AuthorTopic: Knarf's Knewz Channel  (Read 1296685 times)

Offline knarf

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California’s devastating wildfire season is part of a larger trend
« Reply #9720 on: December 13, 2017, 04:33:37 PM »
Here’s how much worse it has gotten


Fire fighters attack the Thomas Fire’s north flank with backfires as they continue to fight a massive wildfire north of Los Angeles, near Ojai , California, U.S., December 9, 2017

 A series of wildfires have devastated Southern California over the past week, and they’re showing few signs of slowing down.

The Thomas Fire in Ventura County, which had burned over 230,500 acres as of Monday morning, already ranks as the fifth largest fire in California’s history (since records were kept).

While that’s a far cry from the Rush Fire, the largest fire in California’s history – which burned 271,911 acres in 2012 – the Thomas Fire is still only 15% contained.

According to an analysis from Climate Nexus, these fires, and the fires that devastated Northern California in October, are part of a larger trend of climate change that’s only going to get worse.

Fourteen of the 20 largest fires in California’s history have occurred since the year 2000, according to Climate Nexus. California is coming off of a record heat wave in September that dried out the state, turning Southern California into a tinderbox.

Because of climate change, the average wildfire season lasts at least 2 1/2 months longer than it did in the early 1970s. And the amount of land burned in the US since 1984 is double what would have been expected without the effects of climate change.

 Gov. Jerry Brown called the wildfires a “new normal,” for California.

“This could be something that happens every year or every few years,” Brown said over the weekend, per The Los Angeles Times. “We’re about to have a firefighting Christmas.”

Here’s the list of the fourteen largest fires since the year 2000, from Climate Nexus:


    December 2017: Thomas, 230,500 acres
    September 2016: Soberanes, 132,127 acres
    July 2015: Rough, 151,623 acres
    August 2014: Happy Camp Complex, 134,056 acres
    August 2013: Rim, 257,314 acres
    August 2012: Rush, 271,911 acres
    August 2009: Station 160,557 acres
    June 2008: Klamath Theater Complex, 192,038 acres
    June 2008: Basin Complex, 162,818 acres
    October 2007: Witch, 197,990 acres
    July 2007: Zaca, 240,207 acres
    September 2006: Day, 162,702 acres
    October 2003: Cedar, 273,246 acres
    July 2002: McNally, 150,696 acres

 Between 1930 and 1999, there were only six fires over 100,000 acres in California, according to Climate Nexus.

As larger fires burn in the state, fire-related expenditures are also increasing. Climate Nexus calculated that in the 2017 fiscal year (which ends in October), California’s Department of Fire and Forestry protection spent $505 million fighting fires across the state. Twenty years ago, in 1997, the state spent only $47 million.

The Soberanes wildfire in 2016 set the record for the costliest firefight in history, with the state spending $260 million to battle the blaze.

http://www.businessinsider.sg/ventura-county-la-fires-california-worsening-trend-2017-12/


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Zimbabwe seizes 200 kg of ivory destined for Malaysia
« Reply #9721 on: December 13, 2017, 04:36:50 PM »
HARARE (Reuters) - An illegal shipment of 200 kg (440 lb) of ivory destined for Malaysia has been seized at Zimbabwe’s main airport, an official said on Wednesday.

Security agents from Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority intercepted the shipment on Monday, its spokesman Tinashe Farawo said. The ivory was stashed in four boxes at Robert Mugabe International Airport.

Controlled ivory trade is allowed in Zimbabwe, but its export is not permitted. Farawo said at current market prices of $2,100 a kg, the ivory was worth $420,000.

“We have made contact with the travel agent involved to identify the owner of the ivory. We are also investigating its origin,” said Farawo. He did not give further details.

Farawo said although state security agents had in the past arrested people trying to smuggle ivory through airports, this was one of the largest interceptions they had made.

Zimbabwe, together with Namibia failed last year in October to convince a U.N. body that they should be allowed to export elephant ivory, moves the countries argued would protect the animals rather than endanger them.

Ivory is prized for its decorative qualities while rhino horn is a key ingredient in traditional Asian medicines. There is also speculative demand from buyers betting that prices will skyrocket if rhinos are poached to extinction.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-zimbabwe-ivory/zimbabwe-seizes-200-kg-of-ivory-destined-for-malaysia-idUSKBN1E71L8
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Disney has acquired 21st Century Fox’s film and TV studios in a landmark deal
« Reply #9722 on: December 14, 2017, 04:21:53 AM »
Disney has acquired 21st Century Fox's film and TV studios in a landmark deal worth over $52 billion dollars. The arrangement covers the movie studio 20th Century Fox, the company’s TV production arm 20th Century Fox Television, Fox-owned cable networks (including FX and National Geographic), and the company’s stakes in international networks like Star TV and Sky.

Disney also will gain a majority control of Hulu in the deal, with Fox’s 30 percent stake giving Disney a controlling interest of 60 percent. Comcast and Time Warner will be reduced to minority stakeholders, with 30 percent and 10 percent stakes, respectively.

As reported earlier, Fox is looking to shed what it views as deadweight in its entertainment divisions in order to focus on the far more profitable news and sports sides of its business. As such, the company is keeping control of the Fox broadcast network, Fox Sports, and the Fox News and Fox Business brands.

The purchase was originally rumored back in early November, but talks were said to have fallen through. The Wall Street Journal reported that discussions were back on at the beginning of December. Comcast was at one point considered to be a contender for the rights as well.

Along with 21st Century Fox’s various production companies and distribution networks, Disney also is taking ownership of the company’s vast catalog of intellectual property. That means that comic book characters like the X-Men and Fantastic Four are now back under the stewardship of Marvel Studios, and opens the door for their integration into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It also means that Disney — which is looking to open its own streaming service in competition to Netflix — now has an even larger back catalog of shows and TV series that it could feasibly offer exclusively on its service. Other franchises that now belong to the House of Mouse include the Avatar series (which makes Disney’s Pandora theme park a whole lot more sensible), the Aliens movies, Ice Age, the rebooted Planet of the Apes, The Simpsons, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, How I Met Your Mother, Futurama, Firefly, and The X-Files, to name just a few, all of which would be a massive boon for Disney’s upcoming service.

https://www.theverge.com/2017/12/14/16735502/disney-fox-deal-film-tv-studio-acquisition
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Marijuana and Vaping Are More Popular Than Cigarettes Among Teenagers
« Reply #9723 on: December 14, 2017, 04:24:43 AM »

The Juul brand e-cigarette, which resembles a flash drive, is popular among underage vapers. Conventional cigarette smoking has dropped so sharply among American teenagers that marijuana use and vaping are now more common.

Cigarette smoking has dropped so sharply among American teenagers that vaping and marijuana use are now more common, according to a national survey of adolescent drug use released Thursday.

The report, sponsored by the federal government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse and administered by the University of Michigan, found that 22.9 percent of high school seniors said they had used marijuana within the previous 30 days and 16.6 percent had used a vaping device. Only 9.7 percent had smoked cigarettes.

The survey of 43,703 eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students in public and private schools nationwide raised concerns about the popularity of vaping devices, available in countless styles to appeal to different social groups. But it was otherwise optimistic. It found that teenagers’ consumption of most substances — including alcohol, tobacco, prescription opioids and stimulants — has either fallen or held steady at last year’s levels, the lowest rates in 20 years.

By contrast, rates of marijuana use have remained largely consistent, with occasional small shifts, in recent years. (Studies show, however, that marijuana rates have risen among young adults in the last decade.)

“We’re impressed by the improvement in substance use by all teenagers,” said Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the institute.
Continue reading the main story
Related Coverage

    THE NEW SMOKE
    A Hot Debate Over E-Cigarettes as a Path to Tobacco, or From It FEB. 22, 2014
    F.D.A. Delays Rules That Would Have Limited E-Cigarettes on Market JULY 28, 2017
    E-Cigarette Use by U.S. Teenagers Rose Last Year, Report Says APRIL 14, 2016
    New York State Bans Vaping Anywhere Cigarettes Are Prohibited OCT. 23, 2017

Still, Dr. Compton continued, “we don’t yet know about the health problems in vaping.”

Vaping devices, which typically vaporize substances into an inhalant, are perceived by some experts as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes because they do not include carcinogens that come with burning tobacco. But Dr. Compton said, “The concern is that it may represent a new route for exposure to nicotine and marijuana.”

The devices are typically sold with nicotine. But when 12th-graders were asked what they believed was in the mist they had vaped most recently, 51.8 percent said “just flavoring.” When asked about use in the past month, one in 20 12th-graders said they had used marijuana in vaping devices and one in 10 said nicotine.

Cassie Poncelow, a school counselor at Poudre High School in Fort Collins, Colo., has noticed an upsurge in vaping across all social groups.

“We’re seeing a ton of it,” she said. The devices are readily accessible and easy to conceal, she added.

“Kids are taking hits on their vape pens in the hallways and nobody notices,” Ms. Poncelow said, noting that some devices resemble flash drives, which students plug into laptops to recharge.

