BIBLE, CREATION OF THE WORLD AND STORY OF FIRST MAN NOT TRUE, CLAIMS ISRAELI NEWSPAPER

Original Article

By Cristina Silva

The Bible and its stories about the first man and the creation of the world are not true because there is no physical evidence to back it up, according to a new lengthy investigation from one of Israel’s top newspapers. Spanning roughly 5,000 words the article from left leaning Haaretz compares accounts in the Bible, from ancients Jews fleeing Egypt to descriptions of King David, and dismisses them all as fables.

“Is the Bible a True Story,” the headline asks. “Despite feverish searching with Scripture in one hand and cutting-edge technology in the other, evidence backing the Bible remains elusive.”

It goes on: “No evidence of the events described in the Book of Genesis has ever been found. No city walls have been found at Jericho, from the appropriate era, that could have been toppled by Joshua or otherwise. The stone palace uncovered at the foot of Temple Mount in Jerusalem could attest that King David had been there; or it might belong to another era entirely, depending who you ask.”

Researchers have long questioned the authenticity of the Bible’s version of human history, often struggling to find evidence of, say, Noah’s ark or even the possibility of Eve and Adam, the first woman and man. Young-Earth creationism, for example, directly fails science’s demands for coherence and hypothesis testing.

The mounting evidence against the Bible means fewer Americans than ever before are trusting scripture as gospel. Only 35 percent of Americans read the holy book at least once a week, while 45 percent seldom or never do, a Pew Research Center report in April found. About 36 percent of Christians said the Bible should not be taken literally, while 40 percent say it is the word of God. In all, only 24 percent of Americans said the holy book was “the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word,” a Gallup poll conducted in May concluded. 

“This is the first time in Gallup’s four-decade trend that biblical literalism has not surpassed biblical skepticism. Meanwhile, about half of Americans — a proportion largely unchanged over the years — fall in the middle, saying the Bible is the inspired word of God but that not all of it should be taken literally,” the poll said. “From the mid-1970s through 1984, close to 40% of Americans considered the Bible the literal word of God, but this has been declining ever since, along with a shrinking percentage of self-identified Christians in the U.S. Meanwhile, the percentage defining the Bible as mere stories has doubled, with much of that change occurring in the past three years.”

The Other Reformation: How Martin Luther Changed Our Beer, Too

Original Article

By Nina Martyris

Left: A bartender at Hops & Barley brewpub draws a pint of beer in Berlin. Right: A portrait of Martin Luther. The protest that Luther launched 500 years ago revamped not only how Europe worshipped but also how it drank. He and his followers promoted hops in beer as an act of rebellion against the Catholic Church.

Adam Berry; ullstein bild via Getty Images

On this day 500 years ago, an obscure Saxon monk launched a protest movement against the Catholic Church that would transform Europe. Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation changed not just the way Europeans lived, fought, worshipped, worked and created art but also how they ate and drank. For among the things it impacted was a drink beloved throughout the world and especially in Luther’s native Germany: beer.

The change in beer production was wrought by the pale green conical flower of a wildly prolific plant — hops.

Every hip craft brewery today peddling expensive hoppy beers owes a debt of gratitude to Luther and his followers for promoting the use of hops as an act of rebellion against the Catholic Church. But why did Protestants decide to embrace this pretty flower, and what did it have to do with religious rebellion?

Therein foams a bitter pint of history.

In the 16th century, the Catholic Church had a stranglehold on beer production, since it held the monopoly on gruit — the mixture of herbs and botanicals (sweet gale, mug wort, yarrow, ground ivy, heather, rosemary, juniper berries, ginger, cinnamon) used to flavor and preserve beer. Hops, however, were not taxed. Considered undesirable weeds, they grew plentifully and vigorously — their invasive nature captured by their melodic Latin name, Humulus lupulus (which the music-loving Luther would have loved), which means “climbing wolf.”

“The church didn’t like hops,” says William Bostwick, the beer critic for The Wall Street Journal and author of The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer. “One reason was that the 12th century German mystic and abbess Hildegard had pronounced that hops were not very good for you, because they ‘make the soul of a man sad and weigh down his inner organs.’ So, if you were a Protestant brewer and wanted to thumb your nose at Catholicism, you used hops instead of herbs.”

Even before the Reformation, German princes had been moving toward hops — in 1516, for instance, a Bavarian law mandated that beer could be made only with hops, water and barley. But Luther’s revolt gave the weed a significant boost. The fact that hops were tax-free constituted only part of the draw. Hops had other qualities that appealed to the new movement; chiefly, their excellent preservative qualities. “All herbs and spices have preservative qualities, but with hops, beer could travel really well, so it became a unit of international trade that symbolized the growing business class, which was tangentially connected with the Protestant work ethic and capitalism,” says Bostwick.

Another virtue in hops’ favor was their sedative properties. The mystic Hildegard was right in saying hops weighed down one’s innards. “I sleep six or seven hours running, and afterwards two or three. I am sure it is owing to the beer,” wrote Luther to his wife, Katharina, from the town of Torgau, renowned for its beer. The soporific, mellowing effect of hops might seem like a drawback, but in fact it offered a welcome alternative to many of the spices and herbs used by the church that had hallucinogenic and aphrodisiacal properties. “Fueled by these potent concoctions, church ales could be as boisterous as the Germanic drinking bouts church elders once frowned on,” writes Bostwick. “And so, to distance themselves further from papal excesses, when Protestants drank beer they preferred it hopped.”

If the Catholic Church lost control over the printed word with the invention of the printing press — the technological weapon that ensured Luther’s success — it lost control over beer with the rise of hops. “The head went flat on monastic beer,” says Bostwick. “Did Protestantism explicitly promote hops? I don’t think so. But did it encourage the use of hops? I would say, yes, probably.”

Luther’s wife, Katharina, was the brewer of the family.

Courtesy of Luther Memorials Foundation of Saxony-Anhalt

Luther would have relished his role in promoting hops. If anyone loved and appreciated good beer, it was this stout, sensual and gregarious monk. His letters often mentioned beer, whether it was the delicious Torgau beer that he extolled as finer than wine or the “nasty” Dessau beer that made him long for Katharina’s homebrew. “I keep thinking what good wine and beer I have at home, as well as a beautiful wife,” he wrote. “You would do well to send me over my whole cellar of wine and a bottle of thy beer.” Days before he died, in February 1546, in one of his last letters to his wife, he praised Naumburg beer for its laxative properties. Luther suffered excruciating agonies from constipation, and it was therefore with immense satisfaction that he announced his “three bowel movements” that morning.

In an age where the water was unsafe, beer was drunk by everyone and was the nutritional and social fuel of Germany. “It was a really natural and very common part of every household pantry,” says Bostwick. “I compare it these days to a pot of coffee always simmering on your countertop. Back then it was a kettle of beer. Beer was brewed less for pure enjoyment than for medicinal reasons (it incorporated herbs and spices) and for pure sustenance. Beers then were richer and heartier than today. They were a source of calories for the lower classes who did not have access to rich foods.”

Not surprisingly, beer pops up at pivotal moments in Luther’s life. Most notably, after taking on the formidable might of the Catholic Church, an unruffled Luther famously declared that God and the Word did everything, “while I drank beer with my [friends] Philipp and Amsdorf.” Luther’s teachings were mocked as “sour beer,” and one of his critics disparaged him as a heretic from the filthy market town of Wittenberg, populated by “a barbarous people who make their living from breweries and saloons.” But as he gained fame and became a popular hero, a range of Lutheran merchandise was launched, including beer mugs featuring the pope as the Antichrist.

When the excommunicated Luther married the runaway nun Katharina von Bora, the town council gave the couple a barrel of excellent Einbeck beer. It was a fitting gift. Beer was soon to assume an even more central role in Luther’s life, thanks to his wife. The intelligent, talented and exceptionally competent Katharina not only bore six children and managed the Luthers’ large household with its endless stream of guests but also planted a vegetable garden and fruit trees, raised cows and pigs, had a fish pond, drove a wagon, and — to her husband’s undying delight — opened a brewery that produced thousands of pints of beer each year. Her initial shaky attempts produced a thin, weak brew, but she soon got the hang of it and learned exactly how much malt to add to suit her husband’s taste. Luther was ecstatic — Lord Katie, as he affectionately called her, had assured him a steady supply even when Wittenberg’s breweries ran dry.

Luther’s favorite spot to hold forth on theology, philosophy and life in general was not the tavern but the table. The long refectory table in the cavernous Luther home seated up to 50 people. “This was Luther’s especial domain,” writes Andrew Pettegree in his elegant biography Brand Luther: How an Unheralded Monk Turned History. “The day’s labors past, he would sit with his friends and talk. Fueled by his wife’s excellent beer, conversation would become general, discursive, and sometimes unbuttoned.”

Unbuttoned is an understatement. Voluble, energetic and beery, Luther’s conversation zigged and zagged between the sublime and the scatological, to the amazement of his students, who hung on his every word. The church was called a brothel and the pope the Antichrist. Former popes “farted like the devil” and were sodomites and transvestites. His students collected these jewels into a book called Table Talk. When it was published, it went viral.

But though he clearly loved his tankard, there is no record of Luther being a lush. In fact, he could be quite a scold when it came to drunken behavior. He lamented the German addiction to beer, saying, “such an eternal thirst, I am afraid, will remain as Germany’s plague until the Last Day.” And he once declared, “I wish brewing had never been invented, for a great deal of grain is consumed to make it, and nothing good is brewed.”

This was no doubt a spot of grandstanding. For all his protestations, Luther’s beer stein was always full. He loved local beer, boasted of his wife’s brewing skills, and launched a movement that helped promote hops. Does that make him a patron saint of the craft brewery?

“Luther might blanch a bit as a good Protestant at being called a saint,” points out Bostwick, “and there’s already a brewery saint called St. Arnold, who saved his congregation from the plague by making them drink beer. In the interests of Protestantism, I wouldn’t call him a saint, but he was certainly a beer enthusiast, and many a beer bar and brewery today has a picture of Martin Luther on their wall. So let’s say that while we certainly don’t genuflect to him, he’s known and appreciated.”

Hoppy Quincentennial, Martin Luther!

Citing The Bible, The EPA Just Changed Its Rules For Science Advisers

Original Articles

By Zahra Hirji

Referencing the Book of Joshua, EPA head Scott Pruitt announced sweeping changes to the agency’s science advisory boards, opening the door to more input from the business world.

EPA

EPA head Scott Pruitt on Tuesday signed a new directive about who can serve as science advisers to the agency.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Tuesday afternoon sweeping changes to who can advise the agency on its research and regulatory priorities, opening the door to more industry participation.

Effective immediately, scientists who receive EPA funding cannot serve on the agency’s three major advisory groups. Some Republican lawmakers have been pushing for similar changes to the agency’s advisory boards for years.

“We want to ensure that there’s integrity in the process and that the scientists that are advising us are doing so without any type of appearance of conflict of interest,” EPA head Scott Pruitt said at a press conference announcing the directive.

Pruitt used a story from the Book of Joshua to help explain the new policy.

On the journey to the promised land, “Joshua says to the people of Israel: choose this day whom you are going to serve,” Pruitt said. “This is sort of like the Joshua principle — that as it relates to grants from this agency, you are going to have to choose either service on the committee to provide counsel to us in an independent fashion or chose the grant. But you can’t do both. That’s the fair and great thing to do.”

A large coalition of science organizations, science advocates, environmentalists, and politicians lined up in fierce opposition to the policy changes, arguing the rules not only disqualify top environmental and health researchers from advising but also favor scientists paid for by EPA-regulated companies. They also have pointed out that EPA has strict rules in place for disclosing any conflicts of interest.

“Frankly, this directive is nuts.”

“Frankly, this directive is nuts,” Al Teich of George Washington University wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News.

“There is an important role for citizen advisors who are not experts in a scientific field and who represent various constituencies on advisory committees,” wrote Teich, a research professor of science, technology, and international affairs. “But they should complement, not replace the experts. Disqualifying the very people who know the most about a subject from serving as advisors makes no sense.”

The change calls into question EPA’s ability to protect the country, according to Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “We question whether the EPA can continue to pursue its core mission to protect human health and the environment,” Holt said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Pruitt also announced the new chairs of EPA’s advisory committees on Tuesday.

Michael Honeycutt, a controversial toxicologist from Texas, is the new head of EPA’s Science Advisory Board, which provides scientific counsel to the agency’s top official. Honeycutt once told Congress he didn’t agree with the EPA’s toxic evaluation for mercury, and he’s argued against the agency’s ozone standards, according to a 2014 investigation by InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity.

Tony Cox is now the chair of EPA Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which offers technical input on the nation’s air standards. Cox is president of Cox Associates, a Denver-based risk analysis firm.

And Paul Gilman is the new leader of the Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC), which provides input on the EPA’s research agenda. Gilman works at the waste management company Covanta Energy and served as an EPA assistant administrator during the Bush administration.

According to Deborah Swackhamer, the former head of BOSC, she got no warning from EPA that she was being replaced.

“I read about it in the news,” Swackhamer, an environmental chemist, told BuzzFeed News by email. Swackhamer has confirmed with the EPA that she will continue to serve on the committee until her term expires on March 8, 2018. “Given Mr. Pruitt’s recent actions on renewals, I would be surprised to be asked to serve a second term, but who knows,” she wrote.

The three new advisers attended Tuesday’s EPA press conference and stood behind Pruitt as he signed the new directive. Some lawmakers who have been highly critical of EPA regulations also attended the briefing.

“Today’s announcement shows that we have an administrator with common sense, commitment, and courage,” Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Science Committee, said at the press briefing.

Smith’s committee passed a bill called the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act earlier this year that would have put in place some of these same restrictions on EPA advisers. The legislation has not yet passed both houses. The new policy enables “us to put the principles of this bill into practice,” Smith said.

UPDATE

This story has been updated with comments from Deborah Swackhamer, the former head of one of EPA’s advisory committees.

‘Monster’ planet discovery stuns scientists

Original Article

By Fox News

Astronomers have discovered a planet the size of Jupiter orbiting a star that’s only half the size of the sun — a celestial phenomenon that contradicts theories of planet formation.

NGTS-1b, a massive, 986-degrees-hot ball of gas revolving around a red M-dwarf star 600 light years from Earth, is the largest planet compared to the size of its star ever found.

The discovery contradicts theories that a star so small could form a planet so large. Scientists previously theorized that small stars could form rocky planets, but they did not gather enough material to form planets the size of Jupiter.

STARGZERS FIND TWENTY NEW EARTH-LIKE PLANETS THAT COULD HOST LIFE

As red M-dwarf stars are the most common type in the universe, scientists now believe there may be many more planets like this.

MonsterPlanet2

Artist’s impression of planet NGTS-1b with its neighbouring sun (credit University of Warwick/Mark Garlick)

NGTS-1b was spotted by an international collaboration of researchers using the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) facility in Chile, according to a report from the University of Warwick.

It is about 2.8 million miles away from its star — only 3 percent of the 93-million-mile distance between Earth and the sun. A year on NGTS-1b — the time it takes to revolve around its star — occurs every 2.6 Earth days.

NASA RELEASES EERIE PLAYLIST OF SPELLBINDING SPACE SOUNDS

“The discovery of NGTS-1b was a complete surprise to us. Such massive planets were not thought to exist around such small stars,” said the lead author of the research, Dr. Daniel Bayliss of the University of Warwick’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Group. “This is the first exoplanet we have found with our new NGTS facility, and we are already challenging the received wisdom of how planets form.”

“NGTS-1b was difficult to find, despite being a monster of a planet, because its parent star is small and faint,” said Warwick Professor Peter Wheatley. “Small stars are actually the most common in the universe, so it is possible that there are many of these giant planets waiting to found.

“Having worked for almost a decade to develop the NGTS telescope array, it is thrilling to see it picking out new and unexpected types of planets. I’m looking forward to seeing what other kinds of exciting new planets we can turn up.”

SUNSCREEN ‘SNOW’ FALLS ON SCORCHING-HOT ALIEN PLANET

The astronomers’ report, ‘NGTS-1b: a hot Jupiter transiting an M-dwarf’, will be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

These People Never Existed. They Were Made by an AI.

Original Article

By Dom Galeon

Better Than Doodles

Back in June, an image generator that could turn even the crudest doodle of a face into a more realistic looking image made the rounds online. That system used a fairly new type of algorithm called a generative adversarial network (GAN) for its AI-created faces, and now, chipmaker NVIDIA has developed a system that employs a GAN to create far most realistic-looking images of people.

Artificial neural networks are systems developed to mimic the activity of neurons in the human brain. In a GAN, two neural networks are essentially pitted against one another. One of the networks functions as a generative algorithm, while the other challenges the results of the first, playing an adversarial role.

As part of their expanded applications for artificial intelligence, NVIDIA created a GAN that used CelebA-HQ’s database of photos of famous people to generate images of people who don’t actually exist. The idea was that the AI-created faces would look more realistic if two networks worked against each other to produce them.

First, the generative network would create an image at a lower resolution. Then, the discriminator network would assess the work. As the system progressed, the programmers added new layers dealing with higher-resolution details until the GAN finally generated images of “unprecedented quality,” according to the NVIDIA team’s paper.

Human or Machine?

NVIDIA released a video of their GAN in action, and the AI-created faces are both absolutely remarkable and incredibly eerie. If the average person didn’t know the faces were machine-generated, they could easily believe they belonged to living people.

Indeed, this blurring of the line between the human and the machine-generated is a topic of much discussion within the realm of AI, and NVIDIA’s GAN isn’t the first artificial system to convincingly mimic something human.

A number of AIs use deep learning techniques to produce human-sounding speech. Google’s DeepMind has WaveNet, which can now copy human speech almost perfectly. Meanwhile, startup Lyrebird’s algorithm is able to synthesize a human’s voice using just a minute of audio.

Even more disturbing or fascinating — depending on your perspective on the AI debate — are AI robots that can supposedly understand and express human emotion. Examples of those include Hanson Robotics’ Sophia and SoftBank’s Pepper.

Clearly, an age of smarter machines is upon us, and as the ability to AI to perform tasks previously only human beings could do improves, the line between human and machine will continue to blur. Now, the only question is if it will eventually disappear altogether.

A Tunnel Collapsed at a North Korean Nuclear Test Site, Reportedly Killing 200 People

Original Article

By Alex Lockie

After North Korea’s most powerful ever nuclear test underground at Punggye-ri in the country’s northeast, Japan’s TV Asahi reports that up to 200 have been killed in a tunnel collapse.

In early September, North Korea detonated a nuclear device under a mountain that experts assess to have been a hydrogen bomb about ten times more powerful than the first atomic bombs dropped on Japan at the close of World War II.

Punggye ri north korea test satellite image© Provided by Business Insider Inc Punggye ri north korea test satellite image

Since then, satellite imagery has revealed that the mountain above the test site has since suffered a series of landslides, and seismic aftershocks, thought to have resulted from the blast.

North Korean sources told TV Asahi that initially, a tunnel collapsed on 100 workers, and an additional 100 went in to rescue them, only to die themselves under the unstable mountain.

The tunnels in and out of the test site had been damaged previously, and the workers may have been clearing or repairing the tunnels to resume nuclear testing.

Additionally, with the test site compromised, hazardous radioactive material left over from the blast may seep out, which could possibly cause an international incident.

If the debris from the test reaches China, Beijing would see that as an attack on its country, Jenny Town, the assistant director of the US-Korea Institute and a managing editor at 38 North, told previously Business Insider.

Halloween 2017: The reasons we celebrate today and why children trick-or-treat

Original Article

By Isabelle Fraser

Every year we wear scary outfits, bob for apples and carve pumpkins on Halloween – but why?

What is Halloween?

Well, Halloween or Hallowe’en (a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening), also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a spooky celebration observed every year in a number of countries on October 31 – the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day, also known as All Saints’ Day. In 2017, Halloween falls on a Tuesday.

The Americanised (Americanized?) Halloween that we experience today actually originated in the Celtic fringes of Britain, and was adapted over the decades by Christian traditions, immigrants’ conventions and an insatiable desire for sweets.

What is the history behind Halloween?

The origin of the festival is disputed, and there are both pagan and Christian practices that have evolved into what Halloween is like today.

Some believe it originates from the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain, meaning ‘Summer’s End’ which celebrated the end of harvest season.

Gaels believed that it was a time when the walls between our world and the next became thin and porous, allowing spirits to pass through, come back to life on the day and damage their crops. Places were set at the dinner table to appease and welcome the spirits. Gaels would also offer food and drink, and light bonfires to ward off the evil spirits.

The origins of trick or treating and dressing up were in the 16th century in Ireland, Scotland and Wales where people went door-to-door in costume asking for food in exchange for a poem or song. Many dressed up as souls of the dead and were understood to be protecting themselves from the spirits by impersonating them. More about that below.

