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« Reply #975 on: May 17, 2018, 08:02 AM »

E.U. leader lights into Trump: ‘With friends like that, who needs enemies?’

by Michael Birnbaum
May 17 2018
WA Post

European Council President Donald Tusk said May 16 that President Trump made Europe realize that "a helping hand" can only be found "at the end of your arm." (Reuters)

BRUSSELS — Even by the stressed standards of relations between Europe and the United States in the Trump era, European Council President Donald Tusk’s Wednesday criticisms were unusually cutting.

At the outset of a summit of European leaders whose agenda items, point by point, have to do with the flames of crises that many Europeans see as ignited by President Trump, Tusk ripped into what he called “the capricious assertiveness of the American administration” over issues including Iran, Gaza, trade tariffs and North Korea.

In comments to reporters and a subsequent tweet, he suggested the White House had lost touch with reality. He said Europe didn’t need enemies when it had friends like the United States. And he exhorted European leaders not to be reliant on Washington.

    Looking at latest decisions of @realDonaldTrump someone could even think: with friends like that who needs enemies. But frankly, EU should be grateful. Thanks to him we got rid of all illusions. We realise that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.
    — Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) May 16, 2018

Just 16 months ago, such comments would have been unimaginable coming from an E.U. leader, whose continent modeled itself on the U.S. image in the aftermath of World War II. But Europeans are increasingly exasperated by the way Trump is steering U.S. policy, objecting not only to his stances but also to what they say is erratic policymaking that switches on the whim of Fox News programmers. The shifting desires make it nearly impossible to negotiate with the White House, many diplomats say, because they cannot strike a bargain to get close to what Trump wants when he doesn’t know it himself.

Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland who now presides over one branch of E.U. policymaking, went full zen in his angry description of Trump’s effect on Europe.

“Looking at the latest decisions of Donald Trump, someone could even think: With friends like that, who needs enemies?” Tusk told reporters in English ahead of a summit in Sofia, Bulgaria. “But, frankly speaking, Europe should be grateful by President Trump. Because, thanks to him, we got rid of all the illusions. He has made us realize that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.”

Throughout the first 15 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has made four big moves that irked the United States' European partners. (Video: Sarah Parnass/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

European leaders have scrambled to salvage the 2015 agreement in which Iran agreed to halt its nuclear program, a landmark deal that many Europeans see as essential for their security. Leaders on Wednesday plan to discuss whether to direct E.U. businesses to defy U.S. sanctions against Iran, an unusual measure with uncertain chances of success that would nevertheless be a diplomatic blow to Washington.

That came a day after many European newspapers featured dueling photographs on their front pages: the beaming visage of first daughter Ivanka Trump opening the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, and the smoky carnage an hour’s drive away in Gaza, where scores of Palestinian protesters were killed by the Israeli military. The contrast has stirred up even more European anger toward Trump’s foreign policy, and the Gaza violence is another mark on the agenda for European leaders to discuss during their day and a half of meetings that starts Wednesday.

Tusk's public comments on Wednesday also touched on the new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum that are set to bite on June 1 unless Trump grants a reprieve. E.U. negotiators have said that as one of the closest trading partners of the United States, they will not make concessions with a gun to their head. There appears to have been little progress in those discussions. Tusk said Europe planned to stand its ground.

“We need to bring reality back to this discussion, which is not the case today,” he said

Watch: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/04d1a468-591b-11e8-9889-07bcc1327f4b' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

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« Reply #976 on: May 17, 2018, 09:53 AM »

Of course

China nearly triples purchases of Russian soybeans as US farmers suffer over Trump’s trade war

David Edwards
Raw Story
17 May 2018 at 11:31 ET                  

Russians are benefiting from President Donald Trump’s trade dispute with China while U.S. soybean farmers are suffering from lost sales.

Bloomberg reported on Thursday that China nearly tripled its purchases of Russian soybeans, setting a record.

    Russia sold about 850,000 metric tons of soybeans to China from the start of the 12-month season in July through mid-May, according to Russia’s agriculture agency Rosselkhoznadzor. That’s more than during any season before and compares with about 340,000 tons sold during all of the previous period, Chinese customs data show.

Meanwhile, China has reportedly stopped buying U.S. soybeans after Trump announced tariffs on Chinese steel.

“Whatever they’re buying is non-U.S.,” Bunge Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Soren Schroder told Bloomberg last month. “They’re buying beans in Canada, in Brazil, mostly Brazil, but very deliberately not buying anything from the U.S.”

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« Reply #977 on: May 18, 2018, 04:04 AM »

Tiny Brains of Extinct Human Relative Had Complex Features

By Nicholas St. Fleur
May 18, 2018
NY Times

What makes humans so smart? For a long time the answer was simple: our big brains.

But new research into the tiny noggins of a recently discovered human relative called Homo naledi may challenge that notion. The findings, published Monday, suggest that when it comes to developing complex brains, size isn’t all that matters.

In 2013 scientists excavating a cave in South Africa found remains of Homo naledi, an extinct hominin now thought to have lived  236,000 to 335,000 years ago. Based on the cranial remains, the researchers concluded it had a small brain only about the size of an orange or your fist. Recently, they took another look at the skull fragments and found imprints left behind by the brain. The impressions suggest that despite its tiny size, Homo naledi’s brain shared a similar shape and structure with that of modern human brains, which are three times as large.

“We’ve now seen that you can package the complexity of a large brain in a tiny packet,” said Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at Wits University in South Africa and an author of the paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Almost in one fell swoop we slayed the sacred cow that complexity in the hominid brain was directly associated with increasing brain size.”

Not every scientist agrees with their interpretation.

Since its remains were first retrieved, Homo naledi has puzzled scientists. From head to toe the ancient hominin displays a medley of primitive, apelike features and more advanced, humanlike characteristics.

“It’s this mosaic that is unlike anything we have seen or expected,” said Dr. Berger who first discovered Homo naledi in the Dinaledi Chamber in South Africa’s Rising Star cave system. So far, researchers have found more than 2,000 fossils belonging to the human relatives which have provided a portrait of what the species once looked like.

Homo naledi had small teeth like a human’s, but their shape more closely resembles that of an ape’s. Its shoulders are also apelike, but the arms, wrists and hands more humanlike. The fingers, though, were long and curved, and the thumbs appeared particularly strong. The spine was a combination of primitive and Neanderthal-like, the pelvis resembled that of another more distant human relative, Australopithecus afarensis (dubbed Lucy), and the thighs also looked primitive. But below the knee, the legs were long and thin like a human’s and the feet were nearly identical to our own.

Now, researchers have found that Homo naledi’s similarities with modern humans extend into the brain. After examining the imprints, or endocasts, from five Homo naledi skull fragments, the team found that the species had a frontal lobe that was very similar to that of modern humans and unlike that of an ape’s. The scientists also found that Homo naledi had an asymmetrical brain, with the left brain appearing more forward than the right, which is also seen in humans. Asymmetry in the brain is associated with higher levels of behavioral complexity, the team said.

Based on the regions of the brain that Homo naledi shared with modern humans, the authors suggested that it may have exhibited complex behavior. But what they did not say was what those behaviors may have been, said John Hawks, an paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an author on the paper.

“Is that aspect of the brain evolution central to talking or stone tool making? We don’t know enough to say that,” he said. He added that the finding does not mean that brain size is not important to creating a complex brain — it is. Rather, size alone does not tell the whole story. “There’s something about shape that actually matters too,” he said.