But educators and public health officials praised the drop in tobacco use. Dr. Compton noted that in 1996, 10.4 percent of eighth graders reported smoking cigarettes daily. By 2017, that figure fell to 0.6 percent. In 1997, daily smoking among 12th graders peaked at 24.6 percent. By 2017, only 4.2 percent smoked cigarettes daily.

Thomas J. Glynn, a former director of cancer science at the American Cancer Society and an adjunct lecturer at Stanford University School of Medicine, hailed the continuing tobacco decline as “an astounding accomplishment in public health.”

“But,” he added, “it doesn’t mean we close the door and go home now.”

While noting that the data on vaping devices as a gateway to cigarettes is inconclusive, he added, “I think we have to have alarms out.”

Dr. Compton attributed the tobacco decline to many factors, including strong public health antismoking campaigns, higher cigarette prices and peer pressure not to smoke. Students in all grade levels reported that they viewed cigarettes and alcohol as distasteful and a serious health risk.

Similar explanations have been given for dropping rates of alcohol use, especially binge drinking. Students have become more self-conscious about the possibility of their drunken images being posted on social media, experts say, which can tarnish reputations and college eligibility.

But marijuana? Not so much.

In the report, only 14.1 percent of 12th graders said they saw a “great risk” from smoking marijuana occasionally. In 1991, 40.6 percent of seniors held that view. In 2017, nearly 24 percent of students in all three grades said they had used marijuana over the past year, a rate that has stayed relatively stable in recent years.

Allison Kilcoyne, who directs a health center at a high school in a Boston suburb, has seen firsthand the evidence of the survey’s marijuana findings. Persuading students about marijuana’s risk is tricky, said Ms. Kilcoyne, a family nurse practitioner, especially in a state that permits medical marijuana.

“They perceive there are no negative effects,” Ms. Kilcoyne said. “I talk about the impact on their developing brain and the risk of learning to smoke marijuana as a coping mechanism. We have other interventions, I say. But the problem is that for them, it works. They’re feeling immediate relief of whatever symptoms they have. They’re medicating themselves.”

Yet while marijuana use among high school seniors has not declined, it has also not increased in recent years. Given that fewer students hold marijuana in disregard, researchers are perplexed but relieved that use of marijuana has not kept pace with attitudes toward it.

“Drug use tends to go hand in hand with perceptions of risk and approval,” said Ty S. Schepis, an associate professor of psychology at Texas State University who studies adolescent and young adult drug use.

But approving of marijuana may not necessarily translate in such a manner, he said. “I’ve had friends who like to go sky diving. I would never go sky diving. There are certain activities that we may quietly condone or tacitly approve, even though the majority still may not want to engage in it.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/14/health/teen-drug-smoking.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news
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Sand Wars
« Reply #9724 on: December 14, 2017, 04:34:25 AM »
From Mumbai to Tangier, Dubai to the Maldives, this investigation bares an emergency: the world's sand is disappearing.

Sand is one of the most-consumed natural resources on the planet. The United Nations estimates that mining of sand and gravel may exceed 40 billion tonnes a year.

Due to the high demand for sand, the planet's reserves are now being threatened: three-quarters of the world's beaches are already in decline. 

Sand is used in our daily life in numerous ways. Houses, skyscrapers, bridges, airports and sidewalks are all partially comprised of sand, making it an essential requirement for the construction booms happening around the world.

Sand is also the source of silicon dioxide, or silica, a mineral found in our wines, cleaning products and detergents, paper, toothpaste and an astounding variety of other products we use on a daily basis.

"It's almost become like air, the air we breathe. We don't think too much about it, but you can't live without it," says Kiran Pereira, the founder of SandStories.org.


Sand is an essential requirement for the construction booms happening due to growing urbanisation

In parts of the world, scarcity of sand has triggered smuggling bands - or "sand mafias" - to plunder beaches and rivers for this highly prized commodity.

"A lot of the people who control the sand mafia also control a lot of the construction materials businesses in Bombay, as well as the construction itself," said Sumaira Abdulali, the president of the Awaaz Foundation.

"They also control the administration through their political contacts, so that just completes the whole value chain - right from extraction to construction, the profits in each part of it, the administration, and the police."

As a result, the mafias are just adding to the pressure facing the world's beaches.

Sand Wars investigates the ramifications of the depletion of sand as a resource, taking us around the world to witness this new gold rush first hand.

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/specialseries/2017/12/sand-wars-171213082235210.html
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Will US net neutrality's end harm the poor?
« Reply #9725 on: December 14, 2017, 04:39:40 AM »

A member of the Equitable Internet Initiative holds a satellite in Detroit

The chair of the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) plans to vote on the end of the 2015 Open Internet Rules on December 14.

The order provides the US with net neutrality rules that say all internet service providers (ISP) must treat all data the same, without blocking or "throttling" certain data streams.

Detractors say an end to net neutrality could cause an increase of media centralisation, censorship and a rise in costs.

But the move will also deepen the "digital divide" between the wealthy and low-income communities, putting these people at a disadvantage in the race towards a digital future.

"Who's being affected by this? It's poor people, people of colour," Nyasia Valdez, a 22-year-old with Detroit's Equitable Internet Initiative in Southwest Detroit, a predominately Latino area also known as Mexicantown, told Al Jazeera.

For Detroit, where roughly 40 percent of the population is without internet at home - either broadband or mobile - the divide is deep.
The wrong side

Research by EveryoneOn, a nonprofit that works to close the digital divide, a term that refers to social and economic inequality in terms of internet access, agrees with Valdez.

"Low-income and minority Americans disproportionately find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide," EveryoneOn's website states.

The economic crisis in 2008, followed by Detroit's bankruptcy in 2013, made ISPs decide the investment was not financially sound, according to Meghan Sobocienski, director of Grace in Action Collectives, one of the "anchor" organisations working with the EII.

EII aims to foster greater internet access for Detroit residents by creating wireless networks and intranets within communities in the city.

These intranets, private networks shared among a group, are created by linking 50 households, who are then able to share news, files and communicate among themselves.

Valdez says this form of communication has become integral to her and many others' communities in the city, which has seen an increasing decline in public services since the economic downturn.

"If something were to happen in Detroit, if there's a water shut-off or a fire or a natural disaster, [the intranet] is used as a communication system" to spread the news, she said.

The EII also installs routers for wi-fi access in these neighbourhoods, which has created new opportunities for entrepreneurs in Southwest Detroit who "have started their own businesses, whether it's carpentry, laundry or food businesses", Valdez said.
Pro-competition or increased profits?

Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman, said on November 22 that an end the government's "heavy-handed" approach to internet regulation is a "pro-competitive" move that will help businesses and consumers.

Kathy Grillo, Verizon's senior vice president and deputy general counsel, agreed in a November statement, saying the Open Internet Order "undermined investment and innovation, and posed a significant threat to the internet's continued ability to grow and evolve to meet consumers' needs".

However, experts told Al Jazeera Pai has not presented evidence of greater competition and that a more expensive and limited internet experience, meaning more profits for ISPs is a possibility if net neutrality ends.

Detroit's poverty level sits at nearly 40 percent, the same as the rate of disconnected households, according to US Census data.

Valdez said making the internet more expensive would further economically disadvantage these workers, and by extension, the entire community: "It would be so devastating and further exacerbate the inequality that's already there."

Chike Aguh, the CEO of EveryoneOn, told Al Jazeera that increasing poverty after net neutrality's end is a concern not only for Detroit, but for cities and towns across the US.

"We have over 62 million Americans without internet at home. That's about 20 percent of the American population, which is crazy for the country that invented the internet," Aguh said.

The primary reason these 62 million people aren't connected is the price of internet. "Cost is 60 to 70 percent of it," Aguh said.

Then, concerns surrounding privacy, lack of training in the use of the internet and the user's overall experience follow cost as barriers to internet usage.

Aguh said closing the digital divide is about making the internet "affordable, accessible" and providing an experience "as good as we'd want for ourselves and our own families … I think there are very few people who would argue that net neutrality's end would make for a better user experience".

Internet connectivity is important for alleviating poverty. EveryoneOn's research shows that 94 percent of job recruiters use online means of finding candidates for work.

Aguh explained that minority and lower-income populations in the US experience joblessness at higher rates. With so many jobs recruiting online, the problem of unemployment is made worse.
The first step

Aguh said the vote to end net neutrality is the FCC's "first step" in an effort to put the poor at a disadvantage.

The Lifeline programme, an initiative that began under conservative President Ronald Reagan, has offered subsidies on phone service to low-income since 1985.

The FCC agreed to expand the discounts to broadband internet connections in 2016.

This November, the FCC decided to "transform" the current $9.25 subsidy provided to low-income families in the US and the extra $25 for Native Americans living on Tribal Lands, where only 37 percent of households have broadband access, according to a 2016 Government Accountability Office (GOA) study.

The transformation would cap Lifeline's budget, block national certification of ISPs for use in the programme and end the subsidy to "resellers," telecommunications companies that sell plans which "piggyback" on major networks such as those of AT&T or Verizon and serve rural and Tribal areas, among other changes.