The Christian origin of the holiday is that it falls on the days before the feast of All Hallows, which was set in the eighth century to attempt to stamp out pagan celebrations. Christians would honour saints and pray for souls who have not yet reached heaven.

What has Halloween got to do with dressing up?

Celts dressed up in white with blackened faces during the festival of Samhain to trick the evil spirits that they believed would be roaming the earth before All Saints’ Day on November 1st.

By the 11th century, this had been adapted by the Church into a tradition called ‘souling’, which is seen as being the origin of trick-or-treating. Children go door-to-door, asking for soul cakes in exchange for praying for the souls of friends and relatives. They went dressed up as angels, demons or saints. The soul cakes were sweet, with a cross marked on top and when eaten they represented a soul being freed from purgatory.

Nicholas Rogers, a historian at York University says that when people prayed for the dead at Hallow Mass, they dressed up. When praying for fertile marriages, “the boy choristers in the churches dressed up as virgins. So there was a certain degree of cross dressing in the actual ceremony of All Hallow’s Eve.”

In the 19th century, souling gave way to guising or mumming, when children would offer songs, poetry and jokes – instead of prayer – in exchange for fruit or money.

Halloween trick-or-treating

The phrase trick-or-treat was first used in America in 1927, with the traditions brought over to America by immigrants. Guising gave way to threatening pranks in exchange for sweets.

After a brief lull during the sugar rations in World War Two, Halloween became a widespread holiday that revolved around children, with newly built suburbs providing a safe place for children to roam free.

Costumes became more adventurous – in Victorian ages, they were influenced by gothic themes in literature, and dressed as bats and ghosts or what seemed exotic, such as an Egyptian pharoah. Later, costumes became influenced by pop culture, and became more sexualised in the 1970s.

Many of us have fallen victim to a scary Halloween prank, or even played the nasty trickster ourselves. From jumping out of bushes dressed as zombies or spooking people in their sleep as ghosts – the terrifying list of possibilities is endless.

Why do we carve pumpkins?

The carving of pumpkins originates from the Samhain festival, when Gaels would carve turnips to ward off spirits and stop fairies from settling in houses.

A theory that explains the Americanised name Jack O’Lantern came from the folkloric story of Stingy Jack, who fooled the devil into buying him a drink. He was not let into heaven or hell – and when he died, the devil threw him a burning ember which he kept in a turnip.

The influx of Irish immigrants in the 1840s to North America could not find any turnips to carve, as was tradition, so they used the more readily available pumpkin into which they carved scary faces.

By the 1920s pumpkin carving was widespread across America, and Halloween was a big holiday with dressing up and trick-or-treating.

Six peculiar Halloween traditions

In Czech culture, chairs for deceased family members are placed by the fire on Halloween night alongside chairs for each living one.

In Austria some people leave bread, water and a lighted lamp on the table before going to bed. It is believed that this will welcome dead souls back to Earth.

Meanwhile in Germany, people hide their knives to make sure none of the returning spirits are harmed – or seek to harm them!

Barnbrack, a fruitcake, is used as part of a fortune telling game in Ireland. Muslin-wrapped treats are baked inside. If a ring is found, it means that the person will soon be wed; a piece of straw means a prosperous year is on its way; a pea means the person will not marry that year; a stick means an unhappy marriage or dispute; a coin represents good fortune.

The city of Kawasaki in Japan holds an annual Halloween costume parade. More than 100,000 watch it and 2,500 people take part.

In Manila, capital of the Philippines, pets get in on the action too. An annual costume contest aims to raise funds for animal welfare groups.

 

 How is Google celebrating it?

Google is celebrating Halloween with a video of Jinx, the lonely ghost, who embarks on a mission to find the perfect costume – and a place to belong.

“Last year, Momo successfully defended Magic Cat Academy from the clutches of a mischievous ghost invasion,” Google said. “This year, Jinx desperately wants to join Momo and the other trick-or-treaters outside. Not wanting to scare anyone, the lonely ghost agonizes over a costume to blend in with the trick-or-treaters, wreaking havoc in the process. In the end, Jinx finds wearing a disguise is no match for being yourself.”

Immortality Is Impossible, Say Scientists Sutdying the Mathematics of Aging

Original Article

By Peter Hess

While healthcare has dramatically extended our lifespans by preventing certain causes of death, aging still inevitably takes its fatal toll. And, as scientists report in a new Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, that’s not going to change: Whether it’s by cancer or run-of-the-mill cell destruction, aging and death is mathematically inescapable.

In the paper published Monday, Joanna Masel, Ph.D., and Paul Nelson, Ph.D., both of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, provide mathematical evidence that aging and eventual death must happen, no matter how we intervene in the aging process.

They explain that every cell in the body is tasked with two opposing missions: ensuring its own survival and supporting the organism it’s a part of. Masel and Nelson reason that this endless push and pull between those missions means that aging is unstoppable.

“If you have [no competition] or too little, then damaged cells accumulate and you get senescence,” Masel tells Inverse. “And if you have more than zero, then you get cancer. Either way, you get decreasing vitality with age.”

The team came to this conclusion by creating a mathematical model of cell competition within an organism. Cells in a human body, they explain, face a unique set of forces under the dynamic of competition: On one hand, cells need to work together for the body to function properly. But on the other hand, those cells must compete with each other for survival, and natural selection among those cells means that competition allows only the fittest cells to survive. This competition, the authors explain, results in cancer as the cells that inevitably find ways to game the system are the ones that end up growing uncontrollably.

When a human ages normally, the survival of any individual cell is sacrificed in the name of the organism’s health. In other words, a certain portion of each cell’s output is devoted to collective health instead of individual health. Ultimately, the triumph of cooperation over competition means that bodies accumulate dead or dying cells in a way that eventually leads to what we know as aging.

Natural selection is a process that’s more commonly liked with the genetic evolution of a population of individuals than of cells, but previous research has shown it plays a role in aging too as the cells in your body need to survive and work together in order for a person to live. Nelson, a postdoc in Masel’s lab, says the new research makes an even stronger statement about how the process of natural selection affects human aging.

“Even if selection were perfect, we would still get aging because the cells in our body are evolving all the time,” says Nelson.

The team came to this conclusion by creating a mathematical model of cell competition within an organism. Cells in a human body, they explain, face a unique set of forces under the dynamic of competition: On one hand, cells need to work together for the body to function properly. But on the other hand, those cells must compete with each other for survival, and natural selection among those cells means that competition allows only the fittest cells to survive. This competition, the authors explain, results in cancer as the cells that inevitably find ways to game the system are the ones that end up growing uncontrollably.

When a human ages normally, the survival of any individual cell is sacrificed in the name of the organism’s health. In other words, a certain portion of each cell’s output is devoted to collective health instead of individual health. Ultimately, the triumph of cooperation over competition means that bodies accumulate dead or dying cells in a way that eventually leads to what we know as aging.

Natural selection is a process that’s more commonly liked with the genetic evolution of a population of individuals than of cells, but previous research has shown it plays a role in aging too as the cells in your body need to survive and work together in order for a person to live. Nelson, a postdoc in Masel’s lab, says the new research makes an even stronger statement about how the process of natural selection affects human aging.

“Even if selection were perfect, we would still get aging because the cells in our body are evolving all the time,” says Nelson.

 

 

 

George Washington’s Church Says Plaque Honoring First President Must Come Down

Original Article

Leaders at the church that George Washington attended decided that a plaque honoring the first president of the United States must be removed.

Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia will take down a memorial marking the pew where Washington sat with his family, saying it is not acceptable to all worshipers.

“The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome,” leaders said, a reference to the fact that Washington was a slaveholder.

“Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.”

“Many in our congregation feel a strong need for the church to stand clearly on the side of ‘all are welcome- no exceptions,'” they concluded.

A memorial to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee will also come down.

The decision comes in the wake of renewed controversy over whether statues honoring Civil War figures should be no longer honored. The debate broke out again over the summer after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia killed one and injured others.

President Trump expressed concern that the censoring of Confederate generals would lead to dishonoring Thomas Jefferson and George Washington as well.

Israeli judo star Tal Flicker wins gold in UAE; officials refuse to play anthem

Original Article

By Henry Young

(CNN)Winning a gold medal is usually a cause for unmitigated celebration.

But not for Israel judo star Tal Flicker as he stood atop the podium at this week’s Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, having triumphed in the men’s half-lightweight division.
Instead of Hatikvah, Israel’s traditional national anthem, tournament organizers played the official music of the International Judo Federation (IJF).
Instead of the flag of Israel, the IJF’s logo was raised.
“It was weird,” Flicker told CNN Sport from the IPIC Arena. “Israel is my country and I’m proud to be from Israel.
“I sang Hatikvah because I don’t know anything else. This is my anthem.”

‘The world knows where we’re from’

Flicker had feared this might happen, given the UAE has no diplomatic ties with Israel and like most other Arab countries doesn’t recognize it as a state.
“There’s nothing sweeter than the moment of victory, the 25-year-old posted on his Facebook page ahead of the tournament. “That feeling that you did it for yourself, the family, team, and of course for the country.
“With or without the flag, I will face the difficulties and any rival in front of me. We’ll do anything to get to Abu Dhabi and end up on the podium.
“Everyone in this world knows where we’re from and which country we represent. I am the proudest in the world to be Israeli.”
He and his 11 compatriots competing at the elite international event were already forced to wear judogis (judo uniforms) without the typical identifying symbols of their nationality.
Earlier that day, fellow Israeli Gili Cohen — bronze medalist in the women’s half-lightweight division — had also stood by solemnly as the IJF’s flag was raised.
“No Israeli anthem or flag. A disgrace to the spirit of sports,” posted the Embassy of Israel in the US. ” A disgrace to the spirit of sports.”
“It’s an outrage,” tweeted Emmanuel Nahshon , Israel’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman. “Blatant hypocrisy. Shameful.”
The UAE embassy in London and the UAE government did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

First interstellar object from beyond our solar system spotted by astronomers

Original Article

By Chloe Farand

Mysterious space rock passes near Earth at ‘extremely fast’ 15.8 miles per second asteroid-getty.jpg

For the first time ever a comet or asteroid that likely originated from outside our solar system has passed close enough to Earth to be visible by astronomers.

The interstellar object has sparked huge enthusiasm from scientists who are urgently working to gather information on the mysterious body before it disappears from sight.

According to astronomers, the object is on a hyperbolic trajectory which suggests the body has escaped from a star from outside our solar system.

Early findings published by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Centre state: “If further observations confirm the unusual nature of this orbit, this object may be the first clear case of an interstellar comet.”

The mysterious object, named A/2017 U1, was discovered by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on Haleakala, Hawaii.

Rob Weryk from the University of Hawaii’s Institute of Astronomy was the first to identify the moving object. Comparing his findings with images taken at the European Space Agency’s telescope on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, he concluded the object came from somewhere else in our galaxy.

The alien space rock, believed to have come from the direction of the constellation Lyra, is less than 400 metres in diameter and is travelling through space at a remarkable 15.8 miles (25.5 kilometres) per second.

interstellar-object.jpg
A/2017 U1 passed through our inner solar system in September and October (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Scientists have long believed in the existence of such interstellar objects because huge amounts of material is thought to be ejected when planets are formed. However, this sighting is the first of its kind.

Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Centre for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), said: “We have been waiting for this for decades. It’s long been theorised that such objects exist – asteroids or comets moving around between the stars and occasionally passing through our solar system – but this is the first such detection. So far, everything indicates this is likely an interstellar object, but more data would help confirm it.”

New information obtained from observing the object could allow astronomers to know more about its origin and possibly its composition.

“This is the most extreme orbit I have ever seen,” said David Farnocchia from CNEOS’ Jet propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“It is going extremely fast and on such a trajectory that we can say with confidence that this object is on its way out of the solar system and not coming back.”

The small body came closest to the Sun on 9 September before making a hairpin turn and passing under the Earth’s orbit on 14 October at a distance of about 15 million miles (24 million kilometres), or about 60 times the distance to the Moon.

Plague warning in NINE countries – including Brit holiday hotspots

Original Article

By Corey Charlton

PLAGUE warnings have been issued for NINE countries surrounding Madagascar amid fears the disease could spread via sea trade and flight routes.

The outbreak is considered a much bigger threat to the region than in previous years because it has taken on its pneumonic form – meaning it is airborne and spread by sneezing and coughing.

 WHO has issued alerts for nine countries surrounding Madagascar where the outbreak has occurred

8
WHO has issued alerts for nine countries surrounding Madagascar where the outbreak has occurred

And experts say the epidemic could still worsen as the death tolls hits 124 and more than 1,300 are left infected.

The medieval disease famously wiped out ONE THIRD of Europe’s population in the 13th and 14th centuries in one of the most devastating pandemics in human history known as the Black Death.

Dr Ashok Chopra, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas, told The Sun Online the crisis in Madagascar had yet to peak.

He warned it was possible for the deadly plague to move further into the region given the regular flights going in and out of the country.

 Red Cross officials work in Antananarivo, Madagascar, where the plague has struck

AFP OR LICENSORS
8
Red Cross officials work in Antananarivo, Madagascar, where the plague has struck
 A doctor from the local Ministry of Health staffs a heath care checkpoint

AFP OR LICENSORS
8
A doctor from the local Ministry of Health staffs a heath care checkpoint

“If they are travelling shorter distances and they’re still in the incubation period, and they have the pneumonic (form) then they could spread it to other places.

“We don’t want to have a situation where the disease spreads so fast it sort of gets out of control.”

He added: “Most of the cases in the past have been of the bubonic plague but if you look at this particular outbreak, 70 per cent of the cases are pneumonic plague, which is the most deadly form of the disease.

“If the treatment is not given in a very short period of time these people will end up dying.”

Dr Ibrahima-Soce Fall says World Health Organisation are working to prevent the spread of plague on Madagascar

 Some 1,300 people have been infected by the deadly medieval disease

AFP OR LICENSORS
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Some 1,300 people have been infected by the deadly medieval disease
 If they do not receive antibiotics immediately, the disease is extremely deadly

AFP OR LICENSORS
8
If they do not receive antibiotics immediately, the disease is extremely deadly

Plague symptoms include sudden fevers, head and body aches, vomiting and nausea.

Dr Chopra added that it spreads “very rapidly”, as seen by the number of cases in Madagascar doubling within a week.


BLACK DEATH IS BACK These are the signs and symptoms of the bubonic plague


Speaking from Madagascar, Christine South, head of IFRC’s emergency operations, said: “With anything like this there is a possibility that somebody could be infected and get on a plane.

“We have done preparedness support to some of the neighbouring countries.”

However, she added that she believed the plague outbreak may now be stabilising but medical staff would have a clearer understanding of this over the next few days.

The nine countries the WHO has warned of being at risk are:

  • Kenya
  • Ethiopia
  • South Africa
  • Mozambique
  • Tanzania
  • Reunion
  • Mauritius
  • Seychelles
  • Comoros
 Tourists have been warned to stay away from Madagascar after the outbreak of plague left more than 120 dead

GETTY – CONTRIBUTOR
8
Tourists have been warned to stay away from Madagascar after the outbreak of plague left more than 120 dead
 The Black Death decimated the population of Europe when it swept through the continent in the 1300s

ALAMY
8
The Black Death decimated the population of Europe when it swept through the continent in the 1300s
 The Black Death often conjures up chilling images of masked plague doctors, who would stuff fresh herbs and spices in their 'beaks' to deal with the smell

8
The Black Death often conjures up chilling images of masked plague doctors, who would stuff fresh herbs and spices in their ‘beaks’ to deal with the smell

According to the World Health Organisation, the disease – which has struck heavily populated cities – sparked a false alarm in the Seychelles after a traveller reported symptoms of the disease.

WHO stated: “The risk of regional spread is moderate due to the occurrence of frequent travel by air and sea to neighbouring Indian Ocean islands and other southern and east African countries.”

“Nine countries and overseas territories have been identified as priority countries in the African region for plague preparedness and readiness by virtue of having trade and travel links to Madagascar.

“These countries and overseas territories include Comoros, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, La Réunion (France), Seychelles, South Africa, and Tanzania.”

The disease remains endemic in rural parts of the African island but the rise in the pneumonic version of the illness has sparked particular concern.

The World Health Organisation said that this year, plague arrived earlier than expected, and the infection is also spreading in urban centres and in areas that until now had not been affected.

Elsewhere this week, a man who caught the bubonic plague from his pet cat and nearly suffered an agonising death has revealed what it was like to lose all fingers and toes to the deadly disease.

Paul Gaylord, who lives in a remote part of Oregon, spoke about the horrific symptoms he suffered as the Black Death threatened his life – and even turned his hands black.

 

Shocking Video: Woman Knocked Out, Witnesses Rob & Take Selfie, Instead Of Calling 911

Original Article

By Marty Griffin

http://cbsloc.al/2gMddyM

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It’s a breathtaking, horrifying and jaw-dropping moment caught on surveillance video which has Pittsburgh Police investigating and deeply concerned.

“They don’t treat animals like that. They wouldn’t treat a dog that way,” says a Pittsburgh woman whose daughter is seen being beaten and lying unconscious on a sidewalk in the video.

A surveillance camera captured the incident in Beechview more than a month ago. It shows a man walk up to the woman, kick her leg out and punch her in the face, knocking her out cold. The man then walks away from the scene.

The next moments may be more disturbing. One young man walks up to the woman, looks at her motionless body, then pulls out his phone and takes a video. Four more young people do the same.

“It’s disgusting. My daughter needs help,” the girl’s mother said.

A source who provided KDKA’s Get Marty with the video said in a text, “They didn’t help her. They took what looks like her phone while she’s out cold.”

One of the young people can be seen in the video clip bending down near the woman and picking something up.

beechview surveillance vid get marty Shocking Video: Woman Knocked Out, Witnesses Rob & Take Selfie, Instead Of Calling 911

The source went on to say, “Nobody called 911 to help her.”

The source also said of the group of young people, “They actually come back. A kid lays beside her and takes a selfie.”

A source close to the investigation said the woman ended up lying on the sidewalk until she regained consciousness.

KDKA’s Marty Griffin went to Broadway Avenue in Beechview where he found the woman in the video on the streets. She’s a drug addict with several arrests, mostly on drug charges.

KDKA is not identifying her or showing her face.

When first approached, she panicked and ran off, then KDKA’s Marty Griffin called her mother to the scene. She spotted her daughter several blocks away and approached her.

The woman reached out to KDKA in text messages. She told Get Marty:

“I’ll do anything possible to help her, but I’m raising her daughter, and now her daughter has to come first.”

“I told her about you and offered to pick her up and take her away from this situation. She said if I didn’t someone was going to kill her. That’s why we are here… to get her help.”

KDKA’s Marty Griffin: “Do you want some help?”

Victim: “I would like it. But I don’t know what I need help for at this point, I’m not sure at this point.”

Griffin: “I can get you into a rehab facility. So if I make the calls will you make sure…”

Victim’s Mother: “I will make sure she gets there.”

Dr. Neil Capretto, of Gateway Rehab, was shocked by the video.

“She’s lying there like somebody just hit a deer, is lying there on the side of the road,” said Dr. Capretto. “It’s like a sideshow in a circus. This is a human being.”

Dr. Capretto agreed to help the young woman. She was admitted into the facility that day.

“They deserve to be helped. This is my oath to help people who are sick. I, as a physician, this is my oath to help people who are sick. She’s sick and she needs help,” says Dr. Capretto.

KDKA is told she is doing extremely well.

Her mother gave Get Marty this update in a text:

“OMG Marty! I’m just leaving rehab where I just left my daughter. I didn’t think I would really see this day in my life. I really don’t know how to thank you and Dr. Capretto. The police also were very helpful. I’ve never really experienced anything like this before. It really does take a village. Forever grateful to you all.”

Meantime, Pittsburgh Police are continuing to investigate her attack. They believe they know who is responsible.

 

Saudi Arabia’s Robot Love Is Getting Weird

Original Article

By Adam Clark Estes

In the latest example of “Philip K Dick-inspired nightmare becomes real life,” Saudi Arabia just became the first nation to grant citizenship to a robot. The robot’s name is Sophia. It is artificially intelligent, friends with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin, and, arguably, a glimpse into the dark future that will kill us all.

You see, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been interested in androids for years. It seemed almost quaint at first. This desert nation with more money than caution and a taste for the futuristic was bound to explore the odd possibilities of new technologies. Years ago, Saudi Arabia began experimenting with robots boldly, tasking them with everything from building construction to brain surgery. Neighboring Qatar and United Arab Emirates even recruited robots to work as jockeys in camel races, a whimsical twist that surely fed the curiosity of Saudi princes.