“These new fossil hominids show that the evolution of hominins is much more complex than we thought before,” said Ralph Holloway, a paleoanthropologist at Columbia University and lead author of the paper. 

Emiliano Bruner, a paleoneurobiologist at Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana in Spain, said the finding still needs to be confirmed from a wider fossil record of the species that comes from outside the Dinaledi Chamber fossil site. That would help with understanding any variation that appears within the species.

Simon Neubauer, a physical anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, said the finding did support the idea that both brain size and brain organization are important to human evolution. But he added that because of its age, the tiny-brained Homo naledi might be an outlier in a general hominin trend toward increasing brain sizes.

Dr. Bruner agreed.

“It is not reasonable to forget all that evidence because of a couple of outliers,” he said. “Exceptions are, as always, expected. But this does not break the rule.”

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« Reply #978 on: May 18, 2018, 04:09 AM »

One man's race to capture the Rocky Mountains glaciers before they vanish

Garrett Fisher spent much of his summer in 2015 flying over places like Yellowstone taking stunning pictures of retreating glaciers

Oliver Milman
18 May 2018 11.00 BST

After hearing that the glaciers of the Rocky Mountains are rapidly vanishing, financial consultant Garrett Fisher took a novel course of action – he flew a light aircraft, built in 1949, low and alone over the mountains in order to photograph them.

Fisher spent much of his summer in 2015 flying over places such as Yellowstone, Glacier National Park and Grand Teton National Park, taking stunning pictures of retreating glaciers for a new book.

Fisher said the enormity of the loss was apparent from his plane, where he took in whole ecosystems such as the Wind River Range in Wyoming, which contains several major rivers that provide water for a large surrounding area.

“I’m completely resigned that they will all disappear; I was basically racing to see them before they are gone,” Fisher said. “There’s a bit of bleakness that our planet is going into unchartered territory.”

Glaciers, which are vast masses of snow and ice that move under their own weight, are receding at varying rates around the world due to rising global temperatures. Glacier National Park in Montana has seen some of the most dramatic recorded losses, with glaciers set to disappear from the park as early as 2030.

Globally, glaciers have lost around 400bn tons in mass a year since 1994, which is raising concerns for the millions of people and animals that rely upon glaciers for melt water. The retreat of huge glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland is also driving sea level rise.

The decline of glaciers has previously been illustrated by comparative pictures showing how the modern ice masses looked several decades previously, and more recently. But individual images of modern glaciers can also contain evidence of retreat, according to Lisa McKeon, a physical scientist at the US Geological Society.

“Pictures don’t really show the loss in ice volume but they can show the loss of area,” she said. “You can see previous moraines, which are rocks pushed by a glacier’s movement, far from the current edge of the glacier.”

McKeon has previously exhibited her own collection of comparative photos of glacier retreat at various galleries, where she left a comment book for visitors to log their thoughts.

“I’ve perused the comment book for the past two years or so, there’s a lot of sadness there,” she said. “It’s change. It evokes a sense of loss.”

Fisher’s book contains 177 pictures, many of them taken in precarious conditions, as the wind tossed the 69-year-old Piper PA11 plane that Fisher’s grandfather refurbished after he found it in a dilapidated condition in a North Carolina barn in the 1980s.

“I learned to fly in this plane,” said Fisher, who is from New York state but has spent a lot of time in Colorado and studied Rocky Mountain National Park there. “There is no heat, the door had to be open when taking pictures so there was an ungodly cold. The plane only has 100 horsepower but when you get to 15,000ft it only has around half of that. I would just go off on my own and hope the engine didn’t fail.”

Flying over Glacier National Park, in Montana, was the most challenging because of the “most absurd terrain, the extreme wind, the concentration of grizzly bears if I did have to land – I really didn’t want to go down there,” Fisher said.

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« Reply #979 on: May 18, 2018, 04:11 AM »

Wind power overtakes nuclear for first time in UK across a quarter

News of milestone comes as MPs say policy changes have caused collapse in investment in renewables

Adam Vaughan
18 May 2018 06.01 BST

Britain’s windfarms provided more electricity than its eight nuclear power stations in the first three months of 2018, marking the first time wind has overtaken nuclear across a quarter.

The renewable energy industry hailed the milestone as a sign the UK was well on its way to an electricity system powered by cheap, domestic green energy.

Across the first quarter, wind power produced 18.8% of electricity, second only to gas, said a report by researchers at Imperial College London.

At one point overnight on 17 March, wind turbines briefly provided almost half of the UK’s electricity. Wind power helped during the cold snaps, too, supplying 12-43% of electricity during the six subzero days in the first three months of the year.

Two nuclear plants were temporarily offline for routine maintenance, while another was shut because of seaweed in the cooling system.

While wind together with solar supplied more power than nuclear in the final three months of 2017, thiswas the first time wind has managed the feat alone.

Dr Rob Gross, one of the authors of the Drax Electric Insights report, said: “There’s no sign of a limit to what we’re able to do with wind in the near future.”

The opening in December of a new power cable between Scotland and north Wales also helped unlock electricity from Scottish windfarms, some of which would normally be turned off to help National Grid cope.

The Western Link connection has drastically cut the amount of money paid by National Grid to windfarm owners for that curtailment. The company paid £100m in 2017 for curtailment. This year payments are already down by two-thirds.

Emma Pinchbeck, the executive director at industry group RenewableUK, said: “It is great news for everyone that rather than turning turbines off to manage our ageing grid, the new cable instead will make best use of wind energy.”

News of the quarterly milestone came as MPs said UK emissions targets were threatened by government policy changes, which had caused a collapse in clean energy investment since 2015, including a 56% fall in 2017.

Mary Creagh, Labour MP and chair of the environmental audit committee, said: “Billions of pounds of investment is needed in clean energy, transport, heating and industry to meet our carbon targets. But a dramatic fall in investment is threatening the government’s ability to meet legally binding climate change targets.”

Separately, the spending watchdog concluded that £23bn spent on a government subsidy scheme for low-carbon heating had been poor value for money and did not deliver its aims.

The public accounts committee said the renewable heat incentive had “wildly optimistic” goals and that the government failed to understand what consumers wanted.

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« Reply #980 on: May 18, 2018, 04:13 AM »

Glyphosate shown to disrupt microbiome 'at safe levels', study claims

Study on rats said to show that the chemical, found in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, poses ‘a significant public health concern’

Arthur Neslen
18 May 2018 09.30 BST

A chemical found in the world’s most widely used weedkiller can have disrupting effects on sexual development, genes and beneficial gut bacteria at doses considered safe, according to a wide-ranging pilot study in rats.

Glyphosate is the core ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and levels found in the human bloodstream have spiked by more than a 1,000% in the last two decades.

The substance was recently relicensed for a shortened five-year lease by the EU. But scientists involved in the new glyphosate study say their results show that it poses “a significant public health concern”.

One of the report’s authors, Daniele Mandrioli, at the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy, said significant and potentially detrimental effects from glyphosate had been detected in the gut bacteria of rat pups born to mothers, who appeared to have been unaffected themselves.

“It shouldn’t be happening and it is quite remarkable that it is,” Mandrioli said. “Disruption of the microbiome has been associated with a number of negative health outcomes, such as obsesity, diabetes and immunological problems.”