The justification used for the rollback was another GOA study that found "fraud and waste" in Lifeline.

Aguh recognised these concerns, but said none of these changes "would actually fix" these problems.

Furthermore, Lifeline's expansion would aid an estimated 40 million people in connecting to the internet.

"Take that away, those are over 40 million people who will suffer," Aguh concluded.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/12/net-neutrality-harm-poor-171213161323279.html
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Hurricane Harvey barreled into Texas on August 25th of 2017. Over the next six days, it dumped 52 inches of rain across parts of the state, resulted in 800,000 emergency calls for help, caused 80 souls to be lost, and inflicted over 190 billion dollars in damages.

Harvey was the most damaging storm ever to strike the U.S. It was more costly than Katrina and Sandy combined. And recent studies now show that this damage, in large part, was due to climate change’s influence over the storm.


(Harvey just prior to making landfall on the Southeast coast of Texas. Image source: NASA.)

According to base climatology, we can expect this kind of event to occur once every 9,000 years. But living in base climatology we are not. Due to fossil fuel burning, atmospheric CO2 levels are above 405 parts per million — levels not seen in at least the past 2.5 million years. Meanwhile, total greenhouse gas forcing (after you add in methane and other heat trapping gasses) is at levels not seen in around 15 million years. So we’re now in a world that’s pretty different from what we are used to. A more dangerous world.

How different and how much more dangerous is a measure of some debate. More to the point, the question of how much the presently serious alteration to the world’s climate impacts the world’s weather is a pretty hot topic. What we already know is that the weather is becoming more extreme, more damaging, and that the most intense storms and droughts are growing worse.


(Incidence of record breaking daily rainfall events are increasing as the Earth warms. New science is starting to attribute aspects of individual extreme events to human caused climate change. Image source: Increased Record Breaking Daily Rainfall Events Under Global Warming.)

But boiling it all down to a single storm like Harvey, how much can you blame on climate change? Well, that’s starting to become clearer thanks to a pair of new scientific studies.

According to a recent study in the Geophysical Research Letters, human-caused climate change increased Harvey’s devastating rainfall intensity by at least 19 percent and likely by around 38 percent. Enough of a human caused influence to tip the scales between a relatively rough event and an epic deluge for the history books. Meanwhile, another study led by World Weather Attribution, found that Harvey was also three times more likely to have formed in the present human-altered climate.

If these peer-reviewed studies are correct, their findings point toward a rather stunning conclusion — the storm was much more likely to form due to climate change and the storm was made much more intense after it formed due to climate change.

In essence, the new science finds that climate change’s finger prints are all over Harvey’s devastating impact. Folks around the world take note. Your severe weather has been hyper-charged.

https://robertscribbler.com/2017/12/13/new-science-confirms-that-harveys-record-rains-were-made-much-worse-by-climate-change/
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‘A different dimension of loss’: inside the great insect die-off
« Reply #9727 on: December 14, 2017, 04:55:19 AM »


Scientists have identified 2 million species of living things. No one knows how many more are out there, and tens of thousands may be vanishing before we have even had a chance to encounter them.

The Earth is ridiculously, burstingly full of life. Four billion years after the appearance of the first microbes, 400m years after the emergence of the first life on land, 200,000 years after humans arrived on this planet, 5,000 years (give or take) after God bid Noah to gather to himself two of every creeping thing, and 200 years after we started to systematically categorise all the world’s living things, still, new species are being discovered by the hundreds and thousands.

In the world of the systematic taxonomists – those scientists charged with documenting this ever-growing onrush of biological profligacy – the first week of November 2017 looked like any other. Which is to say, it was extraordinary. It began with 95 new types of beetle from Madagascar. But this was only the beginning. As the week progressed, it brought forth seven new varieties of micromoth from across South America, 10 minuscule spiders from Ecuador, and seven South African recluse spiders, all of them poisonous. A cave-loving crustacean from Brazil. Seven types of subterranean earwig. Four Chinese cockroaches. A nocturnal jellyfish from Japan. A blue-eyed damselfly from Cambodia. Thirteen bristle worms from the bottom of the ocean – some bulbous, some hairy, all hideous. Eight North American mites pulled from the feathers of Georgia roadkill. Three black corals from Bermuda. One Andean frog, whose bright orange eyes reminded its discoverers of the Incan sun god Inti.

About 2m species of plants, animals and fungi are known to science thus far. No one knows how many are left to discover. Some put it at around 2m, others at more than 100m. The true scope of the world’s biodiversity is one of the biggest and most intractable problems in the sciences. There’s no quick fix or calculation that can solve it, just a steady drip of new observations of new beetles and new flies, accumulating towards a fathomless goal.



But even as thousands of new species are being discovered every year, thousands more seem to be disappearing, swept away in an ecological catastrophe that has come to be known as the sixth extinction. There have been five such disasters in the past. The most famous (and recent) is the end-Cretaceous extinction, the one that killed off the dinosaurs 66m years ago. The most destructive was the Permian, the one that cleared the way for the dinosaurs 190m years before that.

To know if we are really in the midst of a sixth extinction, scientists need to establish both the rate at which species are currently vanishing, and the rate at which they would go extinct without human activity (known as the “background rate”). In 2015, using a census of all known vertebrates, a team of American and Mexican scientists argued that animal species are going extinct “up to 100 times” faster than they would without us – a pace of disappearance on a par with the extinction that took out the dinosaurs.
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But as Terry Erwin, the legendary tropical entomologist, pointed out to me, these sixth-extinction estimates are “biased towards a very small portion of biodiversity”. When it comes to invertebrates – the slugs, crabs, worms, snails, spiders, octopuses and, above all, insects that make up the bulk of the world’s animal species – we are guessing. “Conservationists are doing what they can, without data on insects,” he said.

To really know what’s going on with the state of the world’s biodiversity, ecologists need to start paying more attention to the invertebrates and spend less time on the “cute and cuddlies” – Erwin’s term for the vertebrates. (Years of hearing about the wonders of gorillas and humpback whales can make a staunch bug man resentful.) After all, there are far, far more of them than there are of us.

We live in an invertebrate world. Of all known animal species, less than 5% have backbones. About 70% are insects. Fewer than one in every 200 are mammals, and a huge proportion of those are rodents. Looked at from the point of view of species diversity, we mammals are just a handful of mice on a globe full of beetles. The great majority of those beetles are herbivores native to the tropics. So if you really want to understand the total diversity of life on Earth – and the true rate at which it is disappearing – you need to figure out how many types of beetle munch on every variety of tropical tree.

But before you can count species, you have to name them. That’s where the taxonomists come in. The idea of species has been notoriously hard for biologists to define, especially since organisms so often exist on a continuum, becoming harder and harder to distinguish the closer they are to each other. The most widely accepted definition comes from the evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, who defined species as groups of animals that breed with one another, but not with others – at least not in the regular course of events. (If you force a zebra and a donkey together to make a zonkey, you’ve created one hybrid, not disproved the fact that they are two different species, since such a mating would not normally occur in nature.)

Taxonomists do not just name individual species; they also have to figure out how species are related to each other. Over the centuries, many scientists have tried to fit the world’s creatures into a coherent system, with mixed results. Aristotle tried to classify all life forms based on their essential traits, and in particular, the way they moved. Sedentary animals gave him the most trouble. He seems to have spent a lot of time on the island of Lesbos, puzzling over whether sea anemones and sponges were animals, plants, or plant-like animals.

The real revolution in taxonomy came in the 18th century, during the age of Enlightenment. It was largely the work of one man, Carl Linnaeus, who was hailed as the Isaac Newton of biology. Linnaeus was an odd figure to rise to such heights: a brilliant, headstrong, egotistical showoff with a prodigious knack for remembering the sexual characteristics of plants. He made one major expedition – to Lapland, in Sweden’s north – but mostly relied on the discoveries of others. He inspired 17 “apostles” to venture into the world in search of specimens to complete his system. Seven never came home. Based on their collective work, he named 7,700 species of plants and 4,400 species of animals.

Later biologists found much to quibble with in Linnaeus’s system. For instance, he grouped hedgehogs and bats together as “ferocious beasts”, and shrews and hippos together as “beasts of burden”. Linnaeus’s lasting achievement was not in creating the groups themselves, but the system by which all subsequent species would be named. He decreed that all species should have a two-part name. The first part indicates the genus to which a species belongs, and the second part is the species name.



This is a brilliantly efficient system for both naming and sorting. With it, we can tell in an instant that we, Homo sapiens, are both related to, and distinct from, our evolutionary relatives Homo erectus and Homo habilis. It is also a source of considerable fun for taxonomists. Presidential names – the bushi, obamai and donaldtrumpi (a remarkably coiffed moth) – reliably grab headlines. Less frequently, species names invoke politics or recent events. A Brazilian mayfly received the species name tragediae, to commemorate the catastrophic collapse of a dam in 2015. Taxonomists are also not above the occasional pun or rhyme. Terry Gosliner, an expert on nudibranchs, or marine sea slugs, once giving the name Kahuna to a species belonging to genus Thurunna from Hawaii, to make Thurunna kahuna.