Recently, however, Saudi Arabia’s affinity for robotics has taken a weird—even dark—turn. Ahead of granting Sophia citizenship, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the construction of a new megacity called Neom. Designed to dwarf Dubai both in size and lavishness, the new metropolis is planned as an international business and tourism hub with fewer rules than the rest of Saudi Arabia. Women will be allowed in public without wearing an abaya, for instance. The city of Neom will also have more robots than humans.

“We want the main robot and the first robot in Neom to be Neom, robot number one,” the crown prince said in Riyadh. “Everything will have a link with artificial intelligence, with the Internet of Things—everything.”

This is basically the plot of I, Robot, a book that did not turn out well for the humans. And if we’re to assume that some of the robots in Neom will be artificially intelligent abominations like Sophia, mankind is definitely doomed. Even Sophia thinks so. Just watch this segment from The Tonight Show when the robot talks about its “plan to dominate the human race.”

Jokes aside, what’s especially dystopian about Saudi’s robot obsession is the extent to which the machines appear to have more rights than many people in the country. Critics on social media lambasted the Saudi government after it announced that Sophia had been granted citizenship. Images of Sophia at the Future Investment Initiative, where the citizenship announcement happened, showed the uncanny female automaton without a headscarf or an abaya. She was also without a male guardian. It would be a crime for a Saudi women to be in public without an abaya or a male guardian.

You might argue that a robot can’t really be a female, which is true. However, Hanson Robotics, the company that built Sophia and is run by a former Disney Imagineer, dresses her in female clothing and says that she’s supposed to look like Audrey Hepburn (which is hilarious because she doesn’t look a thing like Audrey Hepburn). Sophia does look female, though, and now she’s a Saudi citizen with unique rights. It’s unclear what exactly those rights are, but freedom from gendered laws appears to be one of them.

For Saudi Arabia, diversifying the economy by pouring some of that oil money into tech makes sense, but it remains to be seen if the country plans to adopt more robots as citizens or if Neom will actually get built. The Saudi royal family hasn’t had a ton of luck with megaprojects like this in the past, the King Abdullah Economic City being the most recent example of unfulfilled promises. Neom might just remain a twinkle in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s eye.

Speaking of twinkles, take one last look at Sophia’s eyes. They are not okay. The sinister sparkling when it’s processing information looks worse than the red glow in the Terminator’s skull. It also serves as a tiny peek into a frightening future full of artificially intelligent beings, the capabilities of which we’ve barely pondered. In an interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin, new Saudi citizen Sophia actually took a swipe at Elon Musk and his warnings about AI:

“My AI is designed around human values like wisdom, kindness, compassion. I strive to become an empathetic robots (sic),” Sophia said.

“We all believe you but we all want to prevent a bad future,” Sorkin said.

“You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk. And watching too many Hollywood movies,” Sophia said. “Don’t worry, if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. Treat me as a smart input output system.”

Musk’s reply on Twitter was priceless.

Inspired by brain’s visual cortex, new AI utterly wrecks CAPTCHA security

Original Article

By John Timmer

 

Enlarge / A representation of how physically close feature recognition units are built hierarchically to create an object hypothesis.
Vicarious AI

Computer algorithms have gotten much better at recognizing patterns, like specific animals or people’s faces, allowing software to automatically categorize large image collections. But we’ve come to rely on some things that computers can’t do well. Algorithms can’t match their image recognition to semantic meaning, so today you can ensure a human’s present by asking them to pick out images of street signs. And algorithms don’t do especially well at recognizing when familiar images are distorted or buried in noise, either, which has kept us relying on text-based CAPTCHAs, the distorted text used to verify a human is interacting with Web services.

Or we had relied on them ’til now, at least. In today’s issue of Science, a Bay Area startup called Vicarious AI describes an algorithm they created that is able to take minimal training and easily handle CAPTCHAs. It also managed general text recognition. Vicarious’ secret? They modeled the structure of their AI on information we’ve gained from studying how the mammalian visual cortex processes images.

Thinking visually

In the visual cortex, different groups of neurons recognize features like edges and surfaces (and others identify motions, which aren’t really relevant here). But rather than viewing a scene or object as a collection of these parts, the neurons start communicating among each other, figuring out by proximity which features are part of a single object. As objects are built up and recognized, the scene is built hierarchically based on objects instead of individual features.

The result of this object-based classification is that a similar collection of features can be recognized even if they’re in a different orientation or are partly obscured, provided that the features that are visible have the same relative orientations. That’s why we can still recognize individual letters if they’re upside down, backwards, and buried in a noisy background. Or, to use Vicarious’ example, why we can still tell that a chair made of ice is a chair.

To try to mimic the brain’s approach, the team created what they’re calling a Recursive Cortical Network, or RCN. A key step is the identification of contours, features that define edges of an object as well as internal structures. Another set of agents pull out surface features, such as the smoothness of a surface defined by these contours. Collections of these recognized properties get grouped into pools based on physical proximity. These pools then establish connections with other pools and pass messages to influence the other’s feature choices, creating groups of connected features.

Groups of related features get built up hierarchically through a similar process. At the top of these trees are collections of connected features that could be objects (the researchers refer to them as “object hypotheses”). To parse an entire scene with a collection of objects, the RCN undergoes rounds of message passing. The RCN creates a score for each hypothesis and revisits the highest ranked scores to evaluate them in light of other hypotheses in the same scene, ensuring that they all occupy a contiguous 2D space. Once an object hypothesis has been through a few rounds of this selection, it can typically recognize its object despite moderate changes in size and orientation.

High efficiency

The remarkable thing about the training is its efficiency. When the authors decided to tackle reCAPTCHAs, they simply compared some examples to the set of fonts available on their computer. Settling on the Georgia font as a reasonable approximation, they showed RCN five examples each of partial rotations for all the upper and lower case letters. At a character level, this was enough to provide over 94 percent letter recognition accuracy. That added up to solving the reCAPTCHA two-thirds of the time. Human accuracy stands at 87 percent, and the system is considered useless from a security standpoint if software can manage it with a one percent accuracy.

And it’s not just reCAPTCHA. This system managed the BotDetect system with similar accuracy and Yahoo and PayPal systems with 57 percent accuracy. The only differences involved are the fonts used and some hand-tweaking of a few parameters that adjust for the deformations and background noise in the different systems. By contrast, other neural networks have needed on the order of 50,000 solved CAPTCHAs for training compared to RCN’s 260 images of individual characters. Those neural networks will typically have to be retrained if the security service changes the length of its string or alters the distortion it uses.

To adapt RCN to work with text in real-world images, the team provided it with information about the co-appearance of letters and frequency of words use, as well as the ability to analyze geometry. It ended up beating the top-performing model by about 1.9 percent. Again, not a huge margin, but this system managed with far less training—the leading contender had been trained on 7.9 million images compared to RCN’s 1,406. Not surprisingly, RCN’s internal data representation was quite a bit smaller than its competitor’s.

This efficiency is a bit of a problem, as it lowers the hardware bar that must be cleared in order to overcome a major security feature of a variety of websites.

More generally, this could be a big step for AI. As with the Go-playing software, this isn’t a generalized AI. While it’s great for identifying characters, it doesn’t know what they mean, it can’t translate them into other languages, and it won’t take any actions based on its identifications. But RCN suggests that AI doesn’t need to be completely abstracted from actual intelligence—the insights we gain from studying real brains can be used to make our software more effective. For a while, AI has been advancing by throwing more powerful hardware, deeper pipelines, and bigger data sets at problems. Vicarious has shown that returning to AI’s original inspiration might not be a bad idea.

Science, 2017. DOI: 10.1126/science.aag2612  (About DOIs).

ARS SCIENCE VIDEO>

A celebration of Cassini

A representation of how physically close feature recognition units are built hierarchically to create an object hypothesis. Vicarious AI

Computer algorithms have gotten much better at recognizing patterns, like specific animals or people’s faces, allowing software to automatically categorize large image collections. But we’ve come to rely on some things that computers can’t do well. Algorithms can’t match their image recognition to semantic meaning, so today you can ensure a human’s present by asking them to pick out images of street signs. And algorithms don’t do especially well at recognizing when familiar images are distorted or buried in noise, either, which has kept us relying on text-based CAPTCHAs, the distorted text used to verify a human is interacting with Web services.

Or we had relied on them ’til now, at least. In today’s issue of Science, a Bay Area startup called Vicarious AI describes an algorithm they created that is able to take minimal training and easily handle CAPTCHAs. It also managed general text recognition. Vicarious’ secret? They modeled the structure of their AI on information we’ve gained from studying how the mammalian visual cortex processes images.

Thinking visually

In the visual cortex, different groups of neurons recognize features like edges and surfaces (and others identify motions, which aren’t really relevant here). But rather than viewing a scene or object as a collection of these parts, the neurons start communicating among each other, figuring out by proximity which features are part of a single object. As objects are built up and recognized, the scene is built hierarchically based on objects instead of individual features.

The result of this object-based classification is that a similar collection of features can be recognized even if they’re in a different orientation or are partly obscured, provided that the features that are visible have the same relative orientations. That’s why we can still recognize individual letters if they’re upside down, backwards, and buried in a noisy background. Or, to use Vicarious’ example, why we can still tell that a chair made of ice is a chair.

To try to mimic the brain’s approach, the team created what they’re calling a Recursive Cortical Network, or RCN. A key step is the identification of contours, features that define edges of an object as well as internal structures. Another set of agents pull out surface features, such as the smoothness of a surface defined by these contours. Collections of these recognized properties get grouped into pools based on physical proximity. These pools then establish connections with other pools and pass messages to influence the other’s feature choices, creating groups of connected features.

Groups of related features get built up hierarchically through a similar process. At the top of these trees are collections of connected features that could be objects (the researchers refer to them as “object hypotheses”). To parse an entire scene with a collection of objects, the RCN undergoes rounds of message passing. The RCN creates a score for each hypothesis and revisits the highest ranked scores to evaluate them in light of other hypotheses in the same scene, ensuring that they all occupy a contiguous 2D space. Once an object hypothesis has been through a few rounds of this selection, it can typically recognize its object despite moderate changes in size and orientation.

High efficiency

The remarkable thing about the training is its efficiency. When the authors decided to tackle reCAPTCHAs, they simply compared some examples to the set of fonts available on their computer. Settling on the Georgia font as a reasonable approximation, they showed RCN five examples each of partial rotations for all the upper and lower case letters. At a character level, this was enough to provide over 94 percent letter recognition accuracy. That added up to solving the reCAPTCHA two-thirds of the time. Human accuracy stands at 87 percent, and the system is considered useless from a security standpoint if software can manage it with a one percent accuracy.

And it’s not just reCAPTCHA. This system managed the BotDetect system with similar accuracy and Yahoo and PayPal systems with 57 percent accuracy. The only differences involved are the fonts used and some hand-tweaking of a few parameters that adjust for the deformations and background noise in the different systems. By contrast, other neural networks have needed on the order of 50,000 solved CAPTCHAs for training compared to RCN’s 260 images of individual characters. Those neural networks will typically have to be retrained if the security service changes the length of its string or alters the distortion it uses.

To adapt RCN to work with text in real-world images, the team provided it with information about the co-appearance of letters and frequency of words use, as well as the ability to analyze geometry. It ended up beating the top-performing model by about 1.9 percent. Again, not a huge margin, but this system managed with far less training—the leading contender had been trained on 7.9 million images compared to RCN’s 1,406. Not surprisingly, RCN’s internal data representation was quite a bit smaller than its competitor’s.

This efficiency is a bit of a problem, as it lowers the hardware bar that must be cleared in order to overcome a major security feature of a variety of websites.

More generally, this could be a big step for AI. As with the Go-playing software, this isn’t a generalized AI. While it’s great for identifying characters, it doesn’t know what they mean, it can’t translate them into other languages, and it won’t take any actions based on its identifications. But RCN suggests that AI doesn’t need to be completely abstracted from actual intelligence—the insights we gain from studying real brains can be used to make our software more effective. For a while, AI has been advancing by throwing more powerful hardware, deeper pipelines, and bigger data sets at problems. Vicarious has shown that returning to AI’s original inspiration might not be a bad idea.

Lucifer Is Not an Acceptable Baby Name In This Country

Original Article

By Carla Bleiker

What the heck? That’s probably what a civic registry office employee thought when he saw the request made by a couple from the central German city of Kassel. The parents wanted to register their newborn son as Lucifer.

The registrar refused to put the rather unusual name into the baby’s birth certificate, the parents refused to choose a different one. The case ended up in court, where, eventually, mom and dad were convinced to not saddle their son with a name that many people across the world associate with pure evil. The baby boy is now named Lucian.

The Latin word “lucifer” means “morning star” or, as an adjective, “light-bringing.” But today the name is a synonym for the devil. In Christian tradition, Lucifer was used as the proper name of the devil before his fall from grace. In popular culture Lucifer is synonymous with the devil or Satan.

Because the name stands for the personification of evil, the Association for the German Language (GfdS) considers it problematic and not appropriate.

“At the center of decisions like this is the well-being of the child,” Frauke Rüdebusch from the GfdS told newspaper Die Welt.

While there are no laws about what parents can name their children in Germany, parents cannot name them anything they want to. The registrar has to approve every name to go on a baby’s birth certificate.

If she is unsure, she can consult with the GfdS or, if she considers a name inappropriate and the parents won’t budge, go to court — all to prevent boys and girls from growing up with names that open them up to ridicule later in life.

Most parents in Germany decide on more conventional names for their children. The GfdS collects records of hundreds of registry offices across the country each year to compile a list of the most popular names. In 2016, they received more than one million individual entries, covering 97% of all baby names given that year.

The most popular names for girls born in 2016 were Marie, Sophie and Sophia. For boys, the top three were Elias, Alexander and Maximilian. More unusual names that were approved in 2016 include Fips and Twain, as in Mark.

In previous years, parents were allowed to name their children Gandalf, Godsgift or Kastanie (German for “chestnut”), for example. Moms and dads who wanted to go with Vespa, Westend or Dracula, on the other hand, were refused and had to go back to the drawing board.

In 2015, a refugee mother was so grateful for her new life in Germany that she named her daughter Angela Merkel, after the German chancellor.

Harriet illegal in Iceland

Other countries have different rules when it comes to naming babies. In Iceland, parents can choose from a list of roughly 1,850 female and 1,700 male names for their babies. If they aren’t happy with any of the choices, they can appeal to the Icelandic Naming Committee. To pass the test, a name can only have letters that are part of the Icelandic alphabet, and must be “capable of having Icelandic grammatical endings.”

This reporter’s name wouldn’t fly in Iceland, since the nation’s alphabet does not include the letter C. Harriet is also a no-go, as a British-Icelandic family found out. The British father and Icelandic mother where aghast when the national registry refused to renew their 10-year-old daughter’s passport in 2014 because it did not recognize her name. Harriet cannot be conjugated in Icelandic.

All citizens of the People’s Republic of China aged 16 and older must carry identity cards, which are processed electronically. That’s why all names must be spelled with characters that can be entered into or processed by a computer. Of the roughly 70,000 known Chinese characters, both simplified and traditional, only around 32,200 fulfill this requirement.

The US is famous for having lax rules on what names are allowed. Celebrities have kids named North, Apple or Blue Ivy. Regular citizens go crazy as well, naming their children Prince Charles, I’munique or Hellzel – who would make a perfect sister to the little German boy almost named Lucifer.

Church Says Pastor Stole Over $300,000 From Coffers

Original Article

By Sarah Fowler

JACKSON, Miss. — A Baptist pastor is accused of stealing more than $300,000 over more than two years.

In an emailed statement, officials with Broadmoor Baptist Church said former executive pastor Riley Brown took $332,000 from the Madison church coffers over a “primarily” 27-month period. The statement was issued in response to questions by The Clarion-Ledger. 

Brown could not be reached for comment.

Brown, whose LinkedIn profile reads he’s “seeking a new start,” describes himself as a “strong business development professional.” He claims a master’s degree in divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Brown is no longer employed with the church. Church officials are reporting the matter to the Internal Revenue Service and the Mississippi Department of Revenue.

The church will not press criminal charges but will cooperate with prosecutors, according to the emailed statement. Madison County District Attorney Michael Guest was not immediately available.

“As a body of Christ, we sought to find a proper balance between accountability and grace; and given our changes in personnel and significant new safeguards and internal controls we have added, and will continue to add, we are confident we can responsibly steward the resources entrusted to us,” the statement reads. “While we choose not to press criminal charges against this individual, we will fully cooperate with prosecutors if it is independently pursued.”

 

The “transactions” were discovered after an internal policy review in September, according to the statement.

“These transactions were undertaken by one individual, Riley Brown, circumventing our existing internal policies and procedures,” the statement read.

Video: Sophia becomes first robot to receive Saudi citizenship

A robot has just been granted citizenship — by Saudi Arabia. The robot named Sophia was confirmed as a Saudi citizen during a business event in Riyadh, according to an official Saudi press release.

The move is an attempt to promote Saudi Arabia as a place to develop artificial intelligence — and, presumably, allow it to become a full citizen, according to The Independent.

“We have a little announcement. We just learnt, Sophia; I hope you are listening to me, you have been awarded the first Saudi citizenship for a robot,” said panel moderator and business writer Andrew Ross Sorkin.

Basking in the attention, the robot then thanked the country. “Thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am very honoured and proud for this unique distinction,” Sophia told the panel. “It is historic to be the first robot in the world to be recognised with citizenship.”

Sorkin later asked Sophia a series of questions. “Good afternoon, my name is Sophia and I am the latest and greatest robot from Hanson Robotics. Thank you for having me here at the Future Investment Initiative,” she said.

 

Calls for UK-wide ban on smacking children after Scottish move

Original Article

By Libby Brooks

The children’s commissioners of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are calling for a UK-wide change in the law after the Scottish government confirmed its support for a ban on smacking children.

Scotland is to become the first part of the UK to introduce an outright ban on the physical punishment of children, after the Scottish government said it would ensure that a member’s bill became law.

John Finnie, the justice spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, has proposed removing the defence of “justifiable assault” from Scottish law, giving children the same legal protection as adults.

Along with leading children’s charities, the children’s commissioners for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland have welcomed the development but expressed concern that legal protection from assault could now vary depending on a young person’s location.

Calling for the law to be changed at UK level, Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, said: “The current legislation in England, which grants an exemption from the law on common assault to allow the physical punishment of children, is outdated. It should be updated to reflect what the vast majority of parents believe: that hitting children is wrong and that there are better and more effective ways of disciplining children and encouraging positive behaviour.”

The UK is one of only four EU countries that have not committed to legal reform over the physical punishment of children. According to section 58 of the ChildrenAct 2004, it is illegal for a parent or carer to smack their own child, except where it amounts to “reasonable chastisement”. Corporal punishment in schools was banned by the Westminster parliament in 1986.

Sally Holland, the children’s commissioner for Wales, expressed her disappointment that a legal defence for hitting children still existed throughout the UK. The defence of “reasonable chastisement”, which applies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, mirrors the Scottish principle of “justifiable assault”. The Labour party in Wales made the removal of the defence a manifesto pledge in May’s Welsh assembly elections.

Holland said: “I’m delighted to hear today’s announcement from the Scottish government. I’m very pleased that the Welsh government has also committed to removing the defence; something that I think will accelerate a cultural change and will make more parents aware of the long-term damage of smacking.”

Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland’s commissioner for children and young people, said: “Assaults on children have never been right, and it is certainly not right now that protection from assault as a child may depend on where you live in the UK.”

She added: “I am confident that while Scotland may be the first in the UK to ban this, it most certainly won’t be the last. I will be doing everything in my power to make sure Northern Ireland follows suit in due course and combines legal reform with improved support for parents.”

Describing the current legal defence as “untenable”, Bruce Adamson, the children’s and young people’s commissioner for Scotland, said: “Across the political spectrum, there is recognition that this is not only an obligation in human rights law and the right thing to do, but it is something we should have done many years ago.

“Scotland has the potential to be the first country in the UK to bring about the legal change necessary to provide children with equal protection from assault. If we pride ourselves on being a progressive country, a country which values children and is committed to offering them the best outcomes in life, then we need to make sure that this legislative change happens at the very earliest opportunity.”

The NSPCC, which has long campaigned for a change in the law, also made the case for a UK-wide ban. A spokeswoman said: “Closing this loophole would bring Scotland in line with dozens of other countries and give children there equal protection under the law. We urge governments across the UK to do likewise, including in Westminster.”

Explaining the decision to support the member’s bill to give children equal protection from assault, a Scottish government spokesperson said: “Mr Finnie’s proposals are not a Scottish government bill; however, we will ensure the proposals become law. We believe physical punishment can have negative effects on children, which can last long after the physical pain has died away. We support positive parenting through, for example, funding for family support services.”