Prof Philip J Landrigan, of New York’s Icahn School of Medicine, and also one of the research team, said: “These early warnings must be further investigated in a comprehensive long-term study.” He added that serious health effects from the chemical might manifest as long-term cancer risk: “That might affect a huge number of people, given the planet-wide use of the glyphosate-based herbicides.”

Controversy has raged around glyphosate since a World Health Organisation agency – the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – judged it to be a “probable human carcinogen” in 2015.

However, US and European regulators subsequently deemed it acceptable for use, a move campaigners condemned because of regulators’ use of secret industry papers and experts with alleged ties to Monsanto.

The US firm, which recently merged with Bayer in a deal worth more than $60bn, argues that it is being unfairly targeted by activist scientists with ulterior motives.

Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s VP for global strategy told the Guardian: “The Ramazzini Institute is an activist organisation with an agenda that they have not disclosed as part of their crowdfunding efforts. They wish to support a ban on glyphosate and they have a long history of rendering opinions not supported by regulatory testing agencies.”

“This is not about genuine research,” he added. “All the research to date has demonstrated that there is no link between glyphosate and cancer.”

In 2017, the Ramazinni Institute was criticised by members of the US Congress, which has provided it with funding. US congress members have also probed funding for the IARC.

The new crowdfunded pilot study which the Ramazzini Institute compiled with Bologna University and the Italian National Health Institute observed the health effects of glyphosate on Sprague Dawley rats, which had been dosed with the US EPA-determined safe limit of 1.75 micrograms per kilo of body weight.

Two-thirds of known carcinogens had been discovered using the Sprague Dawley rat species, Mandrioli said, although further investigation would be needed to establish long-term risks to human health.

The pilot research did not focus on cancer but it did find evidence of glyphosate bioaccumulation in rats– and changes to reproductive health.

“We saw an increase in ano-genital distance in the formulation that is of specific importance for reproductive health,” Mandrioli said. “It might indicate a disruption of the normal level of sexual hormones.”

The study’s three peer-reviewed papers will be published in Environmental Health later in May, ahead of a €5m follow-up study that will compare the safe level against multiple other doses.

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« Reply #981 on: May 18, 2018, 04:14 AM »

Leaked report warns Cambodia's biggest dam could 'literally kill' Mekong river

Government-commissioned report says proposed site at Sambor reach is the ‘worst possible place’ for hydropower due to impact on wildlife

Tom Fawthrop in Kratie, Cambodia
18 May 2018 07.00 BST

A Chinese-backed plan to build Cambodia’s biggest dam could “literally kill” the Mekong river, according to a confidential assessment seen by the Guardian which says that the proposed site at Sambor is the “worst possible place” for hydropower.

The report, which was commissioned by the government in Phnom Penh, has been kept secret since it was submitted last year, prompting concerns that ministers are inclined to push ahead regardless of the dire impact it predicts on river dolphins and one of the world’s largest migrations of freshwater fish.

The proposed hydropower plant would require a 33km-wide concrete barrier across the river at Sambor, Kratie province. This quiet rural district is best known as a place for watching Irrawaddy dolphins, whose critically low numbers have just shown their first increase in 20 years.

To examine the environmental impact of the dam and the 82km-long reservoir that would form behind it, the Cambodian government commissioned the National Heritage Institute, a US-based research and consultancy firm, to undertake a three-year study in 2014.

But it has refused to make public the results of the Sambor Hydropower Dam Alternatives Assessment, despite numerous appeals from civil society organisations. A copy has now been leaked to the Guardian.

In its key findings the report notes: “The impact on fisheries would be devastating as it would block fish migration from the Tonle Sap (Cambodia’s Great Lake), a vital tributary to the Mekong and the spawning grounds upstream.”

The Mekong is the world’s most productive inland fisher y, sustaining the food security of 60 million people. The Mekong River Commission puts the value of wild-capture fish at $11b n, shared between the four member states of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The stakes are very high for a country where 80% of Cambodians count on fish as their main source of protein.

It is also a potential game-changer for other species in the Mekong’s ecosystem. Marc Goichot, WWF’s water resources specialist, said: “After 15 years WWF and our Cambodian partners are finally winning the battle to conserve Mekong dolphins with 15 new calves born since 2015. A Sambor dam would ruin all those efforts. Together with the plight of the dolphins, fisheries, livelihoods and nutrition of rural communities would all suffer, as well as precipitating the sinking of the Mekong delta in Vietnam.”

The plan for the dam dates back to a memorandum of understanding signed with China Southern Power Grid in 2006. Widespread opposition prompted the Chinese investor to withdrew from the project in 2008.

The country’s chronic energy shortage, high prices and its 50% import dependency prompted the government to revive the Sambor project in 2016, after Laos had already launched two controversial dams upstream - the Xayaburi and the Don Sahong dams.

In the executive summary, the report declares “a dam at this site could literally kill the river, unless sited, designed and operated sustainably. The Sambor reach is the worst possible place to build a major dam.”

Cambodia’s deputy minister of energy, Ith Praing , said: “It is a very sensitive issue and too early to publish any kind of information on Sambor.”

The survey team looked at 10 alternative locations for a Sambor dam site by deploying the world’s most advanced mitigation technology. The project director, Gregory Thomas, said: “Even the most advanced mitigation measures still pose high risks. There is no evidence that any large dam on a tropical river has ever been successful in the use of the latest fish mitigation technology.”

In place of a new dam, the study recommends integrating floating solar photovoltaic panels into the already operational Lower Sesan 2 dam , and operating the reservoir as a single integrated hybrid facility. Power capacity would be doubled to more than 800MW. This technique of augmenting existing hydropower facilities with solar photovoltaics plants has been widely developed in China and India.

According to the report, “solar energy is the only option with a positive net economic benefit after all costs and benefits are taken into account, and the cost of solar would be cheaper than the best possible mitigated dam”.

Cambodia’s Energy Ministry has so far taken only small steps in the direction of solar energy, and has given a tepid response to the 400MW solar proposal, which suggests it is still batting for a mitigated dam.

Praing said no decision would be taken until after July’s general election. If the dam is approved, the leading candidate to build it is China’s Hydrolancang International Energy Company.

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« Reply #982 on: May 18, 2018, 04:18 AM »

Extreme botany: How far should we go to save a plant species?

Self-described extreme botanist Steve Perlman goes where no man – nor goat – has gone before to find and save the rarest plants in Hawaii.   

Eva Botkin-Kowacki

July 5, 2017 Waimea Canyon State Park, Kauai, Hawaii—Steve Perlman doesn't let anything, even hundreds of feet of vertical cliff, get in the way of his efforts to find and save endangered plants in the wild.

If he encounters a steep drop while traipsing through the most rugged vegetation in Hawaii or on other Pacific islands, Mr. Perlman simply pulls out ropes and rappels down to where he wants to go. Once you're out there, he says casually, "you just want to keep going. You don't want to be stopped by a waterfall, you want to see what plants are on those steep cliffs." And at 69, he's still roping into uncharted territory looking for rare plants.

Perlman’s brand of extreme botany, as he calls it, is just one example of heroic conservation efforts going on around the globe. But not everyone agrees on the best way to save the vast amount of the natural world that is under threat. Some say conservationists should use some sort of triage system to prioritize which species or ecosystems get attention, while others suggest that every species is valuable and deserves conservation attention.

