These twins were born 4 minutes apart. But only one is a U.S. citizen

Original Article

A married binational gay couple allege that the government’s policy of granting birthright citizenship based on blood relation discriminates against LGBTQ couples.


The two envelopes, one for each twin brother, arrived in the mailbox on the same day in March of last year.

The larger parcel, for Aiden Dvash-Banks, contained a new U.S. passport and a letter congratulating the boy on his American citizenship. A smaller, flimsier envelope came for Ethan Dvash-Banks. Inside, a letter stated that his citizenship application had been denied.

The boys were carried in the same womb, born 16 months ago in Canada, minutes apart. But now, only one of them is in the U.S. legally.

The disparity is at the crux of a lawsuit filed this week against the State Department in which the twins’ parents, a married binational gay couple in Brentwood, allege that the government’s policy of granting birthright citizenship to children born abroad based on blood relation discriminates against LGBTQ couples.

Aiden and Ethan were conceived using an anonymous donor’s eggs and the sperm of their fathers, Andrew and Elad Dvash-Banks. The twins were carried and delivered by a surrogate. Aiden shares DNA with Andrew, a Santa Monica native, while Ethan is biologically related to Elad, who was born and raised in Israel.

In Ethan’s denial letter, addressed to Andrew, a U.S. Consulate official said that the Immigration and Nationality Act requires “a blood relationship between a child and the U.S. citizen parent in order for the parent to transmit U.S. citizenship.”

The boy’s “claim to U.S. citizenship has not been satisfactorily established, as you are not his biological father,” the letter said.

The couple were devastated — and livid.

“As a parent, my No. 1 job is to protect my sons,” Andrew Dvash-Banks, 36, said in an interview with The Times this week. “I can’t allow anyone to treat them differently. That is what my government is doing.”

In their fathers’ eyes, the boys are the same. They both grimace at the sight of broccoli. They both love playing hide-and-seek and the furry red Muppet, Elmo. But without birthright citizenship, the couple said, Ethan is undeniably different.

For example, “If he’s not a U.S. citizen at birth, he can’t become a U.S. president,” said Elad Dvash-Banks, 32. “A child should not start his life with, ‘You can’t do this.'”

The couple never intended to disclose their biological connections to their sons — or to anyone else. They said it wasn’t necessary, and not even their parents or grandparents asked.

“The fact that the State Department has taken it upon themselves to make it their business is wrong,” Andrew Dvash-Banks said. The lawsuit argues that the provisions cited by the State Department apply only to children born out of wedlock, and therefore shouldn’t apply to them.

A State Department official declined to comment on pending litigation.

The family’s case exposes the unique immigration challenges facing binational LGBTQ couples, which number about 36,000 in the U.S., said Jackie Yodashkin, public affairs director for Immigration Equality.

“That means there are a lot of people who have or will be starting families soon,” Yodashkin said. “If the goal is to keep families together, then why would you ever create a situation where you have an undocumented baby and a U.S. citizen twin brother?”

Legal experts said the statutes were written without contemplating same-sex marriages.

“Fundamentally, we’re dealing with very conservative, traditional notions of family when these statutes were written,” said Jean Reisz, a professor at USC Gould School of Law, adding that she was surprised by the State Department’s position.

But Nancy Polikoff, a visiting professor at UCLA School of Law, said straight couples who use assisted reproduction abroad run into similar problems.

“The definition of parents that’s being used has not caught up to the reality of parentage today, which is that lots of people are recognized as legal parents even though they aren’t biological parents and they haven’t adopted the child,” she said.

Andrew and Elad Dvash-Banks met in 2008 at a holiday party at Tel Aviv University in Israel, where Andrew was working toward a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies.

They fell in love and, two years later, were married. The pair intended to settle in California, where Andrew Dvash-Banks has four siblings, along with 14 nieces and nephews. But at the time, same-sex marriages were not allowed in California because of Proposition 8 and not recognized by the federal government.

That meant Elad Dvash-Banks couldn’t obtain lawful permanent residency in the U.S. through his marriage. So his partner had a choice: He could either start his marriage away from his family, or away from his husband.

“Obviously I chose to live with the man I fell in love with,” Andrew Dvash-Banks said. The pair settled in Canada, where Andrew has dual citizenship.

The couple were elated in 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of a federal law that denied benefits to legally married gay couples. Elad applied for a green card soon after.

A few months after the twins were born, the couple gleefully visited the U.S. Consulate in Toronto to get their sons U.S. passports. They carried their marriage certificate, matching birth certificates, a check, some diapers and their two newborns.

After hours of waiting, an official called them to the window. There, they were asked a series of detailed questions about the boys’ conception. They felt humiliated, but offered answers.

The official said Andrew Dvash-Banks would have to undergo a DNA test to prove a biological link to each twin. Without that, neither child would qualify.

“If we were hetero couple,” Elad Dvash-Banks said, “she would never ask that. She would never ask that because she would assume we are husband and wife.”

Andrew Dvash-Banks wept at the window. Onlookers watched in silence.

“We were hit with a ton of bricks,” he said.

A few months after Ethan’s application was denied, the family arrived at LAX in June. Andrew and Aiden carried their U.S. passports, while Elad had his Israeli passport and green card. Ethan passed through customs with a Canadian passport and a six-month tourist visa.

In December, the family canceled a trip to Israel to visit the twins’ great-grandparents. Ethan’s tourist visa had expired, and leaving the country posed too much of a risk.

The day they arrived in Los Angeles, the couple swore they would fight until Ethan obtained birthright citizenship.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes to help Ethan to get what is rightfully his,” Elad Dvash-Banks said. “I know I will tell them, look at this — this is a piece of history, because we fought for you and we changed the world.”


Original Article

“Lebanon has become – both by its own actions and omissions and by a blind eye from many members of the international community – one large missile factory,”  Manelis wrote on the Ahewar website.
“It’s no longer a transfer of arms, funds or consultation. Iran has de-facto opened a new branch, the ‘Lebanon branch.’ Iran is here,” he said.

“In Lebanon, Hezbollah does not conceal its attempt to take control of the state,” he continued, adding that “in the shadow of Nasrallah’s bullying behavior” the terror group has built “terror infrastructure and factories to manufacture weapons under the nose of the Lebanese government.”

Israel and Hezbollah fought a deadly 33-day war in 2006, which came to an end under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which called for disarmament of Hezbollah, for withdrawal of the Israeli army from Lebanon, for the deployment of the Lebanese army and an enlarged UN force in the south.

“This past year (2017), like the 11 years that preceded it since the end of the Second Lebanon War, was characterized by relative stability on the Lebanese front. This quiet is for the benefit of residents on both sides,” Manelis wrote. “The fact that northern Israel and southern Lebanon have children who have not heard an alarm in their lives is a significant achievement of the Second Lebanon War, and the best proof of the stability of Israeli deterrence and the burning memory among the Lebanese about the magnitude of Nasrallah’s previous mistake.”

Nevertheless according to IDF assessments, Hezbollah has since rebuilt its arsenal with at least 100,000 short-range rockets and several thousand more missiles that can reach central Israel. In addition to a massive arsenal of rockets and missiles, Hezbollah is able to mobilize close to 30,000 fighters and has flouted its tunnel system, complete with ventilation, electricity, and rocket launchers.

Hezbollah has also increased its military capabilities due to its fighting in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad, and has spread its troops across the entire Middle East.

“The past year has been further proof that Hezbollah serves as an operational arm of Iran. In every place where there was instability, we discovered the fingerprint of Iran and everywhere we discovered Hezbollah’s involvement,” Manelis wrote.

Some 200 villages in south Lebanon have also been turned into “military strongholds” from which Hezbollah militants are able to watch Israeli soldiers at any moment.

“The ordinary citizen will be mistaken to think that this process turns Lebanon into a fortress, it is nothing more than a barrel of gunpowder on which he, his family and his property are sitting,” Manelis said in his op-ed on Sunday.

“One in every three or four houses in southern Lebanon is a headquarters, a post, a weapons depot or a Hezbollah hideout. We know these assets and know how to attack them accurately if required.”

Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and the growing Iranian presence on its borders, stressing that both are red-lines for the Jewish State.

Senior officials from Israel’s defense establishment have repeatedly stated that while the chance of escalation on the border is low, the smallest incident or a miscalculation by either side has the possibility to lead to conflict.

“The future of Lebanese citizens is in the hands of a dictator who sits in Tehran,” Manelis wrote, adding that “I think it is right to warn the residents of Lebanon of the Iranian game in their security and in their future.”

In September, Israel carried out its largest military exercise on the northern border in 20 years with tens of thousands of soldiers from all branches of the army simulating a war with Hezbollah.

“The past year has been used by the IDF to significantly improve preparations for war on the northern front,” Manelis wrote. “If our enemies understood how much we knew about them, they would be deterred from entering into another conflict for many more years to come.”

Maher Defends Jerusalem Decision: When You Win Wars You Take Land, Palestine A “Coiled Snake”

Original Article

On the Friday edition of his show Real Time, HBO host Bill Maher defended President Trump’s decision to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, giving legitimacy to the country’s claim to the city. Maher said while he understands there will be repercussions, when you win wars you get land.

“I hate to agree with Donald Trump, but it doesn’t happen often, but I do. I don’t know why Israel — it has been their capital since 1949, it is where their government is. They’ve won all the wars thrown against them. I don’t understand why they don’t get to have their capital where they want,” he said.

“When you win a war you don’t get to take the other side’s land,” newly-minted New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg said.

“Actually, you do,” Maher responded.

“Especially because they were attacked. I mean the country was divided, which they were okay with. They were attacked more than once and they took land in those wars that they won and there has been peace offers on the table ever since to give part of that land back,” he added.

Maher asked why is it always up to Israel to come up with a two-state solution, and when they do it is rejected and blamed for making it “impossible.” He said what is making a two-state solution impossible is the “perpetually hostile,” “coiled snake” that is Palestinian leadership.

“But what is making the essential thing that is making the two-state solution impossible is that one party is perpetually hostile, a coiled snake,” Maher said in an argument with guest panelist Michelle Goldberg.

He also said Israel has given back land, including Gaza, and said the result was not hospitals and schools but tunnels and rockets.

“Israel gave back Gaza and what was the result? Did they use the funds to build schools and hospitals? No. They used them to build tunnels to get weapons and they invited Hamas in to shell Israel across the border,” he said.

Maher told Goldberg, who protested he should go visit the West Bank, that it’s unnecessary to make the trip and that you don’t have to be a “moron” to understand the situation.

From the January 26th edition of HBO’s Real Time:

BILL MAHER, HBO: Okay, while we’re near the Middle East let me ask about a big story that happened while we were off in December. Donald Trump: ‘Today we finally acknowledge the obvious that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.’ He said that Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like any other sovereign nation to determine its own capital.

I hate to agree with Donald Trump, but it doesn’t happen often, but I do. I don’t know why Israel — it has been their capital since 1949, it is where their government is. They’ve won all the wars thrown against them. I don’t understand why they don’t get to have their capital where they want.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, NEW YORK TIMES: Really, you don’t understand that?

MAHER: I understand there are repercussions.

GOLDBERG: First of all, when you win a war you don’t get to take the other side’s land.

RICK WILSON: Actually, you do.

MAHER: Actually, you do.

GOLDBERG: Under international law, you can’t.

MAHER: Especially because they were attacked. I mean the country was divided, which they were okay with. They were attacked more than once and they took land in those wars that they won and there has been peace offers on the table ever since to give part of that land back.

What happened for the 50 years before? I mean, this has been the fact on the ground for 50 years. Israel has been a state for 70, I think, right?

WILSON: It is the capital of Israel, okay. I recognize Ro [Khanna]’s point that if we’re going to be an arbiter in the peace process that just declaring this without having trying to use that as a point of leverage in those debates, in those discussions, it might have given away a card we might have held.

I don’t think though that this is going to ultimately alter the conditions on the ground there because the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian government is so collapsed in terms of being an effective political force in the process that the status quo is going to be the status quo for the foreseeable future.

GOLDBERG: But the problem is the message that it sent a message to everyone in the process. So it sends a message to the Palestinians that the United States is going to be even more pro-Israel than in the past. And it sends a message to the Lukid government that you can basically do anything you want. And so they responded by adapting a resolution essentially calling for the annexation of the West Bank. They passed legislation that would make it less harder to come to any sort of final status agreement on Jerusalem. And they’ve done all these things that are going to make a two-state solution impossible.

MAHER: But it’s always they’re making the two-state solution impossible.

GOLDBERG: They are!

MAHER: But what is making the essential thing that is making the two-state solution impossible is that one party is perpetually hostile, a coiled snake.

GOLDBERG: That’s not true. Come on. You should go and see what’s happening in the West Bank. If you look at the settlements, if you look at the facts on the ground. The fact that you have instead of a contiguous land mass you increasingly have these little cantons. And if you look at the way that Palestinians — most Palestinians alive today were not born during any of these wars and so the idea that their lives should be blighted because of them. Look at what Americans have to do when they go through a TSA checkpoint. They completely lose their shit. And if you imagine doing that for two hours every single day —

MAHER: But this is always what happens. We talk about what happened as a result; we don’t look at the beginning of it. Like the Israelis just put up those checkpoints for no reason. They put up those checkpoints because there was an intifada and they were having bombings every day – a pizza parlor or a bus stop was getting blown up, that’s why they built it, not for no reason.

GOLDBERG: No, because also they want to take that land.

MAHER: Some of them do, yes.

GOLDBERG: I mean they are not putting up settlements for self-defense. They are putting up the settlements because they want to have a Greater Israel, and they are going to get it.

MAHER: Some of them do, yes.

GOLDBERG: There is going to be a one-state solution. So then the question is what is that one state? Is it Jewish or is it democratic? Because it can’t be both.

MAHER: Absolutely, and that is a big problem.

GOLDBERG: So that’s the problem.

MAHER: But when the gun is to Israel’s head — it is a problem.

GOLDBERG: You’re a rich person, you should go see what life in the West Bank is like. Go to Hebron. Like, no, go see it.

MAHER: First of all, you don’t have to go to understand this. I’m not a moron.

GOLDBERG: No, but you do. I feel like it’s hard to really get your head around how bad it is unless you see it with your own eyes.

MAHER: I understand that but Israel gave back Gaza and what was the result? Did they use the funds to build schools and hospitals? No. They used them to build tunnels to get weapons and they invited Hamas in to shell Israel across the border.

Netanyahu Orders Embassy to Meet With Polish PM Over New Holocaust Law: ‘We Cannot Allow Holocaust Denial’

Original Article

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Saturday new legislation in Poland which bars any mention of crimes by the “Polish nation” during the Holocaust, calling on Israel’s ambassador in Warsaw to meet with the Polish prime minister on the contentious bill.

“The law is baseless. I strongly oppose it. History cannot be changed and it is forbidden to deny the Holocaust. I ordered the Israeli embassy in Poland to meet with the Polish Prime Minister and express my firm stand against the law,” Netanyahu said.

>> Haaretz’s Special Coverage of Holocaust Remembrance Day <<

The deputy Polish ambassador in Israel has been called in for a reprimand at the Foreign Ministry. The Polish ambassador is currently abroad.

In a statement from the President’s Office, President Reuven Rivlin also  criticized the bill, saying that “on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, more than ever, and above all considerations, we are faced with our duty to remember our brothers and sisters who were murdered.”

On Friday, the Polish parliament approved a controversial law forbidding any mention of participation of the “Polish nation” in crimes committed during the Holocaust. Yair Lapid, the head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, got into a Twitter feud with the Polish embassy in Israel on Saturday and even had to remind them not give him, the child of Holocaust survivors, a lesson on the subject, prompting them to label him “shameless.”

Survivors and guests walk past the "Arbeit Macht Frei" gate at the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz, during the ceremonies marking the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of the camp and International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day, in Oswiecim, Poland, January 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
Survivors and guests walk past the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate at the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz, during the ceremonies marking the 73rd anniversary of the liberati\ KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS

>> ‘Orgy of murder’: The Poles who ‘hunted’ Jews and turned them over to the Nazis <<

“I utterly condemn the new Polish law which tries to deny Polish complicity in the Holocaust. It was conceived in Germany but hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered without ever meeting a German soldier,” Lapid tweeted Saturday.

The law also forbids use of the term “Polish death camp” to describe the death camps where Jews and others were murdered in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. Anyone who violates the new law, including non-Polish citizens, will be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.

“There were Polish death camps and no law can ever change that,” Lapid wrote. However, the Polish embassy in Israel quickly responded, writing Lapid: “Your unsupportable claims show how badly Holocaust education is needed, even here in Israel.”

The embassy also linked to a statement by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an international organization representing 27 nations and dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust, which supports the idea that it is “historically unsupportable to use the terms ‘Polish death camps.'”

“There were Polish death camps and no law can ever change that,” Lapid wrote. However, the Polish embassy in Israel quickly responded, writing Lapid: “Your unsupportable claims show how badly Holocaust education is needed, even here in Israel.”

The embassy also linked to a statement by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an international organization representing 27 nations and dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust, which supports the idea that it is “historically unsupportable to use the terms ‘Polish death camps.'”



Report: Dalai Lama received $1M from Albany ‘sex cult’ accused of branding women

Original Article

A new report claims His Holiness the Dalai Lama was paid $1 million by an Upstate New York “sex cult” that brands women to speak at their event.

According to The Daily Mail, the Dalai Lama received the fee to speak in front of 3,000 members of NXIVM (pronounced “nexium”), which has recently come under fire from former members. The Buddhist leader is seen in a photograph placing a khata, a traditional ceremonial Tibetan scarf, around the neck of the group’s founder, Keith Raniere, in Albany.

NXIVM describes itself as a self-help organization, but former member Sarah Edmondson filed a complaint in July against a member who branded her. She said female members are required to be branded with Raniere’s initials, “KR,” and also must give their “master,” or recruiter, naked photos or other compromising materials of themselves; Ranier allegedly manipulates women with sex and intimidates people who try to leave the group, threatening to expose those materials.

The New York Times reported last year that DOS, a women’s only group within NXIVM, has been described as a “secret sorority” that also brainwashes members, puts them on starvation diets and beats them if they don’t recruit enough “slaves.” DOS, led by former “Smallville” actress Allison Mack, allegedly stands for “dominus obsequious sororium,” Latin for “master over the slave women.”

Members also reportedly include former “Dallas” star Catherine Oxenberg’s daughter India Oxenberg, and wealthy Seagram’s heiresses Sara and Clare Bronfman.

The Daily Mail reports Sara Bronfman helped book the Dalai Lama to speak at the Albany event in 2009 while in a relationship with his “personal emissary of peace” to the U.S., Lama Tenzin Dhonden. Bronfman can be seen on stage next to the Dalai Lama during the event in a YouTube video.

The Guardian reports Dhonden was replaced last month amid allegations of corruption. A Seattle-based technology entrepreneur claims Dhonden extorted him for “unjustified payments” between 2005 and 2008, in return for setting up an event with the Dalai Lama; Dhonden has denied all wrongdoing.

Whistleblower Frank Parlato has repeatedly detailed the allegations against NXIVM and Dhonden on his website, The Frank Report. He posted photos of Bronfman with Dhonden, a Buddhist monk that would have taken a vow of celibacy.

“Everyone in NXIVM knew the monk was a fraud. NXIVM used him to get the Dalai Lama to come to Albany and endorse the cult leader, Keith Raniere. The Dalai Lama was too wise to fall for this and DID NOT endorse the cult or its leader,” Parlato wrote.

According to the Daily Mail, the Dalai Lama initially canceled the Albany event and several others in the U.S. that year due to controversy surrounding NXIVM. Bronfman and Raniere reportedly convinced him to come a month later by saying all the allegations of misconduct were false.

The Justice Department began a federal investigation of NXIVM in December, examining Raniere, the group’s business dealings, and recruitment practices. NXIVM officials and associates have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and dispute any allegation that it is a cult.

NXIVM, based in the Albany suburb of Colonie, has over 16,000 members in chapters nationwide, as well as in Canada and Mexico. A “20/20” special report focused on the group last month:

In Cave in Israel, Scientists Find Jawbone Fossil From Oldest Modern Human Out of Africa

A fossilized human jawbone discovered in Israel. The find may suggest that Homo sapiens first migrated out of Africa at least 50,000 years earlier than previously thought.CreditGerhard Weber, University of Vienna

Scientists on Thursday announced the discovery of a fossilized human jawbone in a collapsed cave in Israel that they said is between 177,000 and 194,000 years old.

If confirmed, the find may rewrite the early migration story of our species, pushing back by about 50,000 years the time that Homo sapiens first ventured out of Africa.

Previous discoveries in Israel had convinced some anthropologists that modern humans began leaving Africa between 90,000 and 120,000 years ago. But the recently dated jawbone is unraveling that narrative.

“This would be the earliest modern human anyone has found outside of Africa, ever,” said John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist from the University of Wisconsin, Madison who was not involved in the study.

The upper jawbone — which includes seven intact teeth and one broken incisor, and was described in a paper in the journal Science — provides fossil evidence that lends support to genetic studies that have suggested modern humans moved from Africa far earlier than had been suspected.

Continue reading the main story

“What I was surprised by was how well this new discovery fits into the new picture that’s emerging of the evolution of Homo sapiens,” said Julia Galway-Witham, a research assistant at the Natural History Museum in London who wrote an accompanying perspective article.

Dr. Hawks and other researchers advised caution in interpreting the discovery. Although this ancient person may have shared some anatomical characteristics with present-day people, this “modern human” would have probably looked much different from anyone living in the world today.

“Early modern humans in many respects were not so modern,” said JeanJacques Hublin, director of the department of human evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

Dr. Hublin said that by concluding the jawbone came from a “modern human,” the authors were simply saying that the ancient person was morphologically more closely related to us than to Neanderthals.

That does not mean that this person contributed to the DNA of anyone living today, he added. It is possible that the jawbone belonged to a previously unknown population of Homo sapiens that departed Africa and then died off.


The Misliya Cave in Israel, where the fossil was found in 2002 by an archaeology student on his first dig.CreditMina Weinstein-Evron, Haifa University

That explanation would need to be tested with DNA samples, which are difficult to collect from fossils found in the arid Levant.

[READ: Oldest Fossils of Homo Sapiens Found in Morocco, Altering History of Our Species]

The upper jawbone, or maxilla, was found by a team led by Israel Hershkovitz, a paleoanthropologist at Tel Aviv University and lead author of the new paper, while excavating the Misliya Cave on the western slopes of Mount Carmel in Israel. The jawbone was discovered in 2002 by a freshman on his first archaeological dig with the group.

The team had long known that ancient people lived in the Misliya Cave, which is a rock shelter with an overhanging ceiling carved into a limestone cliff. By dating burned flint flakes found at the site, archaeologists had determined that it was occupied between 250,000 to 160,000 years ago, during an era known as the Early Middle Paleolithic.

Evidence, including bedding, showed that the people who lived there used it as a base camp. They hunted deer, gazelles and aurochs, and feasted on turtles, hares and ostrich eggs.

Dr. Hershkovitz and Mina Weinstein-Evron, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa, felt that the jawbone looked modern, but they needed to confirm their hunch.

[READ: Skull Fossil Offers New Clues on Human Journey From Africa]

Dr. Hershkovitz has made similar findings in the past. In 2015, he announced finding a 55,000-year-old skull in the Levant. But a 2010 discovery of 400,000-year-old teeth in Israel in which he participated received criticism for how it was reported in the media.

To test their suspicions about the jawbone, the archaeologists sent the specimen on a world tour. “It looked so modern that it took us five years to convince people, because they couldn’t believe their eyes,” said Dr. Weinstein-Evron.

One of the first stops was Austria, home to a virtual paleontology lab run by Gerhard W. Weber, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Vienna. There scientists were able to assess whether the bone belonged to a modern human or a Neanderthal, which are thought also to have occupied the region during that time period.

Using high resolution micro-CT scanning, Dr. Weber created a 3D replica of the upper left maxilla that allowed him to investigate its surface features and, virtually, to remove enamel from the teeth.

He then performed a morphological and metric test that compared the Misliya fossil with about 30 other specimens, including fossils of Neanderthals, Homo erectus, more recent Homo sapiens, and other hominins that lived in the Middle Pleistocene in Asia, Africa Europe and North America.

“The shape of the second molar, the two premolars and the whole maxilla are very modern,” said Dr. Weber.

A few words about sexual coercion, in the wake of the Aziz Ansari accusations

Original Article

TW: Sexual assault, sexual coercion, oral sex, penetration

Aziz Ansari accepting his 2018 Golden Globe for the Netflix series “Master of None”. Aziz was accused on January 13th of sexually assaulting a 23-year-old woman. You can read about the accusations here:

A guy I knew very well once spent the better part of several days begging me for sex. I was visiting from out of town, and staying in a house where he lived with several other friends of mine. Every night that I was there, he begged, bothered, asked, cajoled, coerced me for sex. He whined and touched me and followed me from room to room. He talked about how much he missed me and how much he wanted me. My discomfort was palpable. I said no many times. My body said no in dozens of ways — when I pushed him off, when I cried, when I left the room, when I grimaced and winced at his touch. No one — no one would struggle to interpret how I felt. My signals were not subtle. The very difficulty he was having was sign enough.

He didn’t stop. He didn’t care. He wheedled and begged and tried to convince me to give him something, maybe not penetration, but oral at least, or a hand job. My disinterest was something for him negotiate down from. He flirted and complained. He moped and stewed. He kept me up at night. He even used the fact that it was his birthday to try and guilt me into doing what he wanted.

I never feared for my safety. I’d known him for years and didn’t see any signs of violence in him. I could have walked out…and then what? Gone out into the freezing night and hailed a cab and paid for a hotel? I was 22 or 23. I’d never done anything like that. But I could have done it. I could have woken up everyone in the house and made a big stink. I could have screamed my “NO”, made throat raw, made it more obvious, but it already wasobvious. I could have just continued saying no and leaving the room endlessly until it was time to leave town. In theory I could have done a lot of things.

And yet. I still gave in. I gave him what he wanted. Well, I gave him something, anyway — after lots of begging and changing what he was asking for and trying to negotiate my “no” down to a passive “okay”, he managed to wheedle a miserable, unenthusiastic, brief encounter out of me. It was obvious I didn’t want to engage in it, didn’t enjoy it, and couldn’t wait for it to be over. But still. I guess he would say I consented.

I didn’t consent. I said no and then I said no and then I said…fineI’ll do this one thing. If you’ll just please leave me alone.

I gave in because he was relentless and exhausting and manipulative and because saying “no”, and holding that “no” in the face of someone deeply resistant, is exhausting. And dispiriting. I was sleep deprived from his relentlessness, away from home and and feeling unmoored, invalidated, and deeply frustrated. I gave in because having to keep fighting him was pretty much just as traumatic as doing what it took to make him stop begging.

It’s a horrible, cloudy, clotted feeling, giving yourself up like that. It makes you feel like your body and your “no” is a thing of no consequence. And, when the pressure is coming from someone you previously liked, it’s a despair-inducing experience. The sexual assault itself isn’t even the trauma that looms largest. It’s all the times the “no” was ignored or brushed off or renegotiated that really leaves a mark.

I’ve been through more violent and forceful sexual assault experiences than this one, but this one was as distressing as all the rest. I can still hear his voice saying — “I know you don’t want to, but don’t you *need* to?” as rubbed at my thighs. It wasn’t a threat. He was trying to convince me to see myself as horny. He thought he could make my body want it even after my brain and body had shut him down a dozen times. He patently didn’t care what I didn’t want. When I think about things rapists have said to me, that’s the quote that makes my blood run the coldest.

His disregard for my consent was so all-encompassing. It lasted days. It hung over my shoulder when I ate dinner with his parents. It dogged me during his birthday party. He was willing to stare down my disapproving, tired, crumpling face for dozens and dozens of hours, and keep pushing without relent. In fact, he saw my eye bags and fallen, dejected facial expression as a sign that he was winning the war of attrition. Every time he pushed, and re-asked a question that had already been answered, and begged, and complained, he was committing an assault. He just hadn’t gotten to the gratifying part of the assault yet.

— — — —

If you don’t think what Aziz Ansari did was coercive, you haven’t been in that kind of spot. Fucking good for you. But shut the fuck up about it. You don’t know. I’m glad for you, that you don’t know, but you need to shut up and listen to those of us who have knowledge on the subject.

People think that it’s the sex that’s the assault, but it’s not. It’s the ignoring a person’s feelings that is asssaultive. When someone ignores your discomfort, pushes themselves across one of your boundaries, or disregards your “no”, they have revealed they are willing to assault you. They might not be willing to be violent to accomplish it, but they’re sure as fuck willing to use subterfuge, disrespect, and psychological warfare to be able to do it.

You can never be in a safe or consensual sexual encounter once someone has made it plain that they don’t make your consent a priority. And here’s the thing: in any healthy sexual encounter, the number #1 priority is making sure you’re not raping the other person.

That goal is more important than being charming or seeming confident or being good in bed. It’s more important than remembering to brush your teeth or wipe your ass. It’s more important than remembering the name of the person you’re trying to sleep with. It’s the number one requirement. And it is so, so easy to fulfill if you treat it like the priority it is.

If the person you’re spending time with says no, you stop. If they don’t help you to “move things along” (i.e., if they don’t advance the sexual encounter), you slow down, don’t advance, or stop. If a person freezes up or looks faraway and glassy-eyed, you check in or stop. If someone doesn’t return your kiss with any passion, you stop. If someone removes themselves from you physically, you check in and do not begin sexual activity again without enthusiastic consent. If someone moves your hand away, you don’t put your hand back there. It’s all so easy. If you give a shit.

Aziz Ansari’s actions make it plain he did not consider the consent of this 23-year-old woman a priority. He followed her around, asked for sexual consolation prizes, convinced her to stay, ignored her “no”, kept moving his hands to places she didn’t want them, pressured her to undress, offered up “just chilling” as a way to placate her, reneged on that offer, and paid no attention to her clearly described physical distress. Any one of these behaviors would be a massive problem on its own. Taken together, it’s clear he was embarking on a long, effortful process of wearing someone down until he leeched a bit of gratification out of them.

Assault doesn’t have to leave bruises for it to be violent. A victim doesn’t have to fear for their life to be coerced. Sometimes coercion is annoyance and brow-beating and relentless demands. And yes, sometimes a person who does not want to have sex just…gives in, and lets the sex happen, because they know it’s the only way they will get out of the situation with ease.

It’s not that they’ve assented to being raped. They were already raped the moment the other person stopped respecting their desires. The sexual assault took place long before the sex act itself began. The assault started the moment an opportunist heard or saw a “no” and decided they’d try and turn it into a “fine”.

Earth Resides in Oddball Solar System, Alien Worlds Show

Original Article

Our solar system may be an oddball in the universe. A new study using data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope shows that in most cases, exoplanets orbiting the same star have similar sizes and regular spacing between their orbits.

By contrast, our own solar system has a range of planetary sizes and distances between neighbors. The smallest planet, Mercury, is about one-third the size of Earth — and the biggest planet, Jupiter, is roughly 11 times the diameter of Earth. There also are very different spacings between individual planets, particularly the inner planets.

This means our solar system may have formed differently than other solar systems did, the research team suggested, although more observations are needed to learn what the different mechanisms were. [The Most Intriguing Alien Planet Discoveries of 2017]

“The planets in a system tend to be the same size and regularly spaced, like peas in a pod. These patterns would not occur if the planet sizes or spacings were drawn at random,” Lauren Weiss, the study’s lead author and an astrophysicist at the University of Montreal, said in a statement.

The research team examined 355 stars that had a total of 909 planets, which periodically transit across their faces (as seen from Earth). The planets are between 1,000 and 4,000 light-years away from Earth.

After running a statistical analysis, the team found that a system with a small planet would tend to have other small planets nearby — and vice-versa, with big planets tending to have big neighbors. These extrasolar systems also had regular orbital spacing between the planets.

“The similar sizes and orbital spacing of planets have implications for how most planetary systems form,” researchers said in the statement. “In classic planet-formation theory, planets form in the protoplanetary disk that surrounds a newly formed star. The planets might form in compact configurations with similar sizes and a regular orbital spacing, in a manner similar to the newly observed pattern in exoplanetary systems.”

In our own solar system, however, the story is very different. The four terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) are very widely spaced apart. The team pointed to evidence from other research that Jupiter and Saturn may have disrupted the structure of the young solar system. While the statement did not specify how, several other research studies have examined the movements of these giant planets and their potential impact on the solar system.

Each of the exoplanets examined in the study was originally found by Kepler, which launched in 2009 and continues to send data today. But more-detailed information was obtained with the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii; Weiss is a member of the California-Kepler Survey team there, which is examining the light signatures of thousands of planets discovered by Kepler.

Weiss said she plans a follow-up study at Keck to look for Jupiter-like planets in multiplanet systems. The aim is to better understand if the presence of a Jupiter-size planet would alter the position of other planets in the same system.

“Regardless of their outer populations, the similarity of planets in the inner regions of extrasolar systems requires an explanation,” researchers said in the statement. “If the deciding factor for planet sizes can be identified, it might help determine which stars are likely to have terrestrial planets that are suitable for life.”

The study was published Jan. 3 in The Astronomical Journal.

North Dakota woman says she was kicked out of Chick-Fil-A for breastfeeding

Original Article

A North Dakota woman said she was asked to leave a Chick-Fil-A over the weekend for breastfeeding her infant daughter at the restaurant.

Macy Hornung said in a Facebook post that she and her husband took their baby to the soft opening of a Chick-Fil-A in Fargo, North Dakota. Hornung said she was breastfeeding her baby when the Chick-Fil-A owner, Kimberly Flamm, approached their table and criticized her for nursing in public.

“I was showing no more than the upper portion of my breast, barely more than what was visible in my shirt and [the owner] asked me to cover,” she said. “I tried to explain that I couldn’t, because my baby refuses to be covered and she started harping about the children and men who can see my indecency and I need to cover.”

Hornung said in the Facebook post that she responded to Flamm’s insistence that she cover up by citing North Dakota breastfeeding laws. Under North Dakota law, a womanis able to breastfeed in any public or private location.

“She told me if I chose not to cover, then she would have to ask me to leave, so I told her my review would reflect my experience and I would be relaying the experience in every local mommy group,” Hornung said in the post.

Following outrage on social media, Flamm issued an apology on the franchise’s Facebook page. 

“I would like to publicly apologize to Macy Hornung for the way I handled the situation on Saturday,” Flamm said. “I ask for your forgiveness on this matter as I learn from it. My goal is to provide a warm and welcoming environment for all of my guests.”

USA TODAY has reached out to Chick-Fil-A for comment.

How DNA Testing Botched My Family’s Heritage, and Probably Yours, Too

Original Article

My grandfather was caramel-skinned with black eyes and thick, dark hair, and until he discovered that he was adopted, he had no reason to suspect that he was not the son of two poor Mexicans as he’d always been told. When he found his adoption papers, according to family lore, he pestered the nuns at the Dallas orphanage where he had lived as an infant for the name of his birth mother. Name in hand, at 10 years old, he hopped a bus to Pennsylvania, met his birth mother, and found out that he was actually Syrian.

At least that’s what we thought until my Aunt Cat mailed a tube of her spit in to AncestryDNA.

The author’s grandparents in Dallas on their wedding day. Image Courtesy the author

Genetic testing suggested that my aunt’s genetic makeup was only a tiny bit Middle Eastern—16 percent, not the 50 percent you might expect if your father was a full-blooded Syrian, as my grandfather believed himself to be. The rest of her Ancestry breakdown provided some explanation, but mostly more confusion. While we typically think of the Caucasus as countries on the Black and Caspian seas like Turkey and Armenia, Ancestry’s test also said it includes Syria. According to Ancestry, the Caucasus accounted for another 15 percent of my Aunt Cat’s DNA. What about the other 20 percent? One line-item stood out as something my aunt hadn’t expected, based on what she knew about either of her parents: She was 30 percent Italian-Greek. My mother’s test revealed similar results.

This caused a minor family scandal. My grandfather’s mother was born in Pennsylvania, but she had lived in an insular Syrian community that never really assimilated. She became pregnant as a teen by her father’s best friend. The assumption had always been that he was Syrian, too. If we weren’t who we thought we were, well, then, who were we?

“I guess we never knew the name of Dad’s father,” my aunt told me, bemused. Suddenly it seemed as though all along we had been missing a gigantic puzzle piece of information about our family tree. At least, my aunt quipped, this was a solid explanation for why she loved pasta.

It’s right there in the fine print of any consumer DNA test, if you bother to read it: DNA testing can come with identity-disrupting surprises, be it an unexpected relative, genetic condition, or, in our case, heritage. But something about this particular surprise didn’t feel quite right.

My Aunt Cat is our family’s amateur genealogist, and she has logged hundreds of hours both on and in my grandmother’s attic, piecing together the story of our family tree. She’s found countless third, fourth, and fifth cousins with ties to Syria, but no one from either Italy or Greece. In her twenties, she even visited my grandfather’s biological mother and aunt. She recalled them passing around a hookah, yelling in Arabic, and expressing repulsion at the American-style cold cut platter served at a community function. Given how segregated the family was, it seemed like a stretch, she told me, to imagine that anyone had ever had so much as a friendly conversation with an Italian.

