW UP?”

End Message

Remember, use your intuition to connect and feel out this message and what it means for you. I will end with, blind acceptance is just as unhelpful as blind skepticism.

in 2012 we put out a film called The Collective Evolution 3: The Shift for free. It explores why we are living in the most important time in our history. You can watch that film here.

Congress Approves Resolution Condemning White Nationalists

Original Article

By Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Congress has approved a resolution condemning white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other hate groups following a white-nationalist rally in Virginia that descended into deadly violence.

The resolution recognizes Heather Heyer, who was killed Aug. 12, and 19 other people who were injured after a car allegedly driven by a neo-Nazi slammed into a crowd of demonstrators protesting the rally in Charlottesville. It describes Heyer’s death as a “domestic terrorist attack” and acknowledges two Virginia state troopers who died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the protests.

Six senators from both parties, led by both of Virginia’s Democratic senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, introduced the measure, which the Senate approved unanimously Monday night. The House approved the joint resolution Tuesday by unanimous consent.

The measure, which now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature, urges the Trump administration to speak out against hate groups that espouse racism, extremism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and white supremacy. It also calls on the Justice Department and other federal agencies to “use all resources available” to improve data collection on hate crimes and “address the growing prevalence of those hate groups in the United States.”

Image: Alt-right protesters at the University of Virginia
Alt-right protesters at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville on Aug. 11. Samuel Corum / Getty Images

Trump has been criticized for his response following the violent white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville over the city’s planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Trump asserted that there were good people on “both sides” of the rally and bemoaned rising efforts to remove Confederate monuments as an attack on America’s “history and culture.”

The joint resolution was supported by a range of civil rights groups, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

 

Why The Sun Has Been On The Fritz

Original Article

By George Dvorsky

The solar flare as seen by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on September 10, 2017. (Image: NASA/SDO/Goddard)

Since early last week, the Sun has belched out a steady stream of solar flares, including the most powerful burst recorded in the star’s current 11-year cycle. It sounds very alarming, but scientists say this is simply what stars do every now and then, and that there’s nothing to be concerned about.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation that stream out into space after periods of sunspot-associated magnetic activity. Sunspots are surface features that occasionally form owing to the strong magnetic field lines that come up from within the Sun and pierce through the solar surface. Solar flares are the largest explosive events in the Solar System, producing bright flashes that last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Earth’s atmosphere protects us from most of their harmful rays, but this radiation can disturb GPS, radio, and communications signals, particularly near our planet’s polar regions.

The solar flare as seen by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on September 10, 2017. (Image: NASA/SDO/Goddard)

On Sunday September 10, 2017, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded an X8.2 class flare. Class X flares are the most intense flares, and the number attached to it denotes its strength, where X2 is twice as intense as X1, and X3 is three times as intense, and so on. M-class flares are a tenth the size of X-class flares and C-class flares are the weakest of the bunch. Both X- and M-class flares can cause brief radio blackouts on Earth, and other mild technological disruptions. Unless it’s part of an unusually strong solar storm—the kind that happens about once every one hundred years—in which case that would be very bad.

The latest flare spurted out from the Sun’s Active Region 2673, which scientists first noticed on August 29. Activity from this region began to intensify on September 4. Over the past week, NASA has catalogued six sizeable flares, including X2.2 and X9.3 flares on September 6, and an X1.3 flare on September 7. The X9.3 flare is the largest flare recorded so far in the current solar cycle—an approximately 11 year-cycle in which the Sun’s activity waxes and wanes. We’re in the ninth year of the current cycle, and we’re heading towards a solar minimum in terms of intensity. Flares like this are rare during this waning phase, but as these latest bursts show, they can still be pretty intense.

This gif shows both the X2.2 and the X9.3 flares that the Sun emitted on Sept. 6, 2017. (Image: NASA/GSFC/SDO)

“Big flares towards the end of sunspot cycles are not unusual, and in fact, that’s fairly standard behavior,” said Scott MacIntosh, director of the High Altitude Observatory at the National Center for Atmospheric research (NCAR), in an interview with Gizmodo. “The trick is to explain why.”

MacIntosh says that when the Sun’s activity gets low, the magnetic systems underlying the spots appear to be in close-contact near the equator. This creates an opportunity for the Sun to produce “hybrid” sunspots—regions which contain magnetic fields that twist like water in the Northern and Southern hemisphere oceans.

“Remember how the rotation of the Earth makes water [spin] in different directions in each hemisphere? The Sun does the same thing for the same reason—the Coriolis force,” said MacIntosh. “Those systems are very unstable. Typically these types of spots produce the biggest, baddest flares and coronal mass ejections when they emerge through the Sun’s surface.”

But the paradoxical thing, says MacIntosh, is that the periods of very low solar activity are known to have produced the biggest geomagnetic storms in history, and these late-cycle events can persist for a very long time, even though the total number of flares is low. “It’s basically about how the different magnetic systems interact,” he says.