For Hugh Possingham, chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy, it’s a matter of saving as many species as possible, with limited resources.

“I suppose the question is not how far should we go to save a single plant species, it is what can we do with the resources we have,” says Dr. Possingham.

Acknowledging the limits on time and financial resources, Possingham has developed a formula for prioritizing conservation projects that also takes into consideration the number of species that could potentially benefit from each project and the probability of success.

“The system favors those species that are most in danger of extinction,” Possingham says, “but it is countered by the fact that sometimes those species that are most in danger of extinction are the ones that are harder to save, or more expensive to save.”

Perlman and Possingham bookend an ideological spectrum of views in the conservation world. Both are profoundly dedicated to preserving biodiversity but approach the problem from vastly different perspectives. Where Possingham finds clarity in careful cost-benefit analysis, Perlman functions in a perpetual race against time.

Divergent models of conservation

In Hawaii, where Perlman works as a statewide specialist for the University of Hawaii’s Plant Extinction Prevention Program (PEPP), there are 238 known plant species teetering on the brink of extinction, each with fewer than 50 individuals left in the wild. To Perlman and his colleagues at PEPP, each one of those species deserves saving. And he is willing to do whatever it takes to try to save them: fencing off plants to keep out goats, pigs, and other grazers; rappelling off cliffs to collect seeds and pollen; and even hand pollinating the last few individuals of a species.

But on a global scale, nurturing each individual species back to health is a more weighty proposition. One in five of the world's plant species is threatened with extinction, according to the annual State of the World's Plants report from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. That's a lot of plants that need tender love and care – and money – to keep them from going extinct.

That’s where Possingham’s formula comes in. In New Zealand, for instance, where nearly a third of the archipelago’s indigenous plants are threatened, Possingham’s calculated approach has enabled conservationists to make educated decisions about where to allocate funds. In some cases, his formula has helped Kiwis stretch conservation dollars to save more species.

On the other end of the ideological spectrum, however, conservationists like Stuart Pimm worry that the triage-based approach not only dooms species that potentially could have been saved, it also stymies innovation.

“As a scientist, I think triage is such a bad idea because it doesn't advance the field,” says Professor Pimm, a conservation ecologist at Duke University in Durham, N.C., whose research is behind the widely cited figure suggesting that species are going extinct as much as 1,000 times faster than the background rate of extinction.

When biologists are fighting to save the last few individuals of a species from extinction, they are driven to innovate, he says. And through this process, “We are getting very, very much better at saving species from the brink of extinction,” he says. “We have forced ourselves not to write species off.”

What’s at stake?

One risk of extinction is that when a species disappears, its absence could disrupt other parts of the ecosystem if, say, it was the primary food source for a particular animal. But even if other species can fill the newly extinct species' ecological niche, something specific will still be lost: its genetics.

“Every species that is lost, I think it's fair to say, is a treasure that is gone forever,” says Ruth Shaw, a professor of ecology, evolution, and behavior at the University of Minnesota. Each species is genetically unique, she says, and “the diversity that we have came about through just awe-inspiring expanses of time, and is not replaceable in any kind of a time frame that we can understand.”

Preserving one-of-a-kind genetics is one of the reasons that Perlman and other botanists around the world collect seeds and cuttings of rare plants that can be stored in seed banks, tissue preservation facilities, or at least grown in captivity.

But the value of the genetics of the world's flora goes beyond simply being impressed by the feat of evolution that led up to today. Having a variety of plant genetics to draw from could be useful to scientists in the future who want to innovate in agriculture, pharmaceuticals, or to produce other plant-based products, says Stuart Thompson, a senior lecturer in plant biochemistry at the University of Westminster.

Large seed banks, like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, contain many seeds from agricultural crops, as the world's population is currently at about 7.5 billion and is expected to continue rising quickly. With many mouths to feed, Dr. Thompson says, scientists may need to breed new genetics into agricultural crop species to make them more resilient or more productive. But if key genetic diversity is lost, that won't be possible.

Furthermore, he adds, "we could potentially be making use of non-agricultural species to facilitate agricultural innovation." As such, scientists might not know what plant species should be preserved. Some inedible plant could perhaps contain the genetics to revolutionize agriculture, but researchers need its genetics to be able to figure that out.

In that sense, the potential benefits of preserving a species is immeasurable. And so, day in and day out, Perlman heads for the cliffs, following his intuition and clues offered by the natural world to save as many species as he can access.

As a young botanist, Perlman noticed that goats and other grazers that were ravaging Hawaiian plants couldn't reach the steepest cliffs. He surmised that those cliff faces might harbor some of the islands’ rarest species. And so Perlman and his field partner Kenneth Wood have become pioneers of extreme exploratory botany, armed with deep reverence for every species they encounter – and little regard for their own safety.

“I'm not really thinking that I'm going to be dying because I'm on the cliffs,” Perlman says.

For him, saving plant species is all about responsibility. “I don't want to lose any of these species that are unique and so beautiful,” he says. “It's part of my responsibility to try and keep them all alive.”

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« Reply #983 on: May 18, 2018, 04:21 AM »

Race is on to set up Europe's electric car charging network

New Europe

MUNICH  — Charging an electric car away from home can be an exercise in uncertainty — hunting for that one lonely station at the back of a rest-area parking lot and hoping it's working. In Europe, some of the biggest automakers are out to remove such anxieties from the battery-only driving experience and encourage electric-vehicle sales by building a highway network of fast charging stations. The idea is to let drivers plug in, charge in minutes instead of hours, and speed off on their way — from Norway to southern Italy and Portugal to Poland.

Much is at stake for the automakers, which include Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler and Ford. Their joint venture, Munich-based Ionity, is pushing to roll out its network in time to service the next generation of battery-only cars coming on the market starting next year. They're aiming to win back some of the market share for electric luxury car sales lost to Tesla, which has its own, proprietary fast-charging network.

Despite a slower-than-expected start, Ionity CEO Michael Hajesch told The Associated Press in an interview he's "confident" the company will reach its goal of 400 ultra-fast charging stations averaging six charging places each by 2020.

The idea is "to be able to drive long distances with battery electric vehicles, across Europe and to have the same experience at each station, meaning a very easy and comfortable customer journey," Hajesch said, speaking at the company's Munich headquarters near the 1972 Olympic stadium.

The idea is to break electric cars out of the early adopter niche, in which they are charged slowly overnight at home and used for short commutes. "The sites we are looking for are really the A-sites," he said, "directly at the autobahn. Not down the road, not driving five kilometers into the next industrial area and finding a charging station somewhere, without light, or any amenities around, but right at the autobahn."

"If you're going from Hamburg to Munich, because it's a weekend trip to friends, typically you do not have much time," he said. So what counts will be "the speed of recharging your vehicles, and at the same time finding maybe some amenities: maybe a coffee, getting a newspaper or whatever."

Ionity opened its first station April 17 at a rest stop off the A61 highway near the small town of Niederzissen, 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Bonn in western Germany. The six high-speed chargers are operating in "welcome mode," meaning they're free until May 31. After that, Ionity plans to charge for the power, which it seeks to obtain from renewable sources.