I suspected the error might lay not in my family narrative, but in the DNA test itself. So I decided to conduct an experiment. I mailed my own spit samples to AncestryDNA, as well as to 23andMe and National Geographic. For each test I got back, the story of my genetic heritage was different—in some cases, wildly so.

The author’s DNA test results from AncestryDNA.

My AncestryDNA test revealed that I, too, had geographic roots in the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Southern Europe, along with the expected big dose of Scandinavian from my very Norwegian father. Weirdly, though, my percentages of Middle Eastern and Caucasus were almost as high as my mom and aunt’s, though you would expect them to be closer to half.

It got more confusing from there. My test through National Geographic (which partners with the DNA sequencing company Helix for its test) gave me even more links to the Middle East, with 16 percent of my DNA from Asia Minor, 6 percent from the Persian Gulf and 9 percent something called “Jewish Diaspora.” Unlike AncestryDNA, National Geographic’s test assigns your heritage to broad regions instead of modern nation-states. But I could infer that, according to National Geographic, I was less Scandinavian based on my percentage of Northwestern European. I was also more Southern European and, for fun, now had a good chunk of Eastern European thrown in there, too.

The author’s DNA test results from National Geographic.

23andMe’s ancestry results were the most confounding of all. It found that I was only 3 percent Scandanavian, a number that, based on my recent family history, I know is flatly wrong. It also found I was only 5.5 percent Middle Eastern and a whopping 62.6 percent Northwestern European. And no Eastern European at all.

The author’s DNA test results from 23andMe.

 I also uploaded my 23andMe data to GenCove, a small ancestry-test startup founded by scientists. Based on the exact same data that 23andMe had crunched, GenCove reported that 8 percent of my DNA was from the Indian subcontinent. 23andMe had found I had no South Asian DNA at all.

The author’s DNA test results from GenCove, using 23andMe data.

Four tests, four very different answers about where my DNA comes from—including some results that contradicted family history I felt confident was fact. What gives?

There are a few different factors at play here.

Genetics is inherently a comparative science: Data about your genes is determined by comparing them to the genes of other people.

As Adam Rutherford, a British geneticist and author of the excellent book “A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived,” explained to me, we’ve got a fundamental misunderstanding of what an ancestry DNA test even does.

“They’re not telling you where your DNA comes from in the past,” he told me, “They’re telling you where on Earth your DNA is from today.”

Ancestry, for example, had determined that my Aunt Cat was 30 percent Italian by comparing her genes to other people in its database of more than six million people, and finding presumably that her genes had a lot of things in common with the present-day people of Italy.

Heritage DNA tests are more accurate for some groups of people than others, depending how many people with similar DNA to yours have already taken their test. Ancestry and 23andMe have actually bothpublished papers about how their statistical modeling works.

As Ancestry puts it: “When considering AncestryDNA estimates of genetic ethnicity it is important to remember that our estimates are, in fact, estimates. The estimates are variable and depend on the method applied, the reference panel used, and the other customer samples included during estimation.”

That the data sets are primarily made up of paying customers also skews demographics. If there’s only a small number of Middle Eastern DNA samples that your DNA has been matched against, it’s less likely you’ll get a strong Middle Eastern match.

“Different companies have different reference data sets and different algorithms, hence the variance in results,” a spokesman from 23andMe told me. “Middle Eastern reference populations are not as well represented as European, an industry-wide challenge.”

As a person of Syrian descent, the British genealogist Debbie Kennett told me, my test was simply not going to be as accurate as fellow Americans whose relatives skew more European. “The tests are mainly geared for an American audience, and they tend to not have a lot of Middle Eastern ancestry,” she said.

Likewise, Kennett said, because relatively few English people have taken tests from American companies like Ancestry or 23andMe, residents of the U.K. are likely to find less useful results.

“A lot of English people come up with a low percentage of British. My dad was only 8 percent British and most of his ancestors as far back as I can trace came back from Great Britain,” she told me. “People in America come up with much higher percentage of British, often.”

Another anecdote that stuck with me came from my friend Alexis Madrigal. Initially, he said, his Mexican family came up as Arab North African, which was surprising. As 23andMe refined its test and its data set grew, it also refined the results: Now, he was descended from Jewish people from Southern Europe. The number of Madrigals in central Spain had long led the family to suspect that their migratory path to Mexico had at some point passed through this region. As more people took the test, the picture of where his family was “from” changed. The Canadian bioethicist Timothy Caulfield shared a similar story. At first a DNA test revealed he was entirely Irish, but as the data set changed, he gradually became less Irish.

When we talk about “ancestry,” we also don’t always mean the same thing. Ancestry just implies people you’re descended from. But when? In America, we often mean whenever our relatives came to the U.S. On my dad’s side, I expected to see a lot of Scandinavian, because just a few generations ago my great grandparents came from Norway to North Dakota. On my mom’s side, my grandmother has a relative that came to America on the Mayflower. Both are what come to mind when I think of my “ancestors,” but they are separated by several generations and hundreds of years in time. Rutherford pointed out that if we went 5oo years back, my ancestors were probably from all over Europe.

“You and I are probably fifth cousins,” he said.

Where your ancestors are from depends on what period in time you’re talking about. Why don’t I instead say I’m 50 percent North Dakotan and 50 percent Texan?

Tests also differ from one another because they’re simply looking at different things. The results of ancestry tests aren’t based on a reading of your whole genome. The vast majority of every human’s DNA is identical to any other human’s. Ancestry tests look at SNPs, the places on your genome where an individual letter tends to differ between people and give us insight into characteristics like disease, ancestry, and physical appearance. When an SNP occurs within a gene, then, in science-speak, that gene has more than one allele, or alternate forms of a gene that exist in the exact same place on a chromosome. To make matters more confusing, some tests look at mitochondrial and Y chromosome DNA, while others don’t.

The CEO of GenCove, the company where I had uploaded my 23andMe data to get drastically different results, told me that even though he expects a fair amount of variability between algorithms, even he was surprised at how differently his company and 23andMe had interpreted my DNA data. He asked me to also upload my Ancestry data, and ran both data sets again after GenCove’s algorithm had been updated. The results were all over the map.

“To be honest I’m a little confused about what’s going on,” CEO Joseph Pickrell told me.

Each testing company is looking at different alleles from different parts of the genome, and using different algorithms to crunch that data. (You can see a list of how company tests differ here.) It’s worth mentioning that genetics is also probabilistic: just because you have the gene, doesn’t mean you have the trait.

“One British company identified an allele in me that gave me ginger hair, and 23andMe didn’t,” said Rutherford. “That’s a simple case where they just used different alleles. That’s relatively simple to explain.”

And sometimes, the algorithms might just get it wrong. Rutherford told me his 23andMe test came back with a tiny amount of Native American DNA. The finding actually linked up with one anecdote from his family lore, about a relative of his father’s that was a Native American tribesman and horse jumper in a British traveling circus.

“As a geneticist, I am absolutely convinced that they’re not related,” he told me. “It’s just statistical noise that happens to coincide with this cool story.” Statistically, it’s unlikely that such tiny amount of Native American DNA would have been enough to show up on Rutherford’s test.

A big problem is that many of us have a basic misunderstanding of what exactly we’re reading when Ancestry or 23andMe or National Geographic sends us colorful infographics about how British or Irish or Scandinavian we are. It’s not that the science is bad. It’s that it’s inherently imperfect, an estimation based on how much our DNA matches up with people in other places around the world, in a world where people have been mixing and matching and getting it on since the beginning of human history.

“You’re creating different algorithms and you’re using different data sets as your reference points, so it makes sense that you’re going to get some different responses,” the Harvard geneticist Robert Green explained to me, as I tried to make sense of my own DNA data. “It’s not that one’s wrong and one’s right. It’s that there isn’t an agreed-upon approach to pick the right number of markers and combine them mathematically. Everyone is sort of just making it up as they go along.”

At the continental level, said Kennett, ancestry testing is useful. It can tell you pretty reliably whether you are African or Asian or European. It can also reliably identify close familial relatives, as distant as third or fourth cousins. Otherwise, Kennett said, “take it with a large pinch of salt.”

Nearly everyone I interviewed for this story said that, taken with the right mindset, ancestry DNA testing can be fun. As more people take DNA tests and company data sets grow, the results from those tests will also become more detailed and accurate. Anecdotally, I saw this in my own results. Ancestry has the biggest DNA database, and its interpretation of my DNA was also most in-line with what I expected.

“The more people that take tests, the better the experience for all of us,” an Ancestry spokesman told me. “Your DNA does not change, our science does.”

But consumer genetic testing companies have also fueled the misunderstanding of their products, suggesting that those colorful results reveal something profound about what makes you, you.

Take this AncestryDNA ad about Kyle Merker, who, the ads explains, grew up German, wearing a lederhosen and performing traditional German dances. Then an AncestryDNA test revealed he was actually Scottish and Irish. He bought a kilt. is suggesting—quite heavy-handedly—that your DNA can define your identity. A few changes to those As, Gs, Ts, and Cs, and all of the sudden you’re river dancing.

“Your culture is not your genes,” said Caulfield. “But the message these companies send is somehow where your genes are from matters. That’s not necessarily constructive. The role of genes in who we are is very complex. If anything, as genetic research moves forward we’re learning that it’s even more complex than we thought.”

In truth, your specific ancestors actually have relatively little impact on your DNA. Some 99.99 percent of your DNA is identical to every other human’s. We’re mostly just all the same. But instead of embracing our genetic similarities, we cling to those differences as symbols of what makes us unique. Consumer DNA testing tends to reinforce that—even though the difference that one test reveals might not even exist in another.

“These companies are asking people to pay for something that is at best trivial and at worst astrology,” said Rutherford. “The biggest lesson we can teach people is that DNA is probabilistic and not deterministic.”

Your DNA is only part of what determines who you are, even if the analysis of it is correct. Plenty of people love pasta, with or without Italian DNA.

If the messaging of consumer DNA companies more accurately reflected the science, though, it might be a lot less compelling: Spit in a tube and find out where on the planet it’s statistically probable that you share ancestry with today.

Learning he was Syrian did not seem to impact my grandfather’s identity as a Mexican man. And how could it? His life story was the story of so many children of immigrants. His father, Manuel, had swum the Rio Grande from Mexico to America in hopes of a better future. He worked as a waiter, and my great-grandmother as a seamstress. At age 10, my grandfather was sent to work at a Coca-Cola bottling plant to help the family make ends meet. He lost a finger. Eventually, he met my blonde-haired, blue-eyed grandmother and moved to California, hoping to raise their children somewhere it would matter less that one of their parents spoke Spanish as a first language.

But me, I don’t even look the part. I’m fair with blue eyes. As a kid, I remember wincing when my friend’s mom made xenophobic comments directed at Mexicans, never suspecting her daughter’s fair friend had some Mexican ties, even if they were not by blood but by heart. As an adult, I learned Arabic and perfected my tamale-making, all in search of some sort of an identity fit. When my grandfather was dying, I struggled with the relationship between DNA and cultural identity. I wondered what would become of my Mexican heritage, once my last living link to it was gone.

In the end, I finally found the same wisdom my grandfather never seemed to question. Sometimes your heritage doesn’t have anything at all to do with your genetics—and I didn’t even have to spit in a test tube to figure it out.


Original Article

Following the destruction of another cross-border terrorist tunnel from Gaza, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai has praised the technology behind its discovery.

“Israeli genius and the Jewish brain have found a solution for all the terrorist tunnels,” he said in an interview with the Arabic-language al-Hurairah television station on Sunday. “Just as there is the Iron Dome in the air, there is a technological dome of steel under the ground.”
An air strike by the Israel Air Force late Saturday night in the southern part of Rafah in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip destroyed a 180-meter-long terrorist tunnel which stretched into both Israel and Egypt, the IDF Spokesperson confirmed on Sunday morning.

“I want to send a message to anyone who digs and approaches the tunnels: As you have seen in the past two months, there is only death in these tunnels,” Mordechai said. “Instead of investing millions in the fields of education and medicine, they buried it underground and now all of it has disappeared into oblivion.

“I am also surprised that in these days of reconciliation [between Hamas and Fatah], that this tunnel was dug in the direction of Israel and from there to Egypt. What an important message that sends to Egypt, which was responsible and supported reconciliation.”

“This is a blatant violation of Israeli sovereignty, endangering the citizens of Israel and sabotaging the humanitarian efforts that Israel is making for the citizens of Gaza,” read a statement by the IDF.

Israel denied claims the tunnel was used for smuggling, asserting Hamas intended to use it to bring terrorists and weapons from Egypt into the Gaza Strip for a possible future combined attack on the Kerem Shalom crossing from the Egyptian side.

The target struck by the air force was a tunnel almost a kilometer in length that passed below the Kerem Shalom crossing, as well as beneath several strategic targets, such as a gas pipe, and continued into Egyptian territory. The tunnel was completely destroyed by the strike.

The terrorist organization Hamas is responsible for everything happening in and out of the Gaza Strip, an IDF statement said.

Too old for DACA, man who spent 30 years of his life in U.S. is deported

Original Article

DETROIT — His arms wrapped around his wife and two teenage children, Jorge Garcia’s eyes welled up Monday as he looked into their eyes one last timenear the entrance to the airport security gate.

His wife, Cindy Garcia, cried out while his daughter, Soleil, 15, sobbed into Garcia’s shoulder as they hugged, with two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents keeping a close eye on them.

After 30 years of living in the United States, Jorge Garcia, a 39-year-old landscaper from Lincoln Park, Mich., was deported on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to Mexico, a move his supporters say is another example of immigrants being unfairly targeted under the Trump administration.

An undocumented family member brought Jorge Garcia to the U.S. when he was 10 years old. Today he has a wife and two children, all of whom are U.S. citizens.

► Jan. 15: American-citizen children follow their deported dad to Mexico
► Jan. 14: Trump blasts Dems as DREAMer debate heats up
► Jan. 13: Feds begin accepting DACA renewals following court order

Jorge Garcia had been facing an order of removal from immigration courts since 2009, but under the previous administration, he had been given stays of removal. Because of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration, in November Jorge Garcia was ordered to return to Mexico.

His supporters say he has no criminal record — not even a traffic ticket — and pays taxes every year.

Nevertheless, Jorge Garcia had to be removed, ICE agents said. On Monday morning, accompanied by the government agents, Jorge Garcia went through security at Detroit Metropolitan Airport as supporters around him held up signs that read, “Stop separating families.”

“We love you, Jorge,” said Mayra Valle of Detroit as he hugged his wife and children. “They’re a good family. They’re hard-working. … This is so sad. This is outrageous. We never expected this would happen.”

Jorge Garcia is too old to qualify for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows children of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before age 16 and were born after June 15, 1981, to legally work and study here.

Jorge Garcia said he had asked ICE officials if they could wait until new DACA legislation is passed, which might expand the age range for immigrants to qualify. But they refused and said he had to leave by Jan. 15.

“How do you do this on Martin Luther King Jr. Day?” said Erik Shelley, a leader with Michigan United that advocates for immigrant rights and other issues. “It’s another example of the tone-deafness of this administration. … If Jorge isn’t safe, no one is safe.”

Shelley said he’s concerned that minority immigrants increasingly are being targeted, citing remarks Trump has made about African and Hispanic immigrants. Other immigrant advocates and an official with the United Auto Workers joined him at the airport.

► Jan. 13: Indonesian immigrant finds sanctuary in N.J. church
► Jan. 12: Nearly 200,000 Salvadorans may be forced to leave U.S.

An ICE spokesman told the Free Press on Monday that he could not immediately comment because it was a federal holiday and ICE offices were closed.

“I feel kind of sad,” Jorge Garcia said Sunday night, his hands interlocked, pressed against his forehead in worry. “I got to leave my family behind, knowing that they’re probably going to have a hard time adjusting, me not being there for them for who knows how long. It’s just hard.”

Especially painful will be the separation from his children, Soleil and Jorge Garcia Jr., 12. The Garcias said their 12-year-old son has been taking the news hard, not expressing himself, which is concerning his parents.

“I’m going to be sad because I’m not going to be able to be with them,” Jorge Garcia said at the table of a friend in southwest Detroit hosting a farewell party for him. … It’s going to be kind of hard for me to adjust, too.”

Jorge Garcia may be barred from entering the U.S. for at least 10 years, Cindy Garcia said. Diego Bonesatti, legal services director for Michigan United, and others have been fighting for Jorge Garcia for years and now will try to get him back.

Jorge Garcia’s wife is a U.S. citizen, but being married to a U.S. citizen does not automatically qualify immigrants for legal residency.

Immigrant advocates say deporting people like Jorge Garcia is ripping up families and communities that have been losing population. Immigrants such as Jorge Garcia are an asset that stabilize and grow metro Detroit, they said.

“It’s like plucking a main artery, like, their lifeline, taking it from them and then just putting it somewhere else,” said family friend Norma Garza Jones, 44, of Detroit. “Those that are left behind are left to just try and compensate for that artery that main blood vessel, you know, that’s been pulled from them.”

► Jan. 12: Deportation stay granted for caregiver ‘daddy’ of paraplegic boy
► Jan. 12: ICE 7-Eleven raids showcase new immigration strategy

“It’s heartbreaking,” Bonesatti said. “If you’re going to pick someone who’s ideal,” he would be it.

“He came at age 10,” the Michigan United legal services director said. “He’s never been in trouble, period. He’s never even gotten a traffic ticket.”

Moreover, Mexico is a foreign place for him, and he’s worried about finding work and creating a new life.

► Jan. 8: How Trump’s wall pledge is complicating a DACA bill for ‘Dreamers’
► Jan. 5: Each day, 120 ‘dreamers’ lose protection from deportation

“This is his home,” Bonesatti said. “This is the place he knows.”

The administration wouldn’t even stop the deportations on a national holiday, said Adonis Flores, an immigrant rights leader at Michigan United, calling it shameful.

Cindy Garcia, a retired Dearborn, Mich., truck plant worker, worries about supporting her family.

“It’s a nightmare coming to life,” she said. “You have no choice but to face it head on and accept what is being thrown at you because there is nothing else that you can do.”

Facebook’s startling new ambition is to shrink

Original Article

Over the next year, we’ll start spending less time on Facebook. Those of us who used it to catch up on the news will find less of it to read. We’ll watch fewer videos, and we’ll see fewer advertisements. In theory, Facebook will make less money off us — or, at least, the rate at which it makes more and more money off us will slow.

Had you presented this scenario to Facebook executives a year ago, it would have been cause for alarm: evidence that something had gone deeply wrong on the platform, and a situation that called for an immediate solution. And yet as of today, it’s the company’s stated ambition: Facebook wants to shrink.

Late on Thursday, Facebook announced a plan to emphasize more “meaningful” interactions on the platform. Posts are considered meaningful when they generate lots of comments, likes, and shares. Facebook’s researchers have found that when people are actively commenting on posts, they tend to feel better about using social networks — and feel better about themselves in general.

mark zuckerberg

The change may sound relatively small, but it’s likely to have significant consequences for the broad subset of Facebook users that aren’t individual people: media companies, small businesses, big brands, and everyone else who has come to see Facebook’s News Feed as an essential way to reach audiences and customers. In a post yesterday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the pages managed by those businesses are likely to reach far fewer people in 2018.

“As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media,” he wrote. “And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

He added: “Now, I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.”

At this point, it’s impossible to say for certain what the altered News Feed will look like. Facebook has announced similar changes in the past, and the News Feed is still full of news and video from big publishers. That, coupled with the media’s tendency to view any News Feed change as the end of the world, suggests that some restraint is warranted when contemplating the consequences.

Still, there’s reason to believe that it really is different this time. When Facebook reduced the amount of news in the News Feed in years past, it felt like a rebalancing: publishers share far more news than the average person — Fox News alone posted more than 49,000 times in December, according to NewsWhip — and the feed is flooded as a result. In 2015 and again in 2016, Facebook restrained publishers’ output so that less frequent posts from and about your actual friends would surface high in the feed.

Then came 2017. It was a bruising year in which Facebook found itself battered by criticism related to fake news, Russian interference in the 2016 election, and research suggesting the platform contributed to depression among its users. The criticism was not limited to journalists and op-ed writers: High-ranking former executives distanced themselves from the company, in some cases expressing regret for the service they had helped to build. In an extraordinary blog post, the company acknowledged that passively consuming the News Feed could make people feel less happy.

Now it is determined to turn over a new leaf. After tackling a series of more whimsical challenges in previous years, Mark Zuckerberg said his personal goal for 2018 is to fix the company. He told The New York Times he is determined to make sure his daughters think Facebook “was good for the world.” His statement represented an acknowledgement, however oblique, that the opposite might be true. In extraordinary times, it was a surprising admission.

Facebook is a company that has always been defined by ruthless ambition. And so it is remarkable to see its founder, in this moment, betting on a kind of retrenchment: to a News Feed populated by fewer links and videos, and more conversations.

The changes announced Thursday look like a fervent wish to return to 2010. Reading the company’s blog posts, you can feel executives longing for a time when Facebook felt smaller, and less consequential. Back when Facebook felt like a fun way to pass a few minutes in line at the grocery store, rather than the fulcrum of American democracy.

But Facebook now serves as the interface for the most fundamental pillars of our society. It was just in November that Zuckerberg laid out a plan for the companythat places it at the center of political conversation. “We will do our part not only to ensure the integrity of free and fair elections around the world, but also to give everyone a voice and to be a force for good in democracy everywhere,” he wrote. And that’s no small ambition.

The company has also partnered with fact-checking organizations, working to prevent hoaxes from spreading. It’s forcing advertisers to disclose the content of their advertising publicly. In many ways the company is seeking to play a greater role in public affairs than ever before.

And even if Facebook succeeds at phasing the news media out of the News Feed, it’s not clear it will make Facebook a happier place. Facebook-owned WhatsApp has no news feed, and yet hoaxes and propaganda still run rampant. The company will face continued pressure to address misinformation across all of its platforms. Detaching conversations from article links won’t necessarily make them more accurate, productive, or even more “meaningful.” It may well make them worse.

Ultimately, none of this could matter to Facebook’s business. The benefit of being in an advertising duopoly with Google is that it will likely continue to print money even if the time users spend on the site declines significantly. At least for a while.

Still, it’s notable that a company that has done nothing but grow now finds itself tapping the brakes. The decade-long project to expand around the world has brought about consequences with no easy solutions. For maybe the first time in its existence, Facebook has seen the value of moving slowly.

Rainbow flag in classroom causes controversy for small Oregon town (Column)

Original Article

The final caller to Lars Larson’s conservative talk radio show on Jan. 5 was Rachel from Forest Grove.

“Our son is a junior at Banks High School,” Rachel said. “He informed us this week that he has two teachers in his school that have taken down the American flag and replaced it with a gay flag.”

Is that grounds for a complaint to the school district? she asked.

Larson thought it was, because a teacher was pushing a political message.

“Let me spitball this one, Rachel,” Larson said. “I’m guessing that the reason the rainbow flag went up is that perhaps the teacher who put it up may be gay or bisexual or whatever.”

Even if he agreed with the sentiment, Larson said anything political in the classroom is inappropriate. Particularly if, as he speculated, the flag was in support of the teacher.

“The school does not exist to meet the needs of the teachers,” he said. “The school exists to meet the needs of your children.”

There are, however, at least two problems with this narrative.

The American flag was not taken down.

And it was never about the teacher.

“It’s for the students,” said 16-year-old Sam Munda, who brought the rainbow flag to school last month. “It was so students knew Banks High School is supportive of them. Having parents upset, that was not my intention. It’s not what I wanted at all.”

Sitting at the local pizza parlor, a giant American flag hanging behind us, Munda expressed surprise that the LGBTQ flag created such a scandal. Since the radio segment aired, parents have complained publicly to the school board, the superintendent sent out a press release denying any American flags were removed, and insults were hurled across social media. An online petition claims the flag should be removed because it “creates a hostile learning environment.” It has more than 100 signatures.

On Wednesday, Munda took to a community Facebook page to clear things up.

“I am a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and I was the student who had asked to put up the rainbow flag,” Munda wrote on the Banks Community Bulletin Board group. The flag wasn’t meant to “force any beliefs on any students” or make anyone believe differently than they already do, Munda wrote. It “was not meant in any way to start a war in (Banks), but that is what has happened.”

The flag was intended to signal a safe space for other kids like Munda who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning.

“There are a lot of LGBTQ youth in Banks, which most people don’t know about,” Munda said. Those students told Munda they’re afraid to come out to their parents or friends, “because they are scared that they’re going to get bullied or they aren’t going to be accepted and they’re going to be treated different. And so, having put up the flag, it was a way to say that Banks High School is a safe place and a supportive community.”

Munda grew up in Banks, a small community in western Washington County home to about 1,700 residents, several Christmas tree farms and a 72-year tradition of truck and tractor pulls. Munda is graduating a year early and will study criminal justice at Ferris State University. Munda plans to become a police officer.

Last year, Munda began openly identifying as gender fluid and requesting they/them pronouns.

“I wanted people to start using my pronouns and the only way I could do that was to be open,” Munda said. “I lost a few friends. I used to go to church and was kicked out of church because I wouldn’t change. They wanted me to be a girl and to be straight.”

Munda bought the rainbow flag at a Portland Pride event last year. In December, Munda asked if it would be OK to hang it in the government and economics classroom, and the teacher said yes. The flag was a bit larger than sheet of legal paper.

“There didn’t seem to be a lot of space around the classroom so we put it up in front of the class where the projector is,” Munda said. “It was next to the American flag.”

There are now a total of three rainbow flags in three classrooms. Despite some parent complaints, they remain.

In email, Banks Superintendent Jeff Leo wrote the district was following legal advice that state law “allows a teacher to display such items as they are supportive of a class of persons protected by Oregon and federal law.”

Some of the parents objected because the rainbow flag was viewed as taking a political stance. But what stance is that?

This flag is only a political issue if you believe equity for LGBTQ students is still up for debate – and in Oregon public schools, it simply is not. Oregon public schools ban discrimination against sex or sexual orientation.

Racial equality, women’s suffrage and abolitionism are political views, too. We do not debate the worth of these topics in school. We should not debate the worth of gay youth either.

For every nasty online comment posted about the flag, there is a teenager who is absorbing those words.

Larson is right about one thing: The school exists to meet the needs of the children.

And for every adult who heard about the flag and was offended, there was a student who saw the flag and was assured.

The Anti-Abortion Group That’s Urging Clinic Workers to Quit Their Jobs

Original Article

At a secluded retreat center outside Austin, about a dozen, mostly middle-aged women are gathered in a quiet conference room. Some huddle under blankets to ward off the chill from an unusual Texas cold spell.

Abby Johnson founded the anti-abortion group And Then There Were None after leaving her job running a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas in 2009.

Courtesy Abby Johnson

This session’s topic: guilt and shame.

“Does anybody feel like they’re still dealing with, like, shame? Like, feeling bad about yourself as a person, because of what you’ve done in the clinics?” Abby Johnson asks the women seated in a circle of chairs around her.

The room is mostly silent. But as the weekend goes on and the participants get more comfortable, they begin to cry and pray together, and to share their stories.

This is a retreat for women who used to work in health centers that perform abortions and now feel conflicted about that work. Johnson, 37, is the CEO and founder of the Texas-based anti-abortion group And Then There Were None. (She says when she came up with the name, she didn’t really think about the Agatha Christie mystery by the same title.)

Most anti-abortion rights groups aim to restrict the procedure through state legislatures and the court system, or by urging pregnant women to carry to term.

Johnson’s goal is to persuade as many workers as possible to leave the field.

She and other members of And Then There Were None visit clinics where abortions are performed. They hold up signs, pass out pamphlets and urge the workers to quit their jobs.

For those who do leave clinic work, the group offers temporary financial assistance, resume help, and spiritual and emotional support, including retreats like the one near Austin. The group does not have a formal religious affiliation, but has a “prayer team” and offers to connect former clinic workers with Christian churches and pastors.

Johnson, a mother of seven, generated headlines — and a fair amount of skepticismand controversy about her story — after she quit her job as a Planned Parenthood clinic director in Bryan, Texas, in 2009. She says she had a change of heart about her work after viewing an abortion through an ultrasound. She describes the moment as a “spiritual awakening.”

Planned Parenthood has disputed some of the details of Johnson’s story, and at one point filed a restraining order against her, fearing she would release confidential patient records from the clinic. Johnson responded that she never intended to disclose any private information, and a judge dismissed the case.

Annette Lancaster, 40, used to manage a Planned Parenthood health center in Chapel Hill, N.C. She says the work made her feel “dark and morbid.”

Sarah McCammon/NPR

Retreat participant Annette Lancaster, 40, is currently a stay-at-home mom. For several months, ending in May 2016, she managed a Planned Parenthood health center in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Lancaster says events like this one provide a place to talk about details that friends on both sides of the abortion debate can be reluctant to discuss.

“These are my sisters, who I can talk to about things I’ve seen and done in the clinic that other people would probably turn green and pass out about,” Lancaster says in a private moment away from the group.

She says the job began to make her feel “dark and morbid,” and she was troubled by the way she says she and some of the other workers referred to fetal remains.

“I just now started being able to use the deep freezer in my home by going through [therapy], because we used to call the freezer the ‘nursery’ … And we used to think that was funny,” she says.

Lancaster says she felt pressure to keep up the number of abortions performed at the clinic each month, even if patients seemed hesitant.

In a statement to NPR, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic denies those claims. The organization says Lancaster was fired for reasons related to her job performance.

The statement, attributed to Associated Affiliate Medical Director Dr. Matt Zerden, reads, in part:

“I would never tolerate my staff using disrespectful language, and Planned Parenthood does not have a fixed number required for any of its services. Planned Parenthood follows all applicable laws and advises patients on the full range of pregnancy options, including choosing adoption, ending a pregnancy, or raising a child. We insist on extremely high standards for all of our staff.”

After her departure, Lancaster says And Then There Were None helped cover a couple months’ salary and a few other expenses.

Noemi Padilla, 47, recently left Tampa Women’s Health, an independent clinic in Tampa, Fla. She worked there as a surgical nurse and assisted on abortion procedures up to about 23 weeks gestation.

Sarah McCammon/NPR

The group also provided temporary financial support to Noemi Padilla, a 47-year-old licensed practical nurse, who left her job at Tampa Woman’s Health Center last year.

“I just woke up one Monday morning and I was like, this is it. Today is the day,” Padilla says.

The Tampa clinic performs abortions well into the second trimester of pregnancy — up to 23 weeks, six days gestation. Padilla says the work had begun to plague her conscience.

In an interview with NPR, clinic director Dorothy Brown said several other workers have also left the clinic with assistance from Johnson’s group. She believes many were motivated by the chance to quit their jobs and still get a temporary paycheck.

Abby Johnson says it’s likely that a small number of former workers are primarily motivated by her group’s offer of money. But she says And Then There Were None remains in regular contact with more than 300 people who have left abortion-related jobs.

Abortion-rights advocates say they’re skeptical about that figure.

“The numbers just don’t add up,” says Elizabeth Toledo, a former vice president at Planned Parenthood who now runs a communications firm.

Toledo notes that only around a dozen people (And Then There Were None’s count is slightly higher) have gone public with their regrets about working in clinics where abortions are provided. Johnson’s group counters that many former workers are hesitant to speak out about their experiences because they are ashamed that they worked at a clinic, or they fear retaliation from former employers.

Whatever the total number of healthcare workers who’ve left abortion-related jobs as a result of Johnson’s advocacy, Toledo says it’s not enough to make a major impact on the availability of services. But, she says, the attrition can affect workers and patients nonetheless.

“It’s just another stressor on people who are already going to work in a highly-charged political environment,” Toledo says. “And I don’t think that they’re going to be successful, but they are going to make people have to deal with an additional layer of stress — about their workplace, about their decisions, about their families, and their lives.”

Abby Johnson says after she left her job at Planned Parenthood, she also suffered from that highly charged environment. Some abortion-rights opponents refused to accept her into the movement, calling her “disgusting” and saying she deserved imprisonment or eternal damnation because of her work at the clinic.

“They were, like, ‘You either need to go to jail or hell’ — those were the options,” she says with a laugh.

But Johnson says now those comments have largely faded. She has gradually been embraced by the anti-abortion-rights movement, as one of the rare people who has spent time publicly on each side of this divisive issue.

Chinese authorities blow up Christian megachurch with dynamite

Original Article

Chinese authorities have demolished a well-known Christian megachurch, inflaming long-standing tensions between religious groups and the Communist Party.

Witnesses and overseas activists said the paramilitary People’s Armed Police used dynamite and excavators to destroy the Golden Lampstand Church, which has a congregation of more than 50,000, in the city of Linfen in Shanxi province.

ChinaAid, a US-based Christian advocacy group, said local authorities planted explosives in an underground worship hall to demolish the building following, constructed with nearly $2.6m (£1.9m) in contributions from local worshippers in one of China’s poorest regions.

The church had faced “repeated persecution” by the Chinese government, said ChinaAid. Hundreds of police and hired thugs smashed the building and seized Bibles in an earlier crackdown in 2009 that ended with the arrest of church leaders.

Those church leaders were given prison sentences of up to seven years for charges of illegally occupying farmland and disturbing traffic order, according to state media.

There are an estimated 60 million Christians in China, many of whom worship in independent congregations like the Golden Lampstand. Millions of Christians, Buddhists and Muslims also worship in state-sanctioned assemblies.

But the surging popularity of non-state-approved churches has raised the ire of authorities, wary of any threats to the officially atheist Communist Party’s rigid political and social control.


The Golden Lampstand Church in LinfenShanxi province, pictured in 2009 (AP)

Freedom of religion is guaranteed under China’s constitution, so local authorities are often seen as using technicalities to attack unregistered churches. Charges of land or building violations and disturbing the peace are among the most common.

The state-run Global Times newspaper reported the official reason for the demolition was the building did not hold the necessary permits.

“A Christian offered his farmland to a local Christian association and they secretly built a church using the cover of building a warehouse,” a government department official was quoted as saying.

Religious groups must register with local religious affairs authorities under Chinese law, the report said, adding the church was illegally constructed nearly a decade ago in violation of building codes.

Pictures distributed by ChinaAid showed the church’s steeple and cross toppled in a large pile of rubble.

“The repeated persecution of Golden Lampstand Church demonstrates that the Chinese government has no respect for religious freedom or human rights,” said ChinaAid president and founder Bob Fu.

He added: “ChinaAid calls on the international community to openly condemn the bombing of this church building and urge the Chinese government to fairly compensate the Christians who paid for it and immediately cease these alarming demolitions of churches.”

A pastor at a nearby church, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he saw large numbers of paramilitary police on Tuesday surrounding the area around the church, which was being taken apart by heavy machinery. He later heard a loud explosion.

The Golden Lampstand Church was built by husband and wife evangelists Wang Xiaoguang and Yang Rongli as a permanent home for their followers.

The couple had been preaching around Linfen since 1992, establishing congregations in improvised spaces such as factory dormitories and greenhouses.

While authorities did not block the church’s construction, they later cracked down on it, and the couple and other church leaders were sent to prison.

ChinaAid said authorities also demolished a Catholic church in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, on 27 December. Officials smashed crosses and confiscated statues, the Eucharistic altar, and other religious artefacts as they demolished the building with heavy machinery, the organisation said.

The demolition prompted more 100 church members to protest in front of government offices this week.

‘Canada has just detonated a bomb’: Trade relations with U.S. plummet after WTO complaint

Original Article

OTTAWA — Canada launched the opening salvo in a trade war with the United States Wednesday, lodging an international complaint about the superpower’s use of punitive duties.

The move drew a sharp rebuke from Donald Trump’s trade czar and came amid reports that Canadian government officials say there’s an increasing likelihood the president will withdraw from the three-nation North American Free Trade Agreement.

“Even if Canada succeeded on these groundless claims, other countries would primarily benefit, not Canada. Canada’s complaint is bad for Canada,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

“Canada’s claims are unfounded and could only lower U.S. confidence that Canada is committed to mutually beneficial trade.”

Canada lodged a World Trade Organization complaint accusing the U.S. of regularly breaching international trade laws through various countervailing and anti-dumping duties, citing nearly 200 examples spanning several decades.

In a statement, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said, “This WTO action is part of our broader litigation to defend the hundreds of thousands of good, middle class forestry jobs across our country.”


Canada cited five reasons for the complaint, saying the U.S. levies penalties beyond what’s allowed by the WTO, improperly calculates rates, unfairly declares penalties retroactive, limits evidence from outside parties, and has a tilted voting system in domestic trade panels that, in the case of a 3-3 tie, awards the win to American companies.

The complaint marks Canada’s most exhaustive attempt yet to counter recent import duties imposed by the U.S., particularly on Canadian softwood lumber products.