As a result of the most recent solar flares, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center has issued a moderate geomagnetic storm watch for September 13, and a minor geomagnetic storm watch for September 14. This shouldn’t cause too much of a problem on Earth, but as NASA Solar Scientist Mitzi Adams explained to Gizmodo, we need to be concerned about flares and coronal mass ejections, since we’re now so reliant on technology that can be impacted by these events.

“The Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) shows an image from SOHO’s coronagraph with ‘speckles.’ The speckles are energetic charged particles interacting with the camera, which do degrade the camera over time,” said Adams. “These events also cause radio blackouts, corrosion in pipelines, and ground-induced currents that can damage transformers. Through monitoring and basic research, the goal is to understand what the Sun does and is likely to do so that we can prepare satellites, power grids, and even astronauts.”

The particles that speckle our cameras, says Adams, arrive about an hour after traveling about 93,000,000 miles per hour (150,000,000 km/h) from the Sun to the Earth. But the bulk of the particles take a couple of days to reach our planet, giving us some time to prepare.

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified the Space Weather Prediction Center as being run by NASA. Sorry about the error.

Tattoo Ink Particles Can Travel To Lymph Nodes.

Original Article

By Ryan F. Mandelbaum

Image: Pitbull Tattoo Thailand

Tattoos are very cool and I do not want to say bad things about them. Evidence of tattooing dates back thousands of years, and the art form has a long history across the world in various cultures. Tattooing has associations with wealth, crime, or seafaring depending on where in history you look. Today, there’s no denying tattoos are everywhere.

But unfortunately, scientists haven’t really looked at the long-term effects of tattoos on the human body.

Researchers have long noticed ink stains on lymph nodes in tattooed folks, but weren’t certain which kinds of particles from the ink were actually ending up there. A new study analyzing deceased tattooed individuals with a high-tech x-ray light source looked at the specifics of the tiny particles that made it to the nodes and stayed there for a long time. While the lymph nodes of these deceased individuals contained a small amount of potentially toxic metals that are believed to be from the tattoos, it’s still unclear exactly what effects these particles might have.

That’s because, given that tattooing is a cosmetic choice, scientists haven’t really studied it. “Currently, basic toxicological aspects,” like how the body transports and breaks down the ink molecules, “are largely uncertain,” the authors write in the paper published today in the journal Scientific Reports. “The animal experiments which would be necessary to address these toxicological issues were rated unethical because tattoos are applied as a matter of choice and lack medical necessity, similar to cosmetics.”

The researchers took skin and lymph node samples from four tattooed deceased human body donors and two non-tattooed donors. They found ink in both the skin and lymph nodes of two of the four patients—one with blue ink and another with green ink. Further chemical analysis found elevated levels of aluminum, chromium, iron, nickel, and copper in both the lymph nodes and skin of tattooed individuals, and even found cadmium and mercury in one of the donors’ lymph nodes (but not in the skin—the authors thought maybe it came from a different tattoo not tested). All of the tattooed individuals also had higher levels of titanium in the skin and nodes, which the authors thought was unlikely to have come from the usual titanium dioxide sources, cosmetics and sunscreen.

Skin and lymph node samples

The researchers also analyzed the skin and lymph nodes with x-rays from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, a large particle accelerator in France, and found that the bodies seemed to react to the tattoos in the lymph nodes—lipid levels were higher near the intruding particles. They note that these lipids may also have come from components of the ink.

While there are several acute issues that might come along with tattoos, from allergic reaction and inflammation to infection, there’s still question as to what the long-term effects might be. The authors here aren’t telling you that you should be worried, yet, as this is a preliminary study with only a few samples. Rather, they’ve recognized that lots of people are getting tattoos these days but the effects are understudied. It would probably be beneficial to understand what your body is actually doing with all of that ink, or even how it reacts to titanium oxide in cosmetics when it comes into contact with a wound.

One scientist not involved with the study, Wolfgang Bäumler from University Hospital Regensburg in Germany, said the work convincingly confirmed something he’s been studying: “Tattoo effects may be more than skin deep.”

I think you should get a tattoo because tattoos are dope (this is a biased statement, I have a family member who is a tattoo artist). But you should also know the risks, said Bäumler. “People getting a tattoo should know that colorants injected in the skin may cause skin problems like an allergic reaction and/or granulomas… People should also know that skin is eager to remove such foreign bodies from skin (tattoo colorant) via the lymphatic system, that is the job of the immune system in skin. Then, the colorant ingredients show up in the next lymph nodes.”

[Scientific Reports]

 

Face Reading A.I. Able To Detect IQ and Views on Politics

Original Article

By Sam Levin

Your photo could soon reveal your political views, says a Stanford professor.

 

Professor whose study suggested technology can detect whether a person is gay or straight says programs will soon reveal traits such as criminal predisposition

Voters have a right to keep their political beliefs private. But according to some researchers, it won’t be long before a computer program can accurately guess whether people are liberal or conservative in an instant. All that will be needed are photos of their faces.

Michal Kosinski – the Stanford University professor who went viral last week for research suggesting that artificial intelligence (AI) can detect whether people are gay or straight based on photos – said sexual orientation was just one of many characteristics that algorithms would be able to predict through facial recognition.