Gosliner found his first nudibranch while still at high school. Since then he has travelled the world in search of them, and has named more than 300 in his 40-year career. As denizens of coral reefs, sea slugs are particularly sensitive to rising sea temperatures. Some scientists think climate change and ocean acidification might cause reefs to vanish entirely in the next 50 to 100 years. Gosliner tends to be a bit more optimistic, emphasising the reefs’ ability to bounce back from stress. But while corals reefs face peril in the seas, an even greater crisis could be developing for insects on land – the true dimensions of which entomologists are only beginning to grapple with.

Before entomologists could ponder the terrifying possibility of an insect mass extinction, they first had to come to grips with the true scale of insect diversity. They are still struggling to do that now. But for many, the breakthrough moment came in 1982, with a brief paper published by a young beetle specialist named Terry Erwin.

Erwin wanted to figure out how many species of insect lived on an average acre of rainforest in Panama, where he was working. To do this, he covered a single tree in sheeting and “fogged” it, by blasting it with insecticide from a device resembling a leafblower. He waited several hours while dead bugs cascaded on to the plastic sheeting he had spread on the ground. He then spent months counting and sorting them all. What Erwin found was startling: 1,200 species lived on this one tree. More than 100 lived on this particular tree and nowhere else. Scaling this result up, Erwin estimated that there are 41,000 different species in every hectare of rainforest, and 30m species worldwide.

This estimate quickly became famous, and controversial. Erwin is widely respected in the field. He has been commemorated in the names of 47 species, two genera, one subfamily and one subspecies – a good gauge of respect in the entomological community, where, according to the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, naming a species after yourself is forbidden by custom, but not law. Still, many entomologists are sceptical about Erwin’s wilder estimates, and more recent studies have tended to revise the 30m number down somewhat. But Erwin remains intransigent. “It’s like Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid, these kids out here taking potshots at me. None of them have any data,” he told me recently. “They’re just sitting in that office throwing numbers around.” He thinks the real number might be as high as 80m, or even 200m – and that a large number of these species are in the process of vanishing without anyone being around to even notice.



Everywhere, invertebrates are threatened by climate change, competition from invasive species and habitat loss. Insect abundance seems to be declining precipitously, even in places where their habitats have not suffered notable new losses. A troubling new report from Germany has shown a 75% plunge in insect populations since 1989, suggesting that they may be even more imperilled than any previous studies suggested.

Entomologists across the world have watched this decline with growing concern. When Brian Fisher, an entomologist at the California Academy of Sciences with a particular expertise in ants, arrived in Madagascar in 1993, he expected he would be able to describe some new species, but he had no idea of the extent of the riches he would find there. “Everything was new. It was like it was in the 1930s,” Fisher said. In that time, he has identified more than 1,000 new species of ant, including some whose adults feed exclusively on the blood of their own young, a group he has nicknamed the “Dracula ants”.

A thousand ants is quite a lot, but scientists have identified 16,000 species – so far. To a layperson like me, they all seem basically alike. Some are brown, some are black, some are cinnamon-coloured, but other than that, they look pretty much like the (invasive, Argentine) ants that swarm my kitchen in California every time it rains. To an expert like Fisher though, they are as different from one another as warblers are to a birder. Under a microscope, each ant positively bristles with identifying features in their flagellate hairs, their segmented antennae, and most of all, in their mandibles, which under magnification look like diabolical garden shears.

In the decades since Fisher started making expeditions to Madagascar, deforestation has accelerated, and today only 10% of its virgin forests remain intact. Fisher says that “in 50 years I can’t imagine any forest left in Madagascar”. According to Wendy Moore, a professor of entomology at the University of Arizona, who specialises in ant nest beetles, “There is a sense of running out of time. Everyone in the field who is paying attention feels that.” Because many insects depend on a single plant species for their survival, the devastation caused by deforestation is almost unimaginably huge. “Once a certain type of forest vanishes, thousands, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of species will vanish,” Erwin told me. “Deforestation is taking out untold millions of species.”

While we still don’t have a clear idea of what’s happening to insects at the species level, we are in the midst of a crisis at the population level. Put simply, even if many kinds of insects are holding on, their overall numbers are falling drastically. The alarming new data from Germany, which was based on tracking the number of flying insects captured at a number of sites over 35 years, is one warning sign among many. According to estimates made by Claire Régnier of the French Natural History Museum in Paris, in the past four centuries, as many of 130,000 species of known invertebrates may have already disappeared.

Various kinds of anecdotal evidence appear to support these observations. The environmental journalist Michael McCarthy has noted the seeming disappearance of the windscreen phenomenon. Once, he writes, “any long automobile journey,” especially one undertaken in summer, “would result in a car windscreen that was insect-spattered”. In recent years this phenomenon seems to have vanished.



Although insecticides have been blamed for the declines in Europe, Erwin thinks the ultimate culprit is climate change. The location he has been observing in Ecuador is pristine, virgin rainforest. “There’s no insecticides, nothing at all,” he said. But gradually, almost imperceptibly, in the time he has been there, something has changed in the balance of the forest. Studying the data, Erwin and his collaborators have found that over the past 35 years, the Amazon rainforest has been slowly dying out. And if the forest goes, Erwin tells me, “everything that lives in it will be affected”.

If this trend were to continue indefinitely, the consequences would be devastating. Insects have been on Earth 1,000 times longer than humans have. In many ways, they created the world we live in. They helped call the universe of flowering plants into being. They are to terrestrial food chains what plankton is to oceanic ones. Without insects and other land-based arthropods, EO Wilson, the renowned Harvard entomologist, and inventor of sociobiology, estimates that humanity would last all of a few months. After that, most of the amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals would go, along with the flowering plants. The planet would become an immense compost heap, covered in shoals of carcasses and dead trees that refused to rot. Briefly, fungi would bloom in untold numbers. Then, they too would die off. The Earth would revert to what it was like in the Silurian period, 440m years ago, when life was just beginning to colonise the soil – a spongy, silent place, filled with mosses and liverworts, waiting for the first shrimp brave enough to try its luck on land.

Conserving individual insect species piecemeal, as is done with most endangered mammals, is extremely difficult. Not only are the numbers mind-boggling, but insects and other invertebrates don’t tend to have the same cachet. Polar bears and humpback whales are one thing; soft-bodied plant beetles from the Gaoligong mountains of Yunnan are quite another.

Not long ago, I took a trip to the first wildlife refuge established with the express purpose of protecting an endangered insect, the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge, about an hour’s drive north-east of Berkeley, California. The reserve is small – only 55 acres, hemmed in on three sides by a chain-link fence, and by the San Joaquin river on the fourth – and, in truth, the Dunes do not dazzle the eye. The terrain resembles an unlovely, overgrown plot of land intended for development at some unspecified point in the future. The day I went, three vultures huddled around the body of a cat while the turbines of a wind farm spun lazily on the opposite bank of the river.

Once, however, these dunes were a miniature Sahara, home to a number of animals and plants that existed nowhere else. It took decades before that fact became apparent to biologists, and by then, it was very nearly too late. When white settlers arrived in California, the dunes were seen simply as a source of raw materials. The dune sand was unusually well-suited for brickmaking, and between the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and the postwar housing boom, most of the sand was mined out and turned into buildings. Once the dunes were gone, most of the land they formerly stood on was built up.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that biologists began to realise how special the Antioch Dunes were. By that point, only three native species remained. There were two plants – the Contra Costa wallflower and the Antioch Dunes evening primrose – and one insect, the Lange’s metalmark butterfly. The metalmark butterfly is tiny, with a wingspan about the size of thumbnail. A pretty brown-and-orange with white spotting, they are weak flyers, capable of travelling a maximum 400 metres (1,300ft) after they emerge from their chrysalises for seven to nine days every August.

https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/3d8795920352a0b9b1d98c98a8da3d3e0ba2aea7/0_179_5616_3370/master/5616.jpg?w=880&q=20&auto=format&usm=12&fit=max&dpr=2&s=f2f083fde0ead5a611735deb4d27412f

After the Dunes Reserve was established in 1980, the butterfly enjoyed a brief resurgence. Today, it is struggling. At last count, there were only 67 individuals in the park. The Lange’s lay their eggs on one plant and one plant only: the naked-stemmed buckwheat, which is currently being choked out by weeds. The only other population of Lange’s is kept in a captive-breeding programme at Moorpark College in Simi Valley, California. If something should happen to these, it would be the end of the species.

In a bid to save the butterfly, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has recently begun a bold experiment in habitat restoration, covering much of the refuge in sand. Spread a metre deep, the sand suffocates invasive plants, allowing the species that originally evolved on the dunes to reclaim their lost ground. “If we can bring back the environment, we can bring back the butterfly,” wildlife refuge manager Don Brubaker told me. The day I visited, his co-worker, refuge specialist Louis Terrazas, spotted a hopeful sign. The season’s first shoots of native primrose had just started peeking out above the sand. Given time, this remnant of a remnant might spring back to life.