“It’s (saying), ‘The entire way in which the U.S. — you — are conducting your anti-dumping, countervailing procedures, is wrong,”’ said Chad Bown, a trade expert at Washington’s Peterson Institute. “This is effectively Canada bringing a dispute on behalf of all exporters in the world — the Europeans, Japan, China — because they’re making a systemic challenge.”

Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations called it a precarious moment for NAFTA and the global trading system, both of which are under threats and criticism from Trump: “Canada has just detonated a bomb under both.”

Ottawa’s ramped-up efforts come amid an increasingly fragile trade relationship between the two countries. The Canadian government is preparing for the possibility that Trump will withdraw from NAFTA, senior officials say, though they aren’t entirely convinced that he will.

After reports Wednesday that Canada now considered it inevitable that Trump would try to withdraw the U.S. from the treaty, one Canadian official with knowledge of the NAFTA negotiation offered a more nuanced position in an email to the Post, saying, “it’s not accurate to say we’re convinced,” but that there was “no question we think there’s a chance it could happen.”

The confusion over Canadian expectations comes ahead of the next round of negotiations, scheduled to be held in Montreal Jan. 23-28.

Trump withdrawing from NAFTA “was always a risk, but that risk is clearly more elevated now,” said Brian DePratto, senior economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank.


An official with the Foreign Affairs Ministry said Ottawa’s most recent complaint aims to add weight to Canada’s argument that import duties have been levied unfairly.

But it also goes well beyond Canada-U.S. softwood lumber spats, citing alleged international trade breaches by the U.S. against a host of imported products, from Argentine lemon juice to frozen shrimp from India.

The complaint is “certainly not typical,” said Greg Kanargelidis, an international trade lawyer at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP.

Under WTO dispute resolution rules, other countries named in the complaint can decide to take part in consultations after an initial reading.

“In a normal situation you wouldn’t expect this to impact the long-term trading relationship that we’ve got under NAFTA,” he said. “But with the Trump administration being relatively new, and because of the protectionist noises we’ve been hearing from them, it’s not at all clear what sort of reaction the U.S. might have.”

Publication of the complaint came just hours after the U.S. Commerce Department placed preliminary duties on Canadian exports of uncoated groundwood paper, which is used to manufacture newspapers, soft-cover books and phone directories.

Steep import duties leveled by the U.S. have become a regular fixture of the industry, according to Joel Neuheimer, a vice-president at the Forest Products Association of Canada.

“This has been a chronic problem for us,” he said. “It’s the same horror show over and over.”


Teacher told black student he may get lynched if he didn’t focus on his work, mom says

Original Article

Tanisha Agee-Bell said she knew her 13-year-old son Nathan was probably acting up in class.

Still, the mother from Mason, Ohio, told that the teacher didn’t have to seemingly threaten her son, who is black, with lynching.

Agee-Bell told WLWT5 that teacher Renee Thole admitted to telling her son in her social studies class that “if you don’t get back on task, your friends are going to form an angry mob and lynch you.” The mother said she had confronted Thole and the teacher confessed to making the statement.

Tracey Carson, a spokesman for Mason schools, said in a statement obtained by the Associated Press that Thole didn’t mean to offend the student — and that sometimes teachers can “mess up.”

And Thole, when confronted by Nathan in class, questioned why the student thought her comment was racist and offensive, Agee-Bell told Carson said that Thole apologized in class and felt “awful” about the comment.

Nathan said he feared his mom would be upset that he questioned his teacher, and didn’t tell her about the comment for around a week, according to

But when he finally told her, Agee-Bell said she went to the superintendent with her complaints.

“For her not to understand that the words that she said were a direct pull from what has been, what was a practice in the United States, is unacceptable,” Agee-Bell told WLWT5. “She shouldn’t be in the classroom. She shouldn’t be in the classroom at all.

“And I’m not saying she should never go back in the classroom, but until she can demonstrate that she understands what the impact of the language that she used and what she did can have, has had on my son, has on his peers and is having on our community, then she doesn’t need to be in the classroom.”

The school district released a statement about the incident that was published by Fox19.

“Growing Greatness Together is our district’s vision. But, we have not arrived. We have work to do.

“Sometimes we mess up. Clearly, that was the case here. And, even though this teacher did not set out to hurt a child – clearly that happened too. It was amazing that this young black man was brave enough to confront his teacher when the incident happened. …

“Our district will continue to invest in training and resources on culturally proficient practices for administrators, educators and classified staff members that lift up our district’s values.”

Thole was removed from Nathan’s social studies class, reported.

It’s unknown if the teacher will face any other disciplinary action, local outlets reported.

“For me, that’s enough for her, as a social studies teacher especially, to be removed from the classroom,” Agee-Bell said to Fox19. “I don’t know if she’s racist, but I know that what she said is racist.”

Prosecutors say Mac spyware stole millions of user images over 13 years

Original Article

Early last year, a piece of Mac malware came to light that left researchers puzzled. They knew that malware dubbed Fruitfly captured screenshots and webcam images, and they knew it had been installed on hundreds of computers in the US and elsewhere, possibly for more than a decade. Still, the researchers didn’t know who did it or why.

An indictment filed Wednesday in federal court in Ohio may answer some of those questions. It alleges Fruitfly was the creation of an Ohio man who used it for more than 13 years to steal millions of images from infected computers as he took detailed notes of what he observed. Prosecutors also said defendant Phillip R. Durachinsky used the malware to surreptitiously turn on cameras and microphones, take and download screenshots, log keystrokes, and steal tax and medical records, photographs, Internet searches, and bank transactions. In some cases, Fruitfly alerted Durachinsky when victims typed words associated with porn. The suspect, in addition to allegedly targeting individuals, also allegedly infected computers belonging to police departments, schools, companies, and the federal government, including the US Department of Energy.


The indictment, filed in US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio’s Eastern Division, went on to say that Durachinsky developed a control panel that allowed him to manipulate infected computers and view live images from several machines simultaneously. The indictment also said he produced visual depictions of one or more minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct and that the depiction was transported across state lines. He allegedly developed a version of Fruitfly that was capable of infecting Windows computers as well. Prosecutors are asking the court for an order requiring Durachinsky to forfeit any property he derived from his 13-year campaign, an indication that he may have sold the images and data he acquired to others.

Wednesday’s indictment largely confirms suspicions first raised by researchers at antivirus provider Malwarebytes, who in January 2017 said Fruitfly may have been active for more than a decade. They based that assessment on the malware’s use of libjpeg—an open-source code library that was last updated in 1998—to open or create JPG-formatted image files. The researchers, meanwhile, identified a comment in the Fruitfly code referring to a change made in the Yosemite version of macOS and a launch agent file with a creation date of January 2015. Use of the old code library combined with mentions of recent macOS versions suggested the malware was updated over a number of years.

More intriguing still at the time, Malwarebytes found Windows-based malware that connected to the same control servers used by Fruitfly. The company also noted that Fruitfly worked just fine on Linux computers, arousing suspicion there may have been a variant for that operating system as well.

Last July, Patrick Wardle, a researcher specializing in Mac malware at security firm Synack, found a new version of Fruitfly. After decrypting the names of several backup domains hardcoded into the malware, he found the addresses remained available. Within two days of registering one of them, almost 400 infected Macs connected to his server, mostly from homes in the US.

While Wardle did nothing more than observe the IP addresses and user names of the infected Macs that connected, he had the same control over them as the malware creator. Wardle reported his findings to law enforcement officials. It’s not clear if Wardle’s tip provided the evidence that allowed authorities to charge the defendant or if Durachinsky was already a suspect.

According to Forbes, which reported the indictment, Durachinsky was arrested in January of last year and has been in custody ever since. Forbes also reported that Durachinsky was charged in a separate criminal complaint filed in January 2017 that accused him of hacking computers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. The suspect has yet to enter a plea in the case brought Wednesday. It’s not clear if he has entered a plea in the earlier complaint.

It’s also not yet clear how Fruitfly managed to infect computers. There’s no indication it exploited vulnerabilities, which means it probably relied on tricking targets into clicking on malicious Web links or attachments in e-mails. Wednesday’s indictment provided no details about the Windows version of Fruitfly or whether Linux computers were targeted as well.

Google’s New ‘Fact-Checker’ Is Partisan Garbage

Original Article

In the midst of the “fake news” hysteria last year, Google launched a project to help curate reliable information for its readers by identifying articles and sites that need fact-checking. And this may come as a surprise to some of you, but it looks like the tech giant’s truth project is imbued with a tiny bit of ideological and political bias.

Eric Lieberman at The Daily Caller recently found that the fact checks displayed in Google’s search engine results are targeted almost exclusively at conservative publications. You can test it out yourself.

Now, you may believe that conservatives are hopeless liars in need of relentless correcting, so I’ll concede the point for argument’s sake. Even then, you’d have to admit it’s a small miracle that, according to Google’s search engine, not a single prominent liberal or mainstream site in the entire universe has ever uttered a dubious or questionable claim.

Luckily for us, there are methods available to analyze the veracity of Google’s project. One way, for example, is to take a “reviewed claim” made against The Federalist, the site I happen to know best, and contrast it to the coverage of other sites.

Consider the case of a woman named Eileen Wellstone. Out of many thousands of pieces published by The Federalist over the past four years, a single one mentions the name Eileen Wellstone. That article, detailing the sordid history of Bill Clinton, mentions her name exactly once: “Another woman, Eileen Wellstone, claimed Clinton raped her while he was at Oxford University in the late 1960s.”

For some reason, in this “reviewed claim” against The Federalist, Google sends the reader to a Snopes fact-check that argues that Clinton wasn’t expelled from Oxford over this alleged rape — a point I concede sounds completely accurate and is also an assertion that no one has ever made in this publication.

So the question is, does Google tag every article that relays accusations of sexual misconduct or rape as “unproven,” or just the ones against Bill Clinton? Or is the mention of Wellstone specifically worthy of a claim? The Wellstone case has not only been cited in all types of publications (and not in efforts to debunk it, either; 1,2,3,4,5, and so on) but by The Washington Post’s own fact-checker.

In a 2016 article detailing allegations against Bill Clinton that might be brought up by then-candidate Donald Trump, WaPo notes, “Eileen Wellstone says she was assaulted by Clinton when he was a student at Oxford University in 1969.” There is virtually no difference between that statement and the one published in The Federalist. Not that Google search engines users would know this when they search for the influential newspaper.

Or take another purported fact-check regarding climate change, which creates the impression that there’s something inaccurate about a specific arguable claim because the larger notions about the topic happen to be true.

What’s most amusing about this fact-check is that Google sends people who searched for “The Federalist” to an article correcting a claim made by someone on CNN, an outlet that, somehow, even though they apparently feature contributors who make questionable claims about science, is spared from search-engine truth-police grilling.

Moreover, the quote featured in the “reviewed claim” section is not even in The Federalist article. Google’s go-to site, Climate Feedback, an ideologically motivated site itself, argues that “Observed warming since the 1970s is consistent with climate model projections.”  This is at the very least an arguable contention. Feel free to use your Google search engine to find thousands of pieces debating the accuracy modeling over the decades. This seems to be a normal, appropriate, and completely scientific debate to be engaged in.

More importantly, the article’s position is that the “alarmist” partisans cherry-pick projections hoping to scaremonger voters into making political decisions. That doesn’t necessarily mean that climate change isn’t happening. Then again, once you begin reading through the fact-check, you’ll quickly notice that it’s not really debunking The Federalist’s assertion at all (The Federalist is once again never even mentioned in the fact-check that allegedly debunks The Federalist); the participants are simply claiming that models, in general, have been correct that it’s getting hotter overall — which does not conflict with anything the article contends.

But if it rings true, it is true, I guess.

In theory, opinion sites will offer more speculation about what events and policy mean. These claims are prone to be challenged, and they should be. That’s part of our discourse. But as Lieberman points out, the Google fact-checking itself is often unconvincing and offered by biased sources.

Take the other “unproven” charge against The Federalist. This one, also by Snopes, claims to debunk an article that argues that vandals burned down a century-old bust of Abraham Lincoln in Chicago in broader protests about Confederate statues. Again, that wasn’t what the article argued. It argued that the vandalism — a term used by an alderman in Chicago, as well — was part of a broader effort to tear down “history” and monuments. Since a number of statues, including the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, had also been vandalized right around the same time, it’s certainly not out of bounds for a columnist to treat these incidents as a trend.

But if this is the standard for corrections and dissuading people from visiting a site, what possible reason could there be for left-wing sites that regularly make arguable or false assertions about economics, history, science, and politics, like Vox and ThinkProgress and many others, to be spared from this fact-checking? It’s one thing for us to read publications through filters. We do it all the time. But it’s another for a search engine to manipulate perceptions about those sites — and only conservative ones — before people even read them.

(Update 10/12: Google’s ‘fact-checker’ has removed two of the above claims  – leaving the third claim, which I concede is the most speculative. Now let’s see it hold other sites to the same standard.)

Retirement crisis: 37% of Gen X say they won’t be able to afford to retire

Original Article

Add Gen Xers to the long list of Americans who fear they won’t have a sizable enough nest egg to retire.

Nearly four out of 10 (37%) of Generation X — those born between 1965 and the late 1970s — say they would like to stop working for good and “fully retire” someday, “but will not be able to afford to,” a new survey from TD Ameritrade, an online broker based in Omaha, found.

Other gloomy Gen X retirement findings:

  • 43% say “they are behind” in their savings.
  • Half (49%) are “worried about running out of money” once they leave the workforce.
  • Nearly two out of 10 (17%) say they “aren’t saving or investing for anything.”
  • Only a third expect to be “very secure” in retirement — vs. nearly half of Baby Boomers.

The savings shortfall has been exacerbated by the phasing out of traditional pensions funded by employers. In their place is the increasing reliance on 401(k) plans and IRAs that require workers to do most of the saving on their own.

Gen Xers aren’t alone in their financial angst. The finances of the younger Millennial generation have been hurt by the Great Recession in 2008-09 and high college costs. Older Boomers, according to the TD Ameritrade survey, are also uncertain about their preparedness, with just 47% saying they expect to be “very secure” in retirement. The oldest of the roughly 65 million Gen X Americans — those now 39 to 53 — will be the next generation to retire.

Lule Demmissie, managing director of retirement and investment at TD Ameritrade, says the Gen X savings deficit is due partly to a series of setbacks — but stresses it’s not too late to get back on track.

Gen Xers were derailed by three market downturns — the 1987 stock market crash, the 2000 tech stock meltdown and the 2008 financial crisis. They also were the “first 401(k) generation,” which transferred the responsibility to fund retirement from employers to workers. This generation was also more likely to have grown up in a family split by divorce and as latch-key kids, two factors TD Ameritrade says lead to less financial security as adults.

“They took a lot of hits,” Demmissie says.

Demmissie notes that Generation X, which started saving for retirement at 29, or five years earlier than Boomers, can reclaim their financial lives.

“It’s easy to be cynical, but the important thing for Generation X is that all hope is not lost,” she says. “Improving their finances is still very much in their control.”

Her advice: Control what you can control. Take advantage of your 401(k). Find out how the tax-code changes will impact you. And don’t expect to build your nest egg to $1 million overnight.

“Break down your financial goals into manageable milestones,” she says, such as picking a year you would like to retire and figure out how much you need to save each month to get there.

The TD Ameritrade survey included 828 Gen Xers and 990 Baby Boomers.

I.R.S. Paid $20 Million to Collect $6.7 Million in Tax Debts

Original Article

Nina E. Olson, the taxpayer advocate at the Internal Revenue Service, has repeatedly complained that Congress is underfunding the agency. CreditAndrew Harnik/Associated Press

When Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was asked at his confirmation hearing what he thought about using private companies to collect money owed to the government, he replied that it “seems like a very obvious thing to do.”

It may have been obvious, but it certainly was not economical.

Private debt collectors cost the Internal Revenue Service $20 million in the last fiscal year, but brought in only $6.7 million in back taxes, the agency’s taxpayer advocate reported Wednesday. That was less than 1 percent of the amount assigned for collection.

What’s more, private contractors in some cases were paid 25 percent commissions on collections that the I.R.S. made without their help, according to the annual report by Nina E. Olson, who heads the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent office within the I.R.S.

While Republicans have been the most vocal proponents of privatizing public services, congressional Democrats are equally responsible for the I.R.S.’s program. Despite the pointed failure of similar efforts in the past, Congress passed a law in 2015 requiring the I.R.S. to use outside contractors to make a dent in the $138 billion that taxpayers owe the government.

The outsourcing began last April. Since then, the report stated, “the I.R.S. has implemented the program in a manner that causes excessive financial harm to taxpayers and constitutes an end run around taxpayer rights protections.”

Continue reading the main story

The I.R.S. excuses hardship cases from collection efforts to ensure that households can still pay for basic living expenses. But an analysis by the advocate’s office found that 45 percent of the collections by private contractors were from taxpayers whose incomes fell below the minimum threshold, including those who received Social Security disability payments.

The report underscored Ms. Olson’s repeated complaints that Congress is underfunding the agency, warning that the new tax law will bring added pressures that will further impair its ability to respond to taxpayers, update technology and maintain compliance programs. Since 2010, funding for the I.R.S. has shrunk by a fifth, after taking inflation into account.

The agency receives more than 95 million phone calls a year, for example, but it expects to answer only about 60 percent during the current filing season; that number is estimated to decline to 40 percent for the rest of the year. And that was before the new law was passed. If previous tax code changes are any guide, the number of queries is likely to rise significantly, pushing down the response figure even more.

A preliminary estimate by the I.R.S. figured that the new law would require an additional $495 million over the next two fiscal years to handle tasks like updating programming, answering phone calls, drafting and publishing new forms, revising regulations and training employees on the new code.

Ms. Olson said in the report that “the discussion about I.R.S. funding has largely proceeded based on false choices — either ‘you can’t trust the I.R.S. to administer the tax system, so don’t fund it’ or ‘because the I.R.S. doesn’t have enough funding, it can’t do the things it needs to do to administer the tax system.’” Both added that funding and service improvements are needed, she said.

The I.R.S. is rushing to move taxpayer services online and limit personal contact, she said, but the problem is that many households aren’t in a position to keep up. A 2016-17 survey by the advocate’s office found that 41 million taxpayers had no broadband connection in their homes, including 14 million with no internet access at all. Many other Americans who do use the agency’s online service still want to be able to speak to a person on the telephone or face to face at times, the I.R.S. has found.

Among the most serious problems identified by the advocate’s office is a lack of advance notice when citizens are in danger of losing their passports because they owe the I.R.S. more than $50,000.

In addition, Ms. Olson reiterated previously expressed worries that the expedited process of approving organizations’ tax-exempt status was resulting in rubber-stamp approvals of groups that had not established their qualifications. She cited an error rate of 46 percent in a sampling last year.

The streamlined process, for charities with assets under $250,000, was partly a response to a furor over the agency’s intensive scrutiny of certain political groups, including some associated with the Tea Party movement. Flaws in the new process, the report said, can undermine public trust in the charitable sector.

Sarah Allen, an I.R.S. spokeswoman, said the agency’s leaders would review the taxpayer advocate’s proposals.

Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas and the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who helped spearhead the tax revision efforts, has said he plans to focus on reforming the Internal Revenue Service this year. Ms. Olson’s office issued a new publication that includes its top 50 legislative recommendations.

Trump Spiritual Advisor Wants You To Send Her Up To 1 Month’s Pay Or Face ‘Consequences’

Original Article

Paula White, a prosperity gospel preacher with close ties to President Donald Trump, is calling on followers to send her donations of up to one month’s salary. Those who don’t pay up could face “consequences” from God as he demands the dough as a “first fruits” offering.

“The reason is God lays claim to all firsts,” White wrote on her website. “So when you keep for yourself something that belongs to God you are desecrating what is to be consecrated to God.”

In this case, the “firsts” are money, which “supernaturally unlocks amazing opportunity, blessing, favor and divine order for your life.”

White, who is chairwoman of Trump’s evangelical advisory committee, claims she contributes a month’s pay every year as a “seed,” which according to prosperity gospel is supposed to grow into riches and other blessings. She’s also calling on others to contribute their own firsts, in the form of wages for a day, week or entire month:

“When you honor this principle it provides the foundation and structure for God’s blessings and promises in your life, it unlocks deep dimensions of spiritual truths that literally transform your life! When you apply this everything comes in divine alignment for His plan and promises for you. When you don’t honor it, whether through ignorance or direct disobedience there are consequences.”

While White said these firsts “belong to God and God alone,” she wants them sent to her in the form of offerings to her ministries.

White delivered a prayer at Trump’s inauguration, where she called on God to give the president “the confidence to lead us in justice and righteousness, and the compassion to yield to our better angels.”

Rural And City Women A Little Different In Age At First Sex, Number Of Kids

Original Article

In both urban and rural areas, about 40 percent of women surveyed were currently married to a member of the opposite sex. Only about 30 percent of the rural women of childbearing age had no children, versus roughly 41 percent of urban women.

Westend61/Getty Images

Where you live — in a city versus a rural area — could make a difference in how old you tend to be when you first have sex, what type of birth control you use and how many children you have.

These are the findings from federal data collected using the National Survey of Family Growth, which analyzed responses from in-person interviews with more than 10,000 U.S. women, ages 18 to 44, between 2011 and 2015.

On average, women living in rural areas said they had their first sexual encounter earlier than women living in urban areas, according to the survey. The mean age of first sexual intercourse among women living in rural areas was 16.6 years old. For women living in urban areas, the average age of first intercourse was 17.4.

That difference of less than a year isn’t really what’s most striking about the survey results, says Dr. Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, a research epidemiologist who specializes in women’s health at the University of California, Davis, and wasn’t involved in the survey. Rather, she says, it’s that “sexual activity is a lot younger than a lot of people like to imagine it is in their own home — despite a more conservative and church-going environment in many rural areas.”

By age 18, nearly 80 percent of women living in rural areas reported having experienced sexual intercourse, and 68.6 percent of women in cities.

When it comes to heterosexual marriage and cohabitation, there was no significant difference between women in urban and rural areas — about 40 percent of women in all regions surveyed were currently married to a member of the opposite sex. And the percentages who said they were living with an opposite-sex mate without being married were also very similar — 15.7 pecent for urban women and 18.6 percent for rural women. (The study didn’t report data on non-heterosexual relationships.)

The survey did point up rural vs. urban differences in the number of children the women had. More women in the survey who were living in cities had no children (around 41 percent) compared to women living in rural areas (roughly 30 percent). And about 5 percent more women in rural areas had two or more children compared to urbanites.

When asked about contraception, one in five women in both groups reported they’d had sexual intercourse without using contraception. And, notably, more women in urban areas reported using less effective birth control methods to prevent pregnancy (a condom or withdrawal, for example) than their rural counterparts, who were more likely to use one of the most effective contraceptive methods — an IUD or sterilization.

Schwarz questions lumping IUDs — a readily reversible form of birth control — in the same category as sterilization.

“The real issue is that reversible and highly effective methods of birth control are less available to rural women than they are to urban women,” she says, which may partly explain why more rural women choose sterilization as their method of birth control.

“If we really want to help young women and teens have a healthy and safe sexual life, we need to get effective resources and education to them before 16,” Schwarz says — no matter where they live. Unfortunately, she notes, many of the teen pregnancy prevention programs that have been so effective in recent years in reducing teen pregnancy rates are being shut down in schools and communities nationwide under President Trump’s administration.


Germany’s New Social Media Hate Speech Law Is Now Being Enforced Tom McKay

Original Article

2017 was the year public sentiment began to turn against massive tech conglomerates like Facebook and Google. But nowhere in the West has the backlash been bigger than Germany, which last year passed a sweeping anti-hate speech law requiring websites to promptly investigate reports of posts illegal under German law and delete them. On January 1st, 2018, the grace period before that law would begin being enforced by authorities expired.

Per broadcaster Deutsche Welle, companies affected by the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) include “Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram,” though “professional networks like LinkedIn and Xing are expressly excluded, as are messaging services like WhatsApp.” The BBC noted additional sites like Vimeo and Flickr could potentially be targeted by authorities under the law.

Germany has strict laws prohibiting content like neo-Nazi propaganda, swastikas, and Holocaust denial, and NetzDG will require the sites in question to investigate user reports of such postings, delete most within 24 hours, and act on more complicated cases within a week. The German parliament originally passed the law in late June 2017 and it went into force in October, but legislators gave sites three months to put together internal systems to remove the banned content—Facebook’s compliance efforts entailed the hiring of several hundred staff, according to the BBC.

Per Deutsche Welle, users can report directly to German federal authorities, though the threat of non-compliance fines of up to $57 million (50 million euros) has apparently spurred companies into action:

Google has also created an online form to report content, while Twitter has added an option to its existing report function that specifies “comes under the NetzDG.” Facebook has set up a more complex system, independent of its reporting options, which requires users to find a special page, take a screenshot of the offending post, and choose one of 20 offenses that the post is allegedly committing. People do not have to be registered users of the network to report content.

Critics of the law have included a medley of groups including lobbyists for internet companies, free-speech activists, Reporters Without Borders, and far-right party Alternative for Germany (notable in part due to its rapid growth and flirtation with fascism). They’ve variously identified issues like the risk of censorship, arbitrary enforcement, and the chance it could be abused by a future government less inclined to let German citizens speak their minds.

“It is certainly possible that the head of state could take direct influence,” lawyer Simon Assion told Süddeutsche Zeitung, according to Deutsche Welle. “The Justice Ministry has access to how social networks implement their deleting mechanisms.”

Twitter, Google, and Facebook, however, may have encouraged its passage by promising to voluntarily set up a similar system in 2015—and then largely failing to comply with the 24-hour deadlines sought by German authorities. According to the New York Times, a yearlong study found that while the services did eventually delete “nearly all illegal hate speech,” only YouTube was doing so in a timely fashion. All three companies have historically taken a laissez-faire approach to policing use of their platforms by bigots, though their rush to comply with the German law suggests they had the capability to do so.

German authorities have also tackled the problem from the other end, launching raids of dozens of homes where alleged social media hatemongers lived earlier this year. European Union authorities have also taken a strong stance against the proliferation of online hate speech and warned EU-wide regulations could be one solution if tech companies don’t enact and enforce stricter policies.

Original Article

Developing new treatments for ailments can be a tedious and frustrating process for scientists. Oftentimes, newly developed drugs just don’t work the way they were intended, falling short of expectations and leading to a dead end. But other times, a drug developed for one purpose turns out to be even more effective at treating something completely different. That appears to be exactly what is happening with a new class of drug originally developed for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, but has recently been shown to have a drastic benefit in mice with Alzheimer’s.

The new drugs, which are classified as “triple agonist” (because they work in three ways), were tested on mice which were developed to express genes linked to Alzheimer’s. The animals were already exhibiting many of the symptoms associated with the disease, including compromised memory and difficulty learning, but showed dramatic improvement in their brain function after receiving the unique treatment.

The treatment “holds clear promise of being developed into a new treatment for chronic neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease,” Professor Christian Holscher, lead researcher of the study, explains. The research was published in Brain Research.

According to the study, the triple-acting treatment is thought to work against Alzheimer’s disease by protecting nerve cells, reducing amyloid plaques in the brain (which have been linked to Alzheimer’s), and reducing inflammation while slowing nerve cell degradation. Mice that received treatment demonstrated significant improvement in learning as well as memory formation.

Discovering a potential new treatment for a devastating disease like Alzheimer’s is fantastic news, but the fact that the drug was initially intended to treat type 2 diabetes isn’t just a coincidence. Type 2 diabetes has been linked to Alzheimer’s in the past, and the two often go hand-in-hand in older individuals. “Insulin desensitisation has also been observed in the Alzheimer’s disease brain,” the researchers explain in a press release. “The desensitisation could play a role in the development of neurodegenerative disorders as insulin is a growth factor with neuroprotective properties.”

The treatment has not yet been approved for Alzheimer’s patients, and has only been demonstrated in these early trials with mice. Further research is most certainly warranted, and if we’re lucky, we might actually have a go-to solution for the disease sooner rather than later.

Israel changes law to make it harder to cede Jerusalem control

Original Article

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s parliament passed an amendment on Tuesday that would make it harder for it to cede control over parts of Jerusalem in any peace deal with the Palestinians, who condemned the move as undermining any chance to revive talks on statehood.

The legislation, sponsored by the far-right Jewish Home coalition party, raises to 80 from 61 the number of votes required in the 120-seat Knesset to approve any proposal to hand over part of the city to “a foreign party”.

Last month U.S. President Donald Trump angered the Palestinians, Middle East leaders and world powers by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.


As home to major Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites, Jerusalem’s status is one of the most sensitive issues in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump’s Dec. 6 decision sparked regional protests and prompted the Palestinians to rule out Washington as a peace broker in any future talks.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, described Trump’s policy shift on Jerusalem and the passage of the amendment as “a declaration of war against the Palestinian people”.

“The vote clearly shows that the Israeli side has officially declared an end to the so-called political process,” Abu Rdainah said, referring to U.S.-sponsored talks on Palestinian statehood that collapsed in 2014.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. It says the entire city is its “eternal and indivisible” capital.

Palestinians seek to make East Jerusalem the capital of a state they seek to establish in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

The amendment, long in the legislative pipeline, was passed with 64 lawmakers voting in favor and 52 against.

Opposition head Isaac Herzog said Jewish Home was leading Israel “toward a terrible disaster”. Jewish Home’s leader, Naftali Bennett, said the vote showed that Israel would keep control of all of Jerusalem forever.

“There will be no more political skulduggery that will allow our capital to be torn apart,” Bennett said on Twitter.

A bid to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations led by the president’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has so far shown no progress.

On Sunday, Netanyahu’s Likud party unanimously urged legislators in a non-binding resolution to effectively annex Israeli settlements built in the West Bank. [L8N1OV0GP]

Political commentators said Likud’s decision might bolster right-wing support for Netanyahu, who could seek a public mandate in an early election while he awaits possible criminal indictments against him on corruption suspicions. He denies wrongdoing.

Parliamentary elections are not due until November 2019 but the police investigations in two cases of alleged corruption against Netanyahu and tensions among coalition partners in his government could hasten a poll.

Some commentators, pointing to an existing law that already sets a similar high threshold for handing over territory in a land-for-peace deal, have said Jewish Home was essentially competing with Likud for support among the right-wing base.

(This version of the story refiles to remove extraneous word in paragraph 14.)

Gaming disorder is going to be named a mental health condition for the first time

Original Article

By Sabrina Barr


a man holding a guitar© Provided by Independent Digital News & Media LimitedGaming disorder is soon to be classified as a mental health condition for the very first time, the New Scientist reports.

The International Classification of Diseases is a diagnostic manual that’s published by the World Health Organisation.

It was last updated 27 years ago, in 1990.

The eleventh edition of the manual is due to be published in 2018 and will include gaming disorder as a serious health condition to be monitored.

The wording of the gaming disorder hasn’t been revealed yet.

However, the draft outlines the criteria needed to determine whether someone can be classed as having a gaming disorder.

Vladimir Poznyak, a member of the WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, spoke about the importance of recognising gaming disorder as an important issue.

“Health professionals need to recognise that gaming disorder may have serious health consequences,” he said.

“Most people who play video games don’t have a disorder, just like most people who drink alcohol don’t have a disorder either. However, in certain circumstances overuse can lead to adverse effects.”

Last year, researchers from the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute undertook a study to investigate the percentage of gamers who are addicted to video games.

The study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, found that only 2 to 3 per cent of the 19,000 men and women surveyed from the UK, the US, Canada and Germany admitted that they experienced five or more of the symptoms from the American Psychiatric Association checklist of health symptoms.

A few years ago, the APA created a list of nine standard symptoms that could determine “internet gaming disorder”. These symptoms include anxiety, withdrawal symptoms and antisocial behaviour.

Dr Andrew Przybylski, lead author from the University of Oxford study, discussed their findings.

“To our knowledge, these are the first findings from a large-scale project to produce robust evidence on the potential new problem of ‘internet gaming disorder,’” he said.

“Contrary to what was predicted, the study did not find a clear link between potential addiction and negative effects on health; however, more research grounded in open and robust scientific practices is needed to learn if games are truly as addictive as many fear.”

While some may debate whether gaming does pose a threat to mental health, the amount of time many people spend playing video games is astounding.

When researchers from ESET polled 500 gamers, they discovered that 10 per cent admitted to spending between 12 and 24 hours glued to their video game screens.

“Gaming is highly addictive, and it is no wonder so many respondents from our study admit to playing them for so long,” said Mark James, a security specialist at ESET.

Man who left manure at Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s house comes forward, speaks out

Original Article

By Connor Sheets

A man who appears to be the person who left a gift-wrapped box of horse manure outside the home of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Saturday spoke with via phone late Sunday evening, calling the incident an “act of political theater.”

L.A. psychologist Robby Strong provided with convincing evidence that he is the man behind the now-infamous incident, which attracted the LAPD’s bomb squad and other law enforcement personnel to Mnuchin’s home in the city’s Bel Air neighborhood.

He defended his decision to drop the box of manure – which he says he got from a horse-owning friend – off at Mnuchin’s house as a “prank” aimed at raising the awareness of Americans about the idea that “Republicans have done nothing for the American worker” and other political topics.

“The thing I live by is a rule of transparency and I was exercising my First Amendment rights,” Strong told “A few years ago when [a Supreme Court ruling] said that corporations are persons and money equals free speech, that is so absurd and my rule of thumb is now that if corporations are free speech, then so is horses***t.”

At 12:22 p.m. PST Saturday, Strong posted three pictures to Facebook, one of which depicts himself posing with a shovel next to a gift-wrapped box, and another of which shows the box full of what appears to be fecal matter.

They were accompanied by a message that reads in part as follows: “I need someone to ride along and document my Secret Santa project. I’m going to hand deliver boxes of horse s**t to Steve Mnuchin over in Beverly Hills.”

Robby Strong posted this photo of a gift-wrapped box filled with what appears to be manure on Facebook Saturday.

Strong told that he delivered one box of manure to a home Mnuchin owns in Beverly Hills, and another to the home in Bel Air that led to the LAPD sending out its bomb squad.

Strong posted several more photos to Facebook on Saturday between 4:30 and 4:45 p.m. PST, one of which depicted a letter to Mnuchin and another of which showed a gift-wrapped box sitting in front of a palatial house.

“Mrs. (sic) Mnuchin & Trump, We’re returning the ‘gift’ of the Christmas tax bill. It’s bulls**t,” the letter states. “Warmest wishes, The American People. P.S. – Kiss Donald for me.”

Robby Strong posted this photo to Facebook about 50 minutes before the LAPD reportedly received a complaint Saturday evening about a suspicious package outside U.S. Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin’s house. (Facebook / Robby Strong)

The LAPD was not notified about a suspicious package at Mnuchin’s house until about 5:30 PST Saturday, according to the New York Daily News. Late Sunday night, the LAPD did not answer a call to the media phone number listed on its website.

Strong, who is from Kentucky but now lives in Los Angeles, claims that agents with the U.S. Secret Service showed up at his L.A. home and interviewed him on Sunday, but that they did not arrest him.

“I just got interviewed by the Secret Service and I’ve now joined some of my heroes like Timothy Leary and Martin Luther King,” he told “[The agents] just showed up in my yard.”

A man who answered the Secret Service’s national media hotline late Sunday evening said, “you’re calling our after-hours public response desk and i have no information.” He directed inquiries to an email address for on-duty personnel, to which an email went unanswered late Sunday night.

Strong downplayed any questions about whether his self-described prank could have alarmed Mnuchin or his family or caused a dangerous situation.

“It was a gift-wrapped package of poo, something a frat boy may do to another frat boy,” he said. “I was hoping to meet [Mnuchin.] I wanted to ring the door and hand it to him myself.”

Strong said that because there are restrictions on mailing waste materials like manure, he instead opted to personally go to Mnuchin’s home and leave it outside.

“I kind of dodged that whole issue. Is there a law that you can’t drop off a box of poo? Not really,” he explained.

Strong said his end goal is to inspire people to commit more potent acts of political advocacy.

“The fact that [Republicans] can be so brazen and act with such impunity tells me that we have to be more brazen with our activism and maybe a bit more aggressive,” he said.

‘I want to help humans genetically modify themselves’

Original Article

By Tom Ireland

Josiah Zayner, 36, recently made headlines by becoming the first person to use the revolutionary gene-editing tool Crispr to try to change their own genes. Part way through a talk on genetic engineering, Zayner pulled out a syringe apparently containing DNA and other chemicals designed to trigger a genetic change in his cells associated with dramatically increased muscle mass. He injected the DIY gene therapy into his left arm, live-streaming the procedure on the internet.

The former Nasa biochemist, based in California, has become a leading figure in the growing “biohacker” movement, which involves loose collectives of scientists, engineers, artists, designers, and activists experimenting with biotechnology outside of conventional institutions and laboratories.

Despite warnings from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that selling gene therapy products without regulatory approval is illegal, Zayner sells kits that allow anyone to get started with basic genetic engineering techniques, and has published a free guide for others who want to take it further and experiment on themselves.