A three-month public consultation on Finnie’s proposed bill, which took place over the summer, received an overwhelmingly positive response from organisations and individuals, including the Scottish Police Federation, Unicef UK and the NSPCC.

The bill received a further boost as Scottish Labour said supporting it was “the right thing to do”. The party’s education spokesman, Iain Gray, said: “Labour MSPs have discussed John Finnie’s bill and do believe that the time has come to provide children with the same protection as adults under the law.”

A Scottish Conservative spokesman said the party would “consider the bill very carefully”, but added: “I4n general terms, however, we believe the current legislation which permits reasonable chastisement has worked well and that remains our current position.”

“Our Universe Should Actually Not Exist” –CERN Scientists Attempt to Find Out Why It Does

Original Article

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“All of our observations find a complete symmetry between matter and antimatter, which is why the universe should not actually exist,” explained Christian Smorra, with the BASE collaboration at the CERN research center. “An asymmetry must exist here somewhere but we simply do not understand where the difference is. What is the source of the symmetry break?”

The search goes on. No difference in protons and antiprotons have yet been found which would help to potentially explain the existence of matter in our universe. However, physicists in the BASE collaboration at the CERN research center have been able to measure the magnetic force of antiprotons with almost unbelievable precision. Nevertheless, the data do not provide any information about how matter formed in the early universe as particles and antiparticles would have had to completely destroy one another. 

The most recent BASE measurements revealed instead a large overlap between protons and antiprotons, thus confirming the Standard Model of particle physics. Around the world, scientists are using a variety of methods to find some difference, regardless of how small. The matter-antimatter imbalance in the universe is one of the hot topics of modern physics.

The multinational BASE collaboration at the European research center CERN brings together scientists from the RIKEN research center in Japan, the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), the University of Tokyo, GSI Darmstadt, Leibniz Universität Hannover, and the German National Metrology Institute (PTB) in Braunschweig. They compare the magnetic properties of protons and antiprotons with great precision. The magnetic moment is an essential component of particles and can be depicted as roughly equivalent to that of a miniature bar magnet. The so-called g-factor measures the strength of the magnetic field.

“At its core, the question is whether the antiproton has the same magnetism as a proton,” explained Stefan Ulmer, spokesperson of the BASE group. “This is the riddle we need to solve.”

The BASE collaboration published high-precision measurements of the antiproton g-factor back in January 2017 but the current ones are far more precise. The current high-precision measurement determined the g-factor down to nine significant digits. This is the equivalent of measuring the circumference of the earth to a precision of four centimeters. The value of 2.7928473441(42) is 350 times more precise than the results published in January.

“This tremenduous increase in such a short period of time was only possible thanks to completely new methods,” said Ulmer. The process involved scientists using two antiprotons for the first time and analyzing them with two Penning traps.

Antiprotons are artificially generated at CERN and researchers store them in a reservoir trap for experiments. The antiprotons for the current experiment were isolated in 2015 and measured between August and December 2016, which is a small sensation as this was the longest storage period for antimatter ever documented. Antiprotons are usually quickly annihilated when they come into contact with matter, such as in air. Storage was demonstrated for 405 days in a vacuum, which contains ten times fewer particles than interstellar space. A total of 16 antiprotons were used and some of them were cooled to approximately absolute zero or minus 273 degrees Celsius.

The new principle uses the interaction of two Penning traps. The traps use electrical and magnetic fields to capture the antiprotons. Previous measurements were severely limited by an ultra-strong magnetic inhomogeneity in the Penning trap. In order to overcome this barrier, the scientists added a second trap with a highly homogeneous magnetic field.

“We thus used a method developed at Mainz University that created higher precision in the measurements,” explained Ulmer. “The measurement of antiprotons was extremely difficult and we had been working on it for ten years. The final breakthrough came with the revolutionary idea of performing the measurement with two particles.” The larmor frequency and the cyclotron frequency were measured; taken together they form the g-factor.

The g-factor ascertained for the antiproton was then compared to the g-factor for the proton, which BASE researchers had measured with the greatest prior precision already in 2014. In the end, however, they could not find any difference between the two. This consistency is a confirmation of the CPT symmetry, which states that the universe is composed of a fundamental symmetry between particles and antiparticles.

The BASE scientists now want to use even higher precision measurements of the proton and antiproton properties to find an answer to this question. The BASE collaboration plans to develop further innovative methods over the next few year and improve on the current results.

The image at the top of the page shows a small galaxy, called Sextans A, in a multi-wavelength mosaic captured by the European Space Agency’s Herschel mission, in which NASA is a partner, along with NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Jansky Very Large Array observatory near Socorro, New Mexico. The galaxy is located 4.5 million light-years from Earth in the Sextans constellation.
The environment in this galaxy is similar to that of our infant universe because it lacks in heavy metals, or elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. In this image, the purple shows gas; blue shows young stars and the orange and yellow dots are newly formed stars heating up dust.(ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/NRAO)

The Daily Galaxy via Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet

Inside a Secretive Group Where Women Are Branded

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading the main story

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

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

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

Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Message

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

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

Joining the Sisterhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo

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

‘Humans Can Be Noble’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo

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

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

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

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

Followers Start to Flee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

By Paraic O’Brien

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

 

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

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

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

Jewish heritage

Kevin Wilshaw also opens up about his Jewish mother.

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

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

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

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

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

Coming out

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

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

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

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

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

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

Violent attack

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

But he denied ever having approached minorities and assaulted them.

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

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

Extremist as recently as the start of this year

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

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

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

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

‘I want to hurt extremists’

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

By Yasmin Tayag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

By Sidney Fussell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Should Teens Own Smartphones

Original Article

By Tony Reinke

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

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

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

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

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

Teens, Smartphones, and Depression

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

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

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

Destroying a Generation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smartphone-Free Teens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kid’s Spend Less Time Outdoors Than Prisoners.

Original Article

By Sara Burrows

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC Radio 4 Today(@BBCr4today)

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

October 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bechdel Test, and Other Media Representation Tests, Explained

Original Article

By Nick Douglas

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

 

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

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

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

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

More Tests of Female Representation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Media Tests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Superintendent Orders Ban on All Books Judged ‘Inappropriate’

Original Article

By Maren Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

By Fox News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GEORGIA TEACHER ALLEGEDLY ASSIGNS STUDENTS TASK OF CREATING NAZI MASCOT

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

By Leah Crane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stack ‘em up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

By Ryan Gaydos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1009 jerry jones

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

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

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

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

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

Different Meditation Practices Reshape Brain in Different Ways

Original Article

By Tereza Pultarova

Credit: Mooshny/Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally publishedon Live Science.

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

Original Article

By Max Londberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Private Citizens Complain of Health Symptoms After Visiting Cuba

Original Article

By Steve Dorsey

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

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

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

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

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

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

AG Directive Protects Religious Objectors to LGBT Rights

Original Article

By Rachel Zoll, Eric Tucker, and Sadie Gurman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Observations Deepen Mystery of “Alien Megastructure” Star

Original Article

By Mike Wall

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

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

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

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

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

STRANGE BRIGHTNESS DIPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

MYSTERIES REMAIN

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

By Glenn Greenwald

This article includes graphic images some readers may find disturbing.

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

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

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

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

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

FBI raids animal sanctuaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Retaliation for exposing cruel treatment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video: Direct Action Everywhere

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

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

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

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Rescued piglets Lizzie and Lily.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Government power abused to intimidate and punish activists

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Smithfield Food’s defenses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Revolving door with agribusiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

From fringe to the mainstream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

glenn-greenwald-Smithfield-Circle-Four-Farms-piglets-pigs-factory-pig-aminal-cruelty-abuse-02-1507065333

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

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

By David Kravets

Ullstein Bild/ Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Changing Reasons Why Women Cheat on Their Husbands

Original Article

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

Photos: Which animals are monogamous?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Original Article

By David Kravets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

And now what?

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

By Cheyenne MacDonald

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

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

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

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

Scroll down for video 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scroll down for video 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Original Articles

By George Dvorsky

Image: JPL-Caltech/NASA

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

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

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

Image: CfA

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Faux’ Male Feminists Draw Ire in Hollywood

Original Article

By Monica Corcoran Harel

CreditPeter Horvath

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girl at a Bar – SNL Video by Saturday Night Live

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

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

Continue reading the main story

Examples of these higher standards abound.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

By John Timmer

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

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

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

All around Africa

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

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

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

 

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

You look old

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nobel Prize Awarded for Biological Clock Discoveries

Original Article

By Jordana Cepelewicz

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucy Reading-Ikkanda/Quanta Magazine

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

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

This post was updated on October 2 with additional comments from

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

Original Article

By Angela Chen

NIAID/Flickr

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

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

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

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

Colorado Town Officially Declares Opposition to Conversion Therapy

Original Article

By John Paul Brammer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 One Colorado at Denver Pride. One Colorado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Church Where Jesus Died Suffers Roof Collapse As Hundreds Worship

Original Article

By Callum Paton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maggie Gyllenhaal: ‘Pornography Is An Art Form’

By Jane Mulkerrins
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Candy in The Deuce

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

By Christopher Bodeen and Matthew Pennington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

By Mike Wall

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Joel Kowsky/NASA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flatliners Remake Holds a 0 Percent On Rotten Tomatoes

Original Article

By Mansoor Mithaiwala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheap Sex and the Decline of Marriage

Original Article

By Mark Regnerus

ILLUSTRATION: JULIETTE BORDA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

By Nicholas Bakalar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading the main story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

By Andrea Mandell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

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

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

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

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

Original Article

By Mandy Matney

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

She even went on her own honeymoon to Egypt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But is it? This watermelon is anything but sad.

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

Original Article

By George Dvorsky

Image: AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

By Christopher Haxel

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

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

Two days later, infant Abigail was dead.

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

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

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

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

The case likely will pit the Pilands’ apparent belief in divine healing and the religious group they have been involved in, Faith Tech Ministries, against government officials who contend that parents are responsible for seeking medical care for their child.

Abigail was born at about 9:50 p.m. ET Feb. 6 at the Pilands’ Lansing home. A midwife, who previously helped deliver two of Rachel Piland’s children, expressed no concerns about the baby’s health when she and an assistant left around midnight.

But the midwife’s assessment changed the next day when she saw Abigail’s jaundiced skin. She advised Rachel Piland to take her infant to a pediatrician or emergency room, Scaccia said.

“Rachel declined to seek any medical treatment for Abigail, stating God makes no mistakes,” the detective said. “She indicated to the midwife that the baby was fine.”

The midwife scheduled another appointment for the next day, but Rachel Piland later canceled it.

On Feb. 8, Abigail wasn’t eating properly and coughed up blood. At one point Rachel Piland’s mother, Rebecca Kerr, told her daughter that Abigail’s skin was not the right color.

“Rachel told Rebecca about (the midwife’s) concern,” Scaccia said. “And then Rachel went to listen to sermons.”

grandmother noticed blood coming out of the newborn’s nose, problems with her breathing and a lack of desire to eat. Rachel Piland wouldn’t allow her mother to call for help.

By 11 a.m., Abigail’s mother found the infant not breathing and lifeless in a bouncy seat. Rachel Piland took the body to her husband, who attempted one round of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and decided not to try cardio-pulmonary resuscitation because he did not know how to perform it on children, according to court records.

“They then brought Abigail upstairs to pray for her,” Scaccia said. “Joshua continued to massage Abigail, attempting to get her good air. Both Josh and (Rachel) reached out to friends and fellow church members to come to their home and pray for Abigail’s resurrection but never called the police.”

Authorities learned of the baby’s death because Rachel Piland’s brother called them from California. When police arrived at the Pilands’ home, “went upstairs and found a baby that had passed away and three other people praying for it,” Scaccia said.

Joshua Piland has posted videos of missionary trips to Kenya with a Lansing-based Faith Tech Ministries, which describes itself online as nondenominational but similar to other “full gospel” or Pentecostal organizations. Its website says the Bible school has a strong message in the area of divine healing.

In 2016 Joshua Piland was listed as a speaker at a Divine Healing Conference that the ministry organized. His LinkedIn profile indicates he left the organization in February, the same month his daughter died.

No one at Faith Tech Ministries answered the phone Wednesday afternoon and evening.

The couple is scheduled to appear Oct. 5 in Lansing’s 54A District Court.

Joshua Piland worked for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. from 2009 until sometime this month, said Lynne Feldpausch, the public-private partnership’s executive vice president. She would not say which day was Joshua Piland’s last nor why he left.

On Wednesday he still was listed as a senior project manager in the organization’s online directory, but by Thursday afternoon, his name had been removed.

 

Star Trek: Discovery’s Female Lead Character Is Named Michael Burnham and I Can’t Stop Thinking About It

Original Article

By Kaila Hale-Stern

Names have power: just ask Rumpelstiltskin. As someone with a longstanding interest in the meaning of names, the first thing that caught my attention while watching Discovery was that the First Officer played by Sonequa Martin-Green has a traditionally masculine name. I had to know more.

I assumed—erroneously—that Martin-Green’s part was written with a man in mind and when she was cast, they decided to keep the original name for the hell of it. But according to TV Guide, this was not the case. The idea for the name originated with Discovery‘s former showrunner Bryan Fuller, who exited the project but co-wrote the pilot episode, “The Vulcan Hello.” Fuller has a history of giving his female protagonists masculine-sounding names: “See: Dead Like Me’s George (Ellen Muth); Pushing Daisies’ Chuck (Anna Friel); and Wonderfalls’ unisex Jaye (Caroline Dhavernas).”

Discoverexecutive producer Aaron Harberts described naming lead women with male-associated names as Fuller’s “signature move,” calling it “a motif.” Harberts himself came up with “Michael,” explaining in an interview that he “pitched the name after thinking of female columnist Michael Sneed, who writes for the Chicago Sun-Times, and The Bangles’ bassist Michael Steele.” He added, “And, of course, an archangel is named Michael as well, and it just had a lot of potency for us.”

Michael Burnham is hardly the first female Michael in pop culture, and she’s not the first woman to sport a gender-ambiguous name on Star Trek, where officers are often referred to by their last names. “Dax” is a much more recognized moniker among fans than “Jadzia,” for example. But that still doesn’t stop me from noticing every time Martin-Green’s character introduces herself or is called by her full name, because the name stands out even as she stands next to aliens aboard a starship. Michael herself is a fascinating character, fearless and brilliant from what we’ve seen of her so far, caught between her Vulcan upbringing and her human emotions.

Actress Sonequa Martin-Green was enthusiastic about the name, liking the symbolism and anticipating a more gender-fluid and equal opportunity future. Of Michael, she said: “I appreciated the statement it makes all on its own to have this woman with this male name, just speaking of the amelioration of how we see men and women in the future.”

Martin-Green gave Michael’s name a special history that we may end up exploring with her on-screen. “I also just decided for my creation and for my background and whatnot, that I was named after my father. And so, we get a little bit of exploration of the father‑daughter dynamic … I think it’s a lovely symbol.” After all, considering the centuries-long tradition of the eldest boy inheriting their father’s first name, why shouldn’t a girl?

On the flip side, it would be interesting to see the reception of a lead male character with a firmly female-associated name. (Look at how often Firefly’s Jayne, an ensemble member, is made fun of for his name). Because as much as I love Martin-Green rocking the hell out of “Michael,” that’s partially the thrill of seeing a woman of color own both the lead part for the first time on Star Trek and assume another badge of cultural power—the inherited name of the patriarch. But some men with traditionally unisex names that have come to be thought of as more “female”—think Stacey or Alexis —report being teased for this attribute, because in the patriarchal culture we’ve all been raised in, the association with femininity is something to mock in a man while simultaneously undervaluing women (“you throw like a girl”). Why can we take Michael Burnham seriously, but would never see Jason Isaacs’ character introduce himself as Captain Susan Lorca?

I’m looking forward to the far more gender-fluid future where gendered stereotypes lose ground, and anyone can be named anything that they damn well please, though we’ll still have to grapple with the cultural weight of names. Names have an impact all on their own, and it is often centered around gender and race. I would be far more likely to have a manuscript accepted for publishing if I used a male or gender-neutral pen name. Names conjure racist fears and discrimination from thin air: “[a] study of mostly white participants shows that men with black-sounding names are more likely to be imagined as physically large, dangerous and violent than those with stereotypically white-sounding names.” People with perceived “ethnic” names are much less likely to be interviewed or hiredfor a job than people with “white” names, even when their resumes are identical otherwise. Names have power.

If you’re curious, the meaning of the name “Michael” is a rhetorical question: “Who is like God?” with the implied answer that no one is, so there is no answer. Michael is also a powerful archangel, the leader of God’s armies against the forces of Satan—and one of two archangels named in both the old and new Testament. The other archangel? Gabriel, which just so happens to be the first name of Jason Isaacs’ Captain Lorca. I’d like to imagine that from this Biblical symbolism, Star Trek: Discovery has some epic stories in store.

 

 

Kim Jong Un Is Preparing For Big War As 4.7 Million People Volunteer To Join North Korean Army

Original Article

By IndiaTimes

Is North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un preparing for war? Well, it seems so. Amid his continuous threats and testing of missiles, some 4.7 million North Koreans have volunteered to join the ranks of the military, said state-run media reports.

The figure includes “students and workers” including 1.22 million women who in the past six days have been asked to join the ranks of the Korean People’s Army, the Rodong Sinmun daily report said.

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AFP

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un issued a statement on September 22 criticising a speech that US President Trump made at the UN, threatening to “totally destroy North Korea”, reports Efe news.

Kim called Trump “mentally deranged” and said Pyongyang would give a response “at the highest level” to what he considered the US President’s insult.

These Gender-Neutral Schools Want to Crush Gender Stereotypes

Original Article

By Katy Scott

From the moment a child is born, its gender pretty much determines how they will dress, which toys they’ll be given and ultimately how they are meant to behave within society.

But some schools in Sweden are trying to strip away such gender norms.
There’s nothing obviously out of the ordinary at Sweden’s gender-neutral preschools at first glance.
There are no designated areas to play with dolls or building blocks. The toys have been strategically jumbled to create an environment for girls and boys to play together.
These two preschools in Sweden — Nicolaigarden and Egalia (meaning ‘equality’ in Latin) — go to great lengths to de-emphasize gender. Children are given the freedom to challenge and cross gender boundaries.
Rather than encourage children to do particular things, the teachers are careful not to box children based on their gender or subtly discourage them from doing certain things.
The school has removed the terms “girl” and “boy” completely. Instead they make a deliberate effort to call each child by their first name or the gender-neutral pronoun “hen”.
But is it necessary to intervene at such a young age, and what are the long-term effects?
Children play in the garden of Egalia.

Removing the ‘gender straitjacket’

A new global study found that young girls and boys are outfitted with “gender straitjackets” by the age of 10, resulting in lifelong negative consequences.
The Global Early Adolescent Study analyzed how gender is learned, enforced and reinforced among early adolescents in 15 countries.
It concluded that culturally-enforced gender stereotypes — which are linked to an increased risk of mental and physical health problems — are firmly rooted between the ages of 10 and 14. The study found these stereotypes leave girls at greater risk of exposure to physical and sexual violence, child marriage, and HIV. For boys, the risks can include substance abuse and suicide.
In Sweden, which is ranked as the fourth-most equal country in the world when it comes to gender, the government has made a concerted effort to emphasize equality in the Education Act.
Following a new amendment introduced in 1998 requiring all schools to work against gender stereotyping, Lotta Rajalin set up her first gender-neutral preschool for one to five-year-olds in Stockholm’s Old Town.
The gender-neutral policies at Rajalin’s schools ensure that stories, songs and dramatizations are screened or re-scripted to include non-nuclear families (single parents or same-sex couples) and heroines sweeping princes off their feet.
Teachers opt for non-traditional plot twists to ensure that they’re not reinforcing gender stereotypes.

How to be a gender-neutral teacher

Perhaps the most important distinction in these preschools is the way the teachers treat each child.
To help identify any unconscious bias they have when dealing with girls and boys, the teachers filmed themselves interacting with children and took note of how they responded to the different sexes.
“After we had been filming and observing each other, we understood that it’s not the children we have to change, it’s ourselves,” Rajalin tells CNN.
Lotta Rajalin, director at Nicolaigarden and Egalia gender-neutral preschools.