Using photos, AI will be able to identify people’s political views, whether they have high IQs, whether they are predisposed to criminal behavior, whether they have specific personality traits and many other private, personal details that could carry huge social consequences, he said.

Kosinski outlined the extraordinary and sometimes disturbing applications of facial detection technology that he expects to see in the near future, raising complex ethical questions about the erosion of privacy and the possible misuse of AI to target vulnerable people.

“The face is an observable proxy for a wide range of factors, like your life history, your development factors, whether you’re healthy,” he said.

Faces contain a significant amount of information, and using large datasets of photos, sophisticated computer programs can uncover trends and learn how to distinguish key traits with a high rate of accuracy. With Kosinski’s “gaydar” AI, an algorithm used online dating photos to create a program that could correctly identify sexual orientation 91% of the time with men and 83% with women, just by reviewing a handful of photos.

Kosinski’s research is highly controversial, and faced a huge backlash from LGBT rights groups, which argued that the AI was flawed and that anti-LGBT governments could use this type of software to out gay people and persecute them. Kosinski and other researchers, however, have argued that powerful governments and corporations already possess these technological capabilities and that it is vital to expose possible dangers in an effort to push for privacy protections and regulatory safeguards, which have not kept pace with AI.

Kosinski, an assistant professor of organizational behavior, said he was studying links between facial features and political preferences, with preliminary results showing that AI is effective at guessing people’s ideologies based on their faces.

This is probably because political views appear to be heritable, as research has shown, he said. That means political leanings are possibly linked to genetics or developmental factors, which could result in detectable facial differences.

Kosinski said previous studies have found that conservative politicians tend to be more attractive than liberals, possibly because good-looking people have more advantages and an easier time getting ahead in life.

Michal Kosinski.
 Michal Kosinski. Photograph: Lauren Bamford

Kosinski said the AI would perform best for people who are far to the right or left and would be less effective for the large population of voters in the middle. “A high conservative score … would be a very reliable prediction that this guy is conservative.”

Kosinski is also known for his controversial work on psychometric profiling, including using Facebook data to draw inferences about personality. The data firm Cambridge Analytica has used similar tools to target voters in support of Donald Trump’s campaign, sparking debate about the use of personal voter information in campaigns.

Facial recognition may also be used to make inferences about IQ, said Kosinski, suggesting a future in which schools could use the results of facial scans when considering prospective students. This application raises a host of ethical questions, particularly if the AI is purporting to reveal whether certain children are genetically more intelligent, he said: “We should be thinking about what to do to make sure we don’t end up in a world where better genes means a better life.”

Some of Kosinski’s suggestions conjure up the 2002 science-fiction film Minority Report, in which police arrest people before they have committed crimes based on predictions of future murders. The professor argued that certain areas of society already function in a similar way.

He cited school counselors intervening when they observe children who appear to exhibit aggressive behavior. If algorithms could be used to accurately predict which students need help and early support, that could be beneficial, he said. “The technologies sound very dangerous and scary on the surface, but if used properly or ethically, they can really improve our existence.”

There are, however, growing concerns that AI and facial recognition technologies are actually relying on biased data and algorithms and could cause great harm. It is particularly alarming in the context of criminal justice, where machines could make decisions about people’s lives – such as the length of a prison sentence or whether to release someone on bail – based on biased data from a court and policing system that is racially prejudiced at every step.

Kosinski predicted that with a large volume of facial images of an individual, an algorithm could easily detect if that person is a psychopath or has high criminal tendencies. He said this was particularly concerning given that a propensity for crime does not translate to criminal actions: “Even people highly disposed to committing a crime are very unlikely to commit a crime.”

He also cited an example referenced in the Economist – which first reported the sexual orientation study – that nightclubs and sport stadiums could face pressure to scan people’s faces before they enter to detect possible threats of violence.

Kosinski noted that in some ways, this wasn’t much different from human security guards making subjective decisions about people they deem too dangerous-looking to enter.

The law generally considers people’s faces to be “public information”, said Thomas Keenan, professor of environmental design and computer science at the University of Calgary, noting that regulations have not caught up with technology: no law establishes when the use of someone’s face to produce new information rises to the level of privacy invasion.

Keenan said it might take a tragedy to spark reforms, such as a gay youth being beaten to death because bullies used an algorithm to out him: “Now, you’re putting people’s lives at risk.”

Even with AI that makes highly accurate predictions, there is also still a percentage of predictions that will be incorrect.

“You’re going down a very slippery slope,” said Keenan, “if one in 20 or one in a hundred times … you’re going to be dead wrong.”

.Hackers Already Weaponizing A.I.

Original Article

By George Dvorsky

Illustration: Sam Woolley/Gizmodo

Last year, two data scientists from security firm ZeroFOX conducted an experiment to see who was better at getting Twitter users to click on malicious links, humans or an artificial intelligence. The researchers taught an AI to study the behavior of social network users, and then design and implement its own phishing bait. In tests, the artificial hacker was substantially better than its human competitors, composing and distributing more phishing tweets than humans, and with a substantially better conversion rate.