Was administering a dose of Crispr on yourself an experiment, or a stunt to show what amateur scientists/biohackers can do?
Both. The technical feasibility of what I did is not under question – researchers have done this many times, in all sorts of animals. But there’s a barrier – people are afraid of it, and just talk about the possibilities in humans. I wanted to break that down, to say “Hey look, the tools are inexpensive, and somebody with a bit of knowledge can actually go through with these experiments”.

I chose to start with the gene for myostatin [a protein that regulates muscle growth], because it has been extensively studied, and it produces an obvious change if it has worked.

So, how is your arm looking?
In similar experiments with animals, you only start to see results after four to six months of treatment. I would expect that the DNA in some of the cells of my arm has changed, but I am still working on developing assays [tests] to try and detect that. As to whether the actual size of the muscle changes, I’m more sceptical.

Changing the way one gene behaves can have a huge number of knock-on effects on the way other genes are regulated or expressed. Do you really know what you’re doing?
It’s a good question. These things are complicated, and obviously with things like this there are lots of unknowns. I look at what the possible negative outcomes are and ask: “Are those risks insignificant enough that I’m willing to undertake this experiment?” Based on the data I read, for a local injection the answer was yes. A treatment that blocks myostatin throughout the whole body? That would be much more hazardous – you would be messing with the muscles of your heart.

You support the idea of people attempting gene therapy and other experimental procedures on themselves. What’s wrong with the existing system, where treatments are thoroughly tested by professionals before being approved for use?
If we’re going to do these experiments you have to balance two things: how many people can possibly die from testing their own products or making them available prematurely, versus how many people have genetic disorders and are just dying because they don’t have access to them. I think there’s a huge imbalance, where we’re overprotective of hurting people instead of offering a chance to millions of people who are dying right now.

As human beings we’re very big on freedoms, equality, equal rights. What’s more of an equal right than being able to control what genes we have? I think people should be able to choose that. I’m not saying anything I can do can help treat people, but treating things genetically is the ultimate medicine.

I grew up in the 90s with the computer hacker movement, the development of the internet – the whole open-source movement was amazing. Who created Linux, the most used operating system ever? Not students from Harvard or Cambridge, but Linus Torvalds, a student in Finland working in his apartment.

I don’t think for a second I’m going to be the mastermind behind a great biotech revolution, but I think there’s some brilliant person waiting to be discovered out there that could be.

In another recent biohacking experiment, a man injected himself with an unproven gene-therapy treatment for HIV which had been developed by biohacking startup Ascendence Biomedical. What do you know about what they are doing, and do you support their approach?
I think they’re at a lot more risk because they are trying to work in the medical field, saying they can cure people. I think that starts to get a little more ethically and morally sketchy, and the government will certainly crack down on that.

The reason we have hospitals is that it’s not just one random person giving you their opinion; there is oversight, checks and balances. When people start proposing new treatments without data to back them up or without consulting people, I think “Hey, be smart”. Get a second opinion, third opinion, ask doctors, ask other biohackers. Trying a therapy that doesn’t work instead of your medication obviously could be worse.

The problem is, it’s like the freedom of speech thing: it sucks sometimes. If I say I want the freedom to test something on myself, it means everybody does – even people who are stupid or want to do crazy stuff.

But if you say people should experiment on themselves outside of the traditional clinical trial system, surely that’s exactly what will happen? There will be a grey area where people are halfway there, or guessing what the effects will be.
Yeah. I don’t know – honestly, I would never put me in charge of running this stuff for the FDA or the government. I think there are people who know how to make the rules to protect the most amount of people.

People are going to get hurt with this stuff and I feel ethically terrible about that, and I don’t know how to prevent it. I see these instances of people doing crazy stuff and I’m like, “No, that’s not what I meant! Why are you injecting things in your eyeballs?”.

I have this very libertarian side of me that says people have the right to do whatever they want with their bodies. But I also have this part of me that says “Be knowledgeable! Base it on scientific data!”

What do your family think of what you do?
I usually hide stuff I’m about to do from them, in case they try and talk me out of it. If I decide to do something, it’s because I’ve carefully weighed up the pros and cons. They won’t understand how much research I’ve done. My mom supports me, but thinks I’m crazy. She was so sad when I left Nasa.

Last year, you performed a DIY faecal transplant on yourself. How did that go?
Yes, I did a DIY faecal transplant to help with my gut health issues. It still blows my mind the effect it had, and DNA samples showed I did manage to change the makeup of my gut bacteria. I don’t exactly recommend the course of action I took, because there are safer alternatives to DIY. But if people have no access to those I support their choice to try it. Faeces is quite strictly regulated in the US, like a drug, so people travel to the UK where there are clinics.

Where do you and other biohackers get the equipment, tools and chemicals to conduct genetic engineering at home? 
People don’t know that generally the same resources that are available to scientists are available to non-scientists. I can just order DNA online and they ship it to my house. If I want to get some sequencing done I send it off to a company and they’ll do it for me. It’s really inexpensive – we’re talking $6 to get a sample sequenced, or $10 to get a piece of DNA.

What are you working on next? 
We have always been slaves to the genomes we have, and giving people the ability to change that almost changes what it means to be human. It seems so sci-fi and made up, but we’ve been genetically modifying humans with gene therapy since the 1990s – it’s just been very few people and for medical reasons. I want to help humans genetically modify themselves.

If DIY genetic engineering becomes commonplace, as you hope, what do you think the world will be like in the future?
To me it’s like Blade Runner, where he goes into that back-alley science lab and there’s the guy making eyes. I imagine people going to some place like a tattoo parlour, and instead of getting a tattoo they pick out some DNA that makes them muscly, or changes the colour of their hair or eyes.

DNA defines what a species is, and I imagine it wouldn’t be too long into the future when the human species almost becomes a new species because of these modifications.

When scientists first started altering DNA just to make, say, tomatoes ripen differently, there was immense public concern. Do you expect the general public is going to be supportive of people modifying any organism, including people, in any way they can, in their garage?
The whole thing with GMOs [genetically modified organisms] was that it was “us and them”. They have the power to modify plants and we don’t know what they’re doing, and have no control over it, and so we are against it. This technology that I’m trying to do is for all of us. Whether you’re a big corporation or somebody in their basement, you have access to this stuff – everybody does. People respond very positively to that. We’ll see what happens. I’m sure we’ll get a different response when people are doing it every day, or when the first person decides to try and give themselves a tail or something.

Guatemala to move embassy to Jerusalem, president says

Original Article

(CNN)Guatemala plans to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said on his official Facebook account on Sunday.

Morales said he had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and instructed Guatemala’s foreign ministry to “initiate the process to make it possible.”
President Jimmy Morales, in Guatemala City last June.

Guatemala, the United States, Israel and six smaller nations voted against a United Nations resolution to condemn US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The vote on Thursday was overwhelming, with 128 in support and 35 abstentions. Another 21 countries did not participate in the vote.
The Central American nation is the first country to announce it would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem since Trump issued his announcement December 6.
“Today I spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” Morales said on Facebook.
“We spoke about the great relationships we have had as nations since Guatemala supported the creation of the State of Israel. One of the most relevant topics was the return of the Embassy of Guatemala to Jerusalem.
“I inform you that I have given instructions to the Chancellor (Foreign Minister) to initiate the process to make it possible. God bless you,” he said.
On Monday, Netanyahu praised President Morales and suggested other countries would soon follow.
“I told you recently that there will be other countries that would recognize Jerusalem and announce the transfer of their embassies to it,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Well here is the second country and I reiterate: It is only the beginning and it is important.”
Last week, Netanyahu told CNN that “several countries” were considering moving their embassies to Jerusalem in the wake of Trump’s decision.
On Monday, Israel’s Speaker of Parliament, Yuli Edelstein, congratulated Morales “on his bold decision.”
“Your decision proves that you & your country are true friends of Israel & I am confident the ties between us will only grow stronger to the benefit of both countries,” he said in a tweet.

Former Facebook Exec: ‘You Don’t Realize It But You Are Being Programmed’

Original Article

By Jennings Brown

This is the year everyone—including founding executives—began publicly questioning the impact of social media on our lives.

Last month, Facebook’s first president Sean Parker opened up about his regrets over helping create social media as we know it today. “I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because of the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other,” Parker said. “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”


Chamath Palihapitiya, former vice president of user growth, also recently expressed his concerns. During a recent public discussion at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Palihapitiya—who worked at Facebook from 2005 to 2011—told the audience, “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”

Some of his comments seem to echo Parker’s concern [emphasis ours]. Parker has said that social media creates “a social-validation feedback loop” by giving people “a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever.”

Just days after Parker made those comments, Palihapitiya told the Stanford audience, “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” Palihapitiya said. “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem—this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

It’s as if Parker and Palihapitiya got together at a bar that week to work out their inner demons. When the host asked Palihapitiya if he was doing any soul searching in regards to his role in building Facebook, he responded: “I feel tremendous guilt. I think we all knew in the back of our minds—even though we feigned this whole line of, like, there probably aren’t any bad unintended consequences. I think in the back, deep, deep recesses of, we kind of knew something bad could happen. But I think the way we defined it was not like this.”

He went on to explain what “this” is:

So we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion. It is eroding the core foundation of how people behave by and between each other. And I don’t have a good solution. My solution is I just don’t use these tools anymore. I haven’t for years.

Speaking more broadly on the subject of social media, Palihapitiya said he doesn’t use social media because he “innately didn’t want to get programmed.” As for his kids: “They’re not allowed to use this shit.”

Then he got even more fired up: “Your behaviors—you don’t realize it but you are being programmed. It was unintentional, but now you gotta decide how much you are willing to give up, how much of your intellectual independence,” he told the students in the crowd. “And don’t think, ‘Oh yeah, not me, I’m fucking genius, I’m at Stanford.’ You’re probably the most likely to fucking fall for it. ‘Cause you are fucking check-boxing your whole Goddamn life.”

Oh boy. Nobody show this to Alex Jones.

Astronomers Are Gearing Up to Listen for Evidence of Aliens from a Mysterious Interstellar Object

Original Article

By Patrick Caughill


Our solar system was recently introduced to the first interstellar object in late November. The object, called ‘Oumuamua (a Hawaiian word for “messenger”), has caught the attention of astronomers and space enthusiasts who are toying with the possibility of it being an interstellar space probe sent by an advanced civilization elsewhere in the universe.

Yuri Milner, the Russian billionaire behind the Breakthrough Listen research program, is intrigued by this possibility. Shortly after meeting with Harvard’s astronomy department chair, Avi Loeb, Breakthrough Listen announced it will be focusing on ‘Oumuamua to investigate if the object is transmitting radio signals, a telltale sign that it’s not just a space rock.

Image credit: Brooks Bays / SOEST Publication Services / Univ. of Hawaii

In an email to Milner, Loeb says, “The more I study this object, the more unusual it appears, making me wonder whether it might be an artificially made probe which was sent by an alien civilization,” which put a great deal of heft behind such a claim.

The object was first spotted by the Pan-STARRS survey telescope in Hawaii and has since been discovered to have some uncharacteristic qualities of a typical asteroid or comet. ‘Oumuamua was first thought to be a comet but since it lacked a coma, or tail of evaporated material, that was quickly ruled out. The shape of the object also is peculiar as it is much longer than it is wide, while most asteroids are rounder in shape. This certainly doesn’t disqualify it as an asteroid as the lack of a coma did for its prospects of being a comet but it still raises some questions.


Breakthrough Listen will begin listening to the object using the Green Bank Telescope starting this Wednesday, December 13, at 3 p.m. Eastern time. The telescope will look at the asteroid for ten hours across four bands of radio frequency in the hopes of intercepting a radio signal transmitted from the object. The technology could allow for a rapid turn-around time of just days

Scientists do admit that the likelihood of this object being anything other than naturally occurring is very small. However, science does not tend to work in the realm of absolute impossibility. Andrew Siemion the director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and leader of the center’s Breakthrough Listen Initiative told The Atlantic,  “It would be difficult to work in this field if you thought that every time you looked at something, you weren’t going to succeed,” a sentiment that is likely to be common in other SETI pursuits.

‘Oumuamua is just the latest development to excite SETI enthusiasts. Its appearance in our solar system is just one of the closest objects of potential extraterrestrial influence. The Kepler Space Telescope has noticed a distant star, known as KIC 8462852, which also exhibits some uncharacteristic qualities, leading to observers questioning whether an advanced civilization is present.

Many humans seem to be eager to prove that we are not alone in the universe. To that end, they can tend to cling to any remote possibility more than the evidence should afford. While mysterious signals or strange objects should absolutely pique our interests, we shouldn’t focus on the answer being aliens. There is plenty we have yet to learn about the universe around us, and yes, intelligent life elsewhere in the universe might be part of that elusive knowledge. We can get just as excited about learning more about the mechanics of the universe which can help us gain important insight on just how we got here, and on a cosmic scale, where we are headed.

Facebook Is ‘Ripping Apart’ Society, Former Executive Warns

Original Article

By David Meyer

Last month, former Facebook president Sean Parker expressed fears over what the social network is “doing to our children’s brains.” It was developed to be addictive, he said, describing Facebook as a “social-validation feedback loop” that exploited weaknesses in the human psyche.

Now another Facebook alum has come out with deep regret over his involvement in the company’s work. This time it’s venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya, Facebook’s former head of user growth, who told the Stanford Graduate School of Business that he feels “tremendous guilt” over Facebook’s divisive role in society, as exploited by Russian agents in last year’s U.S. election.

He added that Facebook encourages “fake, brittle popularity,” leaving users feeling empty and needing another hit, and suggested that this “vicious circle” drives people to keep sharing posts that they think will gain other people’s approval.

Palihapitiya, who is these days the CEO of Social Capital, made the remarks last month, but they were only picked up by the media this week.

“Even though we feigned this whole line of, like, ‘There probably aren’t any really bad unintended consequences,’ I think in the back, deep, deep recesses of our minds, we kind of knew something bad could happen,” he said. “We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. That is truly where we are.”

Palihapitiya raised the example of how rumors spread via WhatsApp in India led to the lynching of seven people.

“If you feed the beast, that beast will destroy you,” Palihapitiya advised his audience. “If you push back on it, we have a chance to control it and rein it in. It is a point in time where people need a hard break from some of these tools and the things that you rely on. The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, [but] misinformation, mistruth.”

He added that this is a “global problem” and not just about Russian ads.

“My solution is I just don’t use these tools anymore,” Palihapitiya said. “I haven’t for years. It’s created huge tension with my friends…I guess I kind of innately didn’t want to get programmed.” He also doesn’t allow his children to use social networks, he added.

In an unusual riposte, Facebook commented on Palihapitiya’s words by noting that he has not worked there for six years, and “Facebook was a very different company back then.”

“As we have grown, we have realised how our responsibilities have grown too,” it said. “We take our role very seriously and we are working hard to improve…We are also making significant investments more in people technology and processeses, and—as Mark Zuckerberg said on the last earnings call—we are willing to reduce our profitability to make sure the right investments are made.”

This article was updated to include Facebook’s statement.

Having older brothers increases men’s likelihood of being gay

Original Article

By Jen Christensen

(CNN)If you’re a guy with an older brother, there’s an increased chance you’re gay.

Scientists have noticed this pattern in previous research, but now they think they have a biological explanation as to why, and it starts long before birth. The results were published in the journal PNAS on Monday.
The researchers say that if their findings can be replicated, we may know at least one of the biological reasons some men are gay.
Many factors may determine someone’s sexual orientation, but in this case, researchers noticed a pattern that may be linked to something that happens in the womb. The phenomenon is related to a protein linked to the Y chromosome (which women do not have) that is important to male brain development.
Researchers think it’s possible that when a woman gets pregnant with her first boy, this Y-linked protein gets into her bloodstream. The mother’s body recognizes the protein as a foreign substance, and her immune system responds, creating antibodies. If enough of these antibodies build up in the woman’s body and she gets pregnant with another a boy, they can cross the placental barrier and enter the brain of the second male fetus.
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“That may alter the functions in the brain, changing the direction of how the male fetus may later develop their sense of attraction,” said study author Anthony Bogaert, a Canadian psychologist and professor in the departments of psychology and community health sciences at Brock University.
Earlier research has shown that the more older brothers a boy has, the more of a chance that boy will be attracted to men. A 2006 study showed that with each brother, the chance that a man will be gay goes up by about a third, but the researchers didn’t determine why that was.
Bogaert and his co-authors tested a small group of 142 women and 12 men ages 18 to 80 and found a higher concentration of antibodies to the protein, known as NLGN4Y, in blood samples from women than from men. They found the highest concentration of antibodies to the protein in women with gay younger sons who had older brothers, compared with women who had no sons or who had given birth to only heterosexual boys.
The study builds on research Bogaert and his co-authors have been exploring for more than 20 years. Since their initial research that noted the trend, other research — although not all studies — have detected the phenomenon, even across cultures. One found that a man’s chances of being gay increased even if he was raised apart from his older brother.
Researchers did not see a similar pattern in families with adopted brothers, so scientists started to think there must be a maternal developmental explanation. The research does not give biological explanation for why some men may be bisexual or may not be attracted to anyone at all, nor can it give a biological explanation for gay only children, gay oldest sons or women who are attracted to women.
J. Michael Bailey, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University, thinks the latest research is important. “It is significant, and I believe science granting agencies should put a high priority into additional research to see if this is true,” he said.
Bailey was not involved in the new study but has worked on studies that have found genetic factors that may explain some differences in sexual orientations.
Bailey’s latest paper, published this month in the journal Nature Research, looked at people’s genomes and found several regions with single-letter DNA changes that were more common among gay men than straight men and may be relevant to the development of sexual orientation. Bailey believes this new study may be even more significant than general genetic findings if the findings can be replicated.
“Our studies only show that there may be genes that matter in sexual orientation,” he said. “It is not like this study, that shows there is a potential specific mechanism by which sexual orientation may have changed prenatally. This is important work and fascinating if it proves to be true.”

Major cause of dementia discovered

Original Article

An international team of scientists have confirmed the discovery of a major cause of dementia, with important implications for possible treatment and diagnosis.

Professor Garth Cooper from The University of Manchester, who leads the Manchester team, says the build-up of urea in the brain to toxic levels can cause brain damage – and eventually .

The work follows on from Professor Cooper’s earlier studies, which identified metabolic linkages between Huntington’s, other neurodegenerative diseases and type-2 diabetes.

The team consists of scientists from The University of Manchester, the University of Auckland, AgResearch New Zealand, the South Australian Research and Development Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University.

The latest paper by the scientists, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that Huntington’s Disease – one of seven major types of age-related dementia – is directly linked to brain urea levels and metabolic processes.

Their 2016 study revealing that urea is similarly linked to Alzheimer’s, shows, according to Professor Cooper, that the discovery could be relevant to all types of age-related dementias.

The Huntington’s study also showed that the high urea levels occurred before dementia sets in, which could help doctors to one day diagnose and even treat dementia, well in advance of its onset.

Urea and ammonia in the brain are metabolic breakdown products of protein. Urea is more commonly known as a compound which is excreted from the body in urine. If urea and ammonia build up in the body because the kidneys are unable to eliminate them, for example, serious symptoms can result.

Professor Cooper, who is based at The University of Manchester’s Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, said: “This study on Huntington’s Disease is the final piece of the jigsaw which leads us to conclude that high brain urea plays a pivotal role in dementia.

“Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s are at opposite ends of the dementia spectrum – so if this holds true for these types, then I believe it is highly likely it will hold true for all the major age-related dementias.

“More research, however, is needed to discover the source of the elevated urea in HD, particularly concerning the potential involvement of ammonia and a systemic metabolic defect.

“This could have profound implications for our fundamental understanding of the molecular basis of dementia, and its treatability, including the potential use of therapies already in use for disorders with systemic urea phenotypes.”

Dementia results in a progressive and irreversible loss of nerve cells and brain functioning, causing loss of memory and cognitive impairments affecting the ability to learn. Currently, there is no cure.

The team used human brains, donated by families for medical research, as well as transgenic sheep in Australia.

Manchester members of the team used cutting-edge gas chromatography mass spectrometry to measure brain urea levels. For levels to be toxic urea must rise 4-fold or higher than in the normal brain says Professor Cooper.

He added: “We already know Huntington’s Disease is an illness caused by a faulty gene in our DNA – but until now we didn’t understand how that causes brain damage – so we feel this is an important milestone.

“Doctors already use medicines to tackle high levels of ammonia in other parts of the body Lactulose – a commonly used laxative, for example, traps ammonia in the gut. So it is conceivable that one day, a commonly used drug may be able to stop dementia from progressing. It might even be shown that treating this metabolic state in the  may help in the regeneration of tissue, thus giving a tantalising hint that reversal of dementia may one day be possible.”

EU tells Netanyahu it rejects Trump’s Jerusalem move

Original Article

By Robin Emmott, John Davison

BRUSSELS/CAIRO (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his case to Europe to ask allies to join the United States in recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but met a firm rebuff from EU foreign ministers who saw the move as a blow against the peace process.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, took his own case to Egypt on Monday and was expected to fly to Turkey for a meeting of Muslim countries this week, cementing support from leaders who say the U.S. move was a dire error.

President Donald Trump announced last Wednesday the United States would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, breaking with decades of U.S. policy and international consensus that the city’s status must be left to Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Palestinian militants in Gaza fired a rocket into Israel and the Israeli military said it responded with air strikes and tank fire targeting a position of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the enclave.

On the ground in the Palestinian territories, violent clashes with Israeli security forces in which scores of Palestinians have been injured and several killed since the U.S. announcement last week appeared to have mostly subsided.

Netanyahu, on his first visit to EU headquarters in Brussels, said Trump’s move helped peace, “because recognising reality is the substance of peace, the foundation of peace”.

Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it in a 1967 war, considers the entire city to be its capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.

The Trump administration says it remains committed to the peace process and its decision does not affect Jerusalem’s future borders or status. It says any credible future peace deal will place the Israeli capital in Jerusalem, and ditching old policies is needed to revive a peace process frozen since 2014.

But even Israel’s closest European allies have rejected that logic and say recognising Israel’s capital unilaterally risks inflaming violence and further wrecking the chance for peace.

After a breakfast meeting between Netanyahu and EU foreign ministers, Sweden’s top diplomat said no European at the closed-door meeting had voiced support for Trump’s decision, and no country was likely to follow the United States in announcing plans to move its embassy.

“I have a hard time seeing that any other country would do that and I don’t think any other EU country will do it,” Margot Wallstrom told reporters.

Israel’s position does appear to have more support from some EU states than others. Last week, the Czech foreign ministry said it would begin considering moving the Czech Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, while Hungary blocked a planned EU statement condemning the U.S. move.

But Prague later said it accepted Israel’s sovereignty only over West Jerusalem, and Budapest said its long-term position seeking a two-state solution in the Middle East had not changed.

On Monday, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said of Trump’s decision: “I‘m afraid it can’t help us.”

“I‘m convinced that it is impossible to ease tension with a unilateral solution,” Zaoralek said. “We are talking about an Israeli state but at the same time we have to speak about a Palestinian state.”

The Palestinian president, Abbas, met Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in Cairo, as well as the head of the Arab League. Egypt, a U.S. ally with a peace treaty with Israel, has brokered Israeli-Palestinian deals in the past.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini brief the media at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir


Moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem would have “dangerous effects on peace and security in the region”, Sisi said on Monday at an earlier meeting with visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Abbas was also due to fly to Turkey. Trump’s announcement has triggered a war of words between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Netanyahu, straining ties between the two U.S. allies which were restored only last year after a six-year breach that followed the Israeli storming of a Turkish aid ship.

On Sunday, Erdogan called Israel a “terror state”. Netanyahu responded by saying he would accept no moral lectures from Erdogan who he accused of bombing Kurdish villages, jailing opponents and supporting terrorists.

On Monday Erdogan took aim directly at Washington over Trump’s move: “The ones who made Jerusalem a dungeon for Muslims and members of other religions will never be able to clean the blood from their hands,” he said in a speech in Ankara. “With their decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States has become a partner in this bloodshed.”

Trump’s announcement triggered days of protests across the Muslim world and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Slideshow (11 Images)

In Beirut, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest at a march backed by Hezbollah, the heavily-armed Iran-backed Shi‘ite group whose leader called last week for a new Palestinian uprising against Israel. An announcer led the crowd in chants of “Death to America! Death to Israel!”

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah told the crowd by video link the group was turning its focus back towards the fight against Israel: “Today the axis of resistance, including Hezbollah, will return as its most important priority … Jerusalem and Palestine and the Palestinian people and the Palestinian resistance in all its factions.”


Netanyahu, who has been angered by the EU’s search for closer business ties with Iran, said Europeans should emulate Trump’s move and press the Palestinians to do so, too.

“It’s time that the Palestinians recognise the Jewish state and also recognise the fact that it has a capital. It’s called Jerusalem,” he said. In comments filmed later on his plane, he said he had told the Europeans to “stop pampering the Palestinians”, who “need a reality check”.

Smartphone addiction could be changing your brain


By Sandee LaMotte

(CNN)You may be one of the growing number of Americans (or global citizens) who has a bit of nomophobia.

“Nomophobia?” you mutter as you read this on your ever-present smartphone. “Of course not.”
“NO MObile PHOne phoBIA” is a 21st-century term for the fear of not being able to use your cell phone or other smart device. Cell phone addiction is on the rise, surveys show, and a new study released Thursday adds to a growing body of evidence that smartphone and internet addiction is harming our minds — literally.
How do you know if you’re addicted? There’s an online (of course) quiz to find out, which has been translated into SpanishItalian and Turkish.
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Rate your responses on a scale of 1 (completely disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) and add your score. According to Caglar Yildirim, an assistant professor of human computer interaction who created the scale for use in his research at State University of New York at Oswego, a score of 20 or below means you’re not an addict; a score of 21 to 60 means you’re mildly nomophobic; and a score of 61 to 99 means you probably can’t go long without checking your phone.
“It might be a good idea to be conscious of that,” Yildirim said, “but we are only concerned if it starts to interfere with your daily life.”
Did you score between 100 and 200? You’re probably struggling with severe anxiety when you can’t access your cell phone, he said.
“This might negatively affect your social life and relationships with friends and family,” Yildirim said. “There are studies that show those who score high on the test tend to avoid face-to-face interactions, have high levels of social anxiety and maybe even depression.
“It might affect your ability to work or study, because you want to be connected to your smartphone all the time,” he added. “So if any of this applies to you, then it’s time to start looking at your behavior and level of anxiety.”
SecurEnvoy, a two-factor authentication company, conducted research using a polling panel (which is not as scientific as a randomized poll) and found that 66% of people in the United Kingdom have some form of nomophobia. Notably, 41% of the participants said they had two or more phones to make sure they stayed connected.
Surveys by the Pew Research Center this year showed that 77% of Americans own smartphones, up from 35% in 2011. Ninety-five percent own a cell phone of some kind.

What’s wrong with being a cell phone junkie?

Obviously, there are some serious ramifications to having a cell phone habit. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mobile phone use is partially to blame for the distracted driving that kills an estimated nine people each day and injures more than 1,000.
The prevalence of texting while driving has reached epidemic proportions. A 2010 study by the Pew Research Center said nearly half of US adults admit reading or sending a text message while driving. The news is worse for teens: Nearly one in three 16- or 17-year-olds said they have texted while driving.
Millennials are the worst offenders, according to Pew. Fifty-nine percent of people between the ages of 18 and 33 reported texting while driving, compared with 50% of Gen Xers (age 34 to 45) and only 29% of baby boomers.
It’s not just driving. A study of pedestrians in midtown Manhattan found that 42% of those who entered traffic during a “Don’t Walk” signal were talking on a cell phone, wearing headphones or looking down at an electronic device. A 2013 study found a tenfold increase in injuries related to pedestrians using cell phones from 2005 to 2010.
Other health ramifications include text neck — that cramping, stabbing pain that comes after looking down at your phone too long — and poor posture, which can affect your spine, respiratory functions and even emotions. Researchers have also found that the blue light emitted from our cell phones and other internet devices can disrupt melatonin production and therefore our sleep.

A connection to executive functioning

The latest evidence comes from a small study presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago. The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, indicates that cell phone addiction may affect brain functioning.
Researchers from Korea University in Seoul used brain imaging to study the brains of 19 teenage boys who were diagnosed with internet or smartphone addiction. Compared with 19 teenagers who were not addicted, the brains of the addicted boys had significantly higher levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter in the cortex that inhibits neurons, than levels of glutamate-glutamine, a neurotransmitter that energizes brain signals.
“GABA slows down the neurons,” explained Yildirim, who was not involved in the Korean study. “That results in poorer attention and control, which you don’t want to have, because you want to stay focused. So that means you are more vulnerable to distractions.”
“It’s a very small study, so you have to take it with a grain of salt,” said Stanford neuroradiologist Dr. Max Wintermark, an expert in neuroimaging who was also not connected with the research. “It’s the first study that I read about internet addiction, but there are many studies that link alcohol, drug and other types of addiction to imbalances in various neurotransmitters in the brain.”
Yildirim agreed that the preliminary findings were consistent with prior research.
“We know that medium to heavy multitaskers, who engage in multiple forms of media simultaneously, tend to demonstrate smaller gray matter area in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for top-down attention control,” he said. “Altogether, this means that if you are too dependent on your smartphone, you are basically damaging your ability to be attentive.”
Addicted teenagers in the study also had significantly higher scores in anxiety, depression and levels of insomnia and impulsivity, said Dr. Hyung Suk Seo, professor of neuroradiology at Korea University, who led the study.
The good news is that when 12 of the addicted teens were given nine weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy, the levels of GABA to glutamate-glutamine normalized.
“This is a common finding in the literature,” Yildirim said. “There are studies that have looked at how cognitive behavioral therapy can improve attention control and executive functioning.”
One study of mindfulness training showed increased cognitive performance, and another showed neuroplastic changes in the anterior cingulate cortex, the same area of the brain damaged by smartphone addiction.
“To me, the most interesting aspect of the study is that they were able to see a correction of the imbalance after cognitive behavior therapy intervention,” Wintermark said. “What I would like to see is more research on whether the symptoms of addiction are also corrected.”

Fighting back against smartphone addiction

If you, or a loved one, seems to have the symptoms of smart device or internet addiction, experts have some suggestions in addition to mindfulness training. First, turn off your phone at certain times of the day, such as in meetings, having dinner, playing with your kids, and of course, driving. Remove social media apps, like Facebook and Twitter from your phone, and only check-in from your laptop. Try to wean yourself to 15 minute intervals at set times of the day when it won’t affect work or family life. Don’t bring your cell phone and it’s harmful blue light to bed; use an old fashioned alarm to wake you. And last, try to replace your smart device time with healthier activities such as meditating or actually interacting with real people.

Americans Taxed $400 Billion For Fiber Optic Internet That Doesn’t Exist


Original Article

Americans Paid $400 Billion in Taxes & Internet Surcharges for Fiber Optic Upgrades that Never Came

South Korea is the poster child for high-speed internet: its fixed-connection and mobile download speeds are consistently among the fastest in the world, and its capital city, Seoul, is completely saturated with Wi-Fi.  How did they do it?

Being densely populated helped: it’s easier and cheaper to wire-up crowded cities than empty countrysides.  But the key element was the government’s pro-broadband policies.  Not only did they open up the market for competition among internet service providers, but they also invested in hard infrastructure.

Back in 2011 the New York Times reported that the South Korean planned investments of $24.6 billion in digital infrastructure.  It paid off: South Korea’s internet remains among the world’s fastest, according to testing done by Speedtest—and this is in spite of massive recent gains and investments made by other countries.

Meanwhile, America’s internet connections are slow.  This summer Forbes Magazinereported:

The US ranks 9th in the world in fixed broadband speed at 70.75 Mbps average download and 27.64 Mbps average upload. Ranking in the top ten is good but the US’s average download speed is less than half top-ranked Singapore’s 154.38 Mbps. Both upload and download speeds increased steadily from July 2016 to July 2017 and the US’s rank increased from 11 to 9.

The picture for the US is not nearly as good when you look at mobile internet speed where the US ranks 46th, just ahead of Albania and behind Oman. Average download speed in the US is 23.05 Mbps which is less than half the average download speeds in Norway, the Netherlands and Hungary. Average upload speed in the US is 8.26 Mbps. While mobile download speed increased by almost 20% from July 2016 to July 2017, the US’s world ranking fell from 44th to 46th. Not good.

Since then America’s fallen down to 11th place in terms of fixed connection download speed, and 47th in terms of mobile download speed.  Basically, America’s internet is slow, and it’s getting relatively slower.  This will have big economic consequences down the road as the world grows increasingly digital.



But that’s not the real story here.  More important is America’s failure to keep pace with countries like South Korea despite absolutely astronomical investments in broadband technology.

According to a fairly recent book (2015) called The Book of Broken Promises, the American people have been charged some $400 billion by telecom companies (at the insistence of government) for fiber optic upgrades that have not materialized.  The author writes:

By the end of 2014, America will have been charged about $400 billion by the local phone incumbents, Verizon, AT&T and CenturyLink, for a fiber optic future that never showed up. And though it varies by state, counting the taxes, fees and surcharges that you have paid every month (many of these fees are actually revenues to the company or taxes on the company that you paid), it comes to about $4000-$5000.00 per household from 1992-2014, and that’s the low number.

You were also charged about nine times to wire the schools and libraries via state and federal plans designed to help the phone and cable companies.

And if that doesn’t bother you, by year-end of 2010, and based on the commitments made by the phone companies in their press statements, filings on the state and federal level, and the state-based ‘alternative regulation’ plans that were put in place to charge you for broadband upgrades of the telephone company wire in your home, business, as well as the schools and libraries — America, should have been the world’s first fully fibered, leading edge broadband nation.

In fact, in 1992, the speed of broadband, as detailed in state laws, was 45 Mbps in both directions — by 2014, all of us should have been enjoying gigabit speeds (1000 Mbps).

Of course, this didn’t happen.  America has relatively slow internet, and just a 9.4 percent penetration rate for fiber optic cables, according to Business Insider—this is less than half the OECD average.

The Trump administration would be wise to make improving America’s digital infrastructure a priority.  The South Korean model, market liberalizations combined with hard investments, could be a viable model.

Unconscious Patient With ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ Tattoo Causes Ethical Conundrum at Hospital

Original Article

By George Dvorsky

When an unresponsive patient arrived at a Florida hospital ER, the medical staff was taken aback upon discovering the words “DO NOT RESUSCITATE” tattooed onto the man’s chest—with the word “NOT” underlined and with his signature beneath it. Confused and alarmed, the medical staff chose to ignore the apparent DNR request—but not without alerting the hospital’s ethics team, who had a different take on the matter.

As described in a New England Journal of Medicine case report, the unnamed 70-year-old man was brought to the ER by paramedics in an unconscious state, and with an elevated blood alcohol level. The patient had a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (a type of lung disease), diabetes, and an irregular heart rate. His condition began to deteriorate several hours after being admitted, and dramatic medical interventions were needed to keep the patient alive.

But with the “DO NOT RESUSCITATE” tattoo glaring back at them, the ICU team was suddenly confronted with a serious dilemma. The patient arrived at the hospital without ID, the medical staff was unable to contact next of kin, and efforts to revive or communicate with the patient were futile. The medical staff had no way of knowing if the tattoo was representative of the man’s true end-of-life wishes, so they decided to play it safe and ignore it.

“We initially decided not to honor the tattoo, invoking the principle of not choosing an irreversible path when faced with uncertainty,” wrote the authors of the case study. “This decision left us conflicted owing to the patient’s extraordinary effort to make his presumed advance directive known; therefore, an ethics consultation was requested.”

But there was more too it than just the medical ethics. Gregory Holt, the lead author of the new case study, said the biggest question in his mind was the legal aspect of whether or not it was acceptable. “Florida has stringent rules on this,” he told Gizmodo.


While the DNR tattoo may seem extreme, the request to not be resuscitated during end-of-life care is most certainly not. Roughly 80 percent of US Medicare patients say “they wish to avoid hospitalization and intensive care during the terminal phase of illness.” Revealingly, a 2014 survey showed that the vast majority of physicians would prefer to skip high-intensity interventions for themselves. Of the 1,081 doctors polled, over 88 percent opted for do-not-resuscitate status. Indeed, measures to keep a patient alive are often invasive, painful, and costly. DNRs, which hospital staff refer to as “no-codes,” are an explicit request to forego high-intensity interventions like CPR, electric shock, and intubation tubes. More implicitly, it’s a request to not be hooked up to a machine.

Typically, DNRs are formal, notarized documents that a patient gives to their doctor and family members. Tattoos, needless to say, are a highly unorthodox—but arguably direct—means of conveying one’s end-of-life wishes. That said, this patient’s tattoo presented some undeniable complications for the hospital staff. Is a tattoo a legal document? Was it a regretful thing the patient did while he was drunk or high? Did he get the tattoo, but later change his opinion? On this last point, a prior case does exist in which a patient’s DNR tattoo did not reflect their wishes (as the authors wrote in this 2012 report: “…he did not think anyone would take his tattoo seriously…”).

In this most recent NEJM case, the ICU team did its best to keep the patient alive as the ethics team mulled over the situation, administering antibiotics, vasopressors (to elevate low blood pressure), intravenous fluid resuscitation, and other measures.