When I asked Brubaker if his painstaking efforts on behalf of the Lange’s was worth all the trouble, he replied: “Why protect the species? Why not? Because it’s what we do – we’re enabling the planet to keep functioning.”

In some ways, the tiny ranges of invertebrates like the Lange’s Metalmark Butterfly make them perfect targets for protection. Sarina Jepsen is the director of endangered species and aquatic conservation at the Xerces Society, a Portland, Oregon-based non-profit focusing on invertebrates. She told me that for insects, “often small patches of land can make a huge difference,” unlike what is needed for, say, wolf or tiger conservation. “We don’t necessarily need hundreds of thousands of acres to make a difference with these species,” she said. Even so, the amount of work that goes into saving even a single species can sometimes feel overwhelming. It isn’t enough to save one in a lab. You have to rescue whole environments – the products of complex interactions between plants, animals, soil and climate that have built up over millennia.

At a certain point, it becomes clear that to even think about extinction in terms of individual species is to commit an error of scale. If entomologists’ most dire predictions come true, the number of species that will go extinct in the coming century will be in the millions, if not the tens of millions. Saving them one at a time is like trying to stop a tsunami with a couple of sandbags.

Like many of the species they study, taxonomists are presently at risk of becoming a dying breed. Faculty hires, museum posts and government grants are all declining. Fewer students are drawn to the field as well. All too often, taxonomy gets dismissed as old-fashioned and intellectually undemanding, the scientific equivalent of stamp collecting. Molecular biology, with its concern for DNA, proteins and chemical processes within individual cells, dominates curriculums and hoovers up grant money. “All the university courses are oriented towards it, and so is the funding,” says Terry Erwin.

Meanwhile, the new species keep piling up. Already today, as I’m writing, ZooKeys and Zootaxa, two of the largest and most prolific taxonomic journals, have announced the discovery of a potter wasp from South America, a water scavenger beetle from the Tibetan plateau, an erebid moth, an Andean scarab beetle, two Korean crustaceans and a whole genus of parasitoid wasps (don’t worry, we’re safe – the bastards prey on aphids), and it isn’t even noon yet.

What to do with this onrush? Many taxonomists I spoke to admit that it simply isn’t manageable. Brian Fisher confessed that many taxonomists find themselves awed at some point by “the immensity of what we don’t know”. Kipling Will, of the University of California, Berkeley, who has spent two decades studying one subfamily of ground beetles, told me, while gesturing at boxes of samples that had just flown in from Australia: “We do what we can. I have so much undescribed material. It takes decades just to get where we are.” With any species, it takes time to do a proper dissection, test their DNA, compare them to their nearest relatives, and compile all the information necessary to publish something as new. With so many invertebrates being found each year, it’s common for them to spend years, or even decades, in a queue waiting for their coming-out party.



So what to do? And why bother? There are plenty of practical reasons to worry about the fate of invertebrates. They are a vital part of the ecosystems that function as the heart, lungs and digestive system of our planet. Some might carry, inside their exotic biochemistries, cures for any number of diseases. Recently, chemicals harvested from sea slugs have been tested in clinical trials in the US for use as cancer-fighting drugs. Others could be used as natural alternatives to pesticides. But ultimately, it’s not certain that any of these will be enough on its own. The answer could have more to do with aesthetics, or enthusiasm for the living world – the quality EO Wilson named “biophilia”.

When you ask people who work in invertebrate taxonomy why they have devoted their lives to a particular type of insect, snail or clam, the word you hear most often is “beautiful”. Their eyes light up in front of their chosen genus or subclass. The occupants of a case full of slightly iridescent, mostly black beetles will be described as “rather huge and incredibly beautiful”. (Huge is relative, too – they are the size of the final joint of a little finger.) Surrounded by jars full of tiny sea slugs, they will gush about their beauty and the glorious variety of their colour, shape and behaviour. Amy Berkov, a professor of tropical ecology at the City College of New York who works on wood-boring beetles, came to entomology from a background in art and chose her new field, in part, because “there’s nothing more amazing than looking at insects”. Even the ant specialists – generally a pretty hard-nosed-bunch – will trade Latin names of rare ants with the affection you usually hear reserved for old friends.

It’s easy to care about the cute and cuddlies. Soon we’ll be living on a planet that has lost its last mountain gorilla, its last leatherback turtle. A world without tigers or polar bears; what a sad place that will be.

But to think about the coming invertebrate extinctions is to confront a different dimension of loss. So much will vanish before we even knew it was there, before we had even begun to understand it. Species aren’t just names, or points on an evolutionary tree, or abstract sequences of DNA. They encode countless millennia of complex interactions between plant and animal, soil and air. Each species carries with it behaviours we have only begun to witness, chemical tricks honed over a million generations, whole worlds of mimicry and violence, maternal care and carnal exuberance. To know that all this will disappear is like watching a library burn without being able to pick up a single book. Our role in this destruction is a kind of vandalism, against their history, and ours as well.

Take Strumigenys reliquia, one of the ants I heard discussed with such warmth at the California Academy of Sciences. Strumigenys is a predator, a native of the undergrowth, and very rare. It was first discovered in 1986 by Phil Ward of the University of California, Davis. He spotted this incredibly rare species on a two-hectare patch of woods a few miles from his office. It has never been seen anywhere else. Ward thinks there is a reason for this. California rivers were once flanked by giant forests of hardy, flood-resistant, evergreen oaks. Geologists think these riverine forests were a feature of the landscape for at least 20m years. Accounts from early settlers and explorers give an idea of what they might have been like. They write of flocks of geese “blackening the sky”, salmon choking the streams and grizzly bears gathering under the oaks to feed on acorns in troupes of a hundred or more.

Today, except for a few scattered acres like the one Ward found in Yolo County, those forests are gone. They were chopped down long ago for firewood and ploughed under to make way for tomato farms and almond orchards. The salmon, the geese and the grizzlies have all gone too. Only the ant remains. Only it remembers.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/14/a-different-dimension-of-loss-great-insect-die-off-sixth-extinction?CMP=share_btn_tw
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Re: Will US net neutrality's end harm the poor?
« Reply #9728 on: December 14, 2017, 10:29:26 AM »

A member of the Equitable Internet Initiative holds a satellite in Detroit

The chair of the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) plans to vote on the end of the 2015 Open Internet Rules on December 14.

The order provides the US with net neutrality rules that say all internet service providers (ISP) must treat all data the same, without blocking or "throttling" certain data streams.

Detractors say an end to net neutrality could cause an increase of media centralisation, censorship and a rise in costs.

But the move will also deepen the "digital divide" between the wealthy and low-income communities, putting these people at a disadvantage in the race towards a digital future.

"Who's being affected by this? It's poor people, people of colour," Nyasia Valdez, a 22-year-old with Detroit's Equitable Internet Initiative in Southwest Detroit, a predominately Latino area also known as Mexicantown, told Al Jazeera.

For Detroit, where roughly 40 percent of the population is without internet at home - either broadband or mobile - the divide is deep.
The wrong side

Research by EveryoneOn, a nonprofit that works to close the digital divide, a term that refers to social and economic inequality in terms of internet access, agrees with Valdez.

"Low-income and minority Americans disproportionately find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide," EveryoneOn's website states.

The economic crisis in 2008, followed by Detroit's bankruptcy in 2013, made ISPs decide the investment was not financially sound, according to Meghan Sobocienski, director of Grace in Action Collectives, one of the "anchor" organisations working with the EII.

EII aims to foster greater internet access for Detroit residents by creating wireless networks and intranets within communities in the city.

These intranets, private networks shared among a group, are created by linking 50 households, who are then able to share news, files and communicate among themselves.

Valdez says this form of communication has become integral to her and many others' communities in the city, which has seen an increasing decline in public services since the economic downturn.

"If something were to happen in Detroit, if there's a water shut-off or a fire or a natural disaster, [the intranet] is used as a communication system" to spread the news, she said.

The EII also installs routers for wi-fi access in these neighbourhoods, which has created new opportunities for entrepreneurs in Southwest Detroit who "have started their own businesses, whether it's carpentry, laundry or food businesses", Valdez said.
Pro-competition or increased profits?

Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman, said on November 22 that an end the government's "heavy-handed" approach to internet regulation is a "pro-competitive" move that will help businesses and consumers.

Kathy Grillo, Verizon's senior vice president and deputy general counsel, agreed in a November statement, saying the Open Internet Order "undermined investment and innovation, and posed a significant threat to the internet's continued ability to grow and evolve to meet consumers' needs".

However, experts told Al Jazeera Pai has not presented evidence of greater competition and that a more expensive and limited internet experience, meaning more profits for ISPs is a possibility if net neutrality ends.

Detroit's poverty level sits at nearly 40 percent, the same as the rate of disconnected households, according to US Census data.