Ionity has agreements for some 300 sites, working with fueling station and rest stop landlords. The average distance between stations will be 120 kilometers (75 miles). More charging availability is what it will take to get an environmentally aware car buyer like Rainer Hoedt to choose a battery-only vehicle. The 58-year-old Berlin geography teacher is a proud owner of a Mitsubishi Outlander, a plug-in hybrid that combines internal combustion with a battery he can charge overnight. The battery-only range of 50 kilometers (30 miles) lets him drive emissions free for daily trips at home.

But a family vacation of more than 200 kilometers (120 miles) to the Baltic Sea was a different story. Hoedt had to drive on internal combustion before finding a lone charging station as he approached his destination, using the goingelectric.de website.

"It was right next to the highway, there was one charging station and we were lucky that it was free," he said. But he couldn't find a charging station he could use by the seashore. On the way back, he was able to charge at a rest stop, but only by asking a non-electric car owner to move his vehicle away from the lone charging pole. A battery-only car might never have made it home.

And he couldn't use one to visit his cousin 650 kilometers (400 miles) away in Rosenheim. "I looked at the option... The infrastructure is still so bad, I just don't want to risk that I get stranded," he said. "Once the infrastructure gets better, that might be my next car."

Tesla has shown how charging infrastructure can drive vehicle sales. It has 1,229 stations with 9,623 fast chargers in Europe alone, where it has cut into Mercedes and BMW's sales of luxury cars. But it has its own proprietary plug. Ionity is using the CCS plug backed by the European Union as a common standard for all.

In both the U.S. and Europe, the situation is roughly similar: More chargers available in jurisdictions where government strongly backs electric vehicles, such as California, Norway or the Netherlands. Elsewhere, chargers get can harder to find for long stretches along rural highways.

Volkswagen, which agreed to invest in low-emission driving to settle charges it cheated on diesel emissions, is building 300 highway charging sites in the U.S. by June 2019 through its Electrify America unit. Japan has 40,000 charging points, exceeding its 34,000 gas stations, according to Nissan — but many of those are private garages.

Ionity is counting on the large 350-kilowatt capacity of its publicly available chargers — almost three times the 120 kilowatts per vehicle of Tesla's Superchargers. No car currently on the market can make full use of 350 kilowatt charging capacity. But they're coming: in 2019 Porsche plans to introduce the Mission E. Porsche says that the sleek, low-slung sports car will take 15 minutes to charge for 400 kilometers (250 miles) more driving.

Tesla and its founder, Elon Musk, "showed it's not enough to just build electric cars" without also building charging infrastructure, said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the CAR Center Automotive Research at the University of Duisberg-Essen.

The automakers "are late, but it's better than it was... it remains the case that without Elon Musk the carmakers would not have realized this," he said.

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« Reply #984 on: May 18, 2018, 04:24 AM »

Investors urge fossil fuel firms to shun Trump's Arctic drilling plans

Oil extraction in Alaskan wilderness area would be an ‘irresponsible business decision’, trillion-dollar investors say

Damian Carrington Environment editor
18 May 2018 19.00 BST

Investors managing more than $2.5tn have warned oil firms and banks to shun moves by the US president, Donald Trump, to open the Arctic national wildlife refuge (ANWR) to drilling.

Companies extracting oil and gas from the wilderness area in Alaska would face “enormous reputational risk and public backlash”, the investors say in a letter sent on Monday to 100 fossil fuel companies and the banks that finance them.

Exploiting the area would also be an “irresponsible business decision”, the group argues, as global action on climate change will reduce oil demand and mean such projects have a high risk of losing money. An accompanying letter from the indigenous Gwich’in people say it would be “deeply unethical” to destroy their homelands.

The 19m-acre refuge is one of wildest places left on Earth and the largest area of publicly owned land in the US. It is home to a huge range of animals, including polar bears, snowy owls and the porcupine caribou on which the Gwich’in rely for food.

In April, the Trump administration began the process of opening the ANWR for oil and gas drilling, the first such move since 1980. Significant oil and gas reserves are thought to lie under the ANWR coastal plain and Prudhoe Bay, a major oil centre, lies close to the refuge’s western boundary. The Gwich’in name for the coastal plain is “Sacred place where life begins”, as it is the breeding ground of the caribou.

“Drilling in the ANWR is an exceedingly high-risk gamble that companies and investors should avoid,” said New York state comptroller, Thomas P DiNapoli, trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, one of the investors that signed the letter. “A global low-carbon economy is emerging, driven by the growing opportunities for cleaner energy. We want the companies [we invest in] to help build that future, not destroy one of America’s last truly wild places.”

“There is no longer any doubt that climate change poses an acute risk not only to our collective way of life, but also to investments made in outdated and highly precarious forms of energy,” said Thibaud Clisson at BNP Paribas Asset Management, another signatory.

Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in steering committee, said: “We call on oil companies and the banks that fund them to stand with the Gwich’in and leave this pristine and fragile place intact. The survival of my people depends on it.”

However, Alaska’s congressional representatives, who are all Republican, strongly support the drilling plan, suggesting it could bring in $1bn to state and federal governments in the next decade. When the plan to open the ANWR for oil and gas exploitation was announced, senator Lisa Murkowski said it was “the single-most important step we can take to strengthen our long-term energy security and create new wealth”.

Murkowski, also chairman of the Senate committee on energy and natural resources, said: “Responsible development is limited to just 2,000 federal acres – just one ten-thousandth of all of ANWR.”

But the letter from the Gwich’in steering committee says: “This place was originally set aside by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 as a refuge, not for development. Roads, pipelines, gravel mines, airstrips and other facilities that would be developed to support exploration and development on the coastal plain would undermine the wilderness character of the Refuge, fragment habitat and displace wildlife. And oil spills, which already occur on the North Slope, would harm fish and wildlife.”

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« Reply #985 on: May 18, 2018, 04:32 AM »

The making of Meghan Markle

What happens when a ‘confident mixed-race woman’ marries into the royal family

By Jessica Contrera
May 18, 2018
WA Post

Meghan Markle was glaring at her love interest. She leaned forward, fury clear in her expression as she asked the question: Was it so hard to believe one of her parents was black?

“You think,” she spat, “this is just a year-round tan?”

He stammered. She grimaced. The opening credits began to roll.

It was just the scene of a television show, a few lines from the script of the law drama “Suits.” But Markle would later describe it as something more: the moment she was no longer playing the role of “ethnically ambiguous.” That was the description assigned to so many of the jobs for which she had auditioned. Others asked her to be white, like her father. Or black, like her mother.

Finally, in “Suits,” she’d been cast to play a character who was not one or the other — but both.

“The choices made in these rooms,” Markle would later write, “trickle into how viewers see the world, whether they’re aware of it or not.”

Five years after that scene aired, this woman who was grateful just to have her biracial identity represented on cable television is about to step into one of the world’s most glaring spotlights. On Saturday, she will marry His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales, better known as Prince Harry — popular, ginger-haired and sixth in line to the British throne.

2:39..How is Meghan Markle’s life about to change?: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/656b33e8-555b-11e8-a6d4-ca1d035642ce' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

The hullabaloo that precedes a royal wedding is well underway: Paparazzi are staking out Markle’s every move, gamblers are placing bets on who will design her dress, and biographers have tracked down every detail of her American past, all the way back to the name of the obstetrician who delivered her into the world.

For those inclined to roll their eyes at the frivolity of it all, the scene appears to be little more than an expensive sequel to the 2011 wedding of Harry’s older brother, William, to Kate; those two could actually become king and queen.