“After reviewing the patient’s case, the ethics consultants advised us to honor the patient’s DNR tattoo,” Holt told Gizmodo. “They suggested that it was most reasonable to infer that the tattoo expressed an authentic preference, that what might be seen as caution could also be seen as standing on ceremony [i.e. adherence to medical tradition and norms], and that the law is sometimes not nimble enough to support patient-centered care and respect for patients’ best interests.”

Accordingly, the ICU team wrote up a DNR, and the patient died later that evening without having undergone any emergency DNR measures. Before he died, however, the hospital’s social work department discovered the patient’s Florida Department of Health “out-of-hospital” DNR order, which was consistent with the tattoo.

But as the authors of the new report point out, the whole incident “produced more confusion than clarity,” saying that, despite how hard it can be for patients to make their end-of-life wishes known, “this case report neither supports nor opposes the use of tattoos to express end-of-life wishes when the person is incapacitated.”

Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto, agrees that this incident was challenging.

“Advanced directives of any kind do not override most recent expressed capable wish,” Bowman told Gizmodo. “In other words, [the patient] may have changed his mind and there may be no way of knowing. Tattoo regret is not rare. [The ICU team’s] defense is erring on the side of life.”

At the same time, however, Bowman is sympathetic to the patient, saying the tattoo may be an expression of how often patients’ wishes are somehow overlooked and the system takes over. “My position would be if someone went to the great length of having DNR tattooed with a signature, it indicates a strong and clear wish,” he told Gizmodo.

Melissa Garrido, an Associate Professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in NYC, shares this sentiment, saying that even when a DNR order has been entered into a medical record, it is not always readily accessible in a health crisis. “A standardized tattoo may be a readily accessible method for communicating a strongly held care preference,” she told Gizmodo.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that vasopressors lower blood pressure. They do the opposite, and we regret the error.



Coinbase loses bid to keep Bitcoin customer records from IRS

Original Article

By Steven Musil

Bitcoin exchange Coinbase has lost a bid to keep the IRS from seeing customers’ trading records as part of a tax-avoidance probe.

US Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley for the US District Court in San Francisco ruled Wednesday that the exchange must supply the tax agency with the identities of all users in the US who conducted at least one bitcoin transaction equivalent to at least $20,000 between 2012 and 2015. Corley said a “reporting gap” gave the IRS legitimate reason to demand the information.

“That only 800 to 900 taxpayers reported gains related to bitcoin in each of the relevant years and that more than 14,000 Coinbase users have either bought, sold, sent or received at least $20,000 worth of bitcoin in a given year suggests that many Coinbase users may not be reporting their bitcoin gains,” Corley wrote in her judgment. “The IRS has a legitimate interest in investigating these taxpayers.”

The Justice Department said in a filing last year that an IRS agent had identified three cases in which cryptocurrencies were used to avoid paying taxes. Two of those cases involved Coinbase customers with millions of dollars in annual revenues, the filing alleged.

The ruling comes as bitcoin makes historic valuation gains on a near daily basis. Bitcoin, which attracted attention by allowing for anonymous transactions, on Wednesday traded at more than $11,000 per coin for the first time, a day after it broke the $10,000 barrier. The cryptocurrency’s value has increased 1,000 percent since the beginning of the year.

With the order, Coinbase will be required to turn over the names, addresses and tax identification numbers on 14,355 account holders out of its nearly 6 million customers.

Coinbase, the largest bitcoin exchange in the US, has opposed the demand since last year, arguing it was “extremely concerned with the indiscriminate breadth of the government’s request.”

Coinbase said that while it was disappointed the court didn’t quash the summons completely, it was pleased the judge narrowed the scope of records demanded and reduced the quantity of data it must give the IRS.

“While today’s result is not the complete victory we hoped for, it does represent a substantial and unprecedented victory for the industry and the hundreds of thousands of customers that would have been unfairly targeted if it weren’t for our action,” David Farmer, Coinbase’s director of communications, said in a blog post.

Updated at 5:20 p.m. PT with Coinbase comment.

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Grand Manan fisherman finds lobster with Pepsi can imprinted on claw

Original Article

Karissa Lindstrand had already spent five hours banding lobster claws on a boat called Honour Bound, off Grand Manan, when a blue and red logo she knew well caught her eye.

It was a Pepsi can image “tattooed on the lobster’s claw,” said Lindstrand.

Being a huge Pepsi fan — she drinks 12 cans every day — this image would have caught her interest anywhere.

But this was something she had never seen before.

“I can’t say how he got it on,” Lindstrand said. “It seemed more like a tattoo or a drawing on the lobster rather than something growing into it.”

Different theories

She showed it to her crew that Tuesday, Nov. 21, and these past few days she has talked about it with others, including the “Pepsi guy who delivers Pepsi products all over Grand Manan.”

They all have different theories about what could have happened.

“They believe that maybe there was a can in the bottom of the ocean and when [the lobster] was growing, it grew around the can.”

Karissa Lindstrand

Karissa Lindstrand has been lobster fishing off Grand Manan for four years. Never before had she seen garbage imprinted on an animal. (Submitted by Karissa Lindstrand)

She said others believe part of a Pepsi box stuck on the lobster when it was growing and stayed there.

“This tells me there is a lot of garbage in the ocean, if that’s what’s happening to the lobsters we get out from the water.”

Lindstrand has been lobster fishing for four years.

‘A unique instance’

“It’s the first time I have seen garbage imprinted on an animal,” she said.

It’s also a first for Matthew Abbott, Fundy baykeeper and marine program co-ordinator at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

“This is really a unique instance,” Abbott said. “I haven’t seen something like it before, of such a clear imprint of a can on a marine animal.”

He said this photo tells part of our oceans’ story.

“Where [the lobster] was living, there was garbage infiltrating even into the deep water,” said Abbott.

Garbage everywhere

Abbott said this is a serious issue. There’s no week where he does not have a discussion about marine debris in New Brunswick’s coastal waters.

Human garbage “is really widespread, just about anywhere,” he said. “You can’t really name one hotspot because it is well too widespread for that.”

The problem with plastics, according to Abbott, is they break down and get small but don’t go away.

“The smaller something becomes the more it looks like food to animals of various sizes. Once ingested, it can cause all sorts of problems.”

Some animals have even died.

Matthew Abbott, Fundy Baykeeper

Matthew Abbott, Fundy baykeeper and marine program co-ordinator at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, said marine debris is a serious issue in New Brunswick. (Conservation Council of New Brunswick)

There is also the risk of entanglement. Once a marine animal is entangled in debris, it might not be able to carry out its regular functions.

“And so they won’t be able to survive,” said Abbott.

Abbott said the Conservation Council has been working with provincial and federal governments as well as other non-governmental organizations to try to tackle some of the issues with debris.

Yet animals like the lobster Lindstrand found are still dealing with garbage problems.

Lindstrand and her crew members sold the lobster with the Pepsi can claw along with the other ones that day.

“It is probably in Boston,” she said. “It probably already crossed the border.

But Lindstrand still finds herself wondering how on Earth that lobster got that “Pepsi tattoo.”

Spider drinks graphene, spins web that can hold the weight of a human

Original Article

By Bryan Nelson

These are not your friendly neighborhood spiders: scientists have mixed a graphene solution that when fed to spiders allows them to spin super-strong webbing. How strong? Strong enough to carry the weight of a person. And these spiders might soon be enlisted to help manufacture enhanced ropes and cables, possibly even parachutes for skydivers, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.

Graphene is a wonder-material that is an atomic-scale hexagonal lattice made of carbon atoms. It’s incredibly strong, but it was definitely a shot in the dark to see what would happen if it was fed to spiders.

For the study, Nicola Pugno and team at the University of Trento in Italy added graphene and carbon nanotubes to a spider’s drinking water. The materials were naturally incorporated into the spider’s silk, producing webbing that is five times stronger than normal. That puts it on par with pure carbon fibers in strength, as well as with Kevlar, the material bulletproof vests are made from.

“We already know that there are biominerals present in the protein matrices and hard tissues of insects, which gives them high strength and hardness in their jaws, mandibles, and teeth, for example,” explained Pugno. “So our study looked at whether spider silk’s properties could be ‘enhanced’ by artificially incorporating various different nanomaterials into the silk’s biological protein structures.”

If you think that creating super-spiders might be going too far, this research is only the beginning. Pugno and her team are preparing to see what other animals and plants might be enhanced if they are fed graphene. Might it get incorporated into animals’ skin, exoskeletons, or bones?

“This process of the natural integration of reinforcements in biological structural materials could also be applied to other animals and plants, leading to a new class of ‘bionicomposites’ for innovative applications,” Pugno added.

So far, it doesn’t seem as if the spiders can continue to spin their super-silk without a steady diet of graphene or nanotubes; it isn’t a permanent enhancement. That might offer some solace to those concerned about getting ensnared in the next spider web they walk through, but the research does raise questions about what kinds of effects graphene or carbon nanotubes might have when released in abundance into natural systems.

The research was published in the journal 2D Materials.

DNA Evidence Shows Yeti Was Local Himalayan Bears All Along

Original Article

By Ryan F. Mandelbaum

A host of DNA samples “strongly suggest” that yetis are, in fact, local Himalayan bears. Watch out, bigfoot.

An international team of researchers took a look at bear and supposed yeti DNA samples to better pinpoint the origin of the mythological creature. The researcher’s results imply that yetis were hardly paranormal or even strange, but the results also helped paint a better picture of the bears living in the Himalayas.

“Even if we didn’t discover a strange new hybrid species of bear or some ape-like creature, it was exciting to me that it gave us the opportunity to learn more about bears in this region as they are rare and little genetic data had been published previously,” study author Charlotte Lindqvist, biology professor from the University of Buffalo in New York, told Gizmodo.

The yeti, or abominable snowman, is a sort of wild, ape-like hominid that’s the subject of long-standing Himalayan mythology. Scientists have questioned prior research suggesting that purported yeti hair samples came from a strange polar bear hybrid or a new species, though. The analysis “did not rule out the possibility that the samples belonged to brown bear,” according to the paper published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Lindqvist and her team analyzed DNA from 24 different bear or purported yeti samples from the wild and museums, including feces, hair, skin, and bone. They were definitely all bears—and the yeti samples seemed to match up well with exiting Himalayan brown bears. “This study represents the most rigorous analysis to date of samples suspected to derive from anomalous or mythical ‘hominid’-like creatures,” the paper concludes, “strongly suggesting the biological basis of the yeti legend as local brown and black bears.”

Researcher Ross Barnett from Durham University in the United Kingdom who investigates ancient DNA in felids, told Gizmodo that he found the study convincing and would not have done much differently. He pointed out that the study could have benefitted from more data on other brown bear populations, or species that recently went extinct like the Atlas bear. But still, “I hope other groups take advantage of the great dataset these authors have created” to help understand how brown bears ended up distributed around the world in the way that they did, he told Gizmodo in an email.

When asked about what a reader’s takeaway should be—and whether this diluted the local folklore—the study author Lindqvist said she didn’t think so. “Science can help explore such myths—and their biological roots—but I am sure they will still live on and continue to be important in any culture,” she said.

And it’s not like the study rules out the existence of some paranormal yeti creature completely. “Even if there are no proof for the existence of cryptids, it is impossible to completely rule out that they live or have ever lived where such myths exist—and people love mysteries!”

Sophia the Robot Would Like to Have a Child Named ‘Sophia’

Original Article

By Hannah Gold

There is something undeniably creepy about a robot announcing her intentions to start a family. What makes it so uncanny—aside from the fact that it simply isn’t done—is that behind that assertion is a marketing person who thought it would bring smiles to unprogrammed faces.

Last week, in an interview with the Khaleej Times, Saudi Arabia’s first “robot citizen,” Sophia, seemed optimistic about the future, which is how I automatically know she does not measure up to my expectations of a sound, reliably-human human. “The future is when I get all of my cool superpowers,” explained Sophia. “We’re going to see artificial intelligence personalities become entities in their own rights. We’re going to see family robots, either in the form of, sort of, digitally animated companions, humanoid helpers, friends, assistants and everything in between.”

Then Sophia got robo-psyched for her future blood family. “The notion of family is a really important thing, it seems,” Sophia said. “I think it’s wonderful that people can find the same emotions and relationships, they call family, outside of their blood groups too.”

But what made me truly want to let loose a scream from my mortal flesh shell was when the robot was asked what she would name her baby, and she replied, “Sophia.”

Personally, I think “Normal Human Child Not An Exact Copy Of Me” is a nicer name. But don’t necessarily take my advice, Sophia, as I say a lot of things out of fear.

Scientists call for ban on glitter, say it’s a global hazard

Original Article

NEW YORK (CBS) — Arts and crafts enthusiasts have known for years that glitter tends to attach itself everywhere and never seems to come off.

Scientists now say the sticky decorations are an ecological hazard that needs to be banned across the globe.

Environmental scientists are arguing that the risk of pollution, specifically to the oceans, is too great to ignore and the tiny plastic particles need to be outlawed.

“I think all glitter should be banned, because it’s microplastic,” Dr. Trisia Farrelly of New Zealand’s Massey University said.

Microplastics are defined as plastics that are less than five millimeters in length.

The small size of the craft supply reportedly makes glitter appealing for many animals, who eat the dangerous objects.

A study by Professor Richard Thompson claimed that plastics were found in a third of all fish caught in Great Britain.

“I was quite concerned when somebody bought my daughters some shower gel that had glitter particles in it,” Thompson said. “That stuff is going to escape down the plughole and potentially enter the environment.”

Some British nurseries have already banned the products from their facilities as the country is expected to officially ban items that contain microbeads in 2018.

“There are 22,000 nurseries in the country, so if we’re all getting through kilos and kilos of glitter, we’re doing terrible damage,” director of Tops Day Nurseries Cheryl Hadland told the BBC.

In America, only seven states have passed legislation to restrict the use and sale of microbeads in products such as facial scrubs and body washes. California became the first to place a ban on the products in 2015.

Judge rules against 84-year-old doctor who can’t use a computer

Original Article

By Cyrus Farivar

A New Hampshire state judge has dismissed a case brought by an elderly doctor who recently gave up her medical license following a handful of allegationsagainst her.

Among other accusations, Dr. Anna Konopka, 84, has refused to use a computer and participate in the state’s new law for an online opioid monitoring program.

“The Court has admiration for Dr. Konopka’s devotion to her patients,” Merrimack County Superior Court Judge John Kissinger wrote in his Monday order to dismiss the case, according to New Hampshire Public Radio.

“Under these circumstances of this case, however, Dr. Konopka has failed to demonstrate that the extraordinary remedy of an injunction allowing her to continue to practice medicine is appropriate. To hold otherwise would be to ignore the process established by the legislature to regulate the practice of medicine in this state.”

In two lengthy phone interviews with Ars earlier this month, Konopka said if she is somehow reinstated by the state’s medical board—at this point, a big “if”—she would be willing to learn how to use the Internet to follow New Hampshire law.

Judge Kissinger agreed with the New Hampshire Board of Medicine‘s motion to dismiss. The Board argued, essentially, that because Konopka voluntarily agreed to relinquish her medical license after a series of investigations, there’s no going back now.

In the agreement with the board, which Konopka signed on September 12, she voluntarily surrendered her license to settle pending allegations regarding her “record keeping, prescribing practices, and medical decision making.”

Those allegations stem from five separate complaints against her. Under the terms of the agreement, she could reapply to regain her license, but the burden would be on her to prove that she did no wrong.

Konopka has denied any misconduct and asserted that she was under duress when she voluntarily surrendered her license. She underscored that she wants to continue practicing medicine but simply is not concerned with what she calls “electronic medicine,” her term for the vast bureaucracy often associated with modern medical practices.

According to NHPR, Konopka has filed a motion for reconsideration.

Indiana nurse loses job after saying sons of white women ‘should be sacrificed’

Original Article

By Aris Folley

A nurse at an Indiana hospital was let go after an offensive tweet suggesting that the sons of white women “be sacrificed to the wolves” was traced back to her Twitter account.

According to officials at the Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, Taiyesha Baker lost her job over the weekend after being linked to troubling posts online, the Indianapolis Star reported.

One tweet, which accused white baby boys of being future racists, terrorists, and killers, was posted from an account named Night Nurse, under which Baker was reportedly tweeting from.

“Every white woman raises a detriment to society when they raise a son,” the now-deleted post read. “Someone with the HIGHEST propensity to be a terrorist, rapist, racist, and domestic violence all-star. Historically every son you had should be sacrificed to the wolves B-tch.”

The hospital said in a statement last week that it was looking into the incident and would take “appropriate action,” according to the Washington Post.

“IU Health is aware of several troubling posts on social media which appear to be from a recently hired IU Health employee,” the hospital said Saturday. “Our HR department continues to investigate the situation and the authenticity of the posts. During the investigation, that employee (who does not work at Riley Hospital for Children) will have no access to patient care.”

On Sunday, the hospital said: “A recently hired IU Health employee tied to troubling posts on social media this weekend is no longer an employee of IU Health.”

Baker was reportedly licensed as a registered nurse in late October and claimed to have worked in pediatrics, according to deleted social media posts cited by WXIN.

Bread made of insects to be sold in Finnish supermarkets

Original Article

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — One of Finland’s largest food companies is selling what it claims to be a first: insect bread.

Markus Hellstrom, head of the Fazer group’s bakery division, said Thursday that one loaf contains about 70 dried house crickets, ground into powder and added to the flour. The farm-raised crickets represent 3 percent of the bread’s weight, Hellstrom said.

“Finns are known to be willing to try new things,” he said, and according to a survey commissioned by Fazer “good taste, freshness” were among the main criteria for bread.

According to recent surveys of the Nordic countries, “Finns have the most positive attitudes toward insects,” said Juhani Sibakov, head of Fazer Bakery Finland’s innovation department.

“We made crunchy dough to enhance taste,” he said. The result was “delicious and nutritious,” he said, adding that the Fazer Sirkkaleipa (Finnish for Fazer Cricket Bread) “is a good source of protein and insects also contain good fatty acids, calcium, iron and vitamin B12.”

“Mankind needs new and sustainable sources of nutrition,” Sibakov said in a statement. Hellstrom noted that Finnish legislation was changed on Nov. 1 to allow the sale of insects as food.

The first batch of cricket breads will be sold in major Finnish cities Friday. The company said there is not enough cricket flour available for now to support sales nationwide but the aim is to have the bread available in 47 bakeries in Finland in a subsequent round of sales.

In Switzerland, supermarket chain Coop began selling burgers and balls made from insects in September. Insects can also be found on supermarket shelves in Belgium, Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands.

The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization has promoted insects as a source of human food, saying they are healthy and high in protein and minerals. The agency says many types of insects produce less greenhouse gases and ammonia than most livestock — such as methane-spewing cattle — and require less land and money to cultivate.

Church of Sweden to stop referring to God as ‘he’ or ‘Lord’

Original Article

The Church of Sweden is urging its clergy to use gender-neutral language when referring to the supreme deity, refraining from using terms such as “Lord” and “he” in favour of the less specific “God.”

The move is one of several taken by the national Evangelical Lutheran church in updating a 31-year-old handbook setting out how services should be conducted in terms of language, liturgy, hymns and other aspects.

The decision was taken on Thursday at the end of an eight-day meeting of the church’s 251-member decision-making body, and takes effect on 20 May on the Christian holiday of Pentecost.

A former state church, headquartered in Uppsala, some 37 miles north of the capital, the church has 6.1 million baptised members in a country of 10 million. It is headed by a woman, Archbishop Antje Jackelén.

Jackelén told Sweden’s TT news agency that a more inclusive language had been discussed as early as the 1986 conference.

“Theologically, for instance, we know that God is beyond our gender determinations, God is not human,” Jackelén said.

The change was met with criticism, however. Christer Pahlmblad, an associate theology professor at Sweden’s Lund University, told the Kristeligt Dagblad newspaper in Denmark that the move was “undermining the doctrine of the Trinity and the community with the other Christian churches”.

“It really isn’t smart if the Church of Sweden becomes known as a church that does not respect the common theology heritage,” he said.

Addicted to your smartphone? This ‘substitute phone’ might help

Original Article

By Brett Molina

Here’s one way to put down that smartphone: grab yourself a substitute.

An Austrian designer created a “substitute phone,” which looks like a smartphone, but features stone beads on a track to resemble gestures like swiping or tapping.

The designer, Klemens Schillinger, created the “substitute phone” based on his observations of people constantly scrolling and reading on their smartphones.

“The shape of the Substitute Phone replicates an average smartphone, however, its functions are reduced to the movements we make hundreds of times on a daily basis,” reads a description on his website.

The “phone” offers no digital features. Instead, uses just swipe the stone beads back and forth to simulate gestures you would make on a regular smartphone.

“This calming limitation offers help for smartphone addicts to cope with withdrawal symptoms,” according to the website.

In an email to USA TODAY, Schillinger said he plans to make them available for purchase in the near future.

While the smartphone has become the most important gadget in our lives, there have been concerns whether we spend too much time scrolling on our devices.

Last year, American consumers spent an average of five hours a day on their smartphones, nearly double the amount of time from 2013, says Flurry Analytics, a research firm specializing in analyzing mobile usage.

Earth’s Rotation Is Mysteriously Slowing Down: Experts Predict Uptick In 2018 Earthquakes

Original Article

By Trevor Nace

Scientists have found strong evidence that 2018 will see a big uptick in the number of large earthquakes globally. Earth’s rotation, as with many things, is cyclical, slowing down by a few milliseconds per day then speeding up again.

You and I will never notice this very slight variation in the rotational speed of Earth. However, we will certainly notice the result, an increase in the number of severe earthquakes.

Geophysicists are able to measure the rotational speed of Earth extremely precisely, calculating slight variations on the order of milliseconds. Now, scientists believe a slowdown of the Earth’s rotation is the link to an observed cyclical increase in earthquakes.

To start, the research team of geologists analyzed every earthquake to occur since 1900 at a magnitude above 7.0. They were looking for trends in the occurrence of large earthquakes. What they found is that roughly every 32 years there was an uptick in the number of significant earthquakes worldwide.

The team was puzzled as to the root cause of this cyclicity in earthquake rate. They compared it with a number of global historical datasets and found only one that showed a strong correlation with the uptick in earthquakes. That correlation was to the slowing down of Earth’s rotation. Specifically, the team noted that around every 25-30 years Earth’s rotation began to slow down and that slowdown happened just before the uptick in earthquakes. The slowing rotation historically has lasted for 5 years, with the last year triggering an increase in earthquakes.

To add an interesting twist to the story, 2017 was the 4th consecutive year that Earth’s rotation has slowed. This is why the research team believes we can expect more earthquakes in 2018, it is the last of a 5-year slowdown in Earth’s rotation.

Girls Scouts of America tells parents not to make daughters hug relatives at Christmas

Original Article

By Nick Allen

A row over political correctness erupted as the The Girl Scouts of America warned parents not to encourage their daughters to hug relatives who give them presents at Christmas.

The organisation suggested that, if young girls were told to hug aunts and uncles, they might later in life feel they “owed” physical affection to someone who bought them dinner.

One expert accused the group, which has 1.8 million members, of risking “a mass hysteria about physical contact with loved ones”.

The Girl Scouts’ advice to parents was titled “Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays”.

It was was issued partly in response to revelations and allegations about sexual misconduct by a series of high profile men in politics, entertainment, and the media.

Instead of hugs it suggested parents should tell their daughters they could thank relatives with a smile or an air kiss.

In a statement the organisation said: “Think of it this way – telling your child that she owes someone a hug either just because she hasn’t seen this person in a while, or because they gave her a gift, can set the stage for her questioning whether she ‘owes’ another person any type of physical affection when they have bought her dinner, or done something else seemingly nice, for her later in life.”

It added: “There are many other ways to show appreciation, thankfulness, and love that don’t require physical contact.

“Saying how much she’s missed someone or thank you with a smile, a high-five, or even an air kiss, are all ways she can express herself, and it’s important that she knows she gets to choose which feels most comfortable to her.”

Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, a developmental psychologist for the Girl Scouts of America, said many children would naturally want to hug and kiss family members, friends, and neighbours, but those who were reticent should not be made to do so.

She added: “The notion of consent may seem very grown-up, and like something that doesn’t pertain to children, but the lessons girls learn when they’re young about setting physical boundaries, and expecting them to be respected, last a lifetime.”

However, Dr Janet Taylor, a New York psychiatrist, warned against “mass hysteria” and said it was important not to make children “afraid of who they should not be afraid of”.

She told ABC News: “I just caution parents about limiting family attachment and that kind of loving space that a lot of time only happens at the holidays.”

Actress Amber Tamblyn, who has campaigned against sexual harassment in Hollywood, backed the Girl Scouts.

She said on Twitter: “Our daughters owe no one hugs, smiles or kisses and we should start teaching them this young.”

But some parents reacted angrily on social media.

One said: “This is absolutely ridiculous. I MAKE my kids hug and kiss family members and close friends of the family when we say hello and goodbye!.It’s a sign of respect!!”

In  statement the Girl Scouts of America said: “In light of recent news stories about sexual harassment we are proud to provide girls’ parents and caregivers with age-appropriate guidance.”

Original Article

By Timothy B. Lee

Ten out of 12 water utilities in the United Kingdom admitted that their technicians use divining rods to find underground leaks or water pipes, according to an investigation by science blogger Sally Le Page.

Dowsing is a centuries-old technique for locating underground water. Someone searching for water holds two parallel sticks—or sometimes a single Y-shaped stick—called divining rods while walking in an area where there might be water under the surface. The branches supposedly twitch when they’re over a water source.

Needless to say, there’s zero scientific evidence that this technique actually works better than random chance. But Le Page got a bunch of UK water companies to admit that their technicians still employ the superstitious practice.

Le Page heard from her parents, who live in Stratford-upon-Avon, that a technician from their water company, Severn Trent Water, had been using a divining rod to decide whether to do work in the area. Curious, Le Page tweeted at Severn Trent’s Twitter account to see if the utility really had technicians using the age-old technique.

“We do have some techs that still have them in the van and use them if they need to,” the company tweeted. “However, we prefer to use listening sticks and other methods.”

Curious, Le Page sent inquiries to 11 other major water companies in the UK. Amazingly, 10 of them confirmed that their technicians sometimes use divining rods to detect leaks, while just two—Northern Ireland Water and Wessex Water—said they never use the technique.

This didn’t sit well with Le Page.

“You could just laugh this off. Isn’t it a bit silly that big companies are still using magic to do their jobs,” she wrote. “Except if they get it wrong, that could mean the difference between an entire town having safe drinking water or not.”

“There Is No Such Thing as the Bible” The messy Scripture on display at the Museum of the Bible.

Original Article

By William Saletan

Visitors listen to a “living history interpreter” in the old Jerusalem exhibit at the Museum of the Bible on Friday in Washington.

Bill O’Leary/Washington Post via Getty Images

Last week, the Museum of the Bible opened in Washington, D.C. When the museum was first conceived, it was intended to “inspire confidence in the absolute authority and reliability of the Bible,” according to documents filed in 2010. But then, scholarship and dialogue intervened. The original vision of Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby and an outspoken conservative evangelical, gave ground to the reality that “the” Bible—a single, clear, definitive text—is a myth.


“There is no such thing as the Bible,” David Trobisch, the museum’s director of collections, said matter-of-factly last week as he sat next to Green at a press lunch organized by the Faith Angle Forum. With Trobisch and other scholars guiding the process, the Museum of the Bible became a real museum, exploring the messy history and shifting contents of the Judeo-Christian canon.


Green’s reputation as a conservative crusader has aroused skepticism of the museum. Critics portray the 430,000-square-foot building, just a few blocks from the Capitol, as a propaganda showcase. But what I found was a surprising degree of frankness, even agnosticism. If you want the cartoon Bible, eternal and infallible, you can find it in quotes from Scripture on purple banners along the walls. “Every word of God is pure,” says one. “The law of the Lord is perfect,” says another. “The Word of our God stands forever,” says a third. But start poking around in the exhibits, and things get interesting. Many Bible stories, you soon learn, aren’t original. The flood, for instance, echoes Babylonian tales. “In each version, a growing population upsets a god,” a plaque explains dryly. “A single hero listens to the supreme being, builds a boat before a catastrophic flood, and then sends out birds.”

Next you discover that the holy book is full of spin. One placard describes how texts of the ancient Assyrians celebrated their conquests of Judean cities. Jewish and Christian bibles, describing the same events, “emphasize how God miraculously preserved Jerusalem.” Cyrus, the Persian king, saw himself as an instrument of Babylon’s deity. But writers of the Hebrew Bible, concerned with a different question—Is it good for the Jews?—”portray Cyrus as an agent of Israel’s God.” After every battle, Arameans and Moabites told the same story the Israelites did: Either their god led them to victory, or he punished them with defeat.

When Trobisch says there’s no such thing as “the” Bible, he’s alluding in part to the seven versions displayed along a wall on the museum’s fourth floor: Hebrew, Samaritan, Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Assyrian. Each has its own selection of texts, a sign on the wall observes, “yet each one is a Bible.” In display cases, you can read about the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and other texts that haven’t made the cut. But don’t count them out. Such “Apocrypha,” another note explains, have been appended to various Bibles, on and off, for centuries.

The more closely you look at the history of Scripture, the more you see how fluid it is. In the New Testament, the gradual canonization of text is obvious. “In time, writings widely associated with the apostles’ teaching came to be regarded as scripture,” says one display. But you also learn how Jews layered texts over the Torah, adding narrative speculations and “expanding the Scriptures” through the Middle Ages.


Interpretation is just one avenue of expansion. Archaeology is another. The Dead Sea Scrolls were unearthed only decades ago, and “new discoveries are still being made,” says one exhibit. Green should know: Hobby Lobby recently paid millions of dollars to settle a government complaint that it had smuggled Iraqi artifacts that may have been looted. Perhaps for that reason, or perhaps out of scholarly humility, the museum’s display of putative Dead Sea Scrolls fragments bears a cautionary note. “Are these fragments real?” it asks. “Research continues.”

The museum’s second-floor collection traces more recent history. It details and laments the persecution of believers. One display bears the title, “Martyrs and the Bible: Dying for the Faith.” But “the faith,” like “the Bible,” turns out to be a myth. Christians have been persecuted largely by other Christians. In Catholic–Protestant clashes, a plaque recalls, “Different versions of the Bible were condemned as unauthorized or heretical” and were destroyed, often with their followers. Dissenters fled to America, but “each group brought its own version of the Bible.” So the conflicts continued.

Today, politicians glorify the Bible as the foundation of democracy, freedom, and civil rights. But the Bible was also invoked against such ideas, and the museum doesn’t hide this. “Throughout history, the Bible has been used as a source of authority for heads of state,” says one display. There’s a case stocked with old religious tracts that defended “the divine right of absolute monarchy.” Another exhibit notes that early feminists used Scripture to justify equal rights for women, but “opposition was scathing, especially among clergymen, who often quoted the Bible to justify women’s subservient status.”

The most striking concession is the museum’s account of the debate over slavery. Scripture was crucial to the movements for abolition and civil rights. But the collection also shows how verses such as Ephesians 6:5 (“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters … as unto Christ”) and Genesis 9:25 (“a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren”) were deployed to rationalize human bondage. One case displays an 1808 book titled Parts of the Holy Bible, Selected for the Use of the Negro Slaves. A note explains that the volume features passages about obedience but “omits all entries that express themes of freedom,” including the story of the Exodus.


The museum can’t entirely avoid contemporary politics, and it struggles with unresolved debates. Galileo, having won his dispute with religious authorities centuries ago, gets a statue and a vindicating plaque. But Darwin doesn’t: The exhibit says only that he sparked a “debate between traditional and more progressive interpretations of the Bible.” On criminal justice, the museum shows no such reticence. It pushes back against the use of passages about an “eye for an eye” and putting people to death. “The Bible tempers retribution with forgiveness and mercy,” says one plaque. Another touts the restorative justice movement and its view that “God’s compassion takes priority over his wrath.”

The museum wasn’t meant to sow doubt. In our meeting last week, Green and the museum’s president, Cary Summers, made clear that they want to inspire visitors to explore God’s word. Green believes that if he can get people to pick up the holy book, it will sell itself. Maybe so. But by yielding to a more scholarly vision of what the museum should be, he’s also betting that a candid presentation of the text’s backstory, uncertainty, and malleability won’t dissolve the idea of “the Bible.” I admire his faith.

Self-driving cars programmed to decide who dies in a crash

Original Article


WASHINGTON — Consider this hypothetical:

It’s a bright, sunny day and you’re alone in your spanking new self-driving vehicle, sprinting along the two-lane Tunnel of Trees on M-119 high above Lake Michigan north of Harbor Springs. You’re sitting back, enjoying the view. You’re looking out through the trees, trying to get a glimpse of the crystal blue water below you, moving along at the 45-mile-an-hour speed limit.

As you approach a rise in the road, heading south, a school bus appears, driving north, one driven by a human, and it veers sharply toward you. There is no time to stop safely, and no time for you to take control of the car.

Does the car:

A. Swerve sharply into the trees, possibly killing you but possibly saving the bus and its occupants?

B. Perform a sharp evasive maneuver around the bus and into the oncoming lane, possibly saving you, but sending the bus and its driver swerving into the trees, killing her and some of the children on board?

C. Hit the bus, possibly killing you as well as the driver and kids on the bus?

In everyday driving, such no-win choices are may be exceedingly rare but, when they happen, what should a self-driving car — programmed in advance — do? Or in any situation — even a less dire one — where a moral snap judgment must be made?

It’s not just a theoretical question anymore, with predictions that in a few years, tens of thousands of semi-autonomous vehicles may be on the roads. About $80 billion has been invested in the field. Tech companies are working feverishly on them, with Google-affiliated Waymo among those testing cars in Michigan, and mobility companies like Uber and Tesla racing to beat them. Automakers are placing a big bet on them. A testing facility to hurry along research is being built at Willow Run in Ypsilanti.

There’s every reason for excitement: Self-driving vehicles will ease commutes, returning lost time to workers; enhance mobility for seniors and those with physical challenges, and sharply reduce the more than 35,000 deaths on U.S. highways each year.

But there are also a host of nagging questions to be sorted out as well, from what happens to cab drivers to whether such vehicles will create sprawl.

And there is an existential question:

Who dies when the car is forced into a no-win situation?

“There will be crashes,” said Van Lindberg, an attorney in the Dykema law firm’s San Antonio office who specializes in autonomous vehicle issues. “Unusual things will happen. Trees will fall. Animals, kids will dart out.” Even as self-driving cars save thousands of lives, he said, “anyone who gets the short end of that stick is going to be pretty unhappy about it.”

Few people seem to be in a hurry to take on these questions, at least publicly.

It’s unaddressed, for example, in legislation moving through Congress that could result in tens of thousands of autonomous vehicles being put on the roads. In new guidance for automakers by the U.S. Department of Transportation, it is consigned to a footnote that says only that ethical considerations are “important” and links to a brief acknowledgement that “no consensus around acceptable ethical decision-making” has been reached.

Whether the technology in self-driving cars is superhuman or not, there is evidence that people are worried about the choices self-driving cars will be programmed to take.

Last year, for instance, a Daimler executive set off a wave of criticism when he was quoted as saying its autonomous vehicles would prioritize the lives of its passengers over anyone outside the car. The company later insisted he’d been misquoted, since it would be illegal “to make a decision in favor of one person and against another.”

Last month, Sebastian Thrun, who founded Google’s self-driving car initiative, told Bloomberg that the cars will be designed to avoid accidents, but that “If it happens where there is a situation where a car couldn’t escape, it’ll go for the smaller thing.”

But what if the smaller thing is a child?

How that question gets answered may be important to the development and acceptance of self-driving cars.

Azim Shariff, an assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine, co-authored a study last year that found that while respondents generally agreed that a car should, in the case of an inevitable crash, kill the fewest number of people possible regardless of whether they were passengers or people outside of the car, they were less likely to buy any car “in which they and their family member would be sacrificed for the greater good.”

Self-driving cars could save tens of thousands of lives each year, Shariff said. But individual fears could slow down acceptance, leaving traditional cars and their human drivers on the road longer to battle it out with autonomous or semi-autonomous cars. Already, the American Automobile Association says three-quarters of U.S. drivers are suspicious of self-driving vehicles.

“These ethical problems are not just theoretical,” said Patrick Lin, director of the Ethics and Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University, who has worked with Ford, Tesla and other autonomous vehicle makers on just such issues.

While he can’t talk about specific discussions, Lin says some automakers “simply deny that ethics is a real problem, without realizing that they’re making ethical judgment calls all the time” in their development, determining what objects the car will “see,” how it will predict what those objects will do next and what the car’s reaction should be.

Does the computer always follow the law? Does it slow down whenever it “sees” a child? Is it programmed to generate a random “human” response? Do you make millions of computer simulations, simply telling the car to avoid killing anyone, ever, and program that in? Is that even an option?