Valdez said making the internet more expensive would further economically disadvantage these workers, and by extension, the entire community: "It would be so devastating and further exacerbate the inequality that's already there."

Chike Aguh, the CEO of EveryoneOn, told Al Jazeera that increasing poverty after net neutrality's end is a concern not only for Detroit, but for cities and towns across the US.

"We have over 62 million Americans without internet at home. That's about 20 percent of the American population, which is crazy for the country that invented the internet," Aguh said.

The primary reason these 62 million people aren't connected is the price of internet. "Cost is 60 to 70 percent of it," Aguh said.

Then, concerns surrounding privacy, lack of training in the use of the internet and the user's overall experience follow cost as barriers to internet usage.

Aguh said closing the digital divide is about making the internet "affordable, accessible" and providing an experience "as good as we'd want for ourselves and our own families … I think there are very few people who would argue that net neutrality's end would make for a better user experience".

Internet connectivity is important for alleviating poverty. EveryoneOn's research shows that 94 percent of job recruiters use online means of finding candidates for work.

Aguh explained that minority and lower-income populations in the US experience joblessness at higher rates. With so many jobs recruiting online, the problem of unemployment is made worse.
The first step

Aguh said the vote to end net neutrality is the FCC's "first step" in an effort to put the poor at a disadvantage.

The Lifeline programme, an initiative that began under conservative President Ronald Reagan, has offered subsidies on phone service to low-income since 1985.

The FCC agreed to expand the discounts to broadband internet connections in 2016.

This November, the FCC decided to "transform" the current $9.25 subsidy provided to low-income families in the US and the extra $25 for Native Americans living on Tribal Lands, where only 37 percent of households have broadband access, according to a 2016 Government Accountability Office (GOA) study.

The transformation would cap Lifeline's budget, block national certification of ISPs for use in the programme and end the subsidy to "resellers," telecommunications companies that sell plans which "piggyback" on major networks such as those of AT&T or Verizon and serve rural and Tribal areas, among other changes.

The justification used for the rollback was another GOA study that found "fraud and waste" in Lifeline.

Aguh recognised these concerns, but said none of these changes "would actually fix" these problems.

Furthermore, Lifeline's expansion would aid an estimated 40 million people in connecting to the internet.

"Take that away, those are over 40 million people who will suffer," Aguh concluded.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/12/net-neutrality-harm-poor-171213161323279.html

Not just the poor. It hurts everyone, other than a few dozen billionaires. A fine example of exactly how fucked up things are getting.
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Trump’s Moore endorsement sunk the presidency to unplumbed depths
« Reply #9729 on: December 14, 2017, 04:09:11 PM »
The first time ended badly, so when, 156 years later, Alabamians were incited to again try secession, this time from the national consensus that America is a pretty nice place, they said: No.

No, that is, to rubbish like this:

Interviewer: “[Ronald Reagan] said that Russia was the focus of evil in the modern world.”

Roy Moore: “You could say that very well about America, couldn’t you?”

Interviewer: “You think?”
2:15
Opinion | After Doug Jones's win, America is getting great again

Moore: “Well, we promote a lot of bad things, you know.”

Interviewer: “Like?”

Moore: “Same-sex marriage.”

Interviewer: “That’s the very argument that Vladimir Putin makes.”

Moore: “Well, then, maybe Putin is right, maybe he’s more akin to me than I know.”

In April, Alabama’s Republican governor, Robert Bentley, resigned one step ahead of impeachment proceedings arising from his consensual affair with an adult woman. Eight months later, Alabamians spurned presidential pleas that they send to the U.S. Senate a man credibly accused of child molestation. But the dispiriting truth is this: Behavior that reportedly got Moore banned from the Gadsden, Ala., mall was, for most Alabama Republicans, not a sufficient reason to deny him a desk in the U.S. Capitol.

Although the president is not invariably a stickler for precision when bandying factoids, he said the Everest of evidence against Moore did not rise to his standards of persuasiveness. This fleeting swerve into fastidiousness about facts came hard on the heels of his retweeting of a video of a Muslim immigrant in the Netherlands beating a young man holding crutches. Except the villain was born and raised in the Netherlands. Undaunted, Trump’s remarkably pliant spokesperson, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, defended her employer from the nitpickers: What matters, she said, is not that the video is unreal but that “the threat” (of turbulent Dutchmen?) is real.

Moore was such a comprehensive caricature — Sinclair Lewis could not have imagined this Elmer Gantry — that the acid rain of reports about his sexual predations, and his dissembling about them, almost benefited him by distracting attention from: the remunerative use he made of a “charitable” foundation. And his actions as a public official that by themselves sufficed to disqualify him from any public office. He is an anti-constitutional recidivist, twice removed from Alabama’s highest court for his theocratic insistence that his religious convictions take precedence over U.S. Supreme Court decisions, so he could not have sincerely sworn to “support and defend the Constitution” and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

When reports of Sen. Al Franken’s misbehaviors against adult women surfaced, the National Republican Congressional Committee pounced: “Democrats who took Senator Franken’s campaign money need to . . . return his donations.” (Combined, they totaled $15,500.) When, 18 days later, Trump endorsed Moore, the Republican National Committee immediately sent $170,000 to Alabama. If the RNC, which accurately represents the president’s portion of the party, did not have situational ethics, it would have none.

Moore has been useful as a scythe slicing through some tall stalks of pretentiousness: The self-described “values voters” and “evangelicals” of pious vanity who have embraced Trump and his Alabama echo have some repenting to do before trying to reclaim their role as arbiters of Republican, and American, righteousness. We have, alas, not heard the last from them, but henceforth the first reaction to their “witness” should be resounding guffaws.

Elation is in order because a gross national embarrassment has been narrowly avoided. But curb your enthusiasm because nationally, as in Alabama, most Republicans still support the president who supported the credibly accused child molester. Alabama, however, has perhaps initiated the inevitable sorting of Republicans who retain a capacity for disgust from the Vichy Republicans who have none. After the president’s full-throated support of the grotesque, he should be icily shunned by all but his diehard collaborators. For example: When the president stages a signing ceremony for the tax legislation, no etiquette requires any Republican to be photographed grinning over his shoulder. Stay away.

By basking in the president’s approval, Moore became a clarifier. Henry Adams, great-grandson of the second president and grandson of the sixth, was unfair to the 18th when he wrote, “The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant, was alone evidence enough to upset Darwin.” By joining Stephen K. Bannon’s buffoonery on Moore’s behalf, the 45th president planted an exclamation point punctuating a year of hitherto unplumbed presidential depths. He completed his remarkably swift — it has taken less than 11 months — rescue of the 17th, Andrew Johnson, from the ignominy of ranking as the nation’s worst president.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-moore-endorsement-sunk-the-presidency-to-unplumbed-depths/2017/12/13/3c245482-e036-11e7-bbd0-9dfb2e37492a_story.html
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Humans 2.0: meet the entrepreneur who wants to put a chip in your brain
« Reply #9730 on: December 14, 2017, 04:14:04 PM »
Bryan Johnson’s company, Kernel, aims to improve mental function and treat disorders by creating a brain interface

[img]https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/4a92511d1682f5f6b5265067453e2f1fe828b18c/0_0_1800_1080/master/1800.jpg?w=620&q=20&auto=format&usm=12&fit=max&dpr=2&s=08fbb1e5432658a3855d2e8d075c81b7[img]
Changing minds: Bryan Johnson, founder of Kernel, will put himself forward for brain augmentation.

Bryan Johnson isn’t short of ambition. The founder and CEO of neuroscience company Kernel wants “to expand the bounds of human intelligence”. He is planning to do this with neuroprosthetics; brain augmentations that can improve mental function and treat disorders. Put simply, Kernel hopes to place a chip in your brain.

It isn’t clear yet exactly how this will work. There’s a lot of excited talk about the possibilities of the technology, but – publicly, at least – Kernel’s output at the moment is an idea. A big idea.

“My hope is that within 15 years we can build sufficiently powerful tools to interface with our brains,” Johnson says. “Can I increase my rate of learning, scope of imagination, and ability to love? Can I understand what it’s like to live in a 10-dimensional reality? Can we ameliorate or cure neurological disease and dysfunction?”

The shape that this technology will take is still unknown. Johnson uses the term “brain chip”, but the developments taking place in neuroprosthesis are working towards less invasive procedures than opening up your skull and cramming a bit of hardware in; injectable sensors are one possibility.

It may sound far-fetched, but Johnson has a track record of getting things done. Within his first semester at university, he’d set up a profitable business selling mobile phones to fellow students. By age 30, he’d founded online payment company Braintree, which he sold six years later to PayPal for $800m. He used $100m of the proceeds to create Kernel in 2016 – it now employs more than 30 people.

But Johnson, 40, says he is about more than money. He was raised as a Mormon in Utah and it was while carrying out two years of missionary work in Ecuador that he was struck by what he describes as an “overwhelming desire to improve the lives of others”.

His subsequent decision to leave the faith only added to this sense of purpose. “For the first time in my life, I had to sit with the notion that the closest I’d ever come to my previous vision of heaven is whatever we can build here on Earth while I’m alive,” he explains.