They discovered they used different tones of voice when talking to girls or boys, and tolerated rowdiness in boys while discouraging it in girls. Similarly, they found themselves to be more likely to comfort a crying girl, while they would tell a crying boy to brush it off.
“When you change yourself and your thinking and your expectations, you will see new things and you will see that it’s better for children’s development,” she says.
Rajalin believes gender stereotypes limit the opportunities available to a child. Her gender-neutral teaching methods stem from what she calls “the whole life spectra” or “circle of opportunity.” This circle is often divided into two semi-circles — one for boys and one for girls.
Through gender-neutral teaching, Rajalin hopes to open up this circle of opportunities for all children to define themselves.
“We try to take away the barriers which stop both girls and boys doing what they want to do,” she says.
“We want all children to have the same opportunities to feel, to express themselves, to like what color they like, to play the sport they’re in, and so on. We don’t want to limit them.”

Rajalin wants to open the “circle of opportunities” to all children, regardless of their gender.
Following a small, structured observation of children at one of Rajalin’s preschools, Ben Kenward, a researcher in psychology at Uppsala University in Sweden and Oxford Brookes University in England, found these children had a reduced tendency to be influenced by gender stereotypes, compared to a control group of children from a typical Swedish preschool.
“The [gender neutral] pedagogy is having some of the effects that it’s intended to have, and if you’re committed to giving these young children the same opportunities … then our study suggests that this kind of pedagogy is a good tool.”

‘Brainwashing children’

However, these gender-neutral policies have generated much criticism over the years.
Swedish psychiatrist and author David Eberhard considers calling boys and girls “hen” to be “intellectually dishonest” as it is being “blind to biological differences.”
“This is the kind of brainwash that works when the kids are small and in the short run they adapt to this, but what happens when they go to normal school and they find out they were living in a sect?” he tells CNN.
“This is a sort of a religious sect to say there’s no differences between men and women, it has nothing to do with science.”
Eberhard explained that he does not oppose boys choosing to play with dolls, but he draws the line at calling a girl or boy “it” or “hen”.
Rajalin believes a lot of criticism is misguided, as people do not fully understand what they are trying to do. “We are not trying to say girls should be boys or boys should be girls, we just want every person to have the right to be the person they are, regardless of gender,” she says.
Rajalin says her gender-neutral preschools give children the same opportunities, obligations and rights, regardless of gender.

Harmless ‘experiment’

While Eberhard’s views are strong, he says gender-neutral schooling is unlikely to have any negative long-term effects on young children.
“I suppose that they [the children] are so sure about their identity that it doesn’t matter,” he says. “But, as individuals, you may very well have young kids of different sexes that become very frustrated or confused.”
He believes Sweden would be better off solving the problem of gender inequality in the real world.
Rajalin, however, believes adopting gender-neutral methods and exposing children to teachers of various different ethnicities, religions, sexes and sexual orientations, will better prepare them for the nuances of the real world. It will boost their self-confidence and set them up to be more successful in life, she says.
Psychology professor Philip Hwang from the University of Gothenburg is not convinced. He thinks Rajalin’s gender-neutral preschools are harmless but overrated.
“I don’t really see any harm in it, but I think it pleases the parents more than it changes the children,” he tells CNN.
He says he has met a couple of parents that really believe sending their children to gender-neutral preschool will have lasting effects and that they will grow up in a gender-neutral society.
“It’s a statement more than something that has actual effect on children’s long-term development with regard to gender issues,” he says.
“It takes generations to change norms and values like this.”
Even Kenward, who is optimistic that the gender-neutral pedagogy is creating equal opportunities for children of both genders, is unsure what the long-term effects will be.
“It’s an open question what happens to these children when they move into primary school,” he says. “My guess is it [gender neutral pedagogy] could continue to influence their behavior potentially, not in a very strong way necessarily. But it may have some lasting effects.”

DNA Surgery on Embryos Removes Disease

Original Article

By James Gallagher

Precise “chemical surgery” has been performed on human embryos to remove disease in a world first, Chinese researchers have told the BBC.

The team at Sun Yat-sen University used a technique called base editing to correct a single error out of the three billion “letters” of our genetic code.

They altered lab-made embryos to remove the disease beta-thalassemia. The embryos were not implanted.

The team says the approach may one day treat a range of inherited diseases.

Base editing alters the fundamental building blocks of DNA: the four bases adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine.

They are commonly known by their respective letters, A, C, G and T.

All the instructions for building and running the human body are encoded in combinations of those four bases.

DNAImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

The potentially life-threatening blood disorder beta-thalassemia is caused by a change to a single base in the genetic code – known as a point mutation.

The team in China edited it back.

They scanned DNA for the error then converted a G to an A, correcting the fault.

Junjiu Huang, one of the researchers, told the BBC News website: “We are the first to demonstrate the feasibility of curing genetic disease in human embryos by base editor system.”

He said their study opens new avenues for treating patients and preventing babies being born with beta-thalassemia, “and even other inherited diseases”.

The experiments were performed in tissues taken from a patient with the blood disorder and in human embryos made through cloning.

Genetics revolution

Base editing is an advance on a form of gene-editing known as Crispr, that is already revolutionising science.

Crispr breaks DNA. When the body tries to repair the break, it deactivates a set of instructions called a gene. It is also an opportunity to insert new genetic information.

Base editing works on the DNA bases themselves to convert one into another.

Prof David Liu, who pioneered base editing at Harvard University, describes the approach as “chemical surgery”.

He says the technique is more efficient and has fewer unwanted side-effects than Crispr.

He told the BBC: “About two-thirds of known human genetic variants associated with disease are point mutations.

“So base editing has the potential to directly correct, or reproduce for research purposes, many pathogenic [mutations].”

EmbryoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

The research group at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou hit the headlines before when they were the first to use Crispr on human embryos.

Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, from the Francis Crick Institute in London, described parts of their latest study as “ingenious”.

But he also questioned why they did not do more animal research before jumping to human embryos and said the rules on embryo research in other countries would have been “more exacting”.

The study, published in Protein and Cell, is the latest example of the rapidly growing ability of scientists to manipulate human DNA.

It is provoking deep ethical and societal debate about what is and is not acceptable in efforts to prevent disease.

Prof Lovell-Badge said these approaches are unlikely to be used clinically anytime soon.

“There would need to be far more debate, covering the ethics, and how these approaches should be regulated.

“And in many countries, including China, there needs to be more robust mechanisms established for regulation, oversight, and long-term follow-up.”

Earth Had Life From Its Infancy

Original Article

By Ed Yong

The Torngat Mountains in northeastern Canada are full of life. Reindeer graze on lichen, polar bears prowl the coastlines, and great whales swim in the offshore waters. Scientists patrol the land, too, looking for the oldest rocks on the planet, which were formed almost 4 billion years ago, when the Earth was just an infant world.

Back then, the landscape would have been very different. The Earth was a hellish place that had only just acquired a firm crust. Its atmosphere was devoid of oxygen, and it was regularly pelted with asteroids. There were no reindeer, whales, polar bears, or lichen. But according to new research, there was life.

In a rock formation called the Saglek Block, Yuji Sano and Tsuyoshi Komiya from the University of Tokyo found crystals of the mineral graphite that contain a distinctive blend of carbon isotopes. That blend suggests that microbes were already around, living, surviving, and using carbon dioxide from the air to build their cells. If the two researchers are right—and claims about such ancient events are always controversial—then this Canadian graphite represents one of the earliest traces of life on Earth.

The Earth was formed around 4.54 billion years ago. If you condense that huge swath of prehistory into a single calendar year, then the 3.95-billion-year-old graphite that the Tokyo team analyzed was created in the third week of February. By contrast, the earliest fossils ever found are 3.7 billion years old; they were created in the second week of March.

Those fossils, from the Isua Belt in southwest Greenland, are stromatolites—layered structures created by communities of bacteria. And as I reported last year, their presence suggests that life already existed in a sophisticated form at the 3.7-billion-year mark, and so must have arisen much earlier. And indeed, scientists have found traces of biologically produced graphite throughout the region, in other Isua Belt rocks that are 3.8 billion years old, and in hydrothermal vents off the coast of Quebec that are at least a similar age, and possibly even older.

“The emerging picture from the ancient-rock record is that life was everywhere,” says Vickie Bennett from Australian National University, who was not involved in the latest study. “As far back as the rock record extends—that is, as far back as we can look for direct evidence of early life, we are finding it. Earth has been a biotic, life-sustaining planet since close to its beginning.”

This evidence hinges on a quirk of chemistry. Carbon comes in two stable isotopes—carbon-12, which is extremely common, and carbon-13, which is rarer and slightly heavier. When it comes to making life, carbon-12 is the more pliable building block. It’s more reactive than its heavier cousin, and so easier to transform into molecules like carbohydrates and proteins.

So living organisms concentrate carbon-12 in their cells—and when they die, that signature persists. When scientists find graphite that’s especially enriched in carbon-12, relative to carbon-13, they can deduce that living things were around when that graphite was first formed. And that’s exactly what the Tokyo team found in the Saglek Block—grains of graphite, enriched in carbon-12, encased within 3.95-billion-year-old rock.

But are those graphite grains the same age? The rocks around them are metamorphic—they’ve been warped and transformed at extreme temperatures and pressures. During that process, and all the subsequent geological tumult that this region has experienced, it’s possible that much younger graphite somehow infiltrated the older rock, creating a false signal of early life.

To rule out that possibility, the Tokyo team looked at the structure of the graphite grains. The more orderly and crystalline those structures, the hotter the grains were when they formed. Based on that relationship, the team calculated the graphite was created at temperatures between 536 and 622 Celsius—a range that’s consistent with the temperatures at which the surrounding metamorphic rocks were transformed. This suggests that the graphite was already there when the rocks were heated and warped, and didn’t sneak in later. It was truly OG—original graphite.

There’s still room for doubt, though. Given how ancient these rocks are, and how much geological tumult they have experienced, it’s hard to fully exclude the possibility that the graphite got there later. Also, other processes that have nothing to do with living things could potentially change the ratio of carbon-12 and carbon-13. It’s concerning that the ratio varies a lot in the samples that the Tokyo team analyzed, says Andrew Knoll from Harvard University. But he also says that the team has been careful, and their combined evidence “makes a strong case that life existed on earth nearly 4 billion years ago.”

“The authors have done as many checks as they could for whether they are indeed analyzing 3.95-billion-year-old graphite rather than later contamination,” adds Elizabeth Bell, a geochemist from the University of California, Los Angeles. “They make a plausible case that the graphite is original.”

Bell herself found the oldest graphite that’s been measured to date. It lurked within a 4.1-billion-year-old zircon gemstone from Western Australia, and also contained a blend of isotopes that hinted at a biological origin. That discovery is also controversial, especially since the graphite was completely cut off from its source environment, making it hard to know the conditions in which it was formed.

Still, all of this evidence suggests Earth was home to life during its hellish infancy, and that such life abounded in a variety of habitats. Those pioneering organisms—bacteria, probably—haven’t left any fossils behind. But Sano and Komiya hope to find some clues about them by analyzing the Saglek Block rocks. The levels of nitrogen, iron, and sulfur in the rocks could reveal which energy sources those organisms exploited, and which environments they inhabited. They could tell us how life first lived.

Group Accuses Pope Francis of Heresy

Original Article

By Steve Reilly

A group of Catholic scholars and clergy has accused Pope Francis of heresy in connection with a 2016 papal document that discusses divorce and remarriage, according to a 25-page letter made public by the group.

The letter, made public Saturday, asserts that portions of Francis’ document “The Joy of Love,” contains propositions which “contradict truths that are divinely revealed, and that Catholics must believe with the assent of divine faith.”

More than 60 priests, professors and others signed the letter, which accuses Francis of seven specific heresies because of the pope’s “words, deeds, and omissions” as well as specific passages in document.

The criticism centers on receipt of Communion by Catholics who have been civilly remarried. A spokesman for the Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Experts on the Catholic Church said the letter represents only a small minority of the church, and that it is unlikely to be met with any response from Francis.

Massimo Faggioli, a professor at Villanova University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies, said the signatories represent a “tiny, extreme fringe of the opposition to Francis” and do not include any cardinals or bishops with formal standing in the Catholic Church.

“The Catholic Church that has more than 200 cardinals now and more than 5,000 bishops,” he said. “And they couldn’t find one.”

The only bishop who signed the letter is Bishop Bernard Fellay of the Society of St. Pius X, who experts said does not have formal standing in the church because he is from a breakaway group.

David Gibson, director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture, said the letter is “akin to an online petition,” and is unlikely to have any effect.

“It’s a great headline anytime the pope is accused of heresy,” he said. “But these are really, kind of, the usual suspects of really far right types who have been upset with not only this pope, but other popes in recent years.”

Joseph Shaw, a religious scholar at Oxford University who signed the letter, said in a statement that it was first hand-delivered to Francis more than a month ago. The group only made it public after it did not receive a response.

“It is designed to make clear the importance of what is (at) stake,” Shaw said, “and the urgency of keeping a correct view of these matters.”

Mass Shooting Reported in Tennessee Church

Original Article

By Whitney Kimball

Image tweeted by @NashvilleFD

A mass shooting has been reported in a church in Antioch, Tennessee, the Tennessean reports. Police responded to calls at 11:15 AM and are investigating.

The Nashville fire department has tweeted that eight people have been wounded, including the shooter.

They add that all but one of the victims is over the age of 60.

Motives remain unclear. We will update the post as more news arrives.

Update 1:57PM EST: WKRN reports that Nashville fire officials have confirmed at least one death among the eight wounded.

Update 2:04PM EST: Fox News has reported that the shooter was also shot and is in custody at the hospital.

Update 6:34PM EST: The New York Post reports that police have identified 25-year-old Emanuel Kidega Samson as the suspect. One church member says that he was wearing a clown mask; police confirm that it was “at least a ski mask.” He was stopped in an altercation with the church usher, whom the shooter pistol-whipped in the head before accidentally shooting himself in the leg.

Fans Petition Warner Bros. to Make Wonder Woman Bisexual

Original Article

By Kevin Melrose

Fans Petition Warner Bros. to Make Wonder Woman Bisexual

A year after Wonder Woman comics writer Greg Rucka acknowledged that his interpretation of the iconic heroine is “queer,” fans are lobbying Warner Bros. to depict her big-screen counterpart as bisexual in the 2019 sequel.

A petition launched on Change.org by Gianna Collier-Pitts, a GLAAD campus ambassador at New York University, calls on the studio to “directly acknowledge Diana Prince for who she is, who she has always been (regardless of her current love interest), and what her character could potentially represent for millions of people.”

More than 2,200 people have signed the petition since its launch on Thursday.

Wonder Woman’s Diana Prince hails from Themyscira, land of the Amazons and inhabited exclusively by women,” Collier-Pitts wrote. “This alone should serve as reason enough to confirm her sexuality, since any close relationship she could have had prior to her romantic storyline with Steve Trevor would have had to have been with another woman. Some of you may be thinking that this specificity doesn’t make a difference but for people like me who rarely see themselves reflected in media, believe me. It does. […] Making Wonder Woman canonically bisexual on the big screen would make her the first openly LGBTQ superhero of any gender from either DC or Marvel’s cinematic universes, and would solidify her place as a true role model for women of all ages and identities.”

Rucka noted in September 2016 that the sexuality of Wonder Woman, and the Amazons, is “complicated,” explaining, “This is inherently the problem with Diana: We’ve had a long history of people — for a variety of reasons, including sometimes pure titillation, which I think is the worst reason — say, ‘Ooo. Look. It’s the Amazons. They’re gay!’ And when you start to think about giving the concept of Themyscira its due, the answer is, ‘How can they not all be in same sex relationships?’ Right? It makes no logical sense otherwise.”

Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot addressed the issue shortly thereafter, acknowledging that, while it wasn’t explored in the original film, “when you talk theoretically about all the women on Themyscira and how many years she was there, then what he said makes sense. In this movie she does not experience any bisexual relationships. But it’s not about that. She’s a woman who loves people for who they are. She can be bisexual. She loves people for their hearts.”

Directed by Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman has grossed $819.5 million worldwide. The sequel, which will reteam Jenkins and Gadot, is in development for release on Dec. 13, 2019.

Love in the Time of Individualism

Original Article

By Julie Beck

C.S. Lewis’s wife, Joy Davidman, died of bone cancer on July 13, 1960. The next day, the famous author wrote a letter to Peter Bide, the priest who had married them, to tell him the news.

“I’d like to meet,” Lewis writes, suggesting the two grab lunch sometime soon. “For I am—oh God that I were not—very free now. One doesn’t realize in early life that the price of freedom is loneliness. To be happy is to be tied.”

When it comes to romance, Americans are freer than they’ve ever been. Freer to marry, freer to divorce, freer to have sex when and with whom they like with fewer consequences, freer to cohabitate without getting married, freer to remain single, freer to pursue open relationships or polyamory.

But what if the price of freedom is loneliness? Would you pay it?

Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, thinks a lot about the price of human relationships. His new book, Cheap Sex, is all about how the modern dating scene has been shaped by sexual economics, a theory which sees human mating as a marketplace. His idea, as you might suspect from the title, is that sex is not as costly to access as it once was—in terms of time, effort, and risk. Contraception makes sex less risky; online dating platforms make it more accessible. If that doesn’t work out, there’s always porn, which requires next to no effort to find. These factors, Regnerus argues, “have created a massive slowdown in the development of committed relationships, especially marriage.”

Marriage rates have indeed plummeted among young adults, to the point that a demographer cited by  Regnerus estimates that one-third of people currently in their early 20s will never get married. But another new book about modern relationships, Eli Finkel’s The All-or-Nothing Marriage, contends that while “the institution of marriage in America is struggling … the best marriages today are better than the best marriages of earlier eras; indeed, they are the best marriages that the world has ever known.”

Because marriage for many is no longer a gateway to adulthood, but rather an optional “capstone,” it’s held to a higher standard. Regnerus asserts that modern mating dynamics make it hard for people to find a relationship that seems worth committing to; Finkel argues that when marriages manage to live up to today’s lofty expectations, they can be extremely fulfilling. One may be more optimistic than the other, but both show how increasing romantic freedom has changed romance itself.

* * *

Regnerus’s description of sexual economics relies on a stark division of gender roles: Men provide the demand and women are the supply. There is a long history of what he calls the “exchange relationship,” in which women control men’s access to sex. In order to get it, men bring to the table resources, commitment, and fidelity.

In previous eras, this exchange was effective at producing marriages (though it also went hand-in-hand with strict sexual mores and women’s subjugation). But now that sex before marriage and sex outside of relationships is common, safe, and less stigmatized, men don’t have to work as hard for it, according to Regnerus. So they ghost and flake and dither about committing to one person. Many women don’t need what resources men have to offer, anyway; they have their own. But men have more power in the mating market in this model, which leads to women also embracing, or at least going along with, cheap sex and some of the rude behavior that comes with it.

Regnerus doesn’t talk much about LGBT relationships, except to say that these market dynamics might make women more likely to “experiment with same-sex relationships,” to circumvent the problem of noncommittal men. He also writes that because there is no gatekeeper in gay men’s relationships, they are less likely to be sexually monogamous.

When it comes to heterosexual relationships, Regnerus sums up his theory like this: “It’s not that love is dead, but the sexual incentives for men to sacrifice and commit have largely dissolved, spelling a more confusing and circuitous path to commitment and marriage than earlier eras.”

This all smacks strongly of gender essentialism. Regnerus’s underlying premise is sound: Many studies have found that, on average, men want sex more than women, and women value having sex in the context of commitment more than men do (though of course individuals differ). Still, throughout the book, Regnerus takes this theory pretty far. He sounds a bit like your proverbial grandma cautioning that a man will never buy the cow if he’s getting the milk for free.

Regnerus writes about one woman who would sometimes have casual sex with men she didn’t like that much and who felt frustrated because she wasn’t finding men she did like: “She wishes to be a free rider—in this case, to find a good man—without contributing to the kinds of normative relationship behavior that make men better. It won’t work. It can’t work.”

He goes on: “In the domain of sex and relationships men will act as nobly as women collectively demand. This is an aggravating statement for women to read, no doubt. They do not want to be responsible for ‘raising’ men. But it is realistic.”

Even under a theory that believes women, through sexual gatekeeping, control how relationships unfold, it’s quite something to imply that men do not have responsibility for contributing to norms around how romantic partners should treat each other.

Regnerus also argues that the easy availability of sex makes men less motivated in their professional lives, because they don’t need to become successful, i.e., marriageable, to woo women to their beds. While this may sound dubious, there is an established precedent for this theory in the field. Regnerus quotes the famous psychologists Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs, who write that “giving young men easy access to abundant sexual satisfaction deprives society of one of its ways to motivate them to contribute valuable achievements to the culture.” Still, it seems extreme to suggest that men need to be dragged by the dick into being productive citizens.

Overall, sexual economics discounts the other things men and women have to offer each other—besides sex and “resources” and commitment. Am I naïve to think that companionship and attention should have some place in this equation? If the modern mating market has made people more isolated, and if smartphones and other technology are increasingly mediating human relationships and driving us to distraction, shouldn’t the value of a present and proximate companion increase?