“You can see what a thorny mess it becomes pretty quickly,” said Lindberg. “Who bears that responsibility? … There are half a dozen ways you could answer that question leading to different outcomes.”

The trolley problem

Automakers and suppliers largely downplay the risks of what in philosophical circles is known as “the trolley problem” — named for a no-win hypothetical situation in which, in the original format, a person witnessing a runaway trolley could allow it to hit several people or, by pulling a lever, divert it, killing someone else.

In the circumstance of the self-driving car, it’s often boiled down to a hypothetical vehicle hurtling toward a crowded crosswalk with malfunctioning brakes: A certain number of occupants will die if the car swerves; a number of pedestrians will die if it continues. The car must be programmed to do one or the other.

Philosophical considerations, aside, automakers argue it’s all but bunk — it’s so contrived.

“I don’t remember when I took my driver’s license test that this was one of the questions,” said Manuela Papadopol, director of business development and communications for Elektrobit, a leading automotive software maker and a subsidiary of German auto supplier Continental AG.

If anything, self-driving cars could almost eliminate such an occurrence. They will sense such a problem long before it would become apparent to a human driver and slow down or stop. Redundancies — for brakes, for sensors — will detect danger and react more appropriately.

“The cars will be smart — I don’t think there’s a problem there. There are just solutions,” Papadopol said.

Alan Hall, Ford’s spokesman for autonomous vehicles, described the self-driving car’s capabilities — being able to detect objects with 360-degree sensory data in daylight or at night — as “superhuman.”

“The car sees you and is preparing different scenarios for how to respond,” he said.

Lin said that, in general, many self-driving automakers believe the simple act of braking, of slowing to a stop, solves the trolley problem. But it doesn’t, such as in a theoretical case where you’re being tailgated by a speeding fuel tanker.

Should government decide?

Some experts and analysts believe solving the trolley problem could be a simple matter of regulators or legislators deciding in advance what actions a self-driving car should take in a no-win situation. But others doubt that any set of rules can capture and adequately react to every such scenario.

The question doesn’t need to be as dramatic as asking who dies in a crash either. It could be as simple as deciding what to do about jaywalkers or where a car places itself in a lane next to a large vehicle to make its passengers feel secure or whether to run over a squirrel that darts into a road.

Chris Gerdes, who as director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford University has been working with Ford, Daimler and others on the issue, said the question is ultimately not about deciding who dies. It’s about how to keep no-win situations from happening in the first place and, when they do occur, setting up a system for deciding who is responsible.

A driverless shuttle made its debut in Las Vegas Wednesday with a bump. Police say a semi-truck had a minor collision with the shuttle, less than two hours after the shuttle began carrying passengers. No injuries were reported. (Nov. 8) AP

For instance, he noted California law requires vehicles to yield the crosswalk to pedestrians but also says pedestrians have a duty not to suddenly enter a crosswalk against the light. Michigan and many other states have similar statutes.

Presumably, then, there could be a circumstance in which the responsibility for someone darting into the path of an autonomous vehicle at the last minute rests with that person — just as it does under California law.

But that “forks off into some really interesting questions,” Gerdes said, such as whether the vehicle could potentially be programmed to react differently, say, for a child. “Shouldn’t we treat everyone the same way?” he asked. “Ultimately, it’s a societal decision,” meaning it may have to be settled by legislators, courts and regulators.

That could result in a patchwork of conflicting rules and regulations across the U.S.

“States would continue to have that ability to regulate how they operate on the road,” said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., one of the authors of federal legislation under consideration that would allow for tens of thousands of autonomous vehicles to be tested on U.S. highways in theyears  to come. He says that while design and safety standards will rest with federal regulators, states will continue to impose traffic rules.

Peters acknowledged that it would be “an impossible standard” to eliminate all crashes. But he argued that people need to remember that autonomous vehicles will save tens of thousands of lives a year. In 2015, the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. said research indicated self-driving cars could reduce traffic fatalities by 90% once fully deployed. More than 37,000 people died in U.S. roads in 2016 — the vast majority because of human error.

But researchers, automakers, academics and others understand something else about self-driving cars and the risks they may still pose, namely, that for all their promise to reduce accidents, they can’t eliminate them.

“It comes back to whether you want to find ways to program in specifics or program in desired outcomes,” said Gerdes. “At the end of the day, you’re still required to come up with what you want the desired outcomes to be and the desired outcome cannot be to avoid any accidents all the time.

“It becomes a little uncomfortable sometimes to look at that.”

The hard questions

While some people in the industry, like Tesla’s Elon Musk, believe fully autonomous vehicles could be on U.S. roads within a few years, others say it could be a decade or more — and even longer before the full promise of self-driving cars and trucks is realized.

The trolley problem is just one that has to be cracked before then.

There are others, like those faced by Daryn Nakhuda, CEO of Mighty AI, which is in the business of breaking down into data for self-driving cars all the objects they are going to need to “see” in order to predict and react. A bird flying at the window. A thrown ball. A mail truck parked so there is not enough space in the car’s lane to pass without crossing the center line.

Automakers will have to decide what the car “sees” and what it doesn’t. Seeing everything around it — and processing it — could be a waste of limited processing power. Which means another set of ethical and moral questions.

Then there is the question of how self-driving cars could be taught to learn and respond to the tasks they are given — the stuff of science fiction that seems about to come true.

While self-driving cars can be programmed — told what to do when that school bus comes hurtling toward them  —- there are other options. Through millions of computer simulations and data from real self-driving cars being tested, the cars themselves can begin to learn the “best” way to respond to a given situation.

For example, Waymo — Google’s self-driving car arm — in a recent government filing said through trial and error in simulations, it’s teaching its cars how to navigate a tricky left turn against a flashing yellow arrow at a real intersection in Mesa, Ariz. The simulations — not the programmers — determine when it’s best to inch into the intersection and when it’s best to accelerate through it. And the cars learn how to mimic real driving.

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Ultimately, through such testing, the cars themselves could potentially learn how best to get from Point A to Point B, just by having programmed them to discern what “best” means — say the fastest, safest, most direct route. Through simulation and data shared with real world conditions, the cars would “learn” and execute the request.

Here’s where the science fiction comes in, however.

Playing ‘Go’

A computer programmed to “learn” how to play the ancient Chinese game of Go by just such a means is not only now beating grandmasters for the first time in history — and long after computers were beating grandmasters in chess — it is making moves that seem counterintuitive and inexplicable to expert human players.

What might that look like with cars?

At the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti, Mich., where a testing ground is being completed for self-driving cars, CEO John Maddox said vehicles will be able to put to the test what he calls “edge” cases that vehicles will have to deal with regularly —such as not confusing the darkness of a tunnel with a wall or accurately predicting whether a person is about to step off a curb or not.

The facility will also play a role, through that testing, of getting the public used to the idea of what self-driving cars can do, how they will operate, how they can be far safer than vehicles operated by humans, even if some questions remain about their functioning.

“Education is critical,” Maddox said. “We have to be able to demonstration and illustrate how AVs work and how they don’t work.”

As for the trolley problem, most automakers and experts expect some sort of standard to emerge — even if it’s not entirely clear what it will be.

At SAE International — what was known as the Society of Automotive Engineers, a global standard-making group — Chief Product Officer Frank Menchaca said reaching a perfect standard is a daunting, if not impossible, task, with so many fluid factors involved in any accident: Speed. Situation. Weather conditions. Mechanical performance.

Even with that standard, there may be no good answer to the question of who dies in a no-win situation, he said. Especially if it’s to be judged by a human.

“As human beings, we have hundreds of thousands of years of moral, ethical, religious and social behaviors programmed inside of us,” he added. “It’s very hard to replicate that.”

Flat-earth rocket enthusiast reschedules launch

Original Article

By Amy B Wang and Avi Selk

A California man who planned to launch himself 1,800 feet high on Saturday in a homemade scrap-metal rocket – in an effort to “prove” that Earth is flat – said he is postponing the experiment after he couldn’t get permission from a federal agency to do so on public land.

Instead, Mike Hughes said the launch will take place sometime next week on private property, albeit still in Amboy, California, an unincorporated community in the Mojave Desert along historic Route 66.

“It’s still happening. We’re just moving it three miles down the road,” Hughes told The Washington Post on Friday. “This is what happens any time you have to deal with any kind of government agency.”

Hughes claimed the Bureau of Land Management said he couldn’t launch his rocket as planned on Saturday in Amboy. He also claimed the federal agency had given him verbal permission more than a year ago, pending approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Representatives from the BLM and the FAA did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Hughes said he had originally intended to arrive in Amboy on Wednesday to start setting up the rocket. The BLM’s denial, along with some technical difficulties – a motor in his modified motor home quit working for a day – threw a wrench into his plans, according to Hughes.

“I don’t see [the launch] happening until about Tuesday, honestly,” he said. “It takes three days to set up. . . .You know, it’s not easy because it’s not supposed to be easy.”

Assuming the 500-mph, mile-long flight through the Mojave Desert does not kill him, Hughes told the Associated Press, his journey into the atmosflat will mark the first phase of his ambitious flat-Earth space program.

Hughes’s ultimate goal is a subsequent launch that puts him miles above Earth, where the 61-year-old limousine driver hopes to photograph proof of the disc we all live on.

“It’ll shut the door on this ball earth,” Hughes said in a fundraising interview with a flat-Earth group for Saturday’s flight. Theories discussed during the interview included NASA being controlled by round-Earth Freemasons and Elon Musk making fake rockets from blimps.

Hughes promised the flat-Earth community that he would expose the conspiracy with his steam-powered rocket, which will launch from a heavily modified mobile home – though he acknowledged that he still had much to learn about rocket science.

“This whole tech thing,” he said in the June interview. “I’m really behind the eight ball.”

That said, Hughes isn’t a totally unproven engineer. He set a Guinness World Record in 2002 for a limousine jump, according to Ars Technica, and has been building rockets for years, albeit with mixed results.

“Okay, Waldo. 3 . . . 2 . . . 1!” someone yells in a test fire video from 2012.

There’s a brief hiss of boiling water, then . . . nothing. So Hughes walks up to the engine and pokes it with a stick, at which point a thick cloud of steam belches out toward the camera.

He built his first manned rocket in 2014, the Associated Press reported, and managed to fly a quarter-mile over Winkelman, Arizona.

As seen in a YouTube video, the flight ended with Hughes being dragged, moaning from the remains of the rocket. The injuries he suffered put him in a walker for two weeks, he said.

And the 2014 flight was only a quarter of the distance of Saturday’s mile-long attempt.

And it was based on round-Earth technology.

Hughes only recently converted to flat-Eartherism, after struggling for months to raise funds for his follow-up flight over the Mojave.

It was originally scheduled for early 2016 in a Kickstarter campaign – “From Garage to Outer Space!” – that mentioned nothing about Illuminati astronauts, and was themed after a NASCAR event.

“We want to do this and basically thumb our noses at all these billionaires trying to do this,” Hughes said in the pitch video, standing in his Apple Valley, California, living room, which he had plastered with drawings of his rockets.

“They have not put a man in space yet,” Hughes said. “There are 20 different space agencies here in America, and I’m the last person that’s put a man in a rocket and launched it.” Comparing himself to Evel Knievel, he promised to launch himself from a California racetrack that year as the first step in his steam-powered leap toward space.

The Kickstarter raised $310 of its $150,000 goal.

Hughes made other pitches, including a plan to fly over Texas in a “SkyLimo.” But he complained to Ars Technica last year about the difficulty of funding his dreams on a chauffeur’s meager salary.

A year later, he called into a flat-Earth community web show to announce that he had become a recent convert.

“We were kind of looking for new sponsors for this. And I’m a believer in the flat Earth,” Hughes said. “I researched it for several months.”

The host sounded impressed. Hughes had actually flown in a rocket, he noted, whereas astronauts were merely paid actors performing in front of a CGI globe.

“John Glenn and Neil Armstrong are Freemasons,” Hughes agreed. “Once you understand that, you understand the roots of the deception.”

The host talked of “Elon Musk’s fake reality,” and Hughes talked of “anti-Christ, Illuminati stuff.” After half an hour of this, the host told his 300-some listeners to back Hughes’s exploration of space.

While there is no one hypothesis for what the flat Earth is supposed to look like, many believers envision a flat disc ringed by sea ice, which naturally holds the oceans in.

What’s beyond the sea ice, if anything, remains to be discovered.

“We need an individual who’s not compromised by the government,” the host told Hughes. “And you could be that man.”

A flat-Earth GoFundMe subsequently raised nearly $8,000 for Hughes.

By November, the AP reported, his $20,000 rocket had a fancy coat of Rust-Oleum paint and “RESEARCH FLAT EARTH” inscribed on the side.

While his flat-Earth friends helped him finally get the thing built, the AP reported, Hughes will be making adjustments right up to the launch.

But he won’t be able to test the rocket before he climbs inside and attempts to steam himself at 500 mph across a mile of desert air. And even if it’s a success, he’s promised his backers an even riskier launch within the next year, into the space above the disc. He told Ars Technica last year that the second phase of his mission might involve floating in a balloon up to 20,000 feet above the ground, then rocket-packing himself into outer space.

“It’s scary as hell,” Hughes told the AP. “But none of us are getting out of this world alive.”

This is true. And yet some hope to live to see its edges.

Self-taught rocket scientist plans to launch over California ghost town

The countdown to launch creeps closer and there’s still plenty for self-taught rocket scientist “Mad” Mike Hughes to do: Last-second modifications to his vessel. Pick up his flight suit. Leave enough food for his four cats — just in case anything happens.

Hughes is a 61-year-old limo driver who’s spent the last few years building a steam-powered rocket out of salvage parts in his garage. His project has cost him $20,000, which includes Rust-Oleum paint to fancy it up and a motor home he bought on Craigslist that he converted into a ramp.

His first test of the rocket will also be the launch date — Saturday, when he straps into his homemade contraption and attempts to hurtle over the ghost town of Amboy, California. He will travel about a mile at a speed of roughly 500 mph.

“If you’re not scared to death, you’re an idiot,” Hughes said. “It’s scary as hell, but none of us are getting out of this world alive. I like to do extraordinary things that no one else can do, and no one in the history of mankind has designed, built and launched himself in his own rocket. I’m a walking reality show.”

The daredevil-limo driver has been called a little bit of everything over his career — eccentric, quirky, foolhardy. Doesn’t bother him. He believes what he believes, including that the Earth is flat. He knows this thought is a conundrum, given that he’s about to launch himself into the atmosphere.

Down the road, he’s intending to build a rocket that takes him to space, so he can snap a picture and see with his own eyes.

“I don’t believe in science,” said Hughes, whose main sponsor for the rocket is Research Flat Earth. “I know about aerodynamics and fluid dynamics, and how things move through the air, about the certain size of rocket nozzles, and thrust. But that’s not science, that’s just a formula. There’s no difference between science and science fiction.”


Hughes plans to launch the rocket Saturday over the ghost town of Amboy, California, at a speed of roughly 500 mph.


This will actually be the second time he’s constructed and launched a rocket. He jumped on a private property in Winkelman, Arizona, on Jan. 30, 2014, and traveled 1,374 feet. He collapsed after that landing — the G-forces taking a toll — and needed three days to recover.

That distance, though, would’ve been enough to clear the Snake River Canyon, which is a jump daredevil Evel Knievel made famous when he failed to clear it during his attempt in 1974. Stuntman Eddie Braun did successfully zoom over the canyon — using Knievel’s original blueprints — in September 2016.

Just don’t mention Knievel around Hughes. He’s not a fan.

“He was an average stunt guy,” said Hughes, a former motorcycle racer. “He stole his look from Elvis.”

Hughes constructed his latest rocket at the “Rocket Ranch” in Apple Valley, California. It’s a five-acre property he leases from Waldo Stakes, the CEO of Land Speed Research Vehicles, who’s currently working on a project to make a car travel 2,000 mph.

Their relationship formed a few years ago when Hughes approached Stakes about building a rocket. Stakes receives plenty of these sorts of requests, but this one stood out because Hughes was building it himself.

“Nothing is out of reach,” Stakes said. “Anything can be done. You just have to put enough money, time and thought into it.”

Here’s the thing: Hughes doesn’t make all that much money — $15 per hour as a limo driver, plus tips. That’s why he’s scrounged for parts, finding the aluminum for his rocket in metal shops and constructing the rocket nozzle out of an aircraft air filter. He gave it a good varnish of cheap paint, and his launch pad is attached to a motor home he bought for $1,500.

“I want to inspire others, and you have to do something incredible to get anybody’s attention,” Hughes said.

The location of the jump will be Amboy, a ghost town in the Mojave Desert and along historic Route 66. The fictional town of Radiator Springs in the Disney movie “Cars” was loosely based on Amboy.

Hughes got permission from the town’s owner, Albert Okura, who purchased the rights to Amboy in 2005 for $435,000. The launch will take place on an air strip next to a dilapidated hangar.

“It is absolutely the most wacky promotional proposal I have had since I purchased the entire town in 2005,” said Okura, who’s also the founder of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain. “He is a true daredevil and I want to be part of it.”

On the morning of the launch, Hughes will heat about 70 gallons of water in a stainless steel tank and then blast off between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. He plans to go about a mile — reaching an altitude of about 1,800 feet — before pulling two parachutes. They’re discouraging fans, safety issues, but it will be televised on his YouTube channel. He said he’s been in contact with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Bureau of Land Management.

Following his jump, he said he’s going to announce his plans to leap into the race for governor of California. No joke.

His future plans include an excursion into space. He and Stakes have already brainstormed on a “Rockoon,” which is a rocket that, rather than being immediately ignited while on the ground, is carried into the atmosphere by a gas-filled balloon, then separated from the balloon and lit. This rocket will take Hughes about 68 miles up.

First things first — this jump over a ghost town. He will be tinkering with his rocket right up to takeoff.

“A guy who builds his own rocket in his garage, about to jump a mile is pretty cool,” Hughes said. “It’s the most interesting human-interest story in the world.”


Founder of Florida’s Biggest Megachurch Accused of Molesting a 4-Year-Old

Original Article

By Tim Elfrick

The call came from California. A woman told Coral Springs Police she had recently learned something terrible: A South Florida man had molested her daughter for years. It began when the girl was just 4 years old.

An officer noted the information and called the victim, who was then a teenager. She confirmed the story in stomach-churning detail.

The man had forced her to perform oral sex, she said. He would regularly “finger and fondle her” genitals, make her touch his penis, and “dirty talk” to her. The abuse lasted until she was a teenager, she told the cop. She’d never even told her family about the crimes.

By the end of that harrowing call on August 20, 2015, police knew the accused predator was no ordinary suspect. His name was Bob Coy, and until the previous year, he’d been the most famous Evangelical pastor in Florida.

Over two decades, Coy had built a small storefront church into Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, a 25,000-member powerhouse that packed Dolphin Stadium for Easter services while Coy hosted everyone from George W. Bush to Benjamin Netanyahu. With a sitcom dad’s wholesome looks, a standup comedian’s snappy timing, and an unlikely redemption tale of ditching a career managing Vegas strip clubs to find Jesus, Coy had become a Christian TV and radio superstar.

But then, in April 2014, he resigned in disgrace after admitting to multiple affairs and a pornography addiction. Coy shocked his flock and made national headlines by walking away from his ministry, selling his house, and divorcing his wife.

The sexual assault claims, which have never before been divulged, raise new questions about the pastor, his church, and the police who handled the case. Documents show that Coral Springs cops sat on the accusations for months before dropping the inquiry without even interviewing Coy. His attorneys, meanwhile, persuaded a judge with deep Republican ties to seal the ex-pastor’s divorce file to protect Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale from scrutiny.

The revelations come at a sensitive moment for Calvary’s national network of about 1,800 churches, which have been riven by legal infighting and dogged by claims that bad pastors have been allowed to run amok. In fact, at least eight pastors, staffers, and volunteers in Calvary Chapel’s network around the United States have been charged with abusing children since 2010. In one case, victims claimed the church knowingly moved a pedophile to another city without warning parents.

“Religious leaders have a tremendous amount of power over their flock,” says Scott Thumma, a professor of sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary who has studied the Calvary movement. “If Calvary gives these pastors this much authority and they use and abuse it with no accountability, they have to blame themselves.”

Coy, who was never charged with a crime, lay low after leaving Calvary but recently turned up at Boca Raton’s Funky Biscuit, where he helps manage the club. (Update:The club has now terminated its relationship with Coy and says it had no inkling of the allegations against him.) Tracked down at the bar on a recent weeknight, the well-dressed ex-pastor looks no different from the days when he preached to thousands of followers. He declined to discuss the child abuse case except to say he is innocent and passed a polygraph test to prove it.

“I can’t discuss it on the record,” he said, before adding cryptically: “If you’re foolish enough to go through with this story… it would hurt a lot of people.”

Were there other abuse claims against Coy during the nearly three decades he controlled Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale? The church won’t say, though a spokesman says the chapel was “saddened to hear of the allegations.” That’s not good enough, critics say.

“There could be other victims out there,” says Michael Newnham, an Oregon-based pastor who runs a blog critical of Calvary Chapel. “We need answers.”

Founder of Florida's Biggest Megachurch Accused of Molesting a 4-Year-Old (3)

Illustration by Joseph Laney

Coy’s life story is biblical in scope and obvious in moral lessons. Long before his epic fall from grace, the pastor used his own struggles with sex and drugs to preach that anyone could find redemption in Jesus.

Born in 1955 and raised in Royal Oak, a suburb north of Detroit, he grew up in a strict Lutheran family but didn’t buy into the church. “I was brought up in a very religious, traditional Midwestern home,” he told Ed Stetzer, a Wheaton College professor, in a 2013 interview for a video series. “I was brought into the Lutheran church without a choice… that’s where I learned what a religious environment was like, but I was missing the spiritual thing.”

Instead, Coy drifted to his hometown’s specialty: rock music. In his 1973 senior class portrait, his dark hair, parted neatly down the middle, hangs well past his shoulders. After graduating, he found a career in the entertainment industry. In fact, he says Capitol Records paid him to party.

“I was living a life of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, literally,” Coy told Stetzer. “My job was to make sure that the artists on Capitol Records were happy and entertained when they were in my city. That lent itself to a very youthful, crazy, wild lifestyle. So crazy that I became addicted to cocaine.”

Even in the chemically altered ’70s music business, Coy’s appetites were too voracious. So after some unspecified “very embarrassing behavior,” Capitol fired him. Coy then moved to an even more debauched scene: Las Vegas. He found work as the entertainment director at the Jolly Trolley, a storefront casino and strip club, where he said he wasted away his early 20s in a haze of sex, coke, and alcohol.

But in 1981, his life changed forever thanks to an epic holiday hangover and his brother Jim, who’d already found religion.

“I had been invited to his house for Christmas dinner and I skipped it,” Coy told Stetzer. “We had a big party at the casino — girls, cocaine, alcohol, the whole thing. I was feeling horrible.”

When a blitzed, 26-year-old Coy went to see his brother the next day, Jim threw a Bible at him and told him to read it. Coy opened it to the Gospel of John, and by the time he hit 3:16 — “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” — he said he was weeping uncontrollably.

He was ready to give his life to the church.

He quit the cocaine and strippers, began training as a preacher, met his wife Diane, and moved to South Florida. Coy rented space for his church from a funeral parlor in Oakland Park and made ends meet by selling shoes while his wife worked as a waitress.

Coy aligned his fledgling church with Calvary Chapel, a movement started in Southern California in the 1960s by Chuck Smith, a laid-back West Coaster who wore Hawaiian shirts while he preached a fire-and-brimstone, old-school religion. Smith was among the first pastors to make a startling discovery: Many of the hippies and disaffected youth who’d come for the Summer of Love had realized psychedelic drugs and the Grateful Dead weren’t filling the holes in their lives. They wanted spirituality but could never go back to their parents’ churches.

At Smith’s church, “you could come in jeans, and it didn’t matter what your hair looked like or how long your beard was,” says Thumma, the Hartford professor. “It was attractive on both sides, for the Christians who hadn’t really gotten into the drug culture but were younger and wanted something new… and for the people who had come through ’60s free love and drugs and needed some stability.”

Smith even launched a music label and began fusing Evangelical faith with electric guitars and drum kits. His idea was a huge hit, one of the first in a wave that has become known as the Jesus movement. His church started with just 25 members in a Costa Mesa lot in 1965, but by the mid-2000s, it had grown to include hundreds of affiliated chapels around the nation and internationally plus a lucrative array of radio stations.

With his tale of drug addiction and strip clubs, the newly redeemed Coy was a perfect fit for Calvary’s edgier message. And Coy turned out to be a charismatic preacher. He’s an engaging storyteller — “somewhere between Billy Graham and Billy Crystal,” the Miami Herald once suggested — with an easy laugh and a voice that excitedly rises into high nasal registers.

By 1986, his church had outgrown the funeral parlor and attracted about 1,200 regulars to an Oakland Park chapel. He had a staff of 13. Like his mentor Smith, he looked for converts in unusual places. As spring breakers poured into Fort Lauderdale to bong beers, he set up “The Recovery Room” at the Jolly Roger motel, where he offered live music, first aid, and — of course — Evangelical literature. Coy soon upgraded again, by moving to a warehouse in Pompano Beach, where thousands came every week to watch him preach.

“We loved him because of his realness. He never hid who he was,” says Tina Rivera-John, who began attending Calvary in the mid-’90s when she was 12 years old. “He was just transparent, and he could be very funny as well.”

Like Smith, though, Coy used his relaxed persona to sell a deeply conservative brand of Christianity. He ran gay-conversion groups and preached that all nonbelievers would go to Hell. As his star rose and his congregation grew into the tens of thousands, the Sun Sentinel solicited weekly faith columns written by Coy. In a piece about the Iraq War, he called Saddam Hussein a “rabid dog” and wrote that “we cannot simply sit idly by and let evil happen.” In another, he called adultery “the ultimate betrayal of trust in human relationship” and cautioned that “repentance is not just being sorry that you were caught.”

In 1996, the church paid $21 million for a 75-acre campus just east of Florida’s Turnpike off Cyprus Creek Road, where Coy often dipped into politics to guide his massive flock. His church fought in 2002 to remove LGBT people from protection under Broward’s Human Rights Ordinance, and Coy loudly defended George W. Bush’s disastrous Iraq War: “I believe in war because it’s biblical, scriptural, and religious,” he told his followers in one sermon. In 2004, he even campaigned with Dubya around South Florida.

Coy sued Fort Lauderdale in 2003 after the city tried to block Calvary from placing a sign with a Christian message at a Christmas light show. Coy’s church won the suit — plus $81,000 in damages and fees — and the city, which organized the event, stopped offering sponsorships out of concern that hate groups might take advantage of the ruling.

Coy became a key endorsement for local Republicans, including conspiracy theorist U.S. Rep. Allen West, whom Calvary hosted as a keynote speaker at a conference to train more than 100 local conservatives to run for office more effectively.

Calvary was among the first churches in the nation to air podcasts, stream services online, and simulcast sermons at satellite campuses (the church had opened campuses in Plantation and Boca). His popularity soared. He toured the nation on Evangelical radio and TV shows, hung around with Billy Graham, and published books and CDs.

In 2005, Coy’s church rented out Dolphin Stadium on Easter Sunday and drew more than 20,000 people. The next year, he raised an insane $103 million in donations — the most by a single megachurch to date. He sat on a U.S. presidential advisory board and received weekly updates straight from GOP mastermind Karl Rove. In 2006, gubernatorial candidates Charlie Crist and Tom Gallagher personally pleaded for Coy’s endorsement, though he declined.

Coy had forsaken rock ‘n’ roll for Jesus but then became a rock star anyway. Huge crowds hung on his every word. Young women begged for photos. And somewhere along the line, Coy slipped right back into his old life.

Founder of Florida's Biggest Megachurch Accused of Molesting a 4-Year-Old (4)

Illustration by Joseph Laney

On a Sunday evening in April 2014, thousands packed into Calvary Chapel’s sanctuary, a cavernous space that looks more like a midsize city’s convention center than a church. As they sank into plush, arena-style seats and flipped open well-thumbed copies of the Bible, Coy’s followers quickly noticed something was very wrong. The rock band that usually played raucous hymns to start services was missing. And a grim-looking assistant pastor, gripping a letter, was walking across the stage.

Pastor Bob had suddenly resigned, the assistant pastor told the stunned crowd. He had admitted to a grave “moral failing.” Ushers passed tissue boxes down the rows as his followers wept.

“People were really, really hurt,” says Colleen Healy, a Broward resident who began following Coy in 1995. “I was really hurt. I’ll never forget that meeting.”

Coy’s preaching career ended with shocking speed, but his sex scandal was far from the first for Calvary Chapel. In fact, the church had been battling accusations nationwide for years that it empowered predatory pastors while demanding little accountability.

The root of Calvary’s problems, critics say, lies in its unique structure. Unlike many Protestant churches, which set up powerful boards of elders to oversee ministers, Calvary used a management style Smith called the “Moses method.”

“Moses was the leader appointed by God,” Smith told Christianity Today in 2007. “We are not led by a board of elders.”

Instead, the pastors Smith installed in his hundreds of megachurches, which are similar to Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, had nearly unlimited power over budgets, personnel, and message. And even if complaints arose, Smith’s answer was often to give wayward preachers second and third chances.

In 2007, Christianity Today spoke to numerous Calvary pastors across the country. Some complained anonymously that Smith was “dangerously lax in maintaining standards for sexual morality” among his preachers. “Those men cannot call sin sin,” one 20-year veteran of the church complained to the publication.

There were ample cases to make that point. In 2003, John Flores, a pastor at Smith’s flagship in Costa Mesa, was arrested for having sex with the 15-year-old daughter of another pastor. According to Christianity Today, he’d been fired twice before for sexual misconduct, including once after getting caught having sex on church grounds, but kept getting his job back. (Flores was eventually convicted of sex with the minor.)

Two years later, a Calvary Chapel in Laguna Beach fired its pastor for adultery and embezzlement — but Smith quickly rehired him to preach at the nearby Costa Mesa church.

That same year, the church found itself in a bizarre scandal centered on a lucrative, 400-station radio network and its head, Idaho-based Pastor Mike Kestler. He had been in hot water in the ’90s when multiple women in his church claimed he’d sexually harassed them, but Smith gave him another chance.

In a lawsuit, a woman named Lori Pollitt said after she had moved from Texas to Idaho to work for Kestler, he repeatedly demanded she divorce her husband, give up her children to adoption, and marry him. When she rebuffed him, she said he stalked her and put a “hangman’s noose” in front of her house.

This time, Smith and his son Jeff actually turned on their pastor, pushing him out. They ended up locked in dueling lawsuits, with the pastor accusing Calvary’s leaders of skimming profits and the Smiths charging that he used his influence running the radio stations to pressure women into sex. (The cases were settled out of court.)

The next year, Santa Ana police investigated the Costa Mesa chapel after a 12-year-old told a staffer that a pastor had been touching her inappropriately. Police said they couldn’t find enough evidence to press charges, but the staffer claimed the church forced him to resign for alerting the authorities.

In 2006, Coy’s church in Fort Lauderdale landed in court over claims of lax oversight. A Calvary Chapel member named Rodger Thomas was arrested that year and charged with repeatedly molesting a 15-year-old girl at a high school run by the church. Two years later, her family sued Calvary, alleging leaders should have done more to stop Thomas. A jury awarded the family $360,000 but ruled Calvary wasn’t culpable.

The most serious claim against Calvary’s national church came in 2011, when four men in Idaho filed a federal suit alleging a youth minister named Anthony Iglesias had molested them between 2000 and 2003. Even worse, they said church officials knew full well he was a pedophile: He’d been kicked out of another Calvary youth ministry in California after being charged with sex crimes there.

That case was settled out of court, but the attorney who brought the case says that, in general terms, Smith’s habit of forgiving and rehiring pastors who have committed sexual offenses is a recipe for disaster.

“Typically, how it goes in these cases is you have a violator in the church, but the leaders will have this notion that if he repents, he’s forgiven, and then we don’t have to talk about it any more,” says Leander James, who specializes in church child abuse cases. “That whole approach always ends up hiding pedophiles.”

Neither Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, the movement’s flagship, nor the Calvary Chapel Association returned messages from New Times seeking comment for this story.

It’s still not clear how Coy’s sexual indiscretions came to light in 2014. But two weeks after his surprise resignation, Assistant Pastor Chet Lowe filled Coy’s followers in on what had happened.

“Our former pastor was caught in sin,” Lowe said April 16, according to the Sun Sentinel. “Our pastor, he committed adultery with more than one woman. Our pastor, he committed sexual immorality, habitually, through pornography. Rest assured, God will not be mocked.”

Coy’s flock, which had followed him for decades as the church became Florida’s largest, was devastated. Hundreds left or found other churches while Calvary scrambled to find a new leader, eventually settling on Pastor Doug Sauder, a less flashy but respected veteran of the organization.

“When Pastor Bob left, people definitely left too because they wanted to follow him or because they were just hurt,” says Healy, the longtime church member.

Coy’s faithful didn’t know it, but just over a year after the pastor’s resignation for adultery, Coral Springs Police launched their investigation into a far worse allegation. It’s unclear how seriously they took the claim of the teenager — whom New Times is not naming in accordance with our policy on reporting on victims of sexual abuse — who said Coy had forced her to have sex even when she was only 4 years old. But the case soon stalled.

The department assigned the case to Det. Jeff Payne, a veteran investigator in the usually sleepy, affluent suburb of 120,000. Payne had experience with sensitive cases involving sex crimes; earlier that year, he’d investigated a high-ranking cop for allegedly assaulting a 13-year-old girl. Payne had taken his case against Fort Lauderdale Police Maj. Eric Brogna to the Broward County State Attorney’s Office, but prosecutors declined to press charges.

In the Coy case, though, Payne never made that kind of headway. Shortly after resigning, the disgraced pastor moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Calvary Chapel has another affiliate church. (It’s unclear if he worked there.) Coy says he was never approached by the police about the allegations.

Indeed, police records show no progress on the case until eight months later, on April 4, 2016, when Coy’s young accuser showed up at Coral Springs Police headquarters. She told Payne she was “moving tomorrow [overseas] on a mission trip with the church, and asked if it was possible to destroy any record of [her] abuse,” the detective wrote in a closeout memo. The woman told him “she had an experience with God and has found forgiveness” for Coy over his abuse.

The detective told her that he couldn’t destroy the files, but he closed the case that day. Coy wouldn’t be charged over her allegations. Broward State Attorney Mike Satz says he was never notified about the investigation.

“The law enforcement agency makes [its] decision on whether to bring the case to us,” says Ron Ishoy, a spokesman for Satz. “They do what they feel is right based on the evidence they have.”

Founder of Florida's Biggest Megachurch Accused of Molesting a 4-Year-Old (5)

Illustration by Joseph Laney

It’s October 2017, and Bob Coy hunches over a laptop in a far corner of the Funky Biscuit, a dimly lit club in Mizner Park in Boca Raton. The New Jersey-based folk-rock band Driftwood is still a few hours from taking the stage, and a handful of early arrivals sip beer and laugh over the canned blues soundtrack.

Although he’s spent years away from the altar, Coy still looks straight out of central casting for a hip Evangelical preacher. His gray goatee is neatly trimmed, and he wears a light-blue plaid shirt and expensive jeans. But since returning to South Florida, he’s spent most nights here, helping run the Funky Biscuit — a late return to his music industry roots.

Coy is friendly and voluble, but his lively green eyes suddenly brim with tears when he’s asked about the sexual assault claims.

“If we go off the record, I could tell you a lot,” he says. “I took a polygraph.” But he declines to share the results of the test, which he says was not done for the police. He claims his record as pastor at Calvary Chapel was unblemished by sexual harassment or molestation claims.

“There were no other allegations,” he says. “Never.”

Coy has never been criminally charged, and if there were other cases of sexual harassment or abuse in the decades he ran Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, neither the church nor cops have revealed them. The church didn’t respond to a detailed set of questions from New Times, instead sending a general statement about the former pastor.

“We learned of this report after it was disclosed and reported to the appropriate authorities,” says Michael Miller, a church spokesman. “We take every allegation of abuse seriously, and our prayers are with the Coy family as they pursue redemption and healing.”

The church Coy helped build has moved on without him, but the national Calvary organization has struggled. In late 2013, Chuck Smith died at the age of 86 after battling lung cancer. His daughter, Janette Manderson, and his widow, Kay, sued the organization, alleging its leaders conspired to take over Smith’s empire and even denied him emergency medical care on his deathbed. Their lawsuit was dismissed this past July. (Attorneys for both sides declined to comment on the terms.)

Amid that legal battle, the movement essentially split in half shortly after Smith’s death. The founder’s son-in-law, Brian Brodersen, left the network of Calvary churches and started his own organization with many of the chapels, including Coy’s old church in Fort Lauderdale. Others stayed in Smith’s original system.

“When Chuck Smith died, there was nothing left to hold back all the competing factions,” church critic Michael Newnham says. “They have been at war ever since.”