The AI, named SNAP_R, sent simulated spear-phishing tweets to over 800 users at a rate of 6.75 tweets per minute, luring 275 victims. By contrast, Forbes staff writer Thomas Fox-Brewster, who participated in the experiment, was only able to pump out 1.075 tweets a minute, making just 129 attempts and luring in just 49 users.

Human or bot? AI makes it tough to tell. (Image: ZeroFOX)

Thankfully this was just an experiment, but the exercise showed that hackers are already in a position to use AI for their nefarious ends. And in fact, they’re probably already using it, though it’s hard to prove. In July, at Black Hat USA 2017, hundreds of leading cybersecurity experts gathered in Las Vegas to discuss this issue and other looming threats posed by emerging technologies. In a Cylance poll held during the confab, attendees were asked if criminal hackers will use AI for offensive purposes in the coming year, to which 62 percent answered in the affirmative.

The era of artificial intelligence is upon us, yet if this informal Cylance poll is to be believed, a surprising number of infosec professionals are refusing to acknowledge the potential for AI to be weaponized by hackers in the immediate future. It’s a perplexing stance given that many of the cybersecurity experts we spoke to said machine intelligence is alreadybeing used by hackers, and that criminals are more sophisticated in their use of this emerging technology than many people realize.

“Hackers have been using artificial intelligence as a weapon for quite some time,” said Brian Wallace, Cylance Lead Security Data Scientist, in an interview with Gizmodo. “It makes total sense because hackers have a problem of scale, trying to attack as many people as they can, hitting as many targets as possible, and all the while trying to reduce risks to themselves. Artificial intelligence, and machine learning in particular, are perfect tools to be using on their end.” These tools, he says, can make decisions about what to attack, who to attack, when to attack, and so on.

Scales of intelligence

Marc Goodman, author of Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It, says he isn’t surprised that so many Black Hat attendees see weaponized AI as being imminent, as it’s been part of cyber attacks for years.

“What does strike me as a bit odd is that 62 percent of infosec professionals are making an AI prediction,” Goodman told Gizmodo. “AI is defined by many different people many different ways. So I’d want further clarity on specifically what they mean by AI.”

Indeed, it’s likely on this issue where the expert opinions diverge.

The funny thing about artificial intelligence is that our conception of it changes as time passes, and as our technologies increasingly match human intelligence in many important ways. At the most fundamental level, intelligence describes the ability of an agent, whether it be biological or mechanical, to solve complex problems. We possess many tools with this capability, and we have for quite some time, but we almost instantly start to take these tools for granted once they appear.

Centuries ago, for example, the prospect of a calculating machine that could crunch numbers millions of times faster than a human would’ve most certainly been considered a radical technological advance, yet few today would consider the lowly calculator as being anything particularly special. Similarly, the ability to win at chess was once considered a high mark of human intelligence, but ever since Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997, this cognitive skill has lost its former luster. And so and and so forth with each passing breakthrough in AI.

Today, rapid-fire developments in machine learning (whereby systems learn from data and improve with experience without being explicitly programmed), natural language processing, neural networks (systems modeled on the human brain), and many other fields are likewise lowering the bar on our perception of what constitutes machine intelligence. In a few years, artificial personal assistants (like Siri or Alexa), self-driving cars, and disease-diagnosing algorithms will likewise lose, unjustifiably, their AI allure. We’ll start to take these things for granted, and disparage these forms of AI for not being perfectly human. But make no mistake—modern tools like machine intelligence and neural networks are a form of artificial intelligence, and to believe otherwise is something we do at our own peril; if we dismiss or ignore the power of these tools, we may be blindsided by those who are eager to exploit AI’s full potential, hackers included.

A related problem is that the term artificial intelligence conjures futuristic visions and sci-fi fantasies that are far removed from our current realities.

“The term AI is often misconstrued, with many people thinking of Terminator robots trying to hunt down John Connor—but that’s not what AI is,” said Wallace. “Rather, it’s a broad topic of study around the creation of various forms of intelligence that happen to be artificial.”

Wallace says there are many different realms of AI, with machine learning being a particularly important subset of AI at the current moment.

“In our line of work, we use narrow machine learning—which is a form of AI—when trying to apply intelligence to a specific problem,” he told Gizmodo. “For instance, we use machine learning when trying to determine if a file or process is malicious or not. We’re not trying to create a system that would turn into SkyNet. Artificial intelligence isn’t always what the media and science fiction has depicted it as, and when we [infosec professionals] talk about AI, we’re talking about broad areas of study that are much simpler and far less terrifying.”

Evil intents

These modern tools may be less terrifying than clichéd Terminator visions, but in the hands of the wrong individuals, they can still be pretty scary.

Deepak Dutt, founder and CEO of Zighra, a mobile security startup, says there’s a high likelihood that sophisticated AI will be used for cyberattacks in the near future, and that it might already be in use by countries such as Russia, China, and some Eastern European countries. In terms of how AI could be used in nefarious ways, Dutt has no shortage of ideas.