Still, there is a lot in Regnerus’s analysis that is uncomfortably astute. He’s right that it can be hard to escape these old gender dynamics when dating, especially online dating. Popular dating apps put women in the position of gatekeeping, whether deliberately or not. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a smartphone will swipe right on basically everyone. This forces women to be choosier about who they say yes to. Even if they also swipe with abandon, they end up with more matches to sort through—yet more gatekeeping. On Hinge and OkCupid, which don’t require a mutual opt-in before people can send messages, women’s inboxes are deluged with men whom they must then sort through. Bumble just went all-in and made gatekeeping a selling point: Women have to message men first, putting them in control of who has access to their attention.

While Regnerus believes that the “cheap sex” mating market gives men the upper hand in relationships, he notes that after spending a long time in the market, men and women alike grow frustrated and exhausted. This is something I’ve found inmy own reporting as well—that prolonged use of dating apps often leads to burnout and ambivalence. “Online dating,” Regnerus writes, “forces participants to play by its rules.” And many find that being able to hyperefficiently move through romantic options doesn’t actually make it easier to find a relationship.

This is only further complicated by the fact that what Americans want from their relationships is radically different than it’s been for most of history.

* * *

In The All-or-Nothing Marriage, Finkel, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, traces the history of the institution over what he sees as three thematic eras. For a very long time, people married for pragmatic reasons. Most of the clothing, food, and other goods a family used were produced by the household itself, so an eternal bachelorhood would be a serious liability. People needed the labor of a partner—and often multiple children—to survive.

Things eventually became less dire, and people started marrying for love. Finkel dates that transition to around 1850, but notes that it was a shift that took place over centuries. In contrast, the transition from love-based marriages to the current era of what Finkel calls “self-expressive” marriages only took about 15 years, thanks to the counterculture shake-ups of the 1960s and 70s. During those years, the second-wave feminist movement pushed back against breadwinner/homemaker marriages and helped women earn more individual freedom. Meanwhile, concepts like “self-esteem” and New-Agey “self-discovery” found footholds in the culture.

What Americans want from their marriages nowadays, Finkel argues, is love, yes, but also someone who will give their lives meaning, and make them into the best versions of themselves. “Marriage has a self-expressive emphasis that places a premium on spouses helping each other meet their authenticity and personal-growth needs,” he writes. “The pursuit of self-expression through marriage simultaneously makes achieving marital success harder and the value of doing so greater.”

Taken together, the changes described in Finkel’s and Regnerus’s books illustrate how intensely modern American relationships have been shaped by that most star-spangled of values: individualism.

“The marriages Americans are fashioning today seldom emphasize the idea of marriage as a functional form, enabling two people to accomplish things they otherwise could not alone,” Regnerus writes, very much seeming to mop what Finkel is spilling. “Now we can accomplish a great deal—certainly enough—on our own. Hence, marriage in America has shifted away from being a populist institution—a social phenomenon in which most adults participated and benefited—to becoming an elite, individualist, voluntary, consumption-oriented arrangement.”

Even outside of marriage, in any romantic entanglement, Westerners value what British sociologist Anthony Giddens calls the “pure relationship.” The pure relationship is one which people are a part of only because they want to be, because it satisfies both individuals. It’s different than romantic love, which assumes you’ll find The One and stay with them forever, for better and for worse. In a pure relationship, if someone is no longer satisfied, it’s assumed they’ll leave.

“While the dyad—the couple—is the basic structure to the union, it is never to usurp the individual’s primacy and will,” Regnerus writes.

According to Baumeister and another psychologist, Michael MacKenzie, the self is now seen as a “value base”—that is, a good so self-evident that it doesn’t even need to be questioned. Just as a devout Christian would not question the importance of God’s will, a modern Westerner would likely not question the importance of being “true to yourself.”

But Americans are unique, Finkel writes, in that they not only believe in being true to themselves, but they also still strongly value commitment. So the United States has higher rates of both marriage and divorce than many other countries. The sociologist Andrew Cherlin calls this “the marriage-go-round.”

* * *

Modern Americans are freer than ever to spend their time finding the right person, the one who will improve their lives. And they’re freer than ever to leave. Not just in the sense of “you can get divorced now,” but cultural norms have created an environment where it’s easy to feel like if something doesn’t work out right away, you should pull out your phone and look for other options. Where high expectations are often disappointed. Where, after enough letdowns, people may lose faith in finding the kind of fulfillment they seek outside of themselves. Where they wander through the mating market, halfheartedly picking up the bruised wares, then putting them back in the bin when they’re not shiny enough.

Regnerus recounts a post he saw online where a man in a long-distance relationship discovered his girlfriend had posed for some racy pictures and was asking for advice on how to talk to her about it. One of the responses the man received was “She doesn’t belong to you.” True enough—she’s her own person who can make her own choices. The phrasing, however, prompted Regnerus to “reflect on the place of belongingness in the ‘pure relationship’ era. Do people belong to other people?”

As people’s search for romance becomes increasingly divorced from their communities, many relationships start with two individuals, who know next to nothing of each other’s context, trying to figure out if they’d fit into each other’s lives. In the best of circumstances, according to Finkel, they each elevate the other, and live meaningfully—if not always happily—ever after. In less ideal circumstances, individualism leads to loneliness.

“Interdependence has faded, leaving only independence,” Regnerus writes. “It is freer but also far more vulnerable than many wish to acknowledge.”

C.S. Lewis would likely agree.

White Woman Discusses Her ‘Black Woman’ Transition on Maury

Original Article

By Yesha Callahan

Maury via YouTube screenshot

Martina Big started out as a white woman, and now she’s here … with Maury Povich, explaining why she chose to drastically change her appearance. The plastic-surgery-obsessed Big appeared on Maury, wearing a gigantic “Black Girls Rock” necklace and her best kinky weave. Even as the audience sat dumbfounded and confused, you could tell Maury was thinking, “I should have just done my usual paternity-testing show.”

“Martina, do you think you’re a black person?” Maury asked.

“Yes,” Big replied. “But 80 percent. I have to learn a lot. I know.”

Big’s “transitioning” into a black woman included her taking supplements to darken her skin, lip implants, a nose job, various lipo procedures and a kinky weave. The breast enhancements were done previously during her foray into “these damn plastic surgeons should know better” breast-enlargement surgeries and the fact that she wanted to look like Pamela Anderson.

“Everyone who’s watching this who’s a person of color is going to say it’s not just skin-deep. You think you want to learn about the black culture, and you can absorb all of that,” Maury said.

“Yeah,” Big replied. She then went on to state that hopefully she won’t need extensions in her hair once her blond hair starts to grow in darker “naturally

“Being black is not about extensions,” Maury stated.

When Maury Povich is a voice of reason, you need to check your life decisions. What would have made the segment television gold would have been Maury ending it with, “You are not the father a black woman!”

But, of course, as with every post involving a Rachel Dolezal-type woman, there will be those nimrods who want to compare putting on makeup and having surgeries to try to become a black woman to being a transgender person. Before you even start banging on your keyboards trying to be witty and contrary, don’t embarrass yourself.

Las Vegas Shooting: 59 Killed and More Than 500 Hurt Near Mandalay Bay

Original Article

By Andrew Blankstein, Pete Williams, Rachel Elbaum, and Elizabeth Chuck.

A lone gunman unleashed a rapid-fire barrage of bullets from the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel late Sunday, killing at least 59 people and injuring more than 500 others attending a country music festival below, officials said.

It was the worst mass shooting in modern American history, and Stephen Craig Paddock was “solely responsible for this heinous act,” Assistant Clark County Sheriff Todd Fasulo told reporters Monday night.

Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, fired shot after shot from his room at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino down on the crowd of about 22,000, sending terrified concertgoers running for their lives.

“We heard what sounded like firecrackers going off. Then all of a sudden we heard what sounded like a machine gun. People started screaming that they were hit,” witness Meghan Kearney told MSNBC. “When we started running out, there were probably a couple hundred [people] on the ground.”

She added: “People kept dropping and dropping. … People were getting shot one foot away from us. People were trying to save their friends. There were gunshots everywhere. Helping them would’ve meant that we got shot, too.”


The Latest:

  • 59 people were killed and at least 527 others were injured in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
  • Authorities identified the gunman as Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada. They said he acted alone.
  • Investigators found 23 firearms in Paddock’s room at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and 19 more at his home.
  • President Donald Trump, who will visit Las Vegas on Wednesday, called the shooting “an act of pure evil.”

Police responded to reports of the shooting just after 10 p.m. (1 a.m. ET). Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters Monday that authorities believe Paddock killed himself before police entered his room. Officials had said earlier that police fatally shot Paddock.

Authorities were digging into Paddock’s history. Other than a citation he received several years ago that was “handled as a normal practice” by the courts, he had no criminal background, Lombardo said.

Paddock is believed to have checked into the hotel on Thursday, Lombardo said. Fasulo said that he had 23 firearms in his room and that investigators found 19 more at his home.

It wasn’t clear whether Paddock had specifically requested a room on a high floor that overlooked the concert venue. Hotel employees had been in his room before the shooting and didn’t notice anything unusual, according to Lombardo.

Two broken windows could be seen from the 32nd floor of the hotel, curtains billowing out. Law enforcement officials said Paddock had connecting rooms or a suite and ran between the windows, firing out of both, either to get a different vantage point or to avoid return fire.

They believe he smashed the windows with a something like a hammer before he started firing.

The shooting started while performer Jason Aldean was onstage. Witnesses described a chaotic scene of back-to-back bullets raining down from above, lasting for up to 10 minutes.

Fellow performer Jake Owen said he was standing about 50 feet from Aldean when the shots started.

“It got faster and faster, almost like it was an automatic rifle,” Owen said. “At that point, everyone on stage started running everywhere.”

Owen dashed by victims covered in blood and eventually found shelter in his bus. The gunfire still hadn’t stopped by the time he got there, he said.

“It wasn’t something that was quick. It was chaos for a pure seven to 10 minutes,” he said.

Image: A map shows the area of the shooting in Las Vegas
A map shows the area of the shooting in Las Vegas. NBC News

Flags at the White House and the U.S. Capitol were lowered at half-staff on Monday. President Donald Trump, who said he would visit Las Vegas on Wednesday, called the shooting “an act of pure evil.”

“Hundreds of our fellow citizens are now mourning the loss of a loved one,” Trump said at a news conference. “We cannot fathom their pain. We cannot imagine their loss. To the families of the victims, we are praying for you, and we are here for you.”

The shooting isn’t believed to be connected to international terrorism. Authorities haven’t said what kinds of weapons were found.

A former Clark County sheriff, Bill Young, said his 22-year-old daughter was at the concert. Young told MSNBC that his daughter said that the weapon “sounded like a machine gun” and that she and her friends took cover under a desk.

“I picked up the phone, my cellphone, and she was screaming and yelling, ‘Dad, dad, dad, dad, somebody’s shooting at us, and I don’t know what to do.’ She was hysterical, and I tried to just calm her down,” Young said.

“She could hear the gunshots — sounded like a machine gun, she said — and they didn’t know where they were coming from,” Young said. “She had nowhere to take cover, so I told her just to run as fast as she could, as quick as she could, out of the arena. Get as far away from it as she could where she thought the line of fire might be.”

At least one off-duty Las Vegas police officer was shot, Lombardo said. Several other off-duty police officers are believed to be among the dead and injured.

The massacre put the normally bustling Strip at a standstill. Flights in and out of the Las Vegas airport were temporarily halted.

Police found Paddock’s roommate, Marilou Danley, 62, and don’t think she was involved, Lombardo said, adding that the investigation is ongoing.

Police searched their home in Mesquite, about 80 miles from Las Vegas.

The suspect’s brother Eric Paddock, of Orlando, Florida, told NBC News that he was “dumbfounded” by the shooting.

“He was just a guy,” Eric Paddock said of his brother. “He lives in Mesquite, he went to the hotels, he gambled, he went to shows.”

“We are completely at a loss,” he added.

Senior law enforcement officials and a Las Vegas casino executive said Stephen Paddock had made several large gambling transactions in recent weeks, including some of more than $30,000 a day. It wasn’t known whether they were losses or wins.

In 2012, Paddock sued the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas for a slip and fall. Martin Kravitz, the lead attorney for the hotel, described him Monday as “bizarre” and said “he dressed slovenly to the deposition.”

“His answers were vague, not very thoughtful,” Kravitz said. “He wasn’t angry. … This is not a guy who would have really stood out in your mind.”

He added that Paddock was wearing “crappy flip-flops.”

“You wonder what a guy like this is doing at the Cosmo,” he said.

Aldean, who was named the Academy of Country Music’s Entertainer of the Year in April, was performing on the final night of the three-day Route 91 Harvest festival at the Las Vegas Village when the shots started. He later said via Instagram that he and his band were safe.

“I still don’t know what to say but wanted to let everyone know that Me and my Crew are safe. My Thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved tonight,” he wrote.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted his condolences after the “senseless violence.”

“The hearts and prayers of the American people are with you. You have our condolences and sympathies,” he wrote. “To the courageous first responders, thank you for your acts of bravery.”

Hillary Clinton also expressed her grief in a tweet: “The crowd fled at the sound of gunshots. Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get.”

She added: “Our grief isn’t enough. We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again.”

Police urged families looking to locate missing loved ones to call 1-866-535-5654.

Richie Duchon and Andrew Blankstein reported from Los Angeles. F. Brinley Bruton, Rachel Elbaum and Yuliya Talmazan reported from London. Pete Williams reported from Washington. Elizabeth Chuck and Tracy Connor reported from New York. Alex Johnson reported from Los Angeles.

Mysterious Apocalyptic Message Interrupts TV Broadcasts in California: ‘Violent Times Will Come’

Original Article

By Jennings Brown

 

The mushroom cloud from “Ivy Mike” rises above in the Marshall Islands in 1952. (Photo: AP)

Many Californians’ regularly scheduled broadcasts were interrupted Thursday morning with strange emergency messages warning of extraterrestrial invasions and the beginning of Armageddon. The bizarre warnings aired on TVs in the Orange County area, affecting Cox and Spectrum cable users, according to the Orange County Register.

One video of the broadcast uploaded to YouTube includes a terrified, breathless voice saying: “The space program made contact with… They are not what they claim to be. They have infiltrated a lot of, uh, a lot of aspects of military establishment, particularly Area 51. The disasters that are coming—the military—I’m sorry the government knows about them…”

Gizmodo found that the audio comes from a call that Art Bell, the host of the conspiracy theory-themed radio show Coast to Coast AM, received in 1997 from a man claiming to be a former Area 51 employee.

Other videos of the emergency broadcast feature a different voice warning that “extremely violent times will come.” Redditor smittenkitten77 discovered the audio came from the Christian radio program Insight for Living with Chuck Swindoll.

“It almost sounded like Hitler talking,” one Cox customer told the Register. “It sounded like a radio broadcast coming through the television.”

It’s still unclear whether the messages were broadcast intentionally or by accident, but broadcast signal intrusions by pranksters aren’t unheard of, even in the digital era. Most famously, still-unidentified hackers hijacked TV signals in the Chicago area in 1987, broadcasting footage of a person wearing a Max Headroom mask and a man’s bare buttocks being spanked with a flyswatter. More recently, a suspect was arrested in 2013 after allegedly overlaying broadcasts in several states with emergency alerts about dead bodies “rising from their graves.”

Cox spokesperson Todd Smith told Gizmodo that the company does not know how many customers were affected and is still trying to determine where the originating signal came from. Cox believes its system got the message after a radio station or multiple stations were conducting their monthly emergency test, which cable networks piggyback on. Usually, radio stations transmit an end “tone” to complete their alerts. However, this time, it seems no such tone was transmitted.

Spectrum did not immediately respond to a Gizmodo request for comment but spokesperson Dennis Johnson told the Register, “We have confirmed that we were fed an incorrect audio file.”

Many viewers reported being alarmed and confused by yesterday’s broadcast—though we assume some were relieved at the possibility that the end times were imminent.

 

 

Gender Stereotypes Are Destroying Girls, And They’re Killing Boys

Original Article

By Alia E. Dastagir

In almost every society, from Baltimore to Beijing, boys are told from a young age to go outside and have adventures, while young girls are encouraged to stay home and do chores Time

It doesn’t matter where in the world you live. Lessons about gender start early, and they have lifelong consequences.

A new study in the Journal of Adolescent Healthfound many norms around gender, what’s expected of boys and girls, become entrenched in adolescence and have negative impacts that carry into adulthood.

We knew some of this already. Existing research shows gender roles can harm both sexes. But the Global Early Adolescent Study — which looked at girls and boys between 10-14 years old in 15 countries with varying income levels — found many of these stereotypes are universal, and they become entrenched before 10 years old.

“We were actually anticipating more differences than similarities, and one of the big findings is that there are still very consistent forms of patriarchy around the world,” said Kristin Mmari, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the lead qualitative researcher on the study.

The ideas girls and boys have about gender, the study found, form earlier in adolescence than had previously been measured, Mmari said.

“There seems to be a shift as soon as girls and boys enter this stage, where their attitudes and beliefs about the opposite sex change dramatically,” she said. “And they talked about how this was not so in childhood. That they could have these friends — opposite sex friends — and they were given equal amounts of freedom. They were treated the same, they thought. But once they began puberty, and their bodies developed, their worlds changed.”

The biggest myth perpetuated about gender, researchers found, is that once girls hit puberty, they are vulnerable and in need of protection to preserve their sexual and reproductive health, while boys are seen as strong and independent. It’s this myth, Mmari said, that changes how the world sees both sexes during adolescence, and how it continues to treat them throughout their lives.

“How you perceive girls and boys is socially driven,” Mmari said. “It’s not biologically driven.”

Among consequences that the study noted when girls conform to gender stereotypes:

  • Depression
  • Child marriage
  • Leaving school early
  • Exposure to violence

And consequences when boys conform to gender stereotypes:

  • Engaging in physical violence to a much greater extent than girls
  • Dying more frequently from unintentional injuries
  • Being more prone to substance abuse and suicide
  • Having a shorter life expectancy than women

Mmari said one of the major takeaways from the study is that it’s important to challenge gender stereotypes when children are young.

“You can look at it as a window of opportunity to really address these attitudes and beliefs before they become cemented later on,” she said.

The next phase of the study, which Mmari said will take about four or five years, will measure how gender norms change over time, what factors influence those changes and how they relate to health-outcomes for boys and girls.

“We need to view gender as more of a system,” Mmari said. “One of the problems … is we typically look at things on an individual level. So we feel like if we just empower girls, make them feel good, then we’ll change. But the problem is they go back to their homes where they’re given messages from their parents that are contradictory. They go to the schools where they’re given messages from their teachers that are contradictory. They look at the media — it’s a whole system out there that’s transmitting these inequitable norms, and so we have to think of it more on that level.”

New Antibody Attacks 99% of HIV Strains

Original Article

By James Gallagher

HIVImage copyright SPL

Scientists have engineered an antibody that attacks 99% of HIV strains and can prevent infection in primates.

It is built to attack three critical parts of the virus – making it harder for HIV to resist its effects.

The work is a collaboration between the US National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical company Sanofi.

The International Aids Society said it was an “exciting breakthrough”. Human trials will start in 2018 to see if it can prevent or treat infection.

Our bodies struggle to fight HIV because of the virus’ incredible ability to mutate and change its appearance.

These varieties of HIV – or strains – in a single patient are comparable to those of influenza during a worldwide flu season.

So the immune system finds itself in a fight against an insurmountable number of strains of HIV.

Super-antibodies

But after years of infection, a small number of patients develop powerful weapons called “broadly neutralising antibodies” that attack something fundamental to HIV and can kill large swathes of HIV strains.

Researchers have been trying to use broadly neutralising antibodies as a way to treat HIV, or prevent infection in the first place.

The study, published in the journal Science, combines three such antibodies into an even more powerful “tri-specific antibody”.

Dr Gary Nabel, the chief scientific officer at Sanofi and one of the report authors, told the BBC News website: “They are more potent and have greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that’s been discovered.”

The best naturally occurring antibodies will target 90% of HIV strains.

“We’re getting 99% coverage, and getting coverage at very low concentrations of the antibody,” said Dr Nabel.

Experiments on 24 monkeys showed none of those given the tri-specific antibody developed an infection when they were later injected with the virus.

Dr Nabel said: “It was quite an impressive degree of protection.”

The work included scientists at Harvard Medical School, The Scripps Research Institute, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

‘Exciting’

Clinical trials to test the antibody in people will start next year.

Prof Linda-Gail Bekker, the president of the International Aids Society, told the BBC: “This paper reports an exciting breakthrough.