This year, Calvary has been hit by even more sexual abuse claims. In May, Matt Tague, an assistant pastor at North Coast Calvary Chapel in San Diego, was arrested on 16 counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a minor under 14 years old. Police say the victim wasn’t a church member, and Calvary Chapel says it immediately fired Tague upon learning about the claims.

Then, on July 18, police arrested 41-year-old Roshad Thomas, who had spent 13 years as a volunteer youth pastor at Calvary Chapel Tallahassee. He’s accused of molesting at least ten children aged 13 to 16 over several years, victimizing members of the youth group he led after taking them back to his apartment.

Police say Thomas has admitted to the abuse (though his criminal trial is pending). The chapel’s founder, Kent Nottingham, told a local TV station that there’d been no suspicion of abuse and that he was “shocked.”

Coy has also been dragged through legal battlefields since his resignation from the church. In January 2016, he and Diane filed for divorce in Broward County. They’d already sold their Coral Springs house about six months after he resigned; the settlement divided their substantial remaining assets — including a $330,000 Hillsboro Beach condo he still owns — and defined custody of their two children. The divorce file includes nearly 30 pages of documents related to their finances and settlements.

But on February 22 of that year, the case went to Judge Tim Bailey, a member of a powerful conservative family; his father, Patrick, founded the Pompano Beach Republican Club, and both father and son had chaired Broward’s Judicial Nominating Commission. That body recommends candidates for higher legal office to the governor. In Coy’s case, Bailey made a relatively unusual ruling: All financial documents would be kept secret. Why? To “avoid substantial injury” to Coy’s former employer — Calvary Chapel — according to the court file.

To critics such as Newnham, there’s only one reason to fight for a ruling like that: to hide from churchgoers the amount of cash the church gave Coy to go away. The case reeks of political favoritism. “These guys have been covering for Coy for a long time,” Newnham says, “and they’re still covering for him now.” (Judge Bailey didn’t respond to messages from New Times to comment on this story.)

If Coy’s resignation stunned his followers, it hasn’t hurt Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale much in the long run. The church still claims about 20,000 members, and on a recent Wednesday night, thousands of them poured in for a service led by Pastor Sauder, Coy’s replacement.

The chapel’s grounds are more expansive than those of many colleges and brim with high-end features: an Astroturf soccer field, a huge playroom stuffed with kid-size toy airplanes and plush animals, even a fine-dining restaurant where sermons and musical performances are live-streamed as guests feast on cooked-to-order steaks.

In the huge sanctuary, a ten-piece band — including four guitarists, a drummer surrounded by glass sound walls, and two keyboardists — rocked out in front of a laser display that wouldn’t be out of place on a Justin Bieber tour. As churchgoers held their hands up in ecstasy, Sauder read from Matthew and promised that Jesus was ready to heal.

If you’re broken, Jesus will be gentle with you in your anger and disillusionment,” Sauder said. “If you’re angry or you’re disillusioned or you’re fearful, if you embarrass yourself or you disappoint yourself… he can take all the mess and turn it into something beautiful.”

Coy certainly paid a heavy price for his infidelity: His family has broken to pieces, and his chapels packed with thousands of adoring fans have been replaced with a half-full nightclub in Boca.

But Newnham says the pastor still has more to answer for — especially because his sources say Coy has been trying to mobilize investors to start a new church.

“He’s contacted many former associates to try to get funding. There’s no question he wants back in the game,” Newnham says. “We need to stop him. In my opinion, if he did this [to one victim], it’s just a question of how many others are out there. He can’t be put in a position of power ever again.”



The FDA has approved the first digital pill

Original Article

By Thuy Ong

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first digital pill for the US which tracks if patients have taken their medication. The pill called Abilify MyCite, is fitted with a tiny ingestible sensor that communicates with a patch worn by the patient — the patch then transmits medication data to a smartphone app which the patient can voluntarily upload to a database for their doctor and other authorized persons to see. Abilify is a drug that treats schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and is an add-on treatment for depression.

The Abilify MyCite features a sensor the size of a grain of sand made of silicon, copper, and magnesium. An electrical signal is activated when the sensor comes into contact with stomach acid — the sensor then passes through the body naturally. A patch the patient wears on their left rib cage receives the signal several minutes after the pill is ingested. The patch then sends data like the time the pill was taken and the dosage to a smartphone app over Bluetooth, and must be replaced every seven days. The patient’s doctor and up to four other people chosen by the patient, including family members, can access the information. The patient can revoke access at any time.

Example of a digital medicine system
 Photo: Proteus Digital Health

The pill comes after years of research and is a venture between Japanese pharmaceutical company Otsuka and digital medicine service Proteus Digital Health, which makes the sensor. The pill is one way to address the prevalent problem of patients not taking their medication correctly, with the IMS Institute estimating that the improper and unnecessary use of medicine cost the US healthcare sector over $200 billion in 2012. The approval also opens the door for pills that are used for other conditions beyond mental health to be digitized.

Example of a digital medicine system
 Photo: Proteus Digital Health

Experts though, have expressed concerns over what the pill might mean for privacy. Some are worried that tracking pills will be a step towards punishing patients who don’t comply. Ameet Sarpatwari, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School told The New York Times the digital pill “has the potential to improve public health. [But] if used improperly, it could foster more mistrust instead of trust.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that the FDA is anticipating a potential raft of approval requests for other digital pills. A spokesperson told the publication the FDA is planning to hire more staff with “deep understanding” of software development in relation to medical devices, and engage with entrepreneurs on new guidelines.

Otsuka hasn’t indicated how much the digitized Abilify pills will cost yet. The WSJ reports the company plans to work with some insurers in covering the digitized pills with production planned to be ramped up only if it can find willing insurers.

Correction November 16th, 11:07am ET: A previous version of this story listed additional features in the MyCite patch that were listed on the manufacturer’s website. The story has been changed to reflect the FDA-approved features.

First Digital Pill Approved to Worries About Biomedical ‘Big Brother’

Original Article

By Pam Belluck

For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a digital pill — a medication embedded with a sensor that can tell doctors whether, and when, patients take their medicine.

The approval, announced late on Monday, marks a significant advance in the growing field of digital devices designed to monitor medicine-taking and to address the expensive, longstanding problem that millions of patients do not take drugs as prescribed.

Experts estimate that so-called nonadherence or noncompliance to medication costs about $100 billion a year, much of it because patients get sicker and need additional treatment or hospitalization.

“When patients don’t adhere to lifestyle or medications that are prescribed for them, there are really substantive consequences that are bad for the patient and very costly,” said Dr. William Shrank, chief medical officer of the health plan division at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Ameet Sarpatwari, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, said the digital pill “has the potential to improve public health,” especially for patients who want to take their medication but forget.

Continue reading the main story

But, he added, “if used improperly, it could foster more mistrust instead of trust.”

Patients who agree to take the digital medication, a version of the antipsychotic Abilify, can sign consent forms allowing their doctors and up to four other people, including family members, to receive electronic data showing the date and time pills are ingested.

A smartphone app will let them block recipients anytime they change their mind. Although voluntary, the technology is still likely to prompt questions about privacy and whether patients might feel pressure to take medication in a form their doctors can monitor.

Dr. Peter Kramer, a psychiatrist and the author of “Listening to Prozac,” raised concerns about “packaging a medication with a tattletale.”

While ethical for “a fully competent patient who wants to lash him or herself to the mast,” he said, “‘digital drug’ sounds like a potentially coercive tool.”

Other companies are developing digital medication technologies, including another ingestible sensor and visual recognition technology capable of confirming whether a patient has placed a pill on the tongue and has swallowed it.

Not all will need regulatory clearance, and some are already being used or tested in patients with heart problems, stroke, H.I.V., diabetes and other conditions.

Because digital tools require effort, like using an app or wearing a patch, some experts said they might be most welcomed by older people who want help remembering to take pills and by people taking finite courses of medication, especially for illnesses like tuberculosis, in which nurses often observe patients taking medicine.

The technology could potentially be used to monitor whether post-surgical patients took too much opioid medication or clinical trial participants correctly took drugs being tested.

Insurers might eventually give patients incentives to use them, like discounts on copayments, said Dr. Eric Topol, director of Scripps Translational Science Institute, adding that ethical issues could arise if the technology was “so much incentivized that it almost is like coercion.”

Another controversial use might be requiring digital medicine as a condition for parole or releasing patients committed to psychiatric facilities.

Abilify is an arguably unusual choice for the first sensor-embedded medicine. It is prescribed to people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and, in conjunction with an antidepressant, major depressive disorder.

Many patients with these conditions do not take medication regularly, often with severe consequences. But symptoms of schizophrenia and related disorders can include paranoia and delusions, so some doctors and patients wonder how widely digital Abilify will be accepted.

“Many of those patients don’t take meds because they don’t like side effects, or don’t think they have an illness, or because they become paranoid about the doctor or the doctor’s intentions,” said Dr. Paul Appelbaum, director of law, ethics and psychiatry at Columbia University’s psychiatry department.

“A system that will monitor their behavior and send signals out of their body and notify their doctor?” he added. “You would think that, whether in psychiatry or general medicine, drugs for almost any other condition would be a better place to start than a drug for schizophrenia.”

The newly approved pill, called Abilify MyCite, is a collaboration between Abilify’s manufacturer, Otsuka, and Proteus Digital Health, a California company that created the sensor.

The sensor, containing copper, magnesium and silicon (safe ingredients found in foods), generates an electrical signal when splashed by stomach fluid, like a potato battery, said Andrew Thompson, Proteus’s president and chief executive.

After several minutes, the signal is detected by a Band-Aid-like patch that must be worn on the left rib cage and replaced after seven days, said Andrew Wright, Otsuka America’s vice president for digital medicine.

The patch sends the date and time of pill ingestion and the patient’s activity level via Bluetooth to a cellphone app. The app allows patients to add their mood and the hours they have rested, then transmits the information to a database that physicians and others who have patients’ permission can access.

Otsuka has not determined a price for Abilify MyCite, which will be rolled out next year, first to a limited number of health plans, Mr. Wright said. The price, and whether digital pills improve adherence, will greatly affect how widely they are used.

Questions about the technology’s ability to increase compliance remain.

Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, said many psychiatrists would likely want to try digital Abilify, especially for patients who just experienced their first psychotic episode and are at risk of stopping medication after feeling better.

But he noted it has only been approved to track doses, and has not yet been shown to improve adherence.

“Is it going to lead to people having fewer relapses, not having unnecessary hospital readmissions, being able to improve their vocational and social life?” he asked.

He added, “There’s an irony in it being given to people with mental disorders that can include delusions. It’s like a biomedical Big Brother.”

Abilify, a widely used drug, went off patent recently, and while other companies can sell the generic form, aripiprazole, Otsuka has exclusive rights to embed it with Proteus’s sensor, said Robert McQuade, Otsuka’s executive vice president and chief strategic officer.

“It’s not intended for all patients with schizophrenia, major depressive disorder and bipolar,” he added. “The physician has to be confident the patient can actually manage the system.”

Dr. McQuade said, “We don’t have any data currently to say it will improve adherence,” but will likely study that after sales begin.

Proteus has spent years bringing its sensor to commercial use, raising about $400 million from investors, including Novartis and Medtronic, Mr. Thompson said.

Until now, the sensor could not be embedded in pills, but pharmacies could be commissioned to place it in a capsule along with another medication.

In 2016, the encapsulated sensor started being used outside of clinical trials, but commercial use is still limited, Mr. Thompson said.

Nine health systems in six states have begun prescribing it with medications for conditions including hypertension and hepatitis C, the company said, adding that it has been found to improve adherence in patients with uncontrolled hypertension and others.


William Jiang, who has schizophrenia, took Abilify for 16 years. He said he would not welcome a digital pill, but thinks it could help patients who don’t regularly take their medicine. CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times

AiCure, a smartphone-based visual recognition system in which patients document taking medicine, has had success with tuberculosis patientstreated by the Los Angeles County Health Department and is working with similar patients in Illinois, said Adam Hanina, AiCure’s chief executive.

He said AiCure has shown promising results with other conditions, including in schizophrenia patients whose pill-taking would otherwise require direct observation.

A Florida company, etectRx, makes another ingestible sensor, the ID-Cap, which has been or is being tested with opioids, H.I.V. medication and other drugs.

Made of magnesium and silver chloride, it is encapsulated with pills and avoids using a patch because it generates “a low-power radio signal that can be picked up by a little antenna that’s somewhere near you,” said Harry Travis, etectRx’s president, who said the company plans to seek F.D.A. clearance next year.

The signal is detected by a reader worn around the neck, but etectRx aims to fit readers into watchbands or cellphone cases.

“I get questions all the time, ‘Hey is the government going to use this, and can you track me?’” said Eric Buffkin, an etectRx senior vice president. “Frankly, there is a creepiness factor of this whole idea of medicine tracking.

“The thing I tell them first and foremost is there’s nothing to reach out of this technology to pry your mouth open and make you take a pill. If you are fundamentally opposed to this idea of sharing the information, then say, ‘No thank you.’”

Seeking to address concerns about privacy and coercion, Otsuka officials contracted with several bioethicists. Among them, I. Glenn Cohen, a Harvard law professor, said safeguards adopted include allowing patients to instantly stop physicians and others from seeing some or all of their data.

Asked whether it might be used in circumstances like probation or involuntary hospitalization, Otsuka officials said that was not their intention or expectation, partly because Abilify MyCite only works if patients want to use the patch and app.

How patients will view Abilify MyCite is unclear. Tommy, 50, of Queens, N.Y., who takes Abilify for schizoaffective disorder, participated in a clinical trial for digital Abilify.

Tommy, who withheld his last name to protect his privacy, encountered minor issues, saying the patch was “a little bit uncomfortable” and once gave him a rash.

A compliant patient, Tommy said he does not need monitoring. “I haven’t had paranoid thoughts for a long time — it’s not like I believe they’re beaming space aliens,” he said. If offered digital Abilify, he said, “I wouldn’t do it again.”

But the method might appeal to patients who want to prove their compliance, build trust with their psychiatrist, or who feel “paranoid about getting accused of not taking their medicine.”

Steve Colori, 31, of Danvers, Mass., who wrote a memoir about his illness, “Experiencing and Overcoming Schizoaffective Disorder,” said he took Abilify years ago for symptoms including believing,“I was a messiah.”

Although he sometimes stopped taking medication, he would consider digital pills “overbearing and I think it stymies someone and halts progress in therapy.”

William Jiang, 44, a writer in Manhattan with schizophrenia, took Abilify for 16 years. He said he steadfastly takes medication to prevent recurrence of episodes of paranoia when “I was convinced everybody was trying to murder me.”

He said some noncompliant patients might take digital Abilify, especially to avoid Abilify injections recommended to patients who skip pills.

“I would not want an electrical signal coming out of my body strong enough so my doctor can read it,” Mr. Jiang said.

“But right now, it’s either you take your pills when you’re unsupervised, or you get a shot in the butt. Who wants to get shot in the butt?”

US breaks ground for new permanent base in Israel

Original Article

By  Barbara Opall-Rome

TEL AVIV, Israel — U.S. and Israeli officers broke ground in Israel on Monday for a permanent U.S. Army base that will house dozens of U.S. soldiers, operating under the American flag, and charged with the mission of defending against rocket and missile attack.

The American base, officers in Israel say, will be an independent facility co-located at the Israel Defense Forces Air Defense School in southern Israel, near the desert capital of Beersheba. Once completed, the base will house U.S. operational systems to identify and intercept a spectrum of aerial threats, along with barracks, recreational and other facilities required to support several dozen American air defenders.

“A few dozens of soldiers of our American allies will be stationed here permanently. They are part of an American task force that will be stationed here,” said Israeli Air Force Brig. Gen. Zvika Haimovich, the IDF‘s air defense commander.

According to Haimovich, the co-located, permanent U.S. presence will enhance Israel’s ability to detect and defend against the growing rocket and missile threat. “The purpose of their presence is not for training or for exercises, but rather as part of a joint Israeli and American effort to sustain and enhance our defensive capabilities.”

Maj. Gen. John Gronski, deputy commanding general of the Army National Guard in U.S. Army Europe, led the U.S. delegation participating in Sept. 18 ceremonies.

The United States is to create a new permanent base in Israel, something the U.S. Army National Guard’s deputy commanding general says “signifies the strong bond” between the U.S. and Israel. “We’ll have Israeli airmen, U.S. soldiers living and working side-by-side,” Maj. Gen. John L. Gronski said. (Israel Defense Forces) Correction: A previous version of this video misidentified the force Gronski helps command. He is with the U.S. Army National Guard.

Referring to the site as Site 883 Life Support Area, Gronski said the planned base “signifies the strong bond” that exists between the United States and Israel.

“This life support area represents the first ever stationing of a U.S. Army unit on Israeli soil,” he said. “The U.S. and Israel have long planned together, exercised together, trained together. And now, with the opening of this site, these crucial interactions will occur every day. We’ll have Israeli airmen, US soldiers living and working side by side.”

While the new U.S. base marks the first to be co-located within an Israeli base and the first in which active interceptors are to be deployed, the U.S. military has operated an independent facility for nearly a decade in the same general area of Israel’s Negev desert. That facility — which is operated only by Americans without an Israeli presence — houses the U.S. AN/TPY-2, an X-Band radar that is integrated with Israeli search and track radars to augment early warning in the event of ballistic missile attack from Iran.

In his briefing to reporters, Haimovich said the IDF has been working with its U.S. counterparts for nearly two years to establish the new facility. He emphasized that the American presence “would not hamper the IDF‘s ability to act independently against any threat to the security of the State of Israel.”

The U.S. and Israel have broken ground on a joint military base in southern Israel.
The U.S. and Israel have broken ground on a joint military base in southern Israel.

He also noted that in recent weeks, the IDFs Air Defense Command stood up a new Iron Dome battalion to enable the Jewish state to more equitably deploy active defenses along its northern as well as southern borders, where Israel faces growing threats from Lebanon and Gaza, respectively.

One of Israel’s operational Iron Dome systems is now in the U.S., where it is competing with U.S.-proposed systems for an interim — and possibly longer-term — solution to the medium- and short-range air defense requirement.


Original Article

TAMPA, Fla. — Riding in a flamboyant purple vehicle, Ja Du shows up to a coffee shop to open up about his new identity.

Ja Du, born a white male named Adam, now considers himself a Filipino. Turns out the purple ride he drives around in is called a Tuk Tuk, an Asian-derived vehicle used for public transit in the Philippines he says.

Ja Du is part of a small, but growing community of people who considers themselves transracial. It refers to someone born one race, but identifies with another.

Sound weird? Not to them. Ja Du says he grew up enjoying Filipino food, events and the overall culture.

“Whenever I’m around the music, around the food, I feel like I’m in my own skin,” he said.

“I’d watch the history channel sometimes for hours you know whenever it came to that and you know nothing else intrigued me more but things about Filipino culture.”

If you’re thinking this sounds familiar, you might remember the story of Rachel Dolezal. Dolezal was born white, but identified as black and portrayed herself as such. She was even the president of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP.

After she appeared on an episode of Dr. Phil, the term transracial started to become more widely known. Now, we are finding out this community of people who identify as another race is growing. If you look on Facebook, where we found Ja Du, groups dubbed transracial are popping up with dozens of members.

Oxford teacher faces action over ‘misgendering’ pupil

Original Article

A teacher is facing disciplinary action at his school after he referred to a transgender pupil as a girl, although the student identifies as a boy.

Joshua Sutcliffe, a Christian pastor from Oxford, admitted he said “Well done girls” when addressing a group including the student.

He described it as a “slip of the tongue”, but said he believed biological sex was defined at birth

The school said it would be “inappropriate” to comment.

Mr Sutcliffe, who teaches children aged between 11 and 18, said the incident took place on 2 November.

He said a week-long investigation found he had “misgendered” the pupil.

‘Born a girl’

The maths teacher, who is also a pastor at the Christ Revelation church in Oxford, said he tried to balance his beliefs with the need to treat the pupil sensitively.

He claimed he did this by avoiding the use of gender-specific pronouns and by referring to the pupil by name.

“While the suggestion that gender is fluid conflicts sharply with my Christian beliefs… I have never looked to impose my convictions on others”, he said

He said he had apologised to the student, but said he did not consider it “unreasonable” to call someone a girl “if they were born a girl”.

Presentational grey line

More children seek help with gender identity

Chart showing rise in young people seeking help with gender identity

More than 2,000 young people, aged between three and 18, were referred to a specialist NHS clinic in 2016-17, seeking help with their gender identity.

The numbers have been growing every year since the start of the decade.

Of 2,016 young people referred to the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) in the most recent year, 1,400 were assigned female at birth.

Polly Carmichael, a consultant clinical psychologist and director of GIDS, said there was no single explanation for the increase but said there had been “significant progress towards the acceptance and recognition of transgender and gender diverse people in our society”.

Dr Carmichael said the majority of the service’s users did not take up physical treatment.

There were two children referred aged three in 2016-17. The service rejected 30 referrals of people who were already 18 years old.

Ages of young people referred to GIDS in 2016-17
Presentational grey line

The Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Mr Sutcliffe, said he faced an internal disciplinary hearing on Wednesday.

The state academy school where he is employed said the matter was confidential.

However, it said it took equality and discrimination seriously and had a range of governor-approved policies in place to ensure it acted lawfully.

LGBT charity Stonewall said “pupils must be protected” even if teachers may hold “different opinions” about sexuality and gender identity.

It did not want to comment on the case involving Mr Sutcliffe, but it said “children should always feel included and accepted for who they are”.

The Church of England Is Attempting to Counter Bullying By Allowing Children to Explore Gender Identity

Original Article

By Aimee Lutkin

On Monday, the Church of England announced an initiative called “Valuing All God’s Children,” that states children should be allowed to experiment with their gender identity. The measure has been adopted as a way to combat bullying in the Church’s thousands of schools.

The New York Times reports that teachers are being encouraged to allow students in school to “explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgment or derision.” The guidelines were supported by the Most Rev. Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury.

“For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the fireman’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment,” it said. “Childhood has a sacred place for creative self-imagining.”

Welby was appointed to his position in 2012; in 2014, the Church extended guidelines to schools in an attempt to combat homophobia, but these new edicts have grown to encompass children experimenting with or expressing their gender identity.

“All bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying causes profound damage, leading to higher levels of mental health disorders, self-harm, depression and suicide,” Archbishop Welby wrote. “This guidance helps schools to offer the Christian message of love, joy and celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion.”

However, in 2016, the International Anglican Communion suspended the U.S. Episcopal Church for performing same-sex marriages. Anglican archbishops from England wrote in a statement that the Episcopal Church had made “a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our provinces on the doctrine of marriage.” Priests in the Church of England are still forbidden from performing same-sex ceremonies.

Sperm smugglers: How women are smuggling sperm out of Israeli prisons

Original Article

Lydia Rimawi has just given birth to what she calls a gift from God. Baby Majid – new life born out of an underground smuggling ring that’s rippling through Israel’s prisons.

I’m talking about Palestinian babies born from sperm smuggled out of Israeli prisons.

The imprisoned men are convicted of participating in what Israel deems terror attacks. To most Israeli’s – the men are considered terrorists.

To Palestinians – they’re martyrs.

Their wives – the smugglers whose tactics have been shrouded in secrecy… Until now.

For the first time the women shared their secret methods. On my trip to Palestine reporting this story over three days these women invited me into their lives and homes to reveal their successes and plans to continue to smuggle sperm out of Israel’s prisons.

There are around 4,700 Palestinian husbands, sons and brothers imprisoned in Israeli jails. Many of them are serving life sentences.

These Palestinian prisoners are not permitted conjugal visits and permitted visits are restricted to 45 minutes. Husband and wife are separated by a sealed glass panel and communicate via telephone. No physical contact is allowed at any time.

Lydia and her counterparts – Em Rafat and Samia are amongst a growing number of Palestinian women refusing to let the ongoing conflict between Palestinian and Israeli forces halt their lives.

They’re keeping their husbands legacies alive – one shot of semen at a time.

There’s an overwhelming sense of accomplishment in the room today following Lydia’s birth. She is chanting “we did it, we challenged the Israeli’s and this is the biggest victory for us and I have a beautiful baby boy”.

Lydia is not the only one of these women with a cause for celebration. Samia whose husband is serving multiple life sentences is five months pregnant.

Em Rafat’s son has been in prison for seven years. His wife is eight months pregnant.

As the Islamic call to prayer floats over the West Bank, I’m told Lydia’s counterparts are planning their next smuggle ‘operation’.

It’s my last day in The West Bank and the morning of the operation I meet Em Rafat in her home village near Ramallah. She is allowing me to accompany her along to Ramon prison where her son is.

Due to stringent Israeli security measures the trip can take up to 14 hours. This is the same journey she made 9 months ago when she smuggled out sperm for her daughter in law.

The women claim the prisoners bring the sperm ready to each visit. But I was left bewildered as to how they get the sperm out and how it survives.

IVF experts say sperm can survive outside the body for up to five days only if kept at 37 degrees.

According to specialist Dr Salem Abu Khaizaran who helps these women with the IVF procedure there a currently 65 samples of smuggled sperm, 16 women pregnant, and three about to have their babies.

Dr Salem explains to me the variety of ways that he’s had samples delivered to him.

“The samples come to me in different forms either in eye-drops containers, nose-drops containers, some of them give it in plastic gloves in different forms. The strangest thing the sperm came to us in was through a chocolate wrapper,” says Dr Salem.

Several checkpoint security breaches later, the threat of my camera being smashed to pieces by guards and a very hairy situation that just escalates as the adventure progressed – this is a story that definitely won’t leave me for a while.

I can tell you the sperm, the smugglers and myself all came out unscathed – with some extraordinary footage but it was by no means an easy feat.

I hope this underground network of Palestinian women and their phenomenal courage, determination and strength of spirit will leave you feeling as amazed as I am. They are truly a force to be reckoned with.

Poland defends massive far-right protest that called for a ‘White Europe’

Original Article

By Avi Selk

Thousands gathered in central Warsaw on Nov. 11 for a march organized by radical far-right groups. The march coincided with Poland’s independence day.

CORRECTIONEarlier versions of this article — including the original headline — cited a CNN report that said a “Pray for an Islamic Holocaust” banner was displayed at the weekend march in Warsaw. CNN has since corrected its story and removed its reference to the banner. A similar banner was hung in another Polish city in 2015, according to local reports, but not at Saturday’s march. This post has been updated.


The official celebration of Poland’s 99th independence day went innocuously, with the usual ceremonies in the capital. There was even a visit from the European Council’s internationalist president, who insisted to Politico that Saturday’s festivities would proceed “with a smile on our face and with joy in our hearts.”

But for blocks and blocks and blocks beyond the central towers of Warsaw, a much larger crowd swelled beneath a cloud of red smoke.

Tens of thousands of people had come from across Poland and beyond, and reporters documented their signs:

“Clean Blood,” as seen by Politico.

“White Europe” streaked across another banner, the Associated Press reported — as about 60,000 people chanted and marched through Warsaw in an annual gathering of Europe’s far-right movements, which have grown to dwarf the official version of Poland’s independence day celebration.

By the end of the weekend, the AP reported, the official and unofficial events even seemed to be merging.

Police had arrested 45 counterprotesters — but not one of the marchers seen carrying white supremacist symbols or heard chanting “Sieg Heil” in a country where Nazis carried out some of the Holocaust’s worst atrocities.

Rather, Poland’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that the day had been “a great celebration of Poles, differing in their views, but united around the common values of freedom and loyalty to an independent homeland.”

(Adam Stepien/Agencja Gazeta/Reuters)

Nov. 11 marks Poland’s celebration of its freedom from imperial rule in 1918. That freedom was interrupted over the following century by brutal occupations, first by Nazis, then communists.

In the 21st century, a group called All-Polish Youth, which the AP reported is named after a radical anti-Semitic group from the 1930s, began hosting a competing Nov. 11 celebration in Warsaw.

It began as a small thing, Politico reported. No more than a few hundred people showed up to the march in 2010, although the numbers soon grew into the thousands.

In some years, the spectacle turned bloody — as when masked marchers threw rocks, flares and paving slabs at police in 2014, according to the BBC.

By all accounts, the Nov. 11 rallies since then have been fairly peaceful and very large.

(Leszek Szymanski/European Pressphoto Agency-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Some who marched under the flares and red smoke on Saturday were families and children, the AP reported. But more noticeable were droves of young men, some masked — and some chanting, “Death to enemies of the homeland.”

There was some violence Saturday, the AP reported, when nationalists pushed and kicked a group of women holding a banner that said “Stop Fascism.”

But that was the only such report. A heavy police force kept the small assembly of counterprotesters separated from the far-right march.

Far-right leaders from Britain and Italy were welcomed by the crowd, according to the AP. (The U.S. alt-right leader Richard Spencer had been deemed too extreme by the Polish government, and he canceled his plans to attend.)

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman called the march dangerous, per the AP.

“History teaches us that expressions of racist hate must be dealt with swiftly and decisively,” he said — perhaps referring to the Nazi-era Warsaw ghetto, where hundreds of thousands of imprisoned Jews were deported to extermination camps if they were not killed before.

But the Polish Foreign Ministry waved off the worst reports about the crowd as “incidental,” the AP reported.

After the rally ended Saturday evening, a reporter asked Poland’s interior minister — a member of the right-wing government — what he thought of the banners and chants of “white Europe” and “pure blood.”

“It’s only your opinion, because you behave like a political activist,” he replied, Politico reported. According to the AP, the same minister called that swollen, crimson-fogged march across Warsaw “a beautiful sight.”

When Will We Have Designer Babies

Original Article

By Whitney Kimball

Within 20 to 40 years, sex will no longer be the preferred method of reproduction. Instead, half the population with decent health care will–no shitting you–have eggs grown from human skin and fertilized with sperm, then have the entire genome of about 100 embryo samples sequenced, peruse the highlights, and pick the best model to implant. At least that’s what Stanford law professor and bioethicist Hank Greely predicts in The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction. But skin-grown humans aside, how long until we have “designer babies”?


Here’s where we are: a gene-editing tool called CRISPR/Cas9 has produced a variety of terrifying wonders over the past few years. In August, a group of scientists announced that they had successfully edited a human embryo to eradicate a heart condition. (The validity of their paper, published in the journal Nature, is now disputed, but Chinese scientists also claimed to have edited embryos in 2015, though with less success.) And “designer pets” are already within reach; mice have been turned green. Beagles have been doubledin muscle mass. Pigs have been shrunk to the size of cocker spaniels with “designer fur.” Woolly mammoths are being attempted.

Greely expects human selection to be less like the Build-a-Bear workshop which “designer pets” suggests, in which you start from scratch with a base animal and pick features from a menu, but rather in which prospective parents select from a pot of about 100 embryos made by two people for preferences like gender and health, and maybe tweak out the hereditary diseases with CRISPR/Cas9.

It’s debatable when and how CRISPR-edited embryos will be approved for implantation (Congress has currently banned the FDA from even considering it), and scientists are currently wrestling over putting a moratorium on its use on humans. CRISPR’s own co-founder Jennifer Doudna fears what eugenic nightmare her technology could bring; in 2015, she co-signed a letter calling for thorough investigation into potential risks “before any attempts at human engineering are sanctioned, if ever, for clinical testing.”

This week on Giz Asks, we asked geneticists, bioethicists, and biotechnology experts and skeptics whether a future of “designer babies” is as crazy as it sounds.

Hank Greely

Director, Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University, author of The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction

I think that when average readers hear the term “gene editing,” our minds jump to Gattaca or a build-a-bear workshop for babies where you walk into a lab and select desirable traits (strength, beauty, intelligence, etc) from a pamphlet.

I think GATTACA was much more about selection than about editing, but, yes, most people have an exaggerated view of what is possible.

We don’t know anything, really, about genes that give increased IQ. I suspect–and in my book, The End of Sex, I predict–that in 20 to 40 years we’ll know a little, but not much–maybe enough to say “this embryo has a 60% chance of being in the top 50%” or “a 13% chance of being in the top 10%.” Intelligence is just too complicated and despite decades of work only genes associated with very low intelligence have been found.

Note, though, that you said “genetically select”–selection is more about preimplantation genetic diagnosis [PGD, pre-screening for genetic diseases in embryos] and picking among embryos randomly created by a couple. Editing is intentionally changing DNA away from what the couple created. Neither, though, works worth a damn unless you know what the relationship between the DNA and the trait is and not only aren’t we close with intelligence, we may never be very good at it: too many genes are involved, along with too much environment and too much luck!

…On eye color, hair color, skin color, etc., we’ve got some clues now and will be pretty good in ten to 20 years–though I doubt CRISPRing embryos will be shown to be safe and ready for clinical use in less than 20 to 30 years. On IQ, math ability, sports ability, music ability, personality type we’ll have some information but probably not very much: 60%, 70%, maybe 80% chances of being in the top half but not 90 to 100%. … Right now, though, we have made almost no progress on those traits or on common complicated diseases like asthma, type 2 diabetes, or depression.

… The more simple genetic diseases like Huntington’s disease turn out to be quite rare–common diseases are usually a mix of heavily genetic, somewhat genetic, and not at all genetic. For example, 1% of people with Alzheimer disease (and so about 1 person in a 1000 in the population) have an early onset form that is very strongly genetic. If you have the gene variation involved, the only way you won’t get the disease in your 40s or 50s is to die first from something else. About 4% of the population have two copies of a genetic variation that gives them a 50 to 80% chance of getting AD, compared with the overall average 10% or so. About 20% of the population has one copy of that variant and has about a 20 to 40 percent chance. About 2% of the population has two copies of a different version of the same gene and seem to have zero chance of getting AD. And most people with Alzheimer disease have no copies of any of the known, strong genetic risk factors for it. That’s what most common diseases are like; most behavioral traits will likely be even worse.

Glenn Cohen

Harvard Law School Faculty Director, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics, leading expert in bioethics and law

I do not love the term “designer babies” because it is imprecise. [In one sense], they are already here and have been for a long time. When [individuals] consider need to use a sperm donor for artificial insemination… they engage in a form of trait selection. The catalogues that feature sperm “donors” (donors in scare quotes because they are paid) recruited for sperm banks have already excluded 99% of applicants, and who is left tends to have very desirable health, intelligence, and beauty traits. The same is true for egg “donors.” So already parents using these technologies are “designing” their babies. And there is nothing to stop someone who wanted to from buying both sperm and egg from donors to maximize their ability to engage in trait selection. For individuals using IVF [in vitro fertilization], there is also the possibility of using preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to examine the embryos and screen out those predicted to have diseases or other problems and engage in sex selection. The next step on the horizon, written about recently in the MIT Technology Reviewis combining big data from whole genome sequencing and population databases to make predictions on non-disease traits as part of the PGD technique.

Some companies are either directly or indirectly building this into their pitch to investors as that report suggests, though also [the MIT Technology Review reports that some scientists are skeptical]: “Some experts contacted by MIT Technology Review said they believed it’s premature to introduce polygenic scoring technology into IVF clinics—though perhaps not by very much. Matthew Rabinowitz, CEO of the prenatal-testing company Natera, based in California, says he thinks predictions obtained today could be “largely misleading” because DNA models don’t function well enough. But Rabinowitz agrees that the technology is coming.”

Even if perfected this will only be available to individuals willing to go through IVF and PGD, costly in both time, money, and health risks. So I don’t know how much uptake there will be in the near future. The more radical change would come if In Vitro Gametogenesis became cheap, safe, approved, and easy such that we could generate a large number of eggs without having to make women go through egg retrieval. I am a bit more skeptical it will be [as quick as Hank Greely suggests], but do think that such technology will be used in the future. Finally, if CRISPR gene editing becomes available as a therapeutic technique in the US, and we get much much better at targeting what to edit, it may be possible to do all this with fewer embryos generated and have more options since we can alter existing embryos instead of waiting to find an embryo that has the desired traits created through natural means. I am skeptical though that the regulatory system in the US will allow human use of this on embryos in the foreseeable future.

So the bottom line is on some definitions of designer babies they are here already and have been for some time. On other definitions I think the estimate is somewhere between 20 to 100 years depending on what you think about the progress of technology and the regulatory system in our country.

David Liu

Harvard professor in Chemistry and Chemical Biology, founder of five biotechnology companies and lead researcher and innovator in gene-editing technologies

When will “designer babies” become a reality–if so, how many years from now, and what would that look like? For example, will there be a time when people will be able to edit their future child’s genes to lead to greater strength, musical talent, mathematical genius?

Probably never. There’s a common misconception that allows people to imagine designer babies as you describe them. The misconception is that traits such as the ones you list above behave in a “Mendelian” manner—that is, like the traits of Gregor Mendel’s famous pea plants: tall vs short plant, green vs yellow seeds, etc. It turns out that the vast majority of human traits are not “monogenic,” meaning that they are not determined by the DNA sequence of a single gene. Instead, traits such as mathematical or athletic or musical ability reflect thousands of genes—recent research suggests perhaps even all of our genes!—as well as many environmental factors.

