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« on: Oct 20, 2019, 04:50 AM »

We will be posting in this thread a variety of interesting stories about our environment, cultures around the world, and the current news of the day.
« Last Edit: Nov 02, 2019, 05:22 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: Nov 14, 2019, 04:22 AM »

Paul Stamets: 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World

Evolve and Ascend

Paul Stamets is an American mycologist, author, and advocate of bioremediation and medicinal fungi. He’s been a passionate, long-time supporter of fungi and its implications for healing the planet – and believes we are living in the midst of Earth’s 6th major extinction, but the “neurological network of nature” may hold the key to our survival.

Stamets recently joined Joe Rogan on his podcast to talk mycelium, and more (see video bel0w).

Could mycelium be our savior? Perhaps.

In 2008, Stamets gave a powerful TED Talk where we can find him discussing 6 ways mushrooms can save the world (see video below), and we’ve taken the liberty of curating a list of his quotes, and noteable bullet points that solidify the ideas presented in the talk.

Paul Stamets: 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World

Restore habitat that’s been devastated by pollution

    “I love a challenge, and saving the Earth is probably a good one.” – Paul Stamets

    According to PermaCulture Magazine:

    “With such extensive work on the subject, many projects acround the world are following Paul’s lead. The Ocean Blue Project based in Corvallis, Texas is just one of these.

    The Ocean Blue Project, started by two local Corvallis residents – Richard Aterbury and Rosalie Bienek – begun using mushrooms to restore contaminated aquatic habitats in their area.

    The project buy locally grown oyster mushroom spores that they grow in a coffee ground mix. Then they create a ‘bunker spawn’ which goes into the river. This consists of a burlap bag filled with wood chips and the inoculated oyster mushroom spawn. The bags are secured with bamboo sticks and placed on the river banks (see top photo). As the oyster mushrooms grow, they break down toxins in-situ, removing and neutralising the pollutants in the river (a form of bioremediation). Oyster mushrooms have been shown to reduce E. coli and break down hydrocarbons.”

Naturally fight flu viruses and other diseases

    “Mushrooms are miniature pharmaceutical factories, and of the thousands of mushroom species in nature, our ancestors and modern scientists have identified several dozen that have a unique combination of talents that improve our health.” – Paul Stamets

Kill ants, termites, and other insects without using pesticides

    In 2006, Stamets was granted a patent for SMART pesticide, which represents “the most disruptive technology we have ever witnessed.”

    The mycologist has figured out how to use mycelium to keep insects from destroying crops, and this natural “pesticide” provides a safe & nearly permanent solution for controlling over 200,000 species of insects.

    By taking entomopathogenic Fungi (fungi that destroys insects) and morphing it so it does not produce spores, it actually attracts the insects who then eat and turn into fungi from the inside out.

Create a sustainable fuel known as Econol

    “I see the mycelium as the Earth’s natural Internet, a consciousness with which we might be able to communicate. Through cross-species interfacing, we may one day exchange information with these sentient cellular networks. Because these externalized neurological nets sense any impression upon them, from footsteps to falling tree branches, they could relay enormous amounts of data regarding the movements of all organisms through the landscape.” – Paul Stamets

    By impregnating cardboard boxes with fungi and seeds, Stamets believes he can turn this creation into “life boxes”, capable of growing gardens of beans, onions and fungus – and the production of fungal sugars – econol – using mycelium as an intermedium, can produce fuels from fungus far more efficiently than cellulotic ethanol.

Mushrooms for Your Health

    “Mushrooms have many helpful nutrients, including beta glucans for immune enhancement, ergothioneines for antioxidative potentiation, nerve growth stimulators for helping brain function, and antimicrobial compounds for limiting viruses.” – Paul Stamets

    Acccording to Dr. Mercola:

    “Just as mushrooms can strengthen the immune system of the environment, they can also strengthen the immune system in your body. Aside from being rich in protein, fiber, vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium, and minerals, there are about 50 species of medicinal mushrooms that are so rich in antioxidants they can do everything from boost your immune function to lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, and allergies.

    In ancient times, Egyptians and Asians created longevity tonics from mushrooms – and even the 5,000-year-old “Ice Man” that was found in Europe a few years back had dried mushrooms with him.