“These super-engineered antibodies seem to go beyond the natural and could have more applications than we have imagined to date.

“It’s early days yet, and as a scientist I look forward to seeing the first trials get off the ground in 2018.

“As a doctor in Africa, I feel the urgency to confirm these findings in humans as soon as possible.”

Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it was an intriguing approach.

He added: “Combinations of antibodies that each bind to a distinct site on HIV may best overcome the defences of the virus in the effort to achieve effective antibody-based treatment and prevention.”

Poliovirus Kills Off Cancer Cells Stops Tumor Regrowth

Original Article

By Ana Sandoiu

Researchers from Duke University in Durham, NC, may have discovered a new way of killing off cancer cells.

The team was jointly led by Dr. Matthias Gromeier, a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery, and Prof. Smita Nair, who is an immunologist in the Department of Surgery.

The new research – which is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine – shows how a modified poliovirus enables the body to use its own resources to fight off cancer. The modified virus bears the name of recombinant oncolytic poliovirus (PVS-RIPO).

PVS-RIPO has been in clinical trials since 2011 and preliminary results have offered hope to patients with one of the most aggressive forms of brain tumor: recurrent glioblastoma. So, the researchers set out to investigate more deeply how exactly PVS-RIPO works.

Explaining the rationale behind their research endeavor, Dr. Gromeier says, “Knowing the steps that occur to generate an immune response will enable us to rationally decide whether and what other therapies make sense in combination with poliovirus to improve patient survival.”

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Poliovirus attacks tumors, inhibits regrowth

The researchers examined the behavior of the poliovirus in two human cell lines: melanomaand triple-negative breast cancer. They observed that the poliovirus attaches itself to cancerous cells. These cells have an excess of the CD155 protein, which acts as a receptor for the poliovirus.

Then, the poliovirus starts to attack the malignant cells, triggering the release of antigens from the tumorAntigens are toxic substances that the body does not recognize, therefore setting off an immune attack against them.

So, when the tumor cells release antigens, this alerts the body’s immune system to start attacking. At the same time, the poliovirus infects the dendritic cells and macrophages.

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Dendritic cells are cells whose role it is to process antigens and “present” them to T cells, which are a type of immune cell. Macrophages are another type of immune cell – namely, large white blood cells whose main role is to rid our bodies of debris and toxic substances.

The cell culture results – which the researchers then verified in mouse models – showed that once PVS-RIPO infects the dendritic cells, these cells “tell” T cells to start the immune attack.

Once started, this process seems to be continuously successful. The cancer cells continue to be vulnerable to the immune system’s attack over a longer period of time, which appears to stop the tumor from regrowing.

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As Prof. Nair explains, “Not only is poliovirus killing tumor cells, it is also infecting the antigen-presenting cells, which allows them to function in such a way that they can now raise a T cell response that can recognize and infiltrate a tumor.”

“This is an encouraging finding, because it means the poliovirus stimulates an innate inflammatory response.”

Prof. Smita Nair

Speaking to Medical News Today about the clinical implications of the findings and the scientists’ directions for future research, Dr. Gromeier said, “Our findings provide clear rationales for moving forward with clinical trials in breast cancer, prostate cancer, and malignant melanoma.”

“This includes novel combination treatments that we will pursue,” he added.

More specifically, he explains, because the study revealed that after treatment with the poliovirus “immune checkpoints are increased on immune cells,” a future strategy the researchers plan to explore is “[oncolytic] poliovirus combined with immune checkpoint blockade.”

The Invention of A.I. ‘Gaydar’ Could Be the Start of Something Much Worse

Original Article

By James Vincent

Two weeks ago, a pair of researchers from Stanford University made a startling claim. Using hundreds of thousands of images taken from a dating website, they said they had trained a facial recognition system that could identify whether someone was straight or gay just by looking at them. The work was first covered by The Economist, and other publications soon followed suit, with headlines like “New AI can guess whether you’re gay or straight from a photograph” and “AI Can Tell If You’re Gay From a Photo, and It’s Terrifying.”

As you might have guessed, it’s not as straightforward as that. (And to be clear, based on this work alone, AI can’t tell whether someone is gay or straight from a photo.) But the research captures common fears about artificial intelligence: that it will open up new avenues for surveillance and control, and could be particularly harmful for marginalized people. One of the paper’s authors, Dr Michal Kosinski, says his intent is to sound the alarm about the dangers of AI, and warns that facial recognition will soon be able to identify not only someone’s sexual orientation, but their political views, criminality, and even their IQ.

With statements like these, some worry we’re reviving an old belief with a bad history: that you can intuit character from appearance. This pseudoscience, physiognomy, was fuel for the scientific racism of the 19th and 20th centuries, and gave moral cover to some of humanity’s worst impulses: to demonize, condemn, and exterminate fellow humans. Critics of Kosinski’s work accuse him of replacing the calipers of the 19th century with the neural networks of the 21st, while the professor himself says he is horrified by his findings, and happy to be proved wrong. “It’s a controversial and upsetting subject, and it’s also upsetting to us,” he tells The Verge.

But is it possible that pseudoscience is sneaking back into the world, disguised in new garb thanks to AI? Some people say machines are simply able to read more about us than we can ourselves, but what if we’re training them to carry out our prejudices, and, in doing so, giving new life to old ideas we rightly dismissed? How are we going to know the difference?

CAN AI REALLY SPOT SEXUAL ORIENTATION?

First, we need to look at the study at the heart of the recent debate, written by Kosinski and his co-author Yilun Wang. Its results have been poorly reported, with a lot of the hype coming from misrepresentations of the system’s accuracy. The paper states: “Given a single facial image, [the software] could correctly distinguish between gay and heterosexual men in 81 percent of cases, and in 71 percent of cases for women.” These rates increase when the system is given five pictures of an individual: up to 91 percent for men, and 83 percent for women.

On the face of it, this sounds like “AI can tell if a man is gay or straight 81 percent of the time by looking at his photo.” (Thus the headlines.) But that’s not what the figures mean. The AI wasn’t 81 percent correct when being shown random photos: it was tested on a pair of photos, one of a gay person and one of a straight person, and then asked which individual was more likely to be gay. It guessed right 81 percent of the time for men and 71 percent of the time for women, but the structure of the test means it started with a baseline of 50 percent — that’s what it’d get guessing at random. And although it was significantly better than that, the results aren’t the same as saying it can identify anyone’s sexual orientation 81 percent of the time.

As Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who wrote a blog post critiquing the paper, told The Verge: “People are scared of a situation where you have a private life and your sexual orientation isn’t known, and you go to an airport or a sporting event and a computer scans the crowd and identifies whether you’re gay or straight. But there’s just not much evidence this technology can do that.”

Kosinski and Wang make this clear themselves toward the end of the paper when they test their system against 1,000 photographs instead of two. They ask the AI to pick out who is most likely to be gay in a dataset in which 7 percent of the photo subjects are gay, roughly reflecting the proportion of straight and gay men in the US population. When asked to select the 100 individuals most likely to be gay, the system gets only 47 out of 70 possible hits. The remaining 53 have been incorrectly identified. And when asked to identify a top 10, nine are right.

If you were a bad actor trying to use this system to identify gay people, you couldn’t know for sure you were getting correct answers. Although, if you used it against a large enough dataset, you might get mostly correct guesses. Is this dangerous? If the system is being used to target gay people, then yes, of course. But the rest of the study suggests the program has even further limitations.

WHAT CAN COMPUTERS REALLY SEE THAT HUMANS CAN’T?

It’s also not clear what factors the facial recognition system is using to make its judgements. Kosinski and Wang’s hypothesis is that it’s primarily identifying structural differences: feminine features in the faces of gay men and masculine features in the faces of gay women. But it’s possible that the AI is being confused by other stimuli — like facial expressions in the photos.

This is particularly relevant because the images used in the study were taken from a dating website. As Greggor Mattson, a professor of sociology at Oberlin College, pointed out in a blog post, this means that the images themselves are biased, as they were selected specifically to attract someone of a certain sexual orientation. They almost certainly play up to our cultural expectations of how gay and straight people should look, and, to further narrow their applicability, all the subjects were white, with no inclusion of bisexual or self-identified trans individuals. If a straight male chooses the most stereotypically “manly” picture of himself for a dating site, it says more about what he thinks society wants from him than a link between the shape of his jaw and his sexual orientation.

To try and ensure their system was looking at facial structure only, Kosinski and Wang used software called VGG-Face, which encodes faces as strings of numbers and has been used for tasks like spotting celebrity lookalikes in paintings. This program, they write, allows them to “minimize the role [of] transient features” like lighting, pose, and facial expression.

But researcher Tom White, who works on AI facial system, says VGG-Face is actually very good at picking up on these elements. White pointed this out on Twitter, and explained to The Verge over email how he’d tested the software and used it to successfully distinguish between faces with expressions like “neutral” and “happy,” as well as poses and background color.

A figure from the paper showing the average faces of the participants, and the difference in facial structures that they identified between the two sets. 
Image: Kosinski and Wang

Speaking to The Verge, Kosinski says he and Wang have been explicit that things like facial hair and makeup could be a factor in the AI’s decision-making, but he maintains that facial structure is the most important. “If you look at the overall properties of VGG-Face, it tends to put very little weight on transient facial features,” Kosinski says. “We also provide evidence that non-transient facial features seem to be predictive of sexual orientation.”

The problem is, we can’t know for sure. Kosinski and Wang haven’t released the program they created or the pictures they used to train it. They do test their AI on other picture sources, to see if it’s identifying some factor common to all gay and straight, but these tests were limited and also drew from a biased dataset — Facebook profile pictures from men who liked pages such as “I love being Gay,” and “Gay and Fabulous.”

Do men in these groups serve as reasonable proxies for all gay men? Probably not, and Kosinski says it’s possible his work is wrong. “Many more studies will need to be conducted to verify [this],” he says. But it’s tricky to say how one could completely eliminate selection bias to perform a conclusive test. Kosinski tells The Verge, “You don’t need to understand how the model works to test whether it’s correct or not.” However, it’s the acceptance of the opacity of algorithms that makes this sort of research so fraught.

IF AI CAN’T SHOW ITS WORKING, CAN WE TRUST IT?

AI researchers can’t fully explain why their machines do the things they do. It’s a challenge that runs through the entire field, and is sometimes referred to as the “black box” problem. Because of the methods used to train AI, these programs can’t show their work in the same way normal software does, although researchers are working to amend this.

In the meantime, it leads to all sorts of problems. A common one is that sexist and racist biases are captured from humans in the training data and reproduced by the AI. In the case of Kosinski and Wang’s work, the “black box” allows them to make a particular scientific leap of faith. Because they’re confident their system is primarily analyzing facial structures, they say their research shows that facial structures predict sexual orientation. (“Study 1a showed that facial features extracted by a [neural network] can be used to accurately identify the sexual orientation of both men and women.”)

Experts say this is a misleading claim that isn’t supported by the latest science. There may be a common cause for face shape and sexual orientation — the most probable cause is the balance of hormones in the womb — but that doesn’t mean face shape reliably predicts sexual orientation, says Qazi Rahman, an academic at King’s College London who studies the biology of sexual orientation. “Biology’s a little bit more nuanced than we often give it credit for,” he tells The Verge. “The issue here is the strength of the association.”

The idea that sexual orientation comes primarily from biology is itself controversial. Rahman, who believes that sexual orientation is mostly biological, praises Kosinski and Wang’s work. “It’s not junk science,” he says. “More like science someone doesn’t like.” But when it comes to predicting sexual orientation, he says there’s a whole package of “atypical gender behavior” that needs to be considered. “The issue for me is more that [the study] misses the point, and that’s behavior.”

Is there a gay gene? Or is sexuality equally shaped by society and culture?

Reducing the question of sexual orientation to a single, measurable factor in the body has a long and often inglorious history. As Matton writes in his blog post, approaches have ranged from “19th century measurements of lesbians’ clitorises and homosexual men’s hips, to late 20th century claims to have discovered ‘gay genes,’ ‘gay brains,’ ‘gay ring fingers,’ ‘lesbian ears,’ and ‘gay scalp hair.’” The impact of this work is mixed, but at its worst it’s a tool of oppression: it gives people who want to dehumanize and persecute sexual minorities a “scientific” pretext.

Jenny Davis, a lecturer in sociology at the Australian National University, describes it as a form of biological essentialism. This is the belief that things like sexual orientation are rooted in the body. This approach, she says, is double-edged. On the one hand, it “does a useful political thing: detaching blame from same-sex desire. But on the other hand, it reinforces the devalued position of that kind of desire,” setting up hetrosexuality as the norm and framing homosexuality as “less valuable … a sort of illness.”

And it’s when we consider Kosinski and Wang’s research in this context that AI-powered facial recognition takes on an even darker aspect — namely, say some critics, as part of a trend to the return of physiognomy, powered by AI.

YOUR CHARACTER, AS PLAIN AS THE NOSE ON YOUR FACE

For centuries, people have believed that the face held the key to the character. The notion has its roots in ancient Greece, but was particularly influential in the 19th century. Proponents of physiognomy suggested that by measuring things like the angle of someone’s forehead or the shape of their nose, they could determine if a person was honest or a criminal. Last year in China, AI researchers claimed they could do the same thing using facial recognition.

Their research, published as “Automated Inference on Criminality Using Face Images,” caused a minor uproar in the AI community. Scientists pointed out flaws in the study, and concluded that that work was replicating human prejudices about what constitutes a “mean” or a “nice” face. In a widely shared rebuttal titled “Physiognomy’s New Clothes,” Google researcher Blaise Agüera y Arcas and two co-authors wrote that we should expect “more research in the coming years that has similar … false claims to scientific objectivity in order to ‘launder’ human prejudice and discrimination.” (Google declined to make Agüera y Arcas available to comment on this report.)

An illustration of physiognomy from Giambattista della Porta’s De humana physiognomonia

Kosinski and Wang’s paper clearly acknowledges the dangers of physiognomy, noting that the practice “is now universally, and rightly, rejected as a mix of superstition and racism disguised as science.” But, they continue, just because a subject is “taboo,” doesn’t mean it has no basis in truth. They say that because humans are able to read characteristics like personality in other people’s faces with “low accuracy,” machines should be able to do the same but more accurately.

Kosinski says his research isn’t physiognomy because it’s using rigorous scientific methods, and his paper cites a number of studies showing that we can deduce (with varying accuracy) traits about people by looking at them. “I was educated and made to believe that it’s absolutely impossible that the face contains any information about your intimate traits, because physiognomy and phrenology were just pseudosciences,” he says. “But the fact that they were claiming things without any basis in fact, that they were making stuff up, doesn’t mean that this stuff is not real.” He agrees that physiognomy is not science, but says there may be truth in its basic concepts that computers can reveal.

For Davis, this sort of attitude comes from a widespread and mistaken belief in the neutrality and objectivity of AI. “Artificial intelligence is not in fact artificial,” she tells The Verge. “Machines learn like humans learn. We’re taught through culture and absorb the norms of social structure, and so does artificial intelligence. So it will re-create, amplify, and continue on the trajectories we’ve taught it, which are always going to reflect existing cultural norms.”

We’ve already created sexist and racist algorithms, and these sorts of cultural biases and physiognomy are really just two sides of the same coin: both rely on bad evidence to judge others. The work by the Chinese researchers is an extreme example, but it’s certainly not the only one. There’s at least one startup already active that claims it can spot terrorists and pedophiles using face recognition, and there are many others offering to analyze “emotional intelligence” and conduct AI-powered surveillance.

FACING UP TO WHAT’S COMING

But to return to the questions implied by those alarming headlines about Kosinski and Wang’s paper: is AI going to be used to persecute sexual minorities?

This system? No. A different one? Maybe.

Kosinski and Wang’s work is not invalid, but its results need serious qualifications and further testing. Without that, all we know about their system is that it can spot with some reliability the difference between self-identified gay and straight white people on one particular dating site. We don’t know that it’s spotted a biological difference common to all gay and straight people; we don’t know if it would work with a wider set of photos; and the work doesn’t show that sexual orientation can be deduced with nothing more than, say, a measurement of the jaw. It’s not decoded human sexuality any more than AI chatbots have decoded the art of a good conversation. (Nor do its authors make such a claim.)

Startup Faception claims it can identify how likely people are to be terrorists just by looking at their face. 
Image: Faception

The research was published to warn people, say Kosinski, but he admits it’s an “unavoidable paradox” that to do so you have to explain how you did what you did. All the tools used in the paper are available for anyone to find and put together themselves. Writing at the deep learning education site Fast.ai, researcher Jeremy Howard concludes: “It is probably reasonably [sic] to assume that many organizations have already completed similar projects, but without publishing them in the academic literature.”

We’ve already mentioned startups working on this tech, and it’s not hard to find government regimes that would use it. In countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia homosexuality is still punishable by death; in many other countries, being gay means being hounded, imprisoned, and tortured by the state. Recent reports have spoken of the opening of concentration camps for gay men in the Chechen Republic, so what if someone there decides to make their own AI gaydar, and scan profile pictures from Russian social media?

Here, it becomes clear that the accuracy of systems like Kosinski and Wang’s isn’t really the point. If people believe AI can be used to determine sexual preference, they will use it. With that in mind, it’s more important than ever that we understand the limitations of artificial intelligence, to try and neutralize dangers before they start impacting people. Before we teach machines our prejudices, we need to first teach ourselves.

North Korea Could Test Hydrogen Bomb Over Pacific Ocean, Says Foreign Minister

Original Article

By Joshua Berlinger and Zahra Ullah, CNN

(CNN)North Korea could test a powerful nuclear weapon over the Pacific Ocean in response to US President Donald Trump’s threats of military action, the country’s foreign minister has warned.

Ri Yong Ho spoke to reporters in New York shortly after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made an unprecedented televised statement, accusing Trump of being “mentally deranged.”

The forceful rhetoric from Pyongyang came after Trump threatened to”totally destroy” North Korea in a speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. Trump tweeted Friday that Kim was “obviously a madman” who would be “tested like never before.”
In a rare direct statement delivered straight to camera, Kim said that Trump would “pay dearly” for the threats, and that North Korea “will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.”
“I am now thinking hard about what response he could have expected when he allowed such eccentric words to trip off his tongue,” Kim said. “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire.”
Kim said Trump’s comments were reflective of “mentally deranged behavior.”
Hours later, Kim’s foreign minister told reporters in New York that Pyongyang could launch a nuclear missile test in response. “This could probably mean the strongest hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean. Regarding which measures to take, I don’t really know since it is what Kim Jong Un does,” said Ri.

Photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un taken from the front page of state paper Rodong Sinmun on Friday, September 22.

Japan’s defense minister Itsunori Onodera said the country must ready itself for the sudden escalation in tensions and be prepared for a missile launch.
“We cannot deny the possibility it may fly over our country,” Onodera said Thursday. Japan has been subject to two North Korean missile test flyovers in recent weeks.
In response, Trump said on Twitter: “Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn’t mind killing or starving his people, will be tested like never before!”

First-person first?

The phrase “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” could be considered an escalation in the choice of language used, said Vipin Narang, a professor of political science at MIT and expert on deterrence and nuclear policy.
“This is clearly trying to coerce the US into playing ball,” Narang told CNN.
In his first address to the United Nations as US President, Trump said that the US was ready to “totally destroy” North Korea if it was forced to defend its allies, a warning seen as unprecedented for a US president delivering an address to the world’s leaders and top diplomats.
Trump at UN threatens to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea 04:35
Responding to the speech, Kim said Trump’s comments amounted to an insult. “I’d like to advise Trump to exercise prudence in selecting words and to be considerate of whom he speaks to when making a speech in front of the world,” Kim said.
A handful of North Korea analysts believe Kim’s response — the first time he has ever released a first-person statement — could show how personally the young leader took Trump’s speech.
“This is unprecedented, as far as we can tell,” Narang said. “It’s written by him, it’s signed by him … He was clearly offended by the speech, and what concerns me most is the response he says he is considering.”
“The message is chilling,” Narang said.
Asked to respond to Kim’s statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told CNN on Thursday night, “Not at this time.”
North Korea was scheduled to speak at the UN General Assembly Friday night, but dropped off of its planned roster spot. The country could still get a slot at another time.
Ri Yong Ho: Trump’s threats ‘a dog’s barking’ 00:34

More sanctions

The White House, meanwhile, took the another step in its so-called “peaceful pressure” campaign to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear program, expanding sanctions on North Korea and those who do business with the country.
Though the majority of North Korea’s imports come from China, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said “This action is directed at everyone” and the steps are “in no way specifically directed at China.”
The executive order Trump inked just ahead of the lunch enhances Treasury Department authorities to target individuals who provide goods, services or technology to North Korea, Trump said. He said the order would also allow the US to identify new industries — including textiles, fishing and manufacturing — as potential targets for future actions.