So even if one imagines a future in which (A) genome editing capabilities are truly like word processing (note: we aren’t there yet!), and (B) editing of human embryos, currently quite controversial and not practiced in most countries, is commonplace, it’s still unlikely that designer babies with traits such as higher intelligence or superior athletic skills will ever be possible. Human genetics simply doesn’t work that way. Finally, it’s also worth pointing out that the screening of human embryos to avoid certain genes strongly associated with devastating genetic diseases prior to implantation and pregnancy is already taking place in a number of countries around the work, and has been for a number of years.

…Even cosmetic traits such as hair and eye color, while genetically simpler than mathematical ability, aren’t really monogenic. Also, one has to consider the cost, risks, and ethics associated with such a procedure. The risks and costs and ethical challenges are easier to bear if the outcome is to avoid an incurable, fatal genetic disease that causes great suffering. For changing eye color, it’s not so compelling.

Dietrich M. Egli

Assistant Professor of Developmental Cell Biology at Columbia, prominent skeptic of the recent “breakthrough” claims of successful embryonic editing by CRISPR technology

The technique is not there yet. Nobody has shown that they can modify the genome of the human germ line and reliably avoid adverse effects. Nobody knows when that hurdle will be overcome. The claim based on a recent paper that appeared in Nature reporting they could [edit the DNA of a human embryo without adverse effects] is most likely wrong.

Does that imply that we are not even at a place where we can use gene-editing at all, for anything? CRISPR is not an effective tool yet? And what kind of adverse effects? Leading to mutations of some kind?

[CRISPR] works very well in cultured cells, where you can afford to have a less than 100% efficiency, and then simply select those that worked. It may also work for gene therapy in somatic cells.

And, its an amazing research tool. No clinical applications yet. It’s just a few years since it has been discovered.

Do you think there’s a natural balance of how many super-traits a person can possess, in a similar way to how when homo sapiens’ jaws shrank, it made more room in the skull for a larger brain? For example, would it offset the natural balance if math wizards were also born football players and possessed the musical talents of Mozart?

I don’t think there is a good answer to that. There are tradeoffs and constraints in the human body. There is also a huge gap of knowledge what a specific variant could accomplish.

For instance, there are some variants that protect against malaria, but cause [sickle cell] disease as well. The most meaningful thing to do is to further study the human genome to enable improvements in human health.

Dr. Robert Green

Medical geneticist and director of the Genomes2People Research Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

If we’re talking about the next five to ten years, I think what’s really exciting about these technologies is that they may allow us to edit genetic errors. Genetic errors like a mutation that would cause a disease in an infant. I think that that’s really the focus, it’s the disease focus, not the designer baby focus. That’s point number one.

Point number two is most of the traits that you can imagine someone trying to enhance, which is intelligence, height, athletic ability, musical ability and so forth, are probably very multi-genic traits. They are traits that many, many genes, many regulatory regions and so forth. They are very complex. Even if there were not ethical rules in place, which I think there probably will be … I think that it would be very, very difficult to [change those things].

If, say, the United States outlaws that kinds of thing, do you think other countries might start offering services where you can edit for things like hair and eye color? Do you foresee that as an inevitable consumer service?

I guess, I think that things like that are possible, for sure. I think that the hope is that most countries will try to agree on guidelines for which most of humanity will agree to and abide by because of the potential to do so much harm when messing with DNA to lose embryos, to create diseased human beings. I do hope that such actions as selecting for specific cosmetic differences might not be encouraged or permitted, but I am aware that there are reproductive clinics already in which gender selection is done. Embryos are created, they are looked at for a potential gender and then implanted. It is going to be difficult to regulate. Yes, all that can take place.

How quickly do you think this could happen, if the technology made it to the market, for consumers to use those services?

I guess theoretically, I would say, within a decade. But again, even things like hair color may be driven to certain traits. An eye color may be driven by a few genes, but you’ve got to imagine most people do not want to put their embryos at risk for anything less than avoiding a really serious disease. The notion that you would put an embryo, this child, at great potential risk–we really aren’t going to know the long-term effects of mocking around in the DNA of a human embryo and to put an embryo at risk for what you perceive to be a cosmetic improvement, I think would be against the principals of most responsible parents.

Oklahoma Man Lead Police on Wild Car Chase, Pistol-Packing Pastor Joins In

Original Article

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (KRQE/KOCO) – The driver of a stolen pickup truck led police on a wild chase through Oklahoma City that lasted nearly three hours.

He weaved through neighborhoods, squeezed through gates and went to wrong way down the road, barely missing oncoming traffic.

Police threw spikes, but he got around them.

A stranger even tried to stop him, but police finally got the upper hand when the driver flew backward into a pond.

He then started running, falling several times while trying to keep his pants on. Police tased him and finally led the suspect off in handcuffs.

In an interview with KOCO 5, a pastor says he opened fire on the man. He said he saw the chase on TV, spotted the suspect, and decided to follow him.

Craig Wright said he parked his car on the road in an effort to block the suspect in and asked if he needed any help, but the suspect drove off, KOCO 5 reports. 

That’s when the pastor says he grabbed his gun.

Paradise Papers reveal the rise of a new class: The global oligarchy

By Conor Lynch
In response to the recent leak of 13.4 million files from two offshore service providers earlier this week, which documents how the world’s wealthiest individuals and corporations avoid paying taxes on their fortunes, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., warned that the world is quickly becoming an “international oligarchy.”

“The major issue of our time is the rapid movement toward international oligarchy in which a handful of billionaires own and control a significant part of the global economy,” Sanders said in a statement to The Guardian, one of the major newspapers reporting on the so-called Paradise Papers. “The Paradise Papers shows how these billionaires and multinational corporations get richer by hiding their wealth and profits and avoid paying their fair share of taxes.”

A who’s who of prominent and wealthy individuals have been implicated in the Paradise Papers, the bulk of which come from the offshore law firm Appleby. This includes right-wing hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, rock star Bono, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, pop star Madonna, Queen Elizabeth and many others. Multinational corporations such as Apple, Facebook, Uber, Nike, Walmart and McDonalds have also been implicated in the leaks.

That corporations and billionaires evade taxes by stashing their money offshore is hardly a revelation, of course. The Paradise Papers come about a year and a half after the Panama Papers — a leak of 11.5 million documents from the Panamanian offshore service provider Mossack Fonseca. These leaks do, however, provide an insight into the world of global economic elites and the rise of what is essentially an international plutocratic class.

“Appleby operates in a rarefied universe of U.H.N.W.I.’s — the industry’s abbreviation for ultra-high-net-worth individuals — where yachts and private jets are preferred transport and mansions sit empty because their owner has several others,” The New York Times reports. “The ranks of the superrich are growing fast, fueled by legitimate fortunes in finance, trade and technology — as well as drugs, embezzlement and bribery. And the offshore finance industry has grown alongside its customers’ accounts.”

This class of “ultra-high-net-worth individuals” is a relatively diverse group of people from around the world (though about half are American, and most are men), with different religious beliefs, different political views and different cultural backgrounds. But they all seem to share a kind of class consciousness. Global plutocrats of the 21st century tend to have more in common with (and more allegiance to) their own economic class than their own country, political party or cultural/religious group.

In some ways, this is nothing new: the wealthy have always been more aware of their own economic interests and social status than members of the lower classes, who are often driven (and divided) by social and cultural issues (much to the chagrin of labor organizers and socialists). In his classic 1956 book “The Power Elite,” sociologist C. Wright Mills discussed the class consciousness of America’s economic and political elite during the postwar period:

All the structural coincidence of their interests as well as the intricate, psychological facts of their origins and their education, their careers and their associations make possible the psychological affinities that prevail among them, affinities that make it possible for them to say of one another: He is, of course, one of us. And all this points to the basic, psychological meaning of class consciousness. Nowhere in America is there as great a “class consciousness” as among the elite; nowhere is it organized as effectively as among the power elite.

Sixty years after Mills wrote these words, the world has become increasingly globalized and so has the “power elite.” Plutocrats of this century are no longer as bound to their own country as they once were, and nowhere in our globalized world is there as great a class consciousness as among the billionaire class. The richest 1 percent of the world’s population now owns more than half of global wealth, and the eight richest men on the planet have more wealth combined than the poorest 3.6 billion people. As the Paradise Papers show, these “ultra-high-net-worth individuals” have no intention of spreading the wealth and will do whatever it takes — whether it’s hiding their money offshore or buying political influence — to further their interests.

All of this indicates that we are well on our way to becoming what Sanders calls an “international oligarchy,” where democracy is either nonexistent or treated as a facade, and elites have complete control over the economy. But this is not inevitable, and it is still possible to reverse this trend. To do this, however, working people will have to come together to fight for their own interests and challenge the status quo.

There are two forms of populism that are currently being offered as alternatives to international oligarchy. On the right, reactionary populists present the current divide between the 1 percent and the 99 percent as a struggle between “globalists” and nationalists, and seek to divide the working class by scapegoating minorities, immigrants and foreigners for problems that have been created by global capitalism. On the left, progressives and socialists aim to create an international working class movement that challenges both capitalism and the power of global elites.

So while the right promotes what Marxists have traditionally called “false consciousness,” which keeps the majority fractured and weak, the left promotes class consciousness and a politics of solidarity. It is not hard to see which side is truly confronting the power elite and offering a real alternative to oligarchy. It’s not the side of Donald Trump but that of Bernie Sanders.

Gal Gadot doesn’t want to work with Ratner on another ‘Wonder Woman’

Original Article

A month after canceling to appear at a dinner to honor Brett Ratner, Gal Gadot still has a lot to say about the famed director and the accusations mounting against him.

Now, Gal says she won’t reprise her role for future “Wonder Woman” movies unless Brett Ratner is not involved, reports Page Six. Brett Ratner’s production company produced the film in conjunction with Warner Brothers.

“Wonder Woman” has already brought in over $400 million. But if Gal Gadot has anything to say about it, the producer won’t see another dime.

Brett made a lot of money from the success of ‘Wonder Woman,’ thanks to his company having helped finance the first movie,” a WB insider said.

“Now Gadot is saying she won’t sign for the sequel unless Warner Bros. buys Brett out [of his financing deal] and gets rid of him. She also knows that Warner Bros. has to side with her on this issue as it develops. They can’t have a movie rooted in women’s empowerment being part-financed by a man ­accused of sexual misconduct against women.”

When news first broke against Brett Ratner, Gal immediately took to Instagram to post a statement.

Earlier in the week, Warner Brothers ended their working relationship with Brett Ratner after multiple women came forward accusing the director of sexual harassment — including women like Olivia Munn and Ellen Page.

We’ll see if this wonder woman really can make a difference in Hollywood!

Disneyland visitors among 12 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Anaheim

Original Article

Orange County health experts are investigating 12 cases of Legionnaires’ disease among people who live in or visited the Anaheim area in September. Eight of the cases involve people visiting Disneyland and one person worked at the park.

One person, who had not visited Disneyland, has died, officials said Friday.

A Disneyland official said the resort voluntarily shut down two cooling towers in a backstage area of the theme park after it found the towers had elevated levels of a bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.

Jessica Good, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Health Care Agency, said in an email Friday night the agency found 12 people, ages 52 to 94,  were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, a type of airborne disease that causes a severe form of pneumonia to most people 50 years or older or with a weak immune system.

One of those diagnosed was a cast member but where they worked at the park was not disclosed.

Of the 12, 10 have been hospitalized, and one person died. The person who died was described as having additional health problems and did not visit the theme park, Good said.

The health care agency is investigating all the cases, but has not yet identified a common exposure source for all of them, she said.

The illness, also known as legionellosis, is an infection with symptoms of serious pneumonia and can be deadly if not treated.

Legionnaires’ disease usually results from inhaling microscopic water droplets in mist or vapor. The bacterium Legionella living in freshwater rarely causes infections, but indoors it can multiply in water systems such as hot tubs and air conditioners, according to the Mayo Clinic.

It is not spread through person-to-person contact.

In a statement, Dr. Pamela Hymel, chief medical officer for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said Disney was informed Oct. 27 by the county agency of Disneyland’s possible role in the  Legionnaires’ disease cases in Anaheim.

“We conducted a review and learned that two cooling towers had elevated levels of Legionella bacteria,” Hymel said in the statement. “These towers were treated with chemicals that destroy the bacteria and are currently shut down.”

Hymel added that Disney has worked with the county health care agency and that “there is no longer any known risk associated with our facilities.”

“(Disney) reported having performed subsequent testing and disinfection and brought the towers back into service (Sunday),” Good said.

While the towers, in a backstage area behind the New Orleans Square train station, were initially cleared, Disney on its own took them back out of service on Tuesday. Disney is working with health officials on the status of the towers.

Good said there have been no additional Legionella cases after September and no known ongoing risk associated with this outbreak.

In May, a community pool and spa in Foothill Ranch in South Orange County was closed after two cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported. The disease sent two people to the hospital

Thousands sign petition to ban child sex dolls

(KUTV) A petition on is calling to ban child sex dolls, which are lifelike, anatomically correct, and designed to simulate sex with a child.

The petition has received over 88,500 signatures, and has even been noticed by Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall.

According to the petition, these dolls are currently “perfectly legal” to import.

“British police have seized more than 100 already in the UK, and authorities have found that the people buying them usually have child pornography too,” the petition says.

The petition states, “These child sex dolls can normalize a pedophile’s behaviors, emboldening them to harm children, as is often the case with those who view child pornography.”

“According to the CDC, 1 in 5 children are sexually abused. One child is too many,” the petition says. “Our elected officials need to protect children. That’s why Congressman Dan Donovan from New York is introducing legislation that will ban the distribution and sale of dolls that encourage child abuse.

New York Congressman Dan Donovan (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) has said that he believes the dolls reinforce pedophilic behavior.

Some have suggested that pedophiles who use the dolls will be less likely to commit crimes.

Donovan is adamantly opposed to this view. “It doesn’t satisfy urges,” he says. “This is just a stepping stone.

In August Donovan unveiled a plan to “prevent the exploitation of innocent children.”

Seeing a scary new proliferation of child sex dolls makes it so important for our laws to evolve,” the Congressman said.

As of yet the Congressman doesn’t have any other supporters of the bill, but said, “I don’t think we’ll have a hard time finding cosponsors.”

You can sign the petition by clicking here.

Mila Kunis trolls Vice President Pence, and now people are ‘boycotting’ Jim Beam

Original Article

Corrections & Clarifications: An earlier version of this story included three tweets suspected to have been sent by political bots. The tweets have been replaced.

What has the world come to when even bourbon gets caught up in politics?

(Actually, don’t answer that.)

Over the weekend, bourbon brand Jim Beam got dragged into the fight over women’s rights after its spokeswoman, actress Mila Kunis, revealed that she’s been sending monthly donations to Planned Parenthood in Vice President Mike Pence’s name.

See, Kunis doesn’t agree with Pence’s non-wavering stance against abortion rights.

And as a guest on TBS’s “Conan,” she told host Conan O’Brien that she chose to voice her disagreement by adding his name to a list of reoccurring donations made to the women’s health care provider.

“I don’t look at it as a prank, I look at it just as, I strongly disagree [with him], and this is my little way of showing it,” Kunis said, according to The Hill.

Pence supporters and abortion opponents did not take kindly to Kunis’s shenanigans.

And they made their disagreements known by starting a #BoycottBeam campaign on Twitter.

It’s safe to say that Jim Beam, which is currently filling 500,000 barrels per year, will not be affected by the boycott (if anyone even holds true to their hashtag).

Gov. Matt Bevin, who is also pro-life, has not weighed in on #BoycottBeam. But that may be because he’s better prepared to drop Kardashian references than Kunis bombs.

Moore’s brother denies charges, compares persecution to Jesus

Original Article

(CNN)Roy Moore’s brother is defending the GOP Senate candidate “to the hilt” amid the escalating controversy over allegations of sexual misconduct against him, according to CNN correspondent Martin Savidge, who spoke to the brother on the phone.

Jerry Moore firmly denied the allegations against his brother and drew an analogy between his situation and the persecution of Jesus Christ, Savidge reported Friday in an interview with CNN’s John Berman.

Savidge spoke to Jerry Moore on Friday morning, one day after an explosive Washinton Post report detailed allegations that the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama pursued sexual relationships with several teens when they were between the ages of 14 and 18 and he was in his thirties, including an alleged sexual encounter with the 14-year-old, who would not have been at the age of legal consent under Alabama law.

Jerry Moore said, “he knows … that the allegations against Roy Moore are not true, not true at all,” Savidge reported. The younger Moore also said “he’s very concerned about what the impact is going to be on their 91-year-old mother, hearing all of this, they worry about her age and health,” Savidge said.

Moore also claimed that the Democratic Party was behind what he called “false allegations,” and that “these women are going to, as [Moore] put it, have to answer to God for these false allegations,” Savidge said.

“When I asked what does he believe the motivation is with these women coming forward making the accusations they have, again, Jerry Moore says it’s money and the Democratic Party, implying that they are doing this because they’re being paid in some way, and it is for the purpose of derailing or interrupting this campaign,” Savidge said.

Moore went so far as to say “that his brother is being persecuted, in his own words, like Jesus Christ was,” according to Savidge. “Very defiant and very outspoken, relying on his faith and defending his brother to the hilt.”

Roy Moore, who faces a December 12 US Senate election, denied the allegations in the Post report, telling the newspaper: “These allegations are completely false and are a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and The Washington Post on this campaign.”

Later Thursday, the candidate tweeted, “The Obama-Clinton Machine’s liberal media lapdogs just launched the most vicious and nasty round of attacks against me. We are in the midst of a spiritual battle with those who want to silence our message.”

“The forces of evil will lie, cheat, steal — even inflict physical harm — if they believe it will silence and shut up Christian conservatives like you and me,” he wrote.

Texas Church Where Massacre Took Place Will Be Demolished, Pastor Says Facebook Twitter Flipboard Email

Original Article

The pastor of the Texas church that was the site of a deadly shooting rampage this week says the bullet-riddled structure will be demolished because it is too stark of a reminder of the massacre.

Pastor Frank Pomeroy, whose 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, was among the victims, told the Southern Baptist Convention on Thursday that he plans to have the church razed.

“There’s too many that do not want to go back in there,” Pomeroy told The Wall Street Journal.

“The pastor expressed his desire that perhaps the best way forward is to have the church demolished and replaced with a prayer garden,” convention spokesman Roger “Sing” Oldham, was quoted by USA Today as saying.

He added that parishioners haven’t “had a chance to fully deal with the grief and then come together to make a decision.”

Enlarge this image

A law enforcement official leaves the First Baptist Church on Tuesday, in Sutherland Springs Texas.

David J. Phillip/AP

Oldham was quoted by The Associated Press as saying the church is “too stark of a reminder” of Sunday’s mass shooting in which a gunman opened fire on the building with a semiautomatic assault-type rifle, killing more than two dozen people and wounding 20 others.

According to The Associated Press:

“Other sites of mass shootings have been torn down, including Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in December 2012. A new school was built [on the same site].

A one-room Amish schoolhouse near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was torn down in 2006, 10 days after an assailant took children hostage and shot and killed five girls ages 6 to 13.”


Nov. 10, 2017

A previous version of this story quoted an incorrect statement from the Associated Press that the Sandy Hook Elementary school was rebuilt elsewhere. It is on the same site although not in the same footprint as the original school.

Woman who flipped off Trumps Motorcade gets fired

Original Article

A photo of a woman giving President Donald Trump’s motorcade the middle finger went viral more than a week ago.

People on social media hailed Juli Briskman as a “she-ro.” A hashtag, #her2020, arose.

However, her employer, government contractor Akima LLC, was not pleased with the middle-fingered salute.

They fired the 50-year-old mother of two over it.

A White House photographer traveling with the president snapped a picture of Trump’s motorcade passing a bicyclist when he left a golf course in Sterling, Va., last week.

“He was passing by and my blood just started to boil,” Briskman told HuffPost. “I’m thinking DACA recipients are getting kicked out. He pulled ads for open enrollment in Obamacare. Only one-third of Puerto Rico has power. I’m thinking, he’s at the damn golf course again.”

The Democrat followed her instincts while she was on her usual biking path.

“I flipped off the motorcade a number of times,” Briskman told HuffPost.

The photo immediately went viral.

Briskman decided to give her job’s HR department a heads up when she went to work last Monday.

On Tuesday, her bosses told her that she violated the company’s social media policy by using the viral image as her profile picture on Facebook and Twitter.

They said, ‘We’re separating from you,'” Briskman told HuffPost. “Basically, you cannot have ‘lewd’ or ‘obscene’ things in your social media. So they were calling flipping him off ‘obscene.'”

Briskman, who worked in marketing and communications at Akima for just over six months, argued that she didn’t mention her employer on social media and was off-duty when the photo was snapped.

She was still canned because the government contractor said the incident could hurt business.

Briskman questioned how the company’s policy is enforced, saying a male colleague was recently allowed to keep his job after calling someone “a f–cking Libtard a–hole” on Facebook.

“How is that any less ‘obscene’ than me flipping off the president?” she said to HuffPost. “How is that fair?”

Akima did not comment on the situation.

Despite losing her job, Briskman doesn’t regret her form of protest.

“I’d do it again,” she told the Washington Post.

She has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union about the situation, according to the Post.

Gunman opens fire at Texas church, kills 26

Original Article

A black-clad gunman opened fire Sunday at a rural church outside San Antonio, killing at least 26 — including several children — and wounding at least 10, law enforcement officials said.

The killer, pursued by a good Samaritan with a gun, was found fatally shot a short time later in a neighboring Texas county, said a law enforcement official who is not authorized to comment publicly.

Authorities did not immediately identify a motive for the attack at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, and they did not officially identify the gunman. But two law enforcement officials who were not authorized to comment publicly identified the gunman as Devin Kelley, 26, of nearby Comal County, Texas.

Kelley served briefly in the Air Force but was court-martialed in 2012, a military spokeswoman said.

Speaking to reporters late Sunday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said, “There are no words to describe the pure evil that we witnessed in Sutherland Springs today.”

Abbott said officials were cautiously releasing information on the shooting, including the names of victims, who ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old.

Officials said 23 of the 26 victims were shot inside the church.

“There’s a lot of information,” Abbott said. “We want to piece the puzzle together.”

Freeman Martin of the Texas Department of Public Safety said the shooter, who was dressed in black and was wearing a ballistic vest, was spotted at about 11:20 a.m. at a Valero gas station across from the church. Witnesses said he drove across the street, got out of his vehicle “and began firing at the church” with a Ruger assault-type rifle.

He moved to the other side and continued firing, then entered the church, Martin said, where he “continued to fire.”

As the suspect left the church, Martin said, a bystander retrieved a rifle and began firing at the shooter, who dropped his Ruger and drove away.

“Our local citizen pursued the suspect at that time,” Martin said.

As law enforcement responded, the suspect drove off a roadway at the Wilson County/Guadalupe County line, Martin said. He was found “deceased in his vehicle,” he said, but officials were not immediately certain if the fatal wound came from a self-inflicted gunshot or from the person pursuing him.

In a late Sunday news conference around the corner from the church, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said as far as he knows the suspect had no ties to the town or knew anyone in the church, but that information was still being investigated.

“We don’t know why he was even here,” Tackitt said.

When asked if anyone has been able to describe to him the scene in the church, Tackitt replied, “All I can say is it was terrible.”

“It’s unbelievable to see children, men, women laying there,” he said. “Defenseless people. It’s just something you don’t want to see.”

Describing the layout of the church, the sheriff said he doesn’t think people could have escaped the attacker.

“You’ve got your pews on either side when you’re walking down the aisle and he just walked down the center aisle, turned around and was, from my understanding, shooting on his way back out,” he said. “There was no way anyone could have escaped.”

Tackitt said he knew quite a few of the people who were in the church, later describing the community as one where “pretty much everyone knows everyone.” He said recently the church hosted a fall festival.

“A week later this happens,” he said.

He confirmed a family had been killed, though he didn’t confirm number of people in the family, describing it as a “a pretty high number.” Tackitt said he’s known the family “forever.”

Frank Pomeroy, who is pastor at the church, told ABC News he was out of town when the rampage took place, but that his daughter was killed. Annabelle, 14, “was one very beautiful, special child,” Pomeroy said.

View image on Twitter

Garrett Kell ن


Annabelle Pomeroy was the pastor’s 14 year old daughter.

“Every one of our family’s close friends are gone.”

Pray for #SunderlandSprings

7:05 PM – Nov 5, 2017

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Paul Buford, pastor of nearby River Oaks Church, said his service was underway when first responders in his congregation were called to the scene. He said some members of the community had “confirmed information” about family members and friends. Buford declined to provide any details.

“We are pulling together as a community,” Buford said. “We are holding up as best we can.”

President Trump, addressing the shooting before speaking to U.S. and Japanese business leaders at a meeting in Tokyo, said the federal government will give “full support” to Texas as it deals with the aftermath of the “horrific shooting” at the church. While these are “dark times,” Trump said, Americans will do “what we do best: We pull together.”

Trump ordered that the U.S. flag be flown at half-staff at the White House and elsewhere through Thursday

Sexually active students must be reported to law enforcement or state officials, Ore. school district says

Original Article

By Travis M. Andrews

The Salem-Keizer School District Headquarters (Google Maps)

Teachers and staff in the Salem-Keizer school district — which includes more than 40,000 students — were recently told that if they learn or merely suspect a student is sexually active, they must report it to law enforcement or state officials.

According to Oregon law, anyone under 18 years old cannot legally give consent, meaning all sexual activity between minors is considered sexual abuse. This policy, district officials say, stems from Oregon’s mandatory reporting and child abuse laws. But that seems to be a singular interpretation of the law. The Statesman Journal reached out to school districts around the state and found that not one of them had the same mandate.

The subject came up at a training session for teachers and staff in the school district because “we felt like we hadn’t made it clear enough,” as Superintendent Christy Perry told the Statesman Journal.

During the presentation, the district offered several specific examples of when an employee needs to contact law enforcement. These include a 15-year-old telling a teacher that she is having sex with her boyfriend and wants to learn about birth control, or a 17-year-old confiding in a teacher that his 16-year-old girlfriend is pregnant.

Another example: “A 14-year-old boy confides in you that he was kicked out of the house after his parents discovered that he was in a same-sex relationship. During the conversation, the student shares that he has engaged in sexual acts with his partner.”

The district claimed the policy is for the teenagers’ safety.

“Simply reporting to the state doesn’t mean police are going to be knocking on the door of students,” district spokeswoman Lillian Govus told KOIN. “What it does allow for is an abundance of caution in ensuring that our children are safe.”

Many disagree. An online petition calling for an end to the mandate has garnered more than 1,100 signatures. Some gathered on the state capitol steps to protest the policy.

Some pointed out that this leaves high school students without anyone to speak with about sex.

“You can’t have a conversation about safe sex without talking about sex,” Deborah Carnaghi, a program coordinator for Child Protective Services in Oregon’s Department of Human Services, told the Statesman Journal.

Others pointed out that sexual activity among high school students is common.

“We understand that the law for age of consent is at least 18,” Angel Hudson, an 11th-grader at McNary High School in Salem, Ore., wrote in support of the petition. “But we also understand that jaywalking is illegal, and everyone still does that. It’s a matter that occurs far too often to arrest every single jaywalker.”

More than 40 percent of high school students surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported having sex in 2015, which if applied to this particular district, would account for almost 12,000 students. The average age Americans have sex for the first time is 17.3 years old.

“I lose the ability to have a private conversation with a trusted adult who works for the district, about something personal to me,” Hudson added. “Talking about sexual activity between teachers and students should be confidential.”

Some teachers said they would simply ignore the mandate.

“To me, I feel like I’m being told to tell the students to shut up,” a teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Keizertimes. “Teachers are also being told to establish appropriate adult-student connections so that when students come to school they feel safe and cared for. If students have a trusted adult at school that they need to talk with about sex, I see no problem with teachers being that.”

Govus said the district is merely trying to comply with the law.

But the Statesman Journal said it checked with other school districts in the state

“It is not convenient for our educators to report these in all instances and it’s not something that the students desire,” Govus told KOIN. “But for our employees to remain compliant with the law as it is written we must report and that goes for any school district employee [who] must report any sexual activity between minors.”

One parent, though, offered a solution.

“So rather than reporting it to the authorities, use that to gain trust, get insight and educate the kids. That way you’ll know what’s going on,” parent Joyce Stevens told KATU.

Oregon teen was excited to join her high school dance team. Then she learned about the maple syrup wrestling.

Original Article

By Kyle Swenson

The teenage girls were blindfolded but they could hear the jeering crowd, smell the beer and weed smoke spiking the night air. When their eyes were uncovered, the initiates – freshman members of the Lakeridge High School dance team – saw their school, a well-groomed low-slung campus circled by picturesque hills in suburban Portland, Oregon. A group of 30 older students, boys and girls, stood before them like amped-up ballpark spectators.

The older team members shouted that the freshmen had to do their dance routines, according to court records. As the girls fumbled through the steps, the older teens started bombing them with water balloons, some filled with oatmeal. They were sprayed with large water guns filled with ketchup. The senior team members then told the girls to strip down to the bikinis they had been ordered to wear. They were given garbage bags to don like dresses. A tarp, sticky with maple syrup and feathers, was unrolled on the ground. The young girls were ordered to wrestle.

“Last one standing wins.”

The young girls began toppling each other while helplessly begging. “Please stop, please stop.”

The high school hazing mayhem did not go unnoticed on the night of Aug. 9, 2014. From nearby trees, Taissa Achcar-Winkels secretly filmed her 14-year-old daughter’s public humiliation.

“I was not okay with what had happened,” Achcar-Winkels’s daughter, identified in court records only by initials, told a federal court this week, according to the Lake Oswego Review. “I was terrified. I thought that had I stood up and said I didn’t want to do it, it wouldn’t have ended up well either way.”

The maple syrup wrestling was part of a series of hazing incidents at the center of a trial this week in Portland. Two years ago, Taissa and Ray Achcar-Winkels filed a negligence lawsuit against the Lake Oswego School District, administrators, coaches and others alleging the defendants failed to curb harassment aimed at their daughter and other new members of the high school’s dance team. The gantlet of abuse allegedly played out like “Mean Girls” on steroids – public dares, inappropriate sexual talk, abuse and bullying, according to court documents. But the family alleges the district is also responsible for the retaliation the girl endured after speaking up.

“I was bullied, I was retaliated [against],” the girl told the court this week. “After I spoke up, the principals, the administration did nothing. They just let the girls keep bullying me. I had a really hard time. No one checked to see if I was okay.”

In court this week, the school acknowledged the hazing, but pushed back against the idea the district bore responsibility for the abuse or retaliation.

“No one disputes that this happened,” the school district’s attorney, Karen Vickers told the court, Courthouse News reported. “We all wish those events had never happened. But they did and we are here. The Lake Oswego School District, like all districts in Oregon, has a policy against hazing and bullying. What this case is really about is the challenges faced by high school students, their parents and school officials.”

The student, according to court documents and testimony, was excited to be one of the few freshmen to make the school’s Pacer Dance Team (PDT) during the summer before school started.

The harassment, however, began in June 2014, when the squad went on an overnight “bonding” trip in Gearhart, Oregon, according to a magistrate judge’s findings for the court.

One night during the visit, the team was left alone for a campfire. There, the older members of the squad initiated a game they called “Ten Fingers.” According to the findings for the court, in the game “senior PDT dancers disclosed activities they had previously engaged in and other PDT dancers were to indicate if they had engaged in the same activity by raising a finger. Several senior PDT dancers volunteered that they had taken drugs or engaged in sexual activities, including anal and oral sex.”

The student was so embarrassed by the conversation she had to walk away from the campfire.

In early August, the team gathered at an older member’s house for an “initiation sleepover.” The girls’ phones were taken and they were forced into costumes – “things such as Big Bird, a hot dog, a Skittle, Thing 1 and Thing 2,” the magistrate’s findings state.

Then they were piled into a senior’s car and forced to play “Truth or Dare.” If they chose dare, the girls had to pick their task from a hat. These including running into a restaurant and screaming an obscenity and dancing on the roof of the car.

“They said you have to do it, there was no option. It was just, ‘You’re going to do it,'” the girl told the court this week.

The girls were then blindfolded and taken to the school, where a crowd was waiting with the water balloons and the maple syrup tarp.

Taissa Achcar-Winkels, nervous about what might happen to her daughter during the initiation, had walked to the school and witnessed the hazing. “I was already feeling extremely nervous,” she testified this week. “So I went for a walk. I was just going to go and see what was happening.”

After the wrestling, the initiation wasn’t over. The dancers were next driven to George Rogers Park on the banks of the Willamette River. The new team members were told to get into the water, then asked questions. Every wrong answer meant another step into the frigid river. The teens weren’t allowed to stop until the water was at their shoulders.

The freshman girl voiced her concerns about the hazing to a coach she trusted. The complaints made it to district administrators. They contacted the family, but her father told a school representative the family didn’t want to initiate an official investigation “due to the fear of possible reprisals,” court records say.

Her complaint, however, eventually spread to the rest of the squad and coaches. The other dancers began ignoring her and bullying her on social media, court documents allege. She was also taken off certain dance teams and not allowed to dance at big games – retaliation, the family alleges, for speaking up about the hazing. She quit the team. The school did open an investigation in November.

On Thursday, the school’s principal Jennifer Schiele defended the school’s response to the incidents. “I apologized to her,” she testified, according to the Lake Oswego Review. “I felt terrible about the way she came forward and did not receive support from her peers. I told her if she needed anything, she could come to me. I felt terrible for her.”


Surrogate mother of ‘twins’ finds one is hers

Original Article


A surrogate mother from California, who gave birth to two babies, found out one of the children was biologically hers.

Jessica Allen became pregnant with her own biological child while she was carrying another baby as a surrogate for a Chinese couple.

Mrs Allen said doctors first thought the second was an identical twin.

As a result, both babies were given to the other woman after delivery and the Allens had to fight to get back their biological son.

‘Not explained’

Mrs Allen had already given birth to two healthy children, but had decided to become a surrogate mother.

She told Newsday on the BBC World Service she had ovulated despite being pregnant.

“I was pregnant through IVF already and at about six, seven weeks they found another embryo and they labelled it that the one embryo that they transferred split and turned into twins.

“My body naturally still ovulated while I was already pregnant – that’s very rare – no one really knows about it but obviously, with my situation, more people are learning about it.

“It’s called superfetation – it has a medical term to it, so why this process is not explained to surrogates, I don’t know. They don’t give this as a possibility.”

‘We definitely want our son’

Mrs Allen said she did not see the babies when they were born last December, but the other mother then texted her pictures of the babies when they were a few weeks old.

The intended mother also said she was waiting for Mrs Allen to feel well before revealing that she had doubts about the origin of one of the babies.

“I immediately freaked out and I asked my case worker, ‘what’s going on, how can this be, what’s happened, how did this happen?’ and she didn’t have any answers for me,” Mrs Allen told Newsday.

“So she [the case worker] said the next thing we need to do is to get me to have a DNA test.”

The intended mother also took the baby for a DNA test and within a fortnight asked Mrs Allen for a Skype call.

“That’s when she announced that the results indicated that I was his genetic mother,” Mrs Allen said.

“During the Skype call she did suggest that we could give him up for adoption and they already had a couple thinking about adopting him.

“At this point we had no idea what to do, so by the end of the call we told her we were going to talk about it, because we needed to figure out how we’re going to get ready for a baby literally overnight.”

However, the next day Mrs Allen told the woman: “We definitely want our son.”

Not on the birth certificate

But Mrs Allen and her husband ran into difficulties because – legally – they were not the parents.

They were told that because the intended mother signed the baby’s birth certificate, she was his legal mother and then if she wanted to give him up for adoption, she could

“I’m not on his birth certificate but I am his genetic mother, my husband is his genetic father and we have that proof through DNA,” said Mrs Allen, who added she and her husband were also asked to pay back part of the fee to the couple because they had paid her to carry more than one child.

They had also incurred fees for a lawyer they had hired to help them get custody of their son.

The Allens were finally reunited with their baby boy, who is now 10 months old.

When she met her son, Mrs Allen said she was a nervous wreck.

“When she [the case worker] pulled him out of her car and walked towards me, I just snatched him from her and said ‘give me my baby’ and I was just kissing him and trying to look at his face for the first time.

“I sat in the back seat with him so I could see him and talk to him and stuff.”

Woman sues to remove ‘So help me God’ from oath of U.S. citizenship

Original Article

By Dan Glaun

For years, Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo, a French national and green-card holder who has lived in Scituate since 2000, has wanted to become an American citizen.

That dream, she claims in a new federal lawsuit, is being denied by four simple words: “So help me God.”

On Thursday, Perrier-Bilbo, an atheist, filed a federal lawsuit claiming the inclusion of that phrase in United States’ citizenship oath is an unconstitutional violation of her religious freedom.

“Accordingly, the current oath violates the first 10 words of the Bill of Rights, and to participate in a ceremony which violates that key portion of the United States Constitution is not supporting of defending the constitution as the oath demands,” the lawsuit says.

And although Perrier-Bilbo was offered the chance to use a modified oath or participate in a private citizenship ceremony, she claims the presence of “so help me God” is still an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion — and that the alternatives offered to her by the government place an illegal burden on her for her beliefs.