“And when I surveyed the landscape of human history, including how we treat each other and our shared home, I thought we have to do better.”

The idea for Kernel also came from a “deeply personal” place, Johnson says. He suffered from chronic depression from the ages of 24 to 34, and has seen his father and stepfather face huge mental health struggles.

“I spent a decade being tortured in my own mind,” he says. “I have witnessed and experienced what happens when a brain isn’t at its best. Being able to treat Alzheimer’s disease went from ‘that’d be nice’ to ‘really important’ after my stepfather began showing early symptoms. Helping people overcome addiction went from ‘that’d be nice’ to ‘really important’ after my father suffered from drug addiction for the first 25 years of my life.”

He understands the scepticism around Kernel’s work, but argues that it has the potential to build a better, more equal society.

“What if everyone – not just the privileged– had the same access to information, learning, skill improvement, and cognitive evolution?” he asks.

As idealistic as Johnson’s vision for the brain is, there are still big ethical questions to consider about the process, from security to the squeamishness of having a chip in your head.

Johnson describes it as a “necessary tool” for cognitive evolution, and says he’ll happily be among the first to trial the augmentation.

Kernel is a for-profit company, however; Johnson claims that this gives the brand the best chance of producing a “usable product” at the end of the difficult and expensive road he is taking. While outside investment will be needed to keep the company going, public interest and funding in neuroscience has increased in the past few years, he says, and is likely to keep doing so. Elon Musk got into the field with the launch of his company, Neuralink, earlier this year, and the neuroprosthetics market is expected to be worth as much as $14.6bn by 2024.

So Johnson is keeping his focus on the future, a habit that inspired the project in the first place. He explains that, while trying to work out what to do next after selling Braintree, he hosted a series of 12 dinner parties with the brightest people he knew.

“I would begin each gathering with a question,” he recalls. “What do we need to focus on today to create a world that you would love to live in by 2050?

“With minor variations, I heard the same answers nearly every time: climate science, education, healthcare, AI, governance, and security. Not once, though, did a single person – out of the hundreds who attended – mention improving the brain itself.

“And yet, the brain is everything we are, everything we do, and everything we aspire to be. It seemed obvious to me that the brain is both the most consequential variable in the world and also our biggest blind spot as a species. I decided that if the root problems of humanity begin in the human mind, let’s change our minds.”

https://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2017/dec/14/humans-20-meet-the-entrepreneur-who-wants-to-put-a-chip-in-your-brain
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Offline knarf

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Las Vegas massacre survivors 2 months later: 'We're in the dark'
« Reply #9731 on: December 14, 2017, 04:20:23 PM »
 (CNN)More than two months have passed since 58 country music fans were gunned down in the Las Vegas massacre, and survivors as well as victims' families are still searching for some semblance of closure.
Authorities have largely gone silent on the case -- refusing to answer the many lingering questions except for a couple of local TV interviews. But one pressing query may get some answers Thursday when a probate judge could decide the future of gunman Stephen Paddock's finances.
Since the massacre, more than 450 people have filed lawsuits related to the shooting. Many of them against Paddock's estate.

Paddock died without a will and his assets have been estimated to be worth $5 million, CNN affiliate KSNV reported. His brother has said the money should be given to the victims, but nothing can be done until a court decides who will manage his assets.
Thursday's hearing could be the first in a series of steps toward closure for families and shedding light on the case.

Media outlets including CNN are also fighting in court for the release of public records, like body camera footage and 911 calls.
Law enforcement wants them held back until its official report is complete, but they won't say when that may come. The lack of information has made it hard for some survivors to heal mentally and emotionally.
How are the survivors coping?
A bullet went through both of Harry Romero's legs, shattering his bones as he tried to cover his wife from gunfire.
As Romero and his wife, Claudia, attempt to recover from the physical and emotional pain, they want answers.
"It's just like it happened and for some reason someone said turn it off, and stop talking about it. And they did," he said.
"We're in the dark. The people that were there that went through this, they haven't heard anything," Claudia added.
For Harry, life has been "nothing like normal" since the shooting.

He hasn't been able to go back to work or even wear socks because one of his legs is still swollen. He slowly learned how to do simple things like going to the bathroom, grab a drink and shower by himself.
"I can't walk at all," he told CNN.
When Romero and his wife returned home from the hospital, they had regular nightmares and any noises would make them jump.
"We felt safe but at the beginning I could see the guy at the door. I could hear the shots," she said.
How to help Las Vegas shooting victims
Lawsuits are piling up
Over 450 people have filed lawsuits against MGM, Mandalay Corp., Live Nation Entertainment, Slide Fire Solutions -- the maker of the bump stock device -- and Paddock's estate.
Some of the victims who've filed claims are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, while others are trying to recover from physical injuries caused by gunfire.
Many of them are questioning why the hotel staff didn't notice Paddock's behavior or why the exits of the concert venue were poorly marked.
Relatives of several of the concertgoers who were killed have also filed lawsuits, including the father of Andrea Castilla, a 28-year-old California woman who was celebrating her birthday when she was killed in the attack.
A lawsuit seeking class-action status was filed in October against Texas-based Slide Fire Solutions -- the maker of the bump stock device -- asking for compensation for any festival goer "who tragically suffered emotional distress," CNN affiliate KSNV reported.
Live Nation had declined to comment on pending litigation as well as MGM, which had said they were not going to try a case "in the public domain" out of respect for the victims.
Messages seeking comment from Slide Fire Solutions weren't returned.

What was the gunman's motive?
There has been an intense focus on figuring out the shooter's motivation, but authorities are struggling to determine why he fired on a packed crowd of concertgoers.



Jeff Victoroff, a neurologist at University of Southern California who is familiar with the procedure says the neurologist examining Paddock's brain will be looking closely at 10 areas that control morality.
"If you have damage in one of those critical areas of the brain it may disrupt the circuits that are required to hold us together and allow us to perform the way society expects us to perform," Victoroff said.
"The brain's behavior can collapse like a card being pulled out from a house of cards," he added.
Last month, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo offered his opinion on what might have led to the shooter's decision open fire on a crowd at a music festival.
"Since 2015, September of 2015, he's lost a significant amount of wealth and I think that may have a determining factor on what he determined to do," Lombardo told CNN KLAS.

What changes came after shooting?
Last week, the House of Representatives approved legislation loosening gun regulations and directing the Bureau of Justice Statistics to study all crimes involving firearms. The agency has six months to report back to Congress the number of crimes that involved firearms with bump fire stocks.
A bump stock is a device that allows semi-automatic weapons to unleash bullets with about the same speed as fully automatic weapons.
Many lawmakers from both parties had agreed that one response to the massacre should be to ban the sale of bump stocks but so far, such bipartisan legislation
introduced in the House and the Senate has not moved forward.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing last week, focusing on bump stocks and federal background checks.
Just a day earlier, the Justice Department announced that it started reviewing the legality of certain bump stock devices and whether they have the authority to ban the devices without legislation.
Since the shooting, Massachusetts became the second state in the country to ban bump stocks. Penalties for possession or use will range from probation to life in prison, Rep. David Linsky, a Democrat who proposed the amendment, told CNN.

http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/14/us/las-vegas-shooting-2-months-questions/index.html
The gunman's brain is currently being examined by a neurologist at Stanford University.
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Offline knarf

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A day after losing the Senate race in Alabama to Democrat Doug Jones, Republican candidate Roy Moore has issued a new statement refusing to concede the election until completion of the final count. But it wasn’t your typical post-election statement.

It was a four-minute fire-and-brimstone video about abortion, same-sex marriage, school prayer, sodomy and “the right of a man to claim to be a woman and vice versa.”

“We are indeed in a struggle to preserve our republic, our civilization and our religion and to set free a suffering humanity,” Moore said. “Today, we no longer recognize the universal truth that God is the author of our life and liberty. Abortion, sodomy and materialism have taken the place of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In the video issued by the campaign Wednesday evening, Moore said his campaign is still waiting for the official vote count from Alabama officials. He did not say he would necessarily seek a recount, for which his campaign would have to pay unless the margin turned out to be within half a percentage point. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has called it “highly unlikely” that Jones would not be certified as the winner.

Moore, in his statement, framed the election as not just a political contest but also a dire ideological battle for “the heart and soul of our country.”

“In this race,” he said, returning to more mundane matters, “we have not received the final count to include military and provisional ballots,” he said. “This has been a very close race, and we are awaiting certification by the secretary of state.”

On Tuesday, Alabama voters elected Jones with 50 percent of the vote to Moore’s 48 percent in a special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The margin between the final votes was larger than the required 0.5 percentage point for an automatic recount in Alabama. Moore was widely expected to win the race — until allegations of sexual misconduct emerged in reports from The Washington Post. A Democrat has not held a U.S. Senate seat from Alabama since 1997, when Howell Heflin left office after deciding not to run for reelection.