But with Meghan Markle, there are layers of history and culture to dissect. Every new development in the run-up to her wedding prompts conversations, think pieces and wishes: Is this a sign of progress in a post-Brexit Britain? Will she remind the world that the United States is proud of its diversity? Is the most fascinating aspect of this moment the fact that, under almost any other circumstances, an interracial marriage would no longer be fascinating at all?

She is both the heroine of a fairy tale come true — American meets prince! — and a spark for a debate about the role of race in society. And it is that topic, those who know Markle say, that is far more central to the story she would tell about her own life.

The chances of a biracial, divorced, American citizen marrying into the British royal family previously hovered at approximately zero/not in a million years/not over [insert name of your favorite monarch’s] dead body. And yet, ask the people who knew Meghan Markle before she was soon-to-be duchess Meghan Markle what they think of this turn of events, and they will express, again and again, that this is all very unsurprising.

“Of course she ended up being a princess,” said Natalie Myre Hart, who spent three years in acting classes with Markle at Northwestern University in the early 2000s. “She was always one of those people you wish you didn’t like because she was so beautiful and seemed so put together all the time.”

And so goes the palace-polished version of “Who is Meghan Markle?”: An upper-middle-class childhood in Los Angeles, where she was the star of school plays, a member of student council and a homeless shelter volunteer. College at Northwestern University, where, quite practically, she majored in theater and international relations. A career in Hollywood, where she side-hustled as a waitress and freelance calligrapher to pursue her dream. A two-year marriage to movie producer Trevor Engelson that ended in divorce — but after that divorce, “Suits” became a hit, her lifestyle blog garnered a small cult following, and Markle dedicated herself to international philanthropy.

Naturally, after her relationship with Prince Harry made news, the search began for the proverbial spots on the apple. Tabloids found estranged half-siblings who called Markle a “social climber,” a friend who took her ex-husband’s side in the divorce claiming she is “cold” and “calculated,” and footage of all the raunchy scenes of her acting career (which, according to one report, were carefully hidden from the queen).

Because Markle didn’t meet Prince Harry until she was 34, there is a whole life of fodder for royals-obsessed readers and Lifetime moviemakers to devour. Perhaps that is why so much of what has been written about Markle makes little mention of her heritage.

But when she has spoken and written about her life story in the past, race is front and center.

“Being biracial paints a blurred line that is equal parts staggering and illuminating,” she wrote in a 2015 essay for Elle UK. She has described how early her awareness began: Growing up, strangers often assumed her mother, yoga instructor and social worker Doria Ragland, was her nanny. Her father, a television studio lighting director, bought her both black and white dolls, but none of them looked quite like her. When she was 11 years old, her home town became a center of racial unrest when the officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted. Markle has said she came home from school to find a lemon tree in her front yard charred from passing rioters.

Markle’s all-girls Catholic high school was a portrait of diversity. “I didn’t even know that she was biracial until all of this came out with her marrying Prince Harry,” said Erich Alejandro, who performed in plays with Markle in high school. “In L.A., we are all used to so many different races, lifestyles and creeds. That stuff doesn’t even register.”

I was scared to open this Pandora’s box of discrimination, so I sat stifled, swallowing my voice.

At 18, Markle moved from Los Angeles to Evanston, Ill., to attend Northwestern University. There, her theater classmates remember the department as full of students who were mostly white and well-off. In her freshman year on the campus in Chicago’s suburbs, Markle met a dorm mate who asked about her parents’ interracial marriage, then told her it “made sense” they had divorced when she was young.

“I drew back,” Markle wrote of that moment in Elle. “I was scared to open this Pandora’s box of discrimination, so I sat stifled, swallowing my voice.”

She was bothered by the segregation in Chicago’s neighborhoods and the way that separation seemed to exist on campus, too. When the African American friends she made in the first quarter of her freshman year decided to forgo traditional sorority rush and opt for the black sororities, Markle wrestled with what to do.

“She didn’t feel like going to the black sorority was a terribly accurate identity for her,” said Liz Nartker, one of Markle’s sisters in Kappa Kappa Gamma. “She struggled with feeling like once she made that decision, it felt like a big wall to her in a way. Whether consciously or not, she felt like they distanced themselves from her. . . . That was harder than she thought it was going to be.”

Nartker said Markle lived in the Kappa house for two years, but when her sisters moved into apartments and houses together for their senior year, she chose to live alone. That year, she confided in Harvey Young, a professor who had recently come to Northwestern to teach the theater department’s first course on African American playwrights.

“She told me just how challenging it is to not be fully accepted for all of who you are within a variety of spaces. It takes a toll,” he recalled. Young, who is black, said Markle’s description of being wrongly identified as white stuck in his mind: “That sense that you can be in a space and feel accepted, and then something is said, and it makes you realize oh, you are not being embraced for who you are entirely.”

This happened to Markle constantly. People would ask, “What are you?” or assume she was white. Even her first talent agent, Nick Collins, said he didn’t send her to casting calls for people of color until she mentioned her black mom.

But getting into more auditions didn’t lead to more gigs. As she described in Elle, being an “ethnic chameleon” meant she wasn’t white enough for the white roles or black enough for the black roles. In the mid-2000s, Collins said, diversity still felt like a box the industry was trying to check, rather than an asset to recruit.

“If she was hitting the market for acting jobs today, she would be so much happier now than she was 11 years ago,” he said. “It was really hard for her. She had to work hard not to punish herself for the things that she wasn’t. It was hard enough being the things that she was.”

Mostly what she was: the girl who was on screen for a few moments, saying next to nothing. Viewers saw her holding a briefcase in towering heels on the game show “Deal or No Deal,” taking a seat on a plane next to Ashton Kutcher in “A Lot Like Love” and delivering a package to Jason Sudekis in “Horrible Bosses.” “You’re way too cute to be just a FedEx girl,” he tells her.

Then, at 29 years old, she auditioned for “Suits.” USA Network was looking for the girl who could play Rachel Zane, a firebrand in a pencil skirt whom the show’s protagonist would fall for. There was no ethnic descriptor attached to the role.

“The reality is that girl would have been played by Jennifer Aniston 10 years ago,” said director Kevin Bray.

When Markle auditioned, Bray remembered, there was some discussion about what she was. Latina? Mediterranean? He told the others at the casting table that he could tell she was biracial, like himself.

By the second season, Markle’s character had a family history — her father was a black attorney.

“I recall her being very appreciative that we were honoring her identity,” said Aaron Korsh, the creator of “Suits.”

As the show found success, Markle booked speaking appearances and wrote essays for women’s magazines. She started her lifestyle blog, The Tig, where she interspersed fashion advice with messages about self-empowerment and interviews with dynamic, diverse women. She told stories about the slavery and segregation experienced by her ancestors. She asked for her freckles to not be airbrushed away.

With every blog entry and social media post, more people were learning her message: She was no longer the girl who had been afraid to speak up when her heritage was insulted. She was here, she wrote, “To say who I am, to share where I’m from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman.”

Then came Harry and the Windsors and a royal engagement.

The blog and all of her social media accounts were deleted. The archives were wiped. The story of Meghan Markle, as she had written it, was being erased.