“Artificial intelligence can be used to mine large amounts of public domain and social network data to extract personally identifiable information like date of birth, gender, location, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and so on, which can be used for hacking [a person’s] accounts,” Dutt told Gizmodo. “It can also be used to automatically monitor e-mails and text messages, and to create personalized phishing mails for social engineering attacks [phishing scams are an illicit attempt to obtain sensitive information from an unsuspecting user]. AI can be used for mutating malware and ransomware more easily, and to search more intelligently and dig out and exploit vulnerabilities in a system.”

Dutt suspects that AI is already being used for cyberattacks, and that criminals are already using some sort of machine learning capabilities, for example, by automatically creating personalized phishing e-mails.

“But what is new is the sophistication of AI in terms of new machine learning techniques like Deep Learning, which can be used to achieve the scenarios I just mentioned with a higher level of accuracy and efficiency,” he said. Deep Learning, also known as hierarchical learning, is a subfield of machine learning that utilizes large neural networks. It has been applied to computer vision, speech recognition, social network filtering, and many other complex tasks, often producing results superior to human experts.

“Also the availability of large amounts of social network and public data sets (Big Data) helps. Advanced machine learning and Deep Learning techniques and tools are easily available now on open source platforms—this combined with the relatively cheap computational infrastructure effectively enables cyberattacks with higher sophistication.”

These days, the overwhelming number of cyber attacks is automated, according to Goodman. The human hacker going after an individual target is far rarer, and the more common approach now is to automate attacks with tools of AI and machine learning—everything from scripted Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks to ransomware, criminal chatbots, and so on. While it can be argued that automation is fundamentally unintelligent (conversely, a case can be made that some forms of automation, particularly those involving large sets of complex tasks, are indeed a form of intelligence), it’s the prospect of a machine intelligence orchestrating these automated tasks that’s particularly alarming. An AI can produce complex and highly targeted scripts at a rate and level of sophistication far beyond any individual human hacker.

Indeed, the possibilities seem almost endless. In addition to the criminal activities already described, AIs could be used to target vulnerable populations, perform rapid-fire hacks, develop intelligent malware, and so on.

Staffan Truvé, Chief Technology Officer at Recorded Future, says that, as AI matures and becomes more of a commodity, the “bad guys,” as he puts it, will start using it to improve the performance of attacks, while also cutting costs. Unlike many of his colleagues, however, Truvé says that AI is not really being used by hackers at the moment, claiming that simpler algorithms (e.g. for self-modifying code) and automation schemes (e.g. to enable phishing schemes) are working just fine.

“I don’t think AI has quite yet become a standard part of the toolbox of the bad guys,” Truvé told Gizmodo. “I think the reason we haven’t seen more ‘AI’ in attacks already is that the traditional methods still work—if you get what you need from a good old fashioned brute force approach then why take the time and money to switch to something new?”

AI on AI

With AI now part of the modern hacker’s toolkit, defenders are having to come up with novel ways of defending vulnerable systems. Thankfully, security professionals have a rather potent and obvious countermeasure at their disposal, namely artificial intelligence itself. Trouble is, this is bound to produce an arms race between the rival camps. Neither side really has a choice, as the only way to counter the other is to increasingly rely on intelligent systems.

“For security experts, this is Big Data problem—we’re dealing with tons of data—more than a single human could possibly produce,” said Wallace. “Once you’ve started to deal with an adversary, you have no choice but to use weaponized AI yourself.”

To stay ahead of the curve, Wallace recommends that security firms conduct their own internal research, and develop their own weaponized AI to fight and test their defenses. He calls it “an iron sharpens iron” approach to computer security. The Pentagon’s advanced research wing, DARPA, has already adopted this approach, organizing grand challenges in which AI developers pit their creations against each other in a virtual game of Capture the Flag. The process is very Darwinian, and reminiscent of yet another approach to AI development—evolutionary algorithms. For hackers and infosec professionals, it’s survival of the fittest AI.

Goodman agrees, saying “we will out of necessity” be using increasing amounts of AI “for everything from fraud detection to countering cyberattacks.” And in fact, several start-ups are already doing this, partnering with IBM Watson to combat cyber threats, says Goodman.

“AI techniques are being used today by defenders to look for patterns—the antivirus companies have been doing this for decades—and to do anomaly detection as a way to automatically detect if a system has been attacked and compromised,” said Truvé.

At his company, Recorded Future, Truvé is using AI techniques to do natural language processing to, for example, automatically detect when an attack is being planned and discussed on criminal forums, and to predict future threats.

“Bad guys [with AI] will continue to use the same attack vectors as today, only in a more efficient manner, and therefore the AI based defense mechanisms being developed now will to a large extent be possible to also use against AI based attacks,” he said.

Dutt recommends that infosec teams continuously monitor the cyber attack activities of hackers and learn from them, continuously “innovate with a combination of supervised and unsupervised learning based defense strategies to detect and thwart attacks at the first sign,” and, like in any war, adopt superior defenses and strategy.

The bystander effect

So our brave new world of AI-enabled hacking awaits, with criminals becoming increasingly capable of targeting vulnerable users and systems. Computer security firms will likewise lean on a AI in a never ending effort to keep up. Eventually, these tools will escape human comprehension and control, working at lightning fast speeds in an emerging digital ecosystem. It’ll get to a point where both hackers and infosec professionals have no choice but to hit the “go” button on their respective systems, and simply hope for the best. A consequence of AI is that humans are increasingly being kept out of the loop.