On NBC’s “Today” show on Thursday, Jones offered a blunt message to his former rival: “It’s time to move on.”

“We have stopped prayer in our schools,” Moore said in his statement. “We have killed over 60 million of our unborn children. We have redefined marriage and destroyed the basis of family, which is the building block of our country. Our borders are not secure. Our economy is faltering under an enormous national debt. We have a huge drug problem. We have even begun to recognize the right of a man to claim to be a woman, and vice versa. We have allowed judges and justices to rule over our Constitution, and we have become slaves to their tyranny. Immorality sweeps over our land.”

Moore briefly nodded to the allegations of sexual misconduct — allegations he has denied — in his message to supporters. “Even our political process has been affected with baseless and false allegations, which have become more relevant than the issues which affect our country,” Moore said. “This election was tainted by over $50 million from outside groups who want to retain power and their corrupt ideology.”

The Republican defeat in a deep-red state was seen in part as a loss for President Trump, who, after backing Moore’s primary opponent, put his support behind the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice. Moore, backed by close Trump ally Stephen K. Bannon, said in his statement that Trump’s election opened “a window of hope and an opportunity that we could return to our founding principles.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/12/13/roy-moore-saying-immorality-sweeps-over-our-land-declines-again-to-concede/
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2017 Was Bad for Facebook. 2018 Will Be Worse.
« Reply #9733 on: December 14, 2017, 04:27:19 PM »
The tech giant's carefree years of unregulated, untaxed growth are coming to an end.

Facebook is projected to boost sales by 46 percent and double net income, but make no mistake: It had a terrible year. Despite its financial performance, the social media giant is facing a reckoning in 2018 as regulators close in on several fronts.

The main issue cuts to the core of the company itself: Rather than "building global community," as founder Mark Zuckerberg sees Facebook's mission, it is "ripping apart the social fabric." Those are the words of Chamath Palihapitiya, the company's former vice president of user growth. He doesn't allow his kids to use Facebook because he doesn't want them to become slaves to "short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops."

Palihapitya's criticism echoes that of Facebook's first president, Sean Parker: "It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other ... God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains."

Facebook has reacted nervously to Palihapitya's accusations, saying he hadn't worked at the company for a long time (he left in 2011) and wasn't aware of Facebook's recent initiatives. But I can't see any practical manifestations of these efforts as a user who has drastically cut back on social networking this year for the very reasons cited by Parker and Palihapitya.

To outsiders and regulators, Facebook looks like a dangerous provider of instant gratification in a space suddenly vital to the health of society. It's also making abuse and aggression too easy -- something the U.K. Committee on Standards in Public Life pointed out in a report published on Wednesday. Sounding one of the loudest alarm bells on social media yet, the panel urged the prime minister to back legislation to “shift the balance of liability for illegal content to the social media companies."

While Facebook remains the biggest platform, Google and Twitter are facing similar pressure from governments in the U.S. and in Europe. Germany enacted a law requiring the social networks to remove hate speech promptly or face fines. In the U.S., the activities of a Russian troll farm during the 2016 election campaign prompted scrutiny of Facebook's ad selling practices and a (rather ham-handed) legislative attempt to force some transparency.

Taxation is another area that regulators, especially in Europe, are targeting. Facebook, like Google, books almost all its non-U.S. revenue in Ireland with its low corporate tax rate -- and pays most of it to a tax haven for the use of intellectual property rights. The practice resulted in a 10.1 percent effective tax rate for Facebook in the third quarter of 2017.

This year, the top European economies, led by France, Germany, Italy and Spain, called for a turnover tax on the U.S. tech companies to compensate for their tax avoidance. This angry move failed to get enough traction on the European Union level thanks to Ireland and other nations that fear the economic fallout. But individual nations are taking action -- Italy's ruling party backed a plan to withhold 6 percent of any digital advertising purchase in the country.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced that it will start booking revenue from large ad sales in the countries they occur, not Ireland. But when Facebook and Google tested this approach in the U.K., it didn't result in a significantly higher tax bill, according to Irish economist Seamus Coffey. Last year, Facebook U.K. paid 2.6 million pounds ($3.5 million) in taxes while booking 842 million pounds in revenue. Regardless of where the company books sales, it still has to pay for the intellectual property rights held far from European shores, likely in the Cayman Islands. Coffey doubts that the new scheme will significantly change Facebook's overall tax bill. Instead, it will create insultingly small revenue streams to more countries.

Facebook’s also trying to pre-empt concerns about problematic advertising and offensive content by hiring 1,000 reviewers. But even if Facebook hired in 100,000 people, they'd have trouble policing the sea of effectively anonymous content produced by 2 billion users, an unknown number of which are bots and paid trolls. The obvious solution is to enforce Facebook's user policy (which says people can only post under their real names) and hold them responsible for what they publish. But that would cause Facebook's user base to shrink, which would alarm investors.

A third line of attack is likely to become important soon, perhaps as soon as next year. Former Facebook executive (yes, another dissident insider) Antonio Garcia-Martinez argued earlier this year that Facebook's ad targeting based on data collected from users is essentially unethical (and also that Facebook oversells its targeting ability). This resonates with politicians -- who worry about the social networks' voter manipulation potential -- and privacy advocates. Even if new legislative curbs on data gathering and ad targeting don't arrive soon, standards may start shifting thanks to the efforts of people such as Brendan Eich, the creator of Javascript and the Firefox browser. Eich's latest start-up produces a browser that effectively blocks all ads -- and that will next year offer an entirely new advertising model built on revenue sharing with consenting users.

The social networks' carefree years of unregulated, untaxed growth are coming to an end. Facebook will probably remain a major force in the attention market, especially given its foothold in the messenger app market and the popularity of Instagram with young people. It may keep rowing against the tide and offering meaningless concessions, but that's not an endless path. Eventually -- likely soon -- it'll have to submit to rules and popular attitude changes that will cut its ambition down to size and perhaps force it to rethink its business model.

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-12-14/2017-was-bad-for-facebook-2018-will-be-worse
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Offline knarf

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For several decades now the American Midwest has suffered from unprecedented economic decay courtesy of a persistent outsourcing of manufacturing jobs in the automotive and steel industries, among others. As we've noted frequently, that economic decay has resulted in a devastating surge in opioid overdoses that claim the lives of 100s of people each year.

Of course, many attribute Trump's staggering victories in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania to his efforts to tap into the frustration of the dispossessed Midwest masses by promising a rebirth of the manufacturing economy that once provided them a solid middle-class lifestyle.

That said, no economic crisis is truly "discovered" until an Ivy League, Nobel-prize-winning economist says it is.  As such, we present to you the intriguing findings of Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton who said he was "looking for something else" when he noticed a staggering increase in white mortality rates for people aged 50-54.  Per Market Watch:

    That was the case with landmark research undertaken by Nobel Prize winning economist Angus Deaton. The Princeton economist, working with his wife Anne Case, stumbled on the fact that mortality rates were rising for working-age white Americans since 1999.

     

    We were really looking for something else and then we discovered that, at least among people between 45-54, and even more between 50-54, a decline in mortality, particularly white mortality that had been established for about 100 years had actually stopped or even reversed itself. Whether it has reversed itself or not depends on a bit on your starting point and end point, but the century-long decline in mortality rates that had gone on since the beginning of the 20th century had just stopped and was starting to rise.

     

    For mortality rates to rise instead of fall is extremely rare. It typically takes a war or epidemic for death rates to jump.



Of course, from there it wasn't much of a stretch for Deaton and Case to 'discover' that these deaths are tied to “deaths of despair” from alcohol, suicide and opioids.



Then comes the far more difficult question of 'why' the mortality rates are surging for middle-aged, white men...something Deaton attributes to a bleak job market and stagnant wages...

    As to the more difficult question of “why” these deaths are taking pace, Deaton hypothesized that they are tied to a destruction of a way of life for working class Americans that used to exist.

     

    “I’ve been using the analogy of the plains Indians, they had had a life which you might have liked or might not have liked before Europeans came to America and that life was destroyed and was never put back together again. I think we’re seeing that for the American working class over the last 40 or 50 years,” he said in a recent speech.

     

    So we trace this back sort of a long way, and if you look at birth cohorts it is like each successive birth cohort is doing worse. They are more susceptible to these deaths throughout life, and the deaths rise with age more rapidly for younger cohorts, so we’re attracted by this idea that there is a cumulative process going on which is steadily getting worse over time. And, you know, the destruction of the way of life of the white working class is maybe a good way of thinking about this.

     

    One story is just that there has been this slow loss of the white working class life. There has been stagnation in wages for 50 years. If you don’t have a university degree, median wages for those people have actually been going down. So it is just like that model, whereby American capitalism really delivered to people who were not particularly well-educated, seems to be broken.

Of course, pretty much anyone with a grade school education who has lived in Detroit for an extended period of time could have told you everything that Deaton has apparently 'discovered'...but it does sound very official coming from a Princeton economist.

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-12-14/nobel-laureate-discovers-cause-opioid-crisis-complete-economic-destruction-white-wor
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