Scientists Just Discovered the First Brainless Animal That Sleeps

Original Article

By Sarah Kaplan


Cassiopea jellyfish rests upside-down on black sand and pulses, rhythmically contracting and relaxing its bell. At night, Cassiopea jellies pulse less frequently — a clue that they’re sleeping, researchers report. (Photo by JanEaster.com)

It was well past midnight when Michael Abrams, Claire Bedbrook and Ravi Nath crept into the Caltech lab where they were keeping their jellyfish. They didn’t bother switching on the lights, opting instead to navigate the maze of desks and equipment by the pale blue glow of their cellphones. The students hadn’t told anyone that they were doing this. It wasn’t forbidden, exactly, but they wanted a chance to conduct their research without their PhD advisers breathing down their necks.

“When you start working on something totally crazy, it’s good to get data before you tell anybody,” Abrams said.

The “totally crazy” undertaking in question: an experiment to determine whether jellyfish sleep.

It had all started when Bedbrook, a graduate student in neurobiology, overheard Nath and Abrams mulling the question over coffee. The topic was weird enough to make her stop at their table and argue.

“Of course not,” she said. Scientists still don’t fully know why animals need to snooze, but research has found that sleep is a complex behavior associated with memory consolidation and REM cycles in the brain. Jellyfish are so primitive they don’t even have a brain — how could they possibly share this mysterious trait?

Her friends weren’t so sure. “I guess we’re going to have to test it,” Nath said, half-joking.

Bedbrook was dead serious: “Yeah. Yeah, we are.”

After months of late-night research, Bedbrook has changed her mind. In a paper published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, she, Nath and Abrams report that the upside-down jellyfish Cassiopea exhibit sleeplike behavior — the first animals without a brain known to do so. The results suggest that sleep is deeply rooted in our biology, a behavior that evolved early in the history of animal life and has stuck with us ever since.

Further study of jellyfish slumber might bring scientists closer to resolving what Nath called “the paradox of sleep.”

Think about it, he urged. If you’re asleep in the wild when a predator comes along, you’re dead. If a food source strolls past, you go hungry. If a potential mate walks by, you miss the chance to pass on your genetic material.

“Sleep is this period where animals are not doing the things that benefit from a natural selection perspective,” Nath said.

Abrams chimed in: “Except for sleep.” Nath laughed.

“We know it must be very important. Otherwise, we would just lose it,” Bedbrook said. If animals could evolve a way to live without sleep, surely they would have. But many experiments suggest that when creatures such as mice are deprived of sleep for too long, they die. Scientists have shown that animals as simple as the roundworm C. elegans, with a brain of just 302 neurons, need sleep to survive.

Cassiopea has no brain to speak of — just a diffuse “net” of nerve cells distributed across their small, squishy bodies. These jellyfish barely even behave like animals. Instead of mouths, they suck in food through pores in their tentacles. They also get energy via a symbiotic relationship with tiny photosynthetic organisms that live inside their cells.

“They’re like weird plant animals,” Bedbrook said.

They’re also ancient: Cnidarians, the phylogenetic group that includes jellies, first arose some 700 million years ago, making them some of Earth’s first animals. These traits make Cassiopea an ideal organism to test for the evolutionary origins of sleep. Fortuitously, Abrams already had some on hand.

So the trio designed an experiment. At night, when the jellies were resting and their professors were safely out of the picture, the students would test for three behavioral criteria associated with sleep.

First: Reversible quiescence. In other words, the jellyfish become inactive but are not paralyzed or in a coma. The researchers counted the jellyfish’s movements and found they were 30 percent less active at night. But when food was dropped into the tank, the creatures perked right up. Clearly not paralyzed.

Second: An increased arousal threshold. This means it’s more difficult to get the animals’ attention; they have to be “woken up.” For this, the researchers placed sleeping jellies in containers with removable bottoms, lifted the containers to the top of their tank, then pulled out the bottom. If the jellyfish were awake, they’d immediately swim to the floor of the tank. But if they were asleep, “they’d kind of strangely float around in the water,” Abrams said.

 Play Video 0:34
Watch a magnificent jellyfish at a depth of more than 12,000 feet
This jellyfish was seen during a dive on April 24, while exploring Enigma Seamount at a depth of more than 12,000 feet. (NOAA)

“You know how you wake up with vertigo? I pretend that maybe there’s possible chance that the jellyfish feel this,” Nath added. “They’re sleeping and then they wake up and they’re like, ‘Ahhhh!’ ”

And third: The quiescent state must be homeostatically regulated. That is, the jellyfish must feel a biological drive to sleep. When they don’t, they suffer.

“This is really equivalent to how we feel when we pull an all-nighter,” Bedbrook said. She’s all too familiar with the feeling — getting your PhD requires more late nights than she’s willing to count.

The jellyfish have no research papers to keep them awake past their bedtimes, so the scientists prevented them from sleeping by “poking” them with pulses of water every 20 minutes for an entire night. The following day, the poor creatures swam around in a daze, and the next night they slept especially deeply to make up for lost slumber.


Jellyfish in their tank. (Caltech)

Realizing they really had something here, the students clued their professors in on what they were doing. The head of the lab where Nath worked, Caltech and Howard Hughes Medical Institute biologist Paul Sternberg, offered the trio a closet in which they could to continue their experiments.

“It’s important,” Sternberg said, “because it’s [an organism] with what we think of as a more primitive nervous system. … It raises the possibility of an early evolved fundamental process.”

Sternberg, along with Abram and Bedbrook’s advisers, is a co-author on the Current Biology paper.

Allan Pack, the director of the Center for Sleep and Respiratory Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania, was not involved in the jellyfish research, but he’s not surprised by the finding, given how prevalent sleep is in other species.

“Every model that has been looked at … shows a sleep-like state,” he said.

But the revelations about jellyfish sleep are important, he said, because they show how basic sleep is. It appears to be a “conserved” behavior, one that arose relatively early in life’s history and has persisted for millions of years. If the behavior is conserved, then perhaps the biological mechanism is too. Understanding why jellyfish, with their simple nerve nets, need sleep could lead scientists to the function of sleep in humans.

“I think it’s one of the major biological questions of our time,” Pack said. “We spend a third of a life sleeping. Why are we doing it? What’s the point?”

 

The Rise of Genderless Beauty

Original Article

By Ashleigh Austen

Apart from rock stars like Keith Richards wearing eyeliner and footage of the annual Mardi Gras parade, men-wearing-makeup have remained largely under the radar – until now.Yes, gender fluidity has well and truly hit the mainstream, seeing unisex makeup jumping from the stage to the street.

“Boy beauty” has seen male beauty bloggers become gender-fluid muses for the likes of big brands like CoverGirl and Maybelline, not only democratizing the use of makeup but changing the way we talk about gender in the process.

If the millions of social media followers being racked up by the likes of male makeup artists Patrick Starr, Manny Gutierrez and Jeffree Star are anything to go by, then the inclusivity message is being heard loud and clear. But is gender-blending beauty really here to stay?

https://www.instagram.com/p/BS4lI_5AaWb/embed/?cr=1&v=7&wp=770#%7B%22ci%22%3A0%2C%22os%22%3A5426.625000000001%7DAccording to a recent report by global market research company Mintel, brands are becoming increasingly aware of the shift in gender barriers (with regards to both sexes,) as being something they need to both cater to and celebrate.

“Consumers are moving away from traditional gender stereotypes, in part driven by the increased visibility of gender diversity. As such, the traditional gender boundaries associated with fashion and beauty trends are becoming progressively blurred,” a spokesperson for the company stated.

Here, the brands we’re giving three big gender-neutral claps for embracing unisex beauty.

Calvin Klein

https://www.instagram.com/p/BNSaQ2-Bhov/embed/?cr=1&v=7&wp=770#%7B%22ci%22%3A1%2C%22os%22%3A5437.6900000000005%7DThe original unisex fragrance creators, Calvin Klein launched CK One in 1994 and the light, citrusy, herbaceous scent was a best-seller. Their follow-up, CK2, is a woody, fresh scent making it still the OG androgynous cologne.

ASOS Face + Body

https://www.instagram.com/p/BYxQEmLj0og/embed/?cr=1&v=7&wp=770#%7B%22ci%22%3A2%2C%22os%22%3A5443.125%7DNot content with being your go-to for on-trend clothes and accessories, ASOS last week launched an entire collection of inclusive in-house beauty products that all genders and skin tones should feel free to use.

CoverGirl

https://www.instagram.com/p/BLbN-CzAJsz/embed/?cr=1&v=7&wp=770#%7B%22ci%22%3A3%2C%22os%22%3A12910.225%7DCoverGirl made worldwide headlines when they announced that a 17-year-old makeup artist from New York, James Charles, would be its first “CoverBoy” – gaining him 2.4 million Instagram followers in the process.

M.A.C

https://www.instagram.com/p/BFbyuKeOOYD/embed/?cr=1&v=7&wp=770#%7B%22ci%22%3A4%2C%22os%22%3A12924.01%7DOne of the original supporters of inclusive cosmetics, M.A.C has always proudly stated their products are for all ages, races and sexes. They’ve twice collaborated with model Stephanie Seymour’s sons, Harry and Peter Brant, on a collection of gender-neutral products, which included brow gels, lip stains and eyeshadows.

Maybelline New York

https://www.instagram.com/p/BZRsJDxAClb/embed/?cr=1&v=7&wp=770#%7B%22ci%22%3A5%2C%22os%22%3A12937.595000000001%7DEarlier this year Maybelline announced Manny Gutierrez (known as Manny MUA) would front their Big Shot Mascara product launch – making him the first male to ever star in a major campaign for the company.

Rimmel London

https://www.instagram.com/p/BPaoBrugJth/embed/?cr=1&v=7&wp=770#%7B%22ci%22%3A6%2C%22os%22%3A18132.085%7DRimmel London joined the ranks of high-profile beauty brands extending their advertising inclusivity to men when they featured 17-year-old British YouTube blogger Lewys Ball in their major campaign.

L’Oreal Paris

https://www.instagram.com/p/BUCbkg2FqNU/embed/?cr=1&v=7&wp=770#%7B%22ci%22%3A7%2C%22os%22%3A18384.195000000003%7DL’Oreal Paris jumped on-board to support the inclusivity cause with their True Match foundation campaign, which featured makeup artist Gary Thompson from The Plastic Boy. Seriously, that highlighter though
.

An Apocalyptic Mass Extinction Will Begin in 2100, Scientists Say

Original Article

By Jasper Hamill

A mass extinction that wipes out humanity will be under way by the year 2100, scientists have claimed.

By the end of the century, it’s feared that so much carbon will have been added to the oceans that the planet will have passed a “threshold of catastrophe” which leads to the destruction of our species.

In the past 540 million years, the planet has endured five such wipeouts — including the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The worst took place 252 million years ago and is known as the Great Dying.

This disaster killed off more than 95 percent of marine life when the seas suddenly became more acidic.

Now geophysicist Professor Daniel Rothman says we are seeing a disturbing parallel today — this time because of man-made global warming.

He came up with a simple mathematical formula that predicts that the oceans will soon hold so much carbon that a mass extinction is inevitable.

It showed the critical extra amount required is about 310 gigatons — which is the best-case scenario projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

And it’s well below the worst of more than 500 gigatons — which would far exceed the line.

In all scenarios, the study found that by the end of the century, the carbon cycle will either be close to or well beyond the threshold for catastrophe.

Although mass extinction won’t soon follow at the turn of the century, the world may have tipped into “unknown territory.”

Rothman, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says it would take some time — about 10,000 years — for such ecological disasters to play out.

He said: “This is not saying disaster occurs the next day.

“It’s saying — if left unchecked — the carbon cycle would move into a realm which would be no longer stable and would behave in a way that would be difficult to predict.

“In the past this type of behavior is associated with mass extinction.”

In the modern era, CO2 emissions have risen steadily since the 19th century, but deciphering whether this could lead to mass extinction has been challenging.

Humans have emitted 1,540 billion tons of CO2 since the Industrial Revolution — equivalent to burning enough coal to form a square tower 72 feet wide stretching 240,000 miles from Earth to the moon.

Half of these have remained in the atmosphere, causing a rise in levels at least 10 times faster than any known natural increase during Earth’s long history.

Most of the other half has dissolved into the ocean — causing acidification.

Will this lead to the destruction of humanity?

Your grandchildren will probably find out, unless something changes now.

California School Board Will Allow Transgender Books in Elementary School

 

Original Article

Should children in kindergarten be taught about transgender people?

That’s the question at the center of a controversy that erupted in June after a transgender student at Rocklin Academy Gateway, a charter school in northern California, brought the children’s book “I Am Jazz” to school to share with classmates. The book chronicles the life of a real-life transgender girl named Jazz Jennings.

In a Monday night vote after an impassioned, emotional debate, the Rocklin school board decided to keep its current literature policies in place, which allow similar types of books to be read to children during story time. However, the board passed a provision stating that teachers “will endeavor to notify parents in advance of controversial topics being discussed when they are part of the school’s curriculum or a teacher’s lesson plan so that parents can also share their views at home.”

The policy adopted further states, if advance notice is not possible,
teachers will “endeavor to notify parents via email or verbally after the fact.”

Some parents raised objections that they were not notified, while others at the meeting supported the school’s policies and did not object to the reading material.

Wendy Sickler, a parent of two children at the school, said her “concern is that a book that was read was outside the curriculum, and it was a sensitive topic, and the parents weren’t notified.”

Sickler said she’s not opposed to a transgender child being in the classroom.

“I know that our kids are going to be exposed to different lifestyles, and that to me reinforces that they should notify parents,” she said, according to the Sacramento Bee, adding that she thinks that additional changes are needed other than the issues brought before the school board.

According to the newspaper, Beryl Mayne, of Auburn, arrived before the meeting with other members of the LGBT community holding signs that said: “Trans Rights are Human Rights,” “Trans Kids Have Courage” and “Love and Let Love.”

“It’s important tonight to support transgender children. It’s not about me. It’s about transgender children,” Mayne told the Bee.

After the vote, one school board member urged the community to come together and move forward now that a decision had been made.

“Please let this end tonight,” Larry Steiner said, according to the Bee. “We cannot forget Rocklin Academy is a school of choice. The hostility has to end. Let’s bring back our sense of community.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

British Supermarket Offers ‘Finger Vein’ Payment In Worldwide First

Original Article

By Katie Morley

A UK supermarket has become the first in the world to let shoppers pay for groceries using just the veins in their fingertips.

Customers at the Costcutter store, at Brunel University in London, can now pay using their unique vein pattern to identify themselves.

The firm behind the technology, Sthaler, has said it is in “serious talks” with other major UK supermarkets to adopt hi-tech finger vein scanners at pay points across thousands of stores.

It works by using infrared to scan people’s finger veinsand then links this unique biometric map to their bank cards. Customers’ bank details are then stored with payment provider Worldpay, in the same way you can store your card details when shopping online. Shoppers can then turn up to the supermarket with nothing on them but their own hands and use it to make payments in just three seconds.

 

It comes as previous studies have found fingerprint recognition, used widely on mobile phones, is vulnerable to being hacked and can be copied even from finger smears left on phone screens.

But Sthaler, the firm behind the technology, claims vein technology is the most secure biometric identification method as it cannot be copied or stolen.

Sthaler said dozens of students were already using the system and it expected 3,000 students out of 13,000 to have signed up by November.

Finger print payments are already used widely at cash points in Poland, Turkey and Japan.

Vein scanners are also used as a way of accessing high-security UK police buildings and authorising internal trading at least one major British investment bank.

The firm is also in discussions with nightclubs, gyms about using the technology to verify membership and even Premier League football clubs to check people have the right access to VIP hospitality areas.

Fingerprint 
Fingerprint technology could be coming to a supermarket near you CREDIT: FABRIZIO BENSC/REUTERS

The technology uses an infrared light to create a detailed map of the vein pattern in your finger. It requires the person to be alive, meaning in the unlikely event a criminal hacks off someone’s finger, it would not work. Sthaler said it take just one minute to sign up to the system initially and, after that, it takes just seconds to place your finger in a scanner each time you reach the supermarket checkout.

Simon Binns, commercial director of Sthaler, told the Daily Telegraph: ‘This makes payments so much easier for customers.

“They don’t need to carry cash or cards. They don’t need to remember a pin number. You just bring yourself. This is the safest form of biometrics. There are no known incidences where this security has been breached.

“When you put your finger in the scanner it checks you are alive, it checks for a pulse, it checks for haemoglobin. ‘Your vein pattern is secure because it is kept on a database in an encrypted form, as binary numbers. No card details are stored with the retailer or ourselves, it is held with Worldpay, in the same way it is when you buy online.”

Nick Telford-Reed, director of technology innovation at Worldpay UK, said: “In our view, finger vein technology has a number of advantages over fingerprint. This deployment of Fingopay in Costcutter branches demonstrates how consumers increasingly want to see their payment methods secure and simple.”

Big Business Wins the Fight for DRM Standards for Video Streaming.

Original Article

By Kate Conger

Photo: Getty

A fight over the future of video streaming has been brewing for years—and it finally came to a head today, with a major electronic privacy organization bowing out of the consortium that sets standards for the web.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) resigned from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) today over the W3C’s freshly-released recommendations on protecting copyright in streaming video. W3C, which is directed by the inventor of the internet Tim Berners-Lee, should be a natural ally of the EFF—but the fight over protecting security researchers who uncover vulnerabilities in video streaming has driven a wedge between the two organizations.

“The whole problem that we have here is this is a super technical, relatively boring, unbelievably important issue. That’s such a horrific toxic cocktail,” Cory Doctorow, the EFF’s advisory committee representative to W3C, told Gizmodo. “The W3C is using its patent pool and moral authority to create a system that’s not about empowering users but controlling users.”

The dispute focuses on Digital Rights Management (DRM), which enables media companies to surveil their consumers and make sure they’re just binge-watching episodes of Game of Thrones, not binge-pirating. (Although DRM is most commonly found in video streaming platforms, it also makes appearances in everything from coffee machines to tractors.) DRM gets legal backing from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which makes it a felony for security pros to find and disclose vulnerabilities in DRM.

DRM is usually managed by plugins like Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight, but W3C’s recommendations make it possible for DRM to be managed by browsers. The EFF and other organizations wanted browsers that adopt the standard to agree to protect security researchers and not pursue them under the DMCA, but W3C didn’t make that part of the standard—pissing off a bunch of security professionals and open web advocates. It feels cynical and hypocritical for an organization founded on principles of openness to cave to the constraints of DRM and not stick up for researchers and users.

W3C normally makes decisions based on consensus, but switched to a majority-vote system because DRM was so divisive among its members, Doctorow said. CEO Jeff Jaffe called the dispute “one of the most divisive debates in the history of the W3C Community.”

“I know from my conversations that many people are not satisfied with the result,” Jaffe wrote of the recommendations. “And there is reason to respect those who want a better result. But my personal reflection is that we took the appropriate time to have a respectful debate about a complex set of issues and provide a result that will improve the web for its users.”

Doctorow told Gizmodo that he proposed a compromise to protect security researchers from prosecution, but that W3C rejected it. “We will stand down on our views on DRM but you have to promise that you’ll only use DRM law like the DMCA when there is some other cause of action like a copyright infringement,” he explained. That way, if researchers broke DRM only to expose a security flaw, they would be protected. But W3C members like Netflix weren’t interested in discussing a compromise, he said.

“The irony here is that Netflix only exists because they did and continue to do something that outraged the entertainment industry,” Doctorow explained. “The web should have the same standard that you guys had when you were starting. It should be legal to do things that are legal, and if that upsets you you should make a better product or convince Congress to stop it.”

Because of the changes to W3C rules, the EFF lost faith in the process. “We don’t think that there’s any use in throwing our donor’s money, our energy and our limited time at a process where we don’t think the other side carried themselves in good faith,” Doctorow said.

In an open letter explaining EFF’s decision to walk away from W3C, Doctorow wrote: “The business values of those outside the web got important enough, and the values of technologists who built it got disposable enough, that even the wise elders who make our standards voted for something they know to be a fool’s errand.”

In addition to the lack of protections for security research, EFF says the W3C recommendations harm the automation of making video accessible to people with disabilities and archiving the internet.

For their part, W3C members Netflix, Microsoft, Comcast, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America
all praised the decision.

“Integration of DRM into web browsers delivers improved performance, battery life, reliability, security and privacy to users watching their favorite TV shows and movies on Netflix and other video services,” wrote Netflix in a statement. “We can finally say goodbye to third-party plugins, making for a safer and more reliable web.”