 

White Christians Are Now A U.S. Population Minority

Original Article

By Rachel Zoll

The share of Americans who identify as white and Christian has dropped below 50 percent, a transformation fueled by immigration and by growing numbers of people who reject organized religion altogether, according to a new survey released Wednesday.

NEW YORK — The share of Americans who identify as white and Christian has dropped below 50 percent, a transformation fueled by immigration and by growing numbers of people who reject organized religion altogether, according to a new survey released Wednesday.

Christians overall remain a large majority in the U.S., at nearly 70 percent of Americans. However, white Christians, once predominant in the country’s religious life, now comprise only 43 percent of the population, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, or PRRI, a polling organization based in Washington. Four decades ago, about eight in 10 Americans were white Christians.

The change has occurred across the spectrum of Christian traditions in the U.S., including sharp drops in membership in predominantly white mainline Protestant denominations such as Presbyterians and Lutherans; an increasing Latino presence in the Roman Catholic Church as some non-Hispanic white Catholics leave; and shrinking ranks of white evangelicals, who until recently had been viewed as immune to decline.

The trends identified in the survey are fueling anxiety about the place of Christians in society, especially among evangelicals, alarmed by support for gay marriage and by the increasing share of Americans — about one-quarter — who don’t identify with a faith group. President Donald Trump, who repeatedly promised to protect the religious liberty of Christians, drew 80 percent of votes by white evangelicals, a constituency that remains among his strongest supporters.

About 17 percent of Americans now identify as white evangelical, compared to 23 percent a decade ago, according to the survey. Membership in the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, the largest U.S. Protestant group, dropped to 15.2 million last year, its lowest number since 1990, according to an analysis by Chuck Kelley, president of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

The trends identified in the survey are fueling anxiety about the place of Christians in society, especially among evangelicals, alarmed by support for gay marriage and by the increasing share of Americans — about one-quarter — who don’t identify with a faith group.

“So often, white evangelicals have been pointing in judgment to white mainline groups, saying when you have liberal theology you decline,” said Robert Jones, chief executive of PRRI. “I think this data really does challenge that interpretation of linking theological conservatism and growth.”

The PRRI survey of more than 100,000 people was conducted from January 2016 to January of this year and has a margin of error of plus or minus 0.4 percentage points. Previous surveys had found that the Protestant majority that shaped the nation’s history had dropped below 50 percent sometime around 2008. The PRRI poll released Wednesday included a more in-depth focus on race and religion. Jones said growth among Latino Christians, and stability in the numbers of African-American Christians, had partly obscured the decline among white Christians.

The survey also found that more than a third of all Republicans say they are white evangelicals, and nearly three-quarter identify as white Christians. By comparison, white Christians have become a minority in the Democratic Party, shrinking from 50 percent a decade ago, to 29 percent now. Forty percent of Democrats say they have no religious affiliation.

Among American Catholics, 55 percent now identify as white, compared to 87 percent 25 years ago, amid the growing presence of Latino Catholics, according to the report. Over the last decade, the share of white Catholics in the U.S. population dropped from 16 percent to 11 percent. Over the same period, white mainline Protestants declined from 18 percent to 13 percent of all Americans.

Sen. Feinstein Blasted For Anti-Catholic Bigotry By Notre Dame President

Original Article

By Todd Starnes

The president of the University of Notre Dame said he is deeply concerned after Sen. Dianne Feinstein questioned a colleague’s religious beliefs during a Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearing.

Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor at Notre Dame, was grilled by Democrats over how her Catholic beliefs might influence her decisions from the bench. Barrett was recently nominated by President Trump for a seat on the federal court.

“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years in this country,” Sen. Feinstein said.

Feinstein has been widely condemned for what many are calling anti-Catholic bigotry and bullying.

“It is chilling to hear from a United States Senator that this might now disqualify someone from service as a federal judge,” Notre Dame President John Jenkins wrote in a public letter to the California lawmaker.

He took great exception to her remark that the “dogma lives loudly” in the professor.

AI Can Determine Sexual Orientation From A Photograph

By Sam Levin
An illustrated depiction of facial analysis technology similar to that used in the experiment.

An algorithm deduced the sexuality of people on a dating site with up to 91% accuracy, raising tricky ethical questions

Artificial intelligence can accurately guess whether people are gay or straight based on photos of their faces, according to new research that suggests machines can have significantly better “gaydar” than humans.

The study from Stanford University – which found that a computer algorithm could correctly distinguish between gay and straight men 81% of the time, and 74% for women – has raised questions about the biological origins of sexual orientation, the ethics of facial-detection technology, and the potential for this kind of software to violate people’s privacy or be abused for anti-LGBT purposes.

The machine intelligence tested in the research, which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and first reported in the Economist, was based on a sample of more than 35,000 facial images that men and women publicly posted on a US dating website. The researchers, Michal Kosinski and Yilun Wang, extracted features from the images using “deep neural networks”, meaning a sophisticated mathematical system that learns to analyze visuals based on a large dataset.