“Harry to marry into gangster royalty? New love ‘from crime-ridden neighbourhood’ ” — The Daily Star

“Miss Markle’s mother is a dreadlocked African-American lady from the wrong side of the tracks.” — The Mail on Sunday

“Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton” — The Daily Mail

In the fall of 2016, news broke that Prince Harry was dating Markle. The British tabloids were in a tizzy — and were, in some cases, blatantly racist. Kensington Palace released a statement calling out the “racial undertones” in the coverage and the “wave of abuse and harassment” experienced by Markle.

“Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle’s safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her,” the statement read.

How did she feel about all of this? She made no statement of her own.

In November 2017, the couple announced their engagement. Online, the conversation quickly returned to race. Was it really progress to marry into a family that represents co­lo­ni­al­ism, to marry a man who once wore a Nazi costume to a party? Would she be marrying into the royal family if she wasn’t light skinned? Why was her blackness being measured at all?

“Can everyone leave Meghan Markle alone already?” tweeted one defender. “She’s mixed, she’s beautiful, and she’s engaged to a PRINCE. She’s winning! Quit hating.”

Markle herself was no longer taking part in the conversation about her identity. She was starting her new life: making public appearances, sitting for photo shoots, donning a dress reported to cost $75,000, all while looking lovingly into the prince’s eyes.

Kehinde Andrews, a Birmingham City University professor who studies race in Britain, says that is why Markle marrying into the royal family isn’t as revolutionary as it seems.

“She’ll be a princess that happens to be black rather than a black princess,” Andrews said. “Is she going to use this platform to raise issues of importance to black people in this country? That would be a black princess. I don’t think the royal family would allow it to happen. . . . It would make them too uncomfortable.”

But author Margo Jefferson, who is African American, sees Markle’s very presence in Kensington Palace as progress. “She has already done race history a real service,” Jefferson wrote in the Guardian. The question is what she’ll do next.

“When it comes to issues of race, gender, sexuality and class, how much can Meghan Markle say and do?” Jefferson asked. “How much does she want to say and do?”

In search of the answer, royal-watchers are dissecting every bit of wedding news for deeper meaning: the guest list, the mostly black gospel choir, the decision to include her mother in her procession to the church.

In Markle’s next role, will she get to be the “strong, confident mixed-race woman”? Or must she be the prim, polished duchess tradition requires? She may be hoping there’s a way to, once again, be both.

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« Reply #986 on: May 18, 2018, 04:34 AM »

Black actresses brave downpour to protest at Cannes

Agence France-Presse
18 May 2018 at 07:23 ET                   

Sixteen black and mixed race actresses staged a glamorous red carpet protest at the Cannes film festival Wednesday to denounce everyday racism in the French industry.

Led by “Bamako” star Aissa Maiga, they also launched their new book “Being black is not my job” (“Noire n’est pas mon metier”), denouncing the prejudice they have suffered from directors and casting agents.

But the heavens opened as they stepped out onto the red carpet from their cars wearing spectacular gowns by Balmain’s mixed-race designer Olivier Rousteing.

Their march follows hot on the heels of an historic red carpet demonstration Saturday by 82 Hollywood stars, women directors, producers and scriptwriters, led by Cate Blanchett, demanding equal pay and status.

“I was moved to act by the spirit of the times,” Maiga told AFP, who said quotas “could be a possible option” for combatting the lack of black faces on screen, even if that would spark vehement opposition in France.

One of the actors who took part, Nadege Beausson-Diagne, said in the book that she had been asked if she spoke “African” at a casting.

She was also told, “You can’t play her, she’s a lawyer” and “Luckily you have fine features and you are not negroid, not too black…”

The actress, who appeared in France’s biggest ever film at the box office, “Welcome to the Sticks” (“Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis”), said she was also told she was “not African enough to be African” and that “for a black, you are really very intelligent. You should have been white.”

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« Reply #987 on: May 18, 2018, 04:39 AM »

Colombia’s indigenous transgender women find refuge, freedom working on coffee farms

Photos By Lena Mucha. Writer Kenneth Dickerman
May 18 2018
WA Post

Although photographer Lena Mucha had worked with indigenous communities while studying anthropology, she had never approached them with a camera. But after reading an article that one of her friends wrote about some unique transgender women from the Embera group in Colombia, she became intrigued and decided to investigate. The women whom her friend wrote about had left their villages to find work on coffee plantations because they felt they could live freer lives there.

“I was told that the indigenous leaders are convinced that being transgender is a disease the white man has passed [on to] them,” Mucha said. “In their communities, the transgender women who decided to live openly transgender are punished by their own people. This is why they leave their families. Working on these coffee farms means they have a free space where they can express their gender identity openly.”

When she first approached the women on the farms, they were hesitant about having their pictures taken. But Mucha persisted, shooting photos and then coming back with prints to show the women what she was doing. This broke the ice, Mucha said, and some of the women became much more comfortable with her presence and allowed her to continue her work. When asked what she hoped her project would communicate to the world, Mucha told In Sight:

“I think there is still a lot of misunderstanding and misrepresentation about what it means to be transgender and to live this identity. Many people, and most of them in Colombia, were surprised that among the indigenous Embera [there] actually exist transgender women. Another point is related to the predominant narrative that exists about Colombia: What we know about this culture is related to conflict and the narco culture. This is the image the media have been and are still communicating to the world. But Colombia is much more than this and there are so many subcultures we have never heard about, like these indigenous transgender women. Visual representation really matters and can change how we understand the world and its complexities. It’s a powerful media to connect and create empathy with someone we might never know and this is what I aim with this story as well.”

Click here for the original article to see all the pictures and stories: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-sight/wp/2018/05/14/colombias-indigenous-transgender-women-find-refuge-freedom-working-on-the-coffee-farms/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.c83e8d37ab9e

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« Reply #988 on: May 18, 2018, 05:05 AM »

Ebola reaches DRC city, raising epidemic fears as 11 new cases confirmed

Officials to consider danger of Ebola spreading to other countries after disease reaches Mbandaka, home to a million people

Jason Burke Africa correspondent
Fri 18 May 2018 00.45 BST

Officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have said the Ebola outbreak in the vast central African country has entered “a new phase” after a case of the deadly virus was detected in the north-west city of Mbandaka.

The first urban case significantly escalates the risk of an epidemic, and has prompted the UN World Health Organization to convene an emergency committee on Friday to consider the danger of the disease spreading to other countries.

Late on Thursday, the country’s ministry of health announced 11 new confirmed Ebola cases and two deaths, taking the total number of cases to 45 (14 confirmed, 10 suspected, 21 probable). The deaths have occurred in Bikoro, a rural area about 150km from Mbandaka.

So far, the deaths believed to have been caused by the outbreak have been detected in more isolated areas, giving authorities a better chance of ring-fencing the virus.

The WHO’s expert committee will decide whether to declare a “public health emergency of international concern”, which would trigger more international involvement, mobilising research and resources, the WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said on Thursday.

The agency, which on Wednesday deployed the first experimental vaccines in the vast central African country, expressed concern about the disease reaching Mbandaka.

The city of a million is located on the banks of the Congo river, a major thoroughfare for trade and transport into Kinshasa, though experts said that transport on the river from Mbandaka to the capital could take several weeks, slowing any potential spread of the disease. Air transport is limited and very expensive.

“We are entering a new phase of the Ebola outbreak that is now affecting three health zones, including an urban health zone,” Oly Ilunga Kalenga, the health minister, said in a statement on Wednesday evening. “Since the announcement of the alert in Mbandaka, our epidemiologists are working in the field to identify people who have been in contact with suspected cases.”