The research found that gay men and women tended to have “gender-atypical” features, expressions and “grooming styles”, essentially meaning gay men appeared more feminine and vice versa. The data also identified certain trends, including that gay men had narrower jaws, longer noses and larger foreheads than straight men, and that gay women had larger jaws and smaller foreheads compared to straight women.

Human judges performed much worse than the algorithm, accurately identifying orientation only 61% of the time for men and 54% for women. When the software reviewed five images per person, it was even more successful – 91% of the time with men and 83% with women. Broadly, that means “faces contain much more information about sexual orientation than can be perceived and interpreted by the human brain”, the authors wrote.

The paper suggested that the findings provide “strong support” for the theory that sexual orientation stems from exposure to certain hormones before birth, meaning people are born gay and being queer is not a choice. The machine’s lower success rate for women also could support the notion that female sexual orientation is more fluid.

While the findings have clear limits when it comes to gender and sexuality – people of color were not included in the study, and there was no consideration of transgender or bisexual people – the implications for artificial intelligence (AI) are vast and alarming. With billions of facial images of people stored on social media sites and in government databases, the researchers suggested that public data could be used to detect people’s sexual orientation without their consent.

It’s easy to imagine spouses using the technology on partners they suspect are closeted, or teenagers using the algorithm on themselves or their peers. More frighteningly, governments that continue to prosecute LGBT people could hypothetically use the technology to out and target populations. That means building this kind of software and publicizing it is itself controversial given concerns that it could encourage harmful applications.

But the authors argued that the technology already exists, and its capabilities are important to expose so that governments and companies can proactively consider privacy risks and the need for safeguards and regulations.

“It’s certainly unsettling. Like any new tool, if it gets into the wrong hands, it can be used for ill purposes,” said Nick Rule, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, who has published research on the science of gaydar. “If you can start profiling people based on their appearance, then identifying them and doing horrible things to them, that’s really bad.”

Rule argued it was still important to develop and test this technology: “What the authors have done here is to make a very bold statement about how powerful this can be. Now we know that we need protections.”

Kosinski was not immediately available for comment, but after publication of this article on Friday, he spoke to the Guardian about the ethics of the study and implications for LGBT rights. The professor is known for his work with Cambridge University on psychometric profiling, including using Facebook data to make conclusions about personality. Donald Trump’s campaign and Brexit supporters deployed similar tools to target voters, raising concerns about the expanding use of personal data in elections.

In the Stanford study, the authors also noted that artificial intelligence could be used to explore links between facial features and a range of other phenomena, such as political views, psychological conditions or personality.

This type of research further raises concerns about the potential for scenarios like the science-fiction movie Minority Report, in which people can be arrested based solely on the prediction that they will commit a crime.

“AI can tell you anything about anyone with enough data,” said Brian Brackeen, CEO of Kairos, a face recognition company. “The question is as a society, do we want to know?”

Brackeen, who said the Stanford data on sexual orientation was “startlingly correct”, said there needs to be an increased focus on privacy and tools to prevent the misuse of machine learning as it becomes more widespread and advanced.

Rule speculated about AI being used to actively discriminate against people based on a machine’s interpretation of their faces: “We should all be collectively concerned.”

Researchers Reverse the Negative Effects Of Adolescent Marijuana Use

Original Article

Researchers at Western University have found a way to use pharmaceuticals to reverse the negative psychiatric effects of THC, the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana. Chronic adolescent marijuana use has previously been linked to the development of psychiatric diseases, such as schizophrenia, in adulthood. But until now, researchers were unsure of what exactly was happening in the brain to cause this to occur.

“What is important about this study is that not only have we identified a specific mechanism in the prefrontal cortex for some of the mental health risks associated with adolescent  use, but we have also identified a mechanism to reverse those risks,” said Steven Laviolette, professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

In a study published online today in Scientific Reports the researchers demonstrate that adolescent THC exposure modulates the activity of a neurotransmitter called GABA in the  region of the brain. The team, led by Laviolette and post-doctoral fellow Justine Renard, looked specifically at GABA because of its previously shown clinical association with .

“GABA is an  and plays a crucial role in regulating the excitatory activity in the frontal cortex, so if you have less GABA, your neuronal systems become hyperactive leading to behavioural changes consistent with schizophrenia,” said Renard.

The study showed that the reduction of GABA as a result of THC exposure in adolescence caused the neurons in adulthood to not only be hyperactive in this part of the brain, but also to be out of synch with each other, demonstrated by abnormal oscillations called ‘gamma’ waves. This loss of GABA in the cortex caused a corresponding hyperactive state in the brain’s dopamine system, which is commonly observed in schizophrenia.

By using drugs to activate GABA in a rat model of schizophrenia, the team was able to reverse the neuronal and behavioural effects of the THC and eliminate the schizophrenia-like symptoms.

Laviolette says this finding is especially important given the impending legalization of marijuana in Canada. “What this could mean is that if you are going to be using marijuana, in a recreational or medicinal way, you can potentially combine it with compounds that boost GABA to block the negative effects of THC.”

The research team says the next steps will examine how combinations of cannabinoid chemicals with compounds that can boost the brains GABA system may serve as more effective and safer treatments for a variety of  disorders, such as addiction, depression and anxiety.

Justice Department Sides With Baker Who Refused To Make Wedding Cake For Gay Couple

Original Article

By Robert Barnes

In a major upcoming Supreme Court case that weighs equal rights with religious liberty, the Trump administration on Thursday sided with a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

The Department of Justice on Thursday filed a brief on behalf of baker Jack Phillips, who was found to have violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act by refusing to created a cake to celebrate the marriage of Charlie Craig and David Mullins in 2012. Phillips said he doesn’t create wedding cakes for same-sex couples because it would violate his religious beliefs.

The government agreed with Phillips that his cakes are a form of expression, and he cannot be compelled to use his talents for something in which he does not believe.

“Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights,” Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall wrote in the brief.

Plaintiff in landmark Supreme Court case says: ‘One person can change the world’
The Post’s Steven Petrow sits down with Jim Obergefell, the main plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Hodges, and talks about gay marriage, equality for the transgender community and his late husband John.(Video: Erin Patrick O’Connor/Photo: Maddie McGarvey/The Washington Post)

The DOJ’s decision to support Phillips is the latest in a series of steps the Trump administration has taken to rescind Obama administration positions favorable to gay rights and to advance new policies on the issue.

But Louise Melling, the deputy legal counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the couple, said she was taken aback by the filing.

“Even in an administration that has already made its hostility” toward the gay community clear, Melling said, “I find this nothing short of shocking.”

Since taking office, President Trump has moved to block transgender Americans from serving in the military and his Department of Education has done away with guidance to schools on how they should accommodate transgender students.

The DOJ also has taken the stance that gay workers are not entitled to job protections under federal anti-discrimination laws. Since 2015, the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission has taken the opposite stance, saying Title VII, the civil-rights statute that covers workers, protects against bias based on sexual orientation.

Federal courts are split on that issue, and the Supreme Court this term might take up the issue.

Indeed, lawyers for Jameka Evans, who claims she was fired by Georgia Regional Hospital because of her sexual orientation and “nonconformity with gender norms of appearance and demeanor,” on Thursday asked justices to take her case.

Citing a 1979 precedent, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rejected her protection claims.

Taking that case, along with Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, would make the coming Supreme Court term the most important for gay rights issues since the justices voted 5 to 4 in 2015 to find a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.

The case of Phillips, a baker in the Denver suburbs, is similar to lawsuits brought elsewhere involving florists, calligraphers and others who say providing services to same-sex weddings would violate their religious beliefs. But these objectors have found little success in the courts, which have ruled that businesses serving the public must comply with state anti-discrimination laws.

Mullins and Craig visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in July 2012, along with Craig’s mother, to order a cake for their upcoming wedding reception. Mullins and Craig planned to marry in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages were legal at the time, and then hold a reception in Colorado.

But Phillips refused to discuss the issue, saying his religious beliefs would not allow him to have anything to do with same-sex marriage. He said other bakeries would accommodate them.

The civil rights commission and a Colorado court rejected Phillips’ argument that forcing him to create a cake violated his First Amendment rights of freedom of expression and exercise of religion.

The court said the baker “does not convey a message supporting same-sex marriages merely by abiding by the law.”

143 Million People Could Be Affected In Giant Equifax Data Breach

Original Article

By Sara Ashley O’Brien

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) – Equifax says a giant cybersecurity breach compromised the personal information of as many as 143 million Americans — almost half the country.

Cyber criminals have accessed sensitive information — including names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and the numbers of some driver’s licenses.

Additionally, Equifax said that credit card numbers for about 209,000 U.S. customers were exposed, as was “personal identifying information” on roughly 182,000 U.S. customers involved in credit report disputes. Residents in the U.K. and Canada were also impacted.

The breach occurred between mid-May and July, Equifax said. The company said it discovered the hack on July 29.

The data breach is one of the worst ever, by its reach and by the kind of information exposed to the public.

“This is clearly a disappointing event for our company, and one that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do,” said Equifax chairman and CEO Richard F. Smith.

Equifax is one of three nationwide credit-reporting companies that track and rates the financial history of U.S. consumers. The companies are supplied with data about loans, loan payments and credit cards, as well as information on everything from child support payments, credit limits, missed rent and utilities payments, addresses and employer history, which all factor into credit scores.

Unlike other data breaches, not all of the people affected by the Equifax breach may be aware that they’re customers of the company. Equifax gets its data from credit card companies, banks, retailers, and lenders who report on the credit activity of individuals to credit reporting agencies, as well as by purchasing public records.

Equifax is mailing notices to people whose credit cards or dispute documents were affected.

It also says that consumers can check to see if they’ve potentially been impacted by submitting their name and the last six digits of their social security number. Users are given a date when they will be enrolled in free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring services. Equifax did not immediately reply to CNN Tech’s request for more information about the process.

“This is reason Number 10,000 to check your online bank statements and credit card statements on a regular basis, ideally weekly,” said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com. “Bad guys can be very patient, so it’s important to keep an eye out long after this story fades from the headlines.”