Kalenga said authorities would intensify population tracing at all air, river and road routes out of the city.

“We estimate that more than 300 people might have been in direct or indirect contact with individuals contaminated with the Ebola virus in Mbandaka,” the AFP news agency quoted one doctor in the city.

There were signs of panic in the Mbandaka by mid-afternoon.

“I’m looking for a boat to leave,” said Constantine Boketshu, a soldier’s wife. “If the authorities have allowed the disease to arrive here, we all risk being killed ... because hygiene is bad.”

It is the ninth time Ebola has been recorded in Congo since the disease made its first known appearance near its northern Ebola river in the 1970s. The disease is most feared for the internal and external bleeding it can cause in victims owing to damage done to blood vessels.

In the frontline of the fight against the disease is a newly developed vaccine. The first batch of over 4,000 shots was sent by the WHO to Kinshasa on Wednesday. The health ministry said vaccinations would start by early next week.

The vaccine, developed by Merck, is still not licensed but proved effective during limited trials in west Africa in the biggest-ever outbreak of Ebola, which killed 11,300 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from 2014 to 2016.

Before the latest confirmed case, Peter Salama, the WHO’s deputy director general for emergency preparedness and response, said the current number of suspected, probable or confirmed cases stood at 42. He said another 4,000-vaccine batch was expected soon.

Health workers have identified 432 people who may have had contact with the disease, the WHO said.

Supplies sent to Congo included more than 300 body bags for safe burials in affected communities. The vaccine will be reserved for people suspected of coming into contact with the disease, as well as health workers.

The vaccine requires storage at a temperature between -60C and -80C, tricky in a country with unreliable electricity.

“We are now tracing more than 4,000 contacts of patients and they have spread out all over the region of north-west Congo, so they have to be followed up and the only way to reach them is motorcycles,” Salama said.

Ben Shepherd, an expert on the DRC at London’s Chatham House, said the country had managed earlier outbreaks of the disease “pretty well”.

“The lack of infrastructure can act as a natural firebreak slowing the spread of the disease. But the cities have very little planning, water, sanitation or electrification. If Ebola was to reach Kinshasa, it would be beyond apocalyptic,” he said.

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« Reply #989 on: May 18, 2018, 05:08 AM »

Quim Torra sworn in as Catalan president amid xenophobia claims

Catalan nationalist is facing growing criticism over anti-Spanish tone of past remarks

Sam Jones in Madrid
18 May 2018 13.08 BST

Quim Torra has been sworn in as the 131st president of Catalonia amid growing pressure over the “xenophobic” and anti-Spanish tone of his past writings and comments.

Torra, a hardline Catalan nationalist handpicked by the region’s deposed president, Carles Puigdemont, was elected by 66 votes to 65 on Monday and assumed office at a low-key ceremony in Barcelona on Thursday.

“I promise to loyally fulfil the duties of the post of regional president being faithful to the will of the Catalan people represented by the Catalan parliament,” he said, using the same formula as Puigdemont and avoiding mention of obeying the Spanish constitution. Central government representatives did not attend the ceremony.

Since his appointment the 55-year-old lawyer and editor has been dogged by accusations that he is Puigdemont’s puppet and that his long history of anti-Spanish comments makes him unfit to lead a government.

Six years ago, Torra wrote an article in which he described those who opposed the use of the Catalan language and objected to expressions of Catalan culture and traditions as “carrion-feeders, vipers and hyenas” and “beasts in human form”.

“It is a sick phobia,” he wrote. “There is something Freudian in these beasts, a rough patch in their DNA.”

In a string of tweets written the same year, Torra suggested that “Spaniards know only how to plunder”, claimed that Catalonia had been under Spanish occupation since 1714 and said Spaniards had long since removed the word “shame” from the dictionary. He later apologised “if anyone was offended by the tweets”.

He has also been ridiculed for saying that Catalonia was suffering “a humanitarian crisis”.

Politicians including Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the opposition Socialist party, have criticised the “xenophobic nature” of his past pronouncements.

On Tuesday, a Catalan anti-racism group took Torra to task for repeatedly using “a dangerous, irresponsible and unacceptable discourse, based on prejudices”.

The Spanish justice ministry declined to comment on reports that prosecutors were looking into the possibility of bringing charges of racial hate crimes against Torra over his tweets and articles.

Although Torra has said he wants to hold talks with Rajoy, he insists that Puigdemont remains the “legitimate president” of Catalonia and has vowed to try to restore his predecessor’s sacked cabinet to their previous posts and push on with plans to create an independence republic.

The region has been under direct control from Madrid since the end of October last year, when Rajoy responded to Puigdemont’s unilateral independence referendum and the subsequent declaration of independence by firing the Catalan president and his cabinet and calling new elections.

However, Rajoy’s electoral gamble failed to pay off: the pro-independence bloc retained its parliamentary majority and Puigdemont, who remains in self-imposed exile in Germany, finally anointed Torra as his successor after efforts to install three other candidates, including himself, failed.

Torra’s closeness to Puigdemont and similarly firm stance on independence have not gone unnoticed.

A cartoon in El Mundo this week showed the former president as a fairy godmother, telling a Pinocchio-Torra puppet: “And if you’re really good, I’ll turn you into a real boy.”

Pablo Simón, a political scientist at Carlos III University in Madrid, said Torra was likely to prove a divisive choice both inside Catalonia and within the independence movement itself, and that Puigdemont had chosen him as a means of maintaining the current situation of tension and polarisation.

“It suits Puigdemont better because at the end of the day, it reinforces the idea of a stopgap presidency, which will be subordinate to his presidency in Berlin,” said Simón. “It’s about the idea of trying to restore the last government rather than trying to move things forward, like being a statue made of salt, paralysed and always looking backwards.”

Antonio Barroso, an analyst at the political risk advisory firm Teneo Intelligence, said Puigdemont was using Torra as a means to remain relevant at home and abroad and was “prioritising his own strategy over the unity of the pro-independence movement”.

Barroso said that Torra’s anti-Spanish declarations would damage the independence movement’s international image, with the president’s old articles being seized on by opponents of secession.

“The whole rhetoric of the independence movement says: ‘This is about democracy.’ But now the other side can say it’s not about democracy because clearly you have someone with ideas that try to exclude one part of the population.”

Some see the advent of Torra as proof that a latent strain of supremacism is seeping into the Catalan mainstream.

“Catalan nationalism has always been characterised by what you could call a ‘civic nationalism’; it’s always been based on integrating people who come into Catalonia and on a non-ethnic idea of who Catalans are,” said Pau Marí-Klose, a professor of sociology at the University of Zaragoza.

But the polarisation and radicalisation brought about by Puigdemont’s push for independence – and the Spanish authorities’ response to it – had “slightly opened the door” to Torra’s school of thought and reignited old feelings of resentment.

“The idea that Catalonia has been mistreated by Spain has gathered more and more momentum during the process and has somehow given rise to these very supremacist ideas: that anything Spanish is despicable; that Spanish culture is prone to authoritarianism and isn’t a truly European culture, whereas Catalan culture is,” said Marí-Klose.

“There’s a metaphor that you see, even in cartoons, of Spain as an abusive husband and Catalonia as the wife trying to leave the relationship but isn’t allowed … Torra feeds off that but that doesn’t mean that the majority of Catalans buy into these ideas.”

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