    Interestingly, if grown and dried in the right way, mushrooms are also one of the few foods that can provide you with vitamin D. As many of you may know, sun exposure is still the best route to make your vitamin D, but one study found that exposure to ultraviolet light could enrich growing, or just-picked mushrooms with a large supply of vitamin D.

    Stamets’ book that I mentioned above also describes this topic in detail, including a study in which shitake mushrooms increased in vitamin D from 110 IUs when they were dried indoors to 21,400 IUs when they were dried in the sunlight!”

Getting Back to Sustaining the Earth

        “I believe that mycelium is the neurological network of nature. Interlacing mosaics of mycelium infuse habitats with information-sharing membranes. These membranes are aware, react to change, and collectively have the long-term health of the host environment in mind. The mycelium stays in constant molecular communication with its environment, devising diverse enzymatic and chemical responses to complex challenges.”
        ― Paul Stamets,

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« Reply #2 on: Nov 14, 2019, 04:25 AM »

Air pollution nanoparticles linked to brain cancer for first time

Exclusive: tiny particles produced by motor traffic can invade the brain and carry carcinogens

Damian Carrington Environment editor
14 Nov 2019 10.57 GMT

New research has linked air pollution nanoparticles to brain cancer for the first time.

The ultra-fine particles (UFPs) are produced by fuel burning, particularly in diesel vehicles, and higher exposures significantly increase people’s chances of getting the deadly cancer. Previous work has shown that nanoparticles can get into the brain and that they can carry carcinogenic chemicals.

Brain cancers are rare, and the scientists have calculated that an increase in pollution exposure roughly equivalent to moving from a quiet city street to a busy one leads to one extra case of brain cancer for every 100,000 people exposed.

“Environmental risks like air pollution are not large in magnitude – their importance comes because everyone in the population is exposed,” said Scott Weichenthal, at McGill University in Canada, who led the study. “So when you multiply these small risks by lots of people, all of sudden there can be lots of cases. In a large city, it could be a meaningful number, particularly given the fact that these tumours are often fatal.”

The research analysed the medical records and pollution exposure of 1.9 million adult Canadians from 1991 to 2016. Such large studies provide strong evidence, though not a causal link. Weichenthal said the correlation seen between brain cancer and nanoparticles was “surprisingly consistent”, but as this is the first study, it is important that other researchers replicate it.

The discovery of abundant toxic nanoparticles from air pollution in human brains was made in 2016. A comprehensive global review earlier in 2019 concluded that air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the human body.

Toxic air has been linked to other effects on the brain, including huge reductions in intelligence, dementia and mental health problems in both adults and children. The World Health Organization says air pollution is a “silent public health emergency”.

The new study, published in the journal Epidemiology, found that a one-year increase in pollution exposure of 10,000 nanoparticles per cubic centimetre – the approximate difference between quiet and busy city streets – increased the risk of brain cancer by more than 10%.

The pollution levels in the cities studied – Toronto and Montreal – ranged from 6,000/cm3 to 97,000/cm3. Weichenthal said people living with pollution of 50,000/cm3 have a 50% higher risk of brain cancer than those living with 15,000/cm3.

“I think Toronto and Montreal are typical of major cities,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect the nanoparticles to be any less harmful anywhere else.” The analysis by the researchers took account of factors including income, smoking and obesity, and whether people moved house.

“We don’t know a lot about the causes of brain tumours, so any environmental factors we can identify are helpful in increasing understanding,” Weichenthal said. The team only had air pollution data for the more recent period of the study and assumed the differences between different streets and districts were the same in the past. “We think this is reasonable because major highways don’t move around,” he said.

Prof Jordi Sunyer, at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health in Spain, who was not involved in the new research, said: “This is an important finding, given that UFPs are directly emitted by combustion cars and several studies in animals have shown UFPs could be more toxic than larger particles.”

Prof Barbara Maher, at the University of Lancaster, UK, said iron-rich nanoparticles from traffic pollution were likely to be carcinogenic and were therefore a plausible possible cause of brain cancer. She said nanoparticles were not regulated and were rarely even measured.

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« Reply #3 on: Nov 14, 2019, 04:30 AM »

Revealed: air pollution may be damaging ‘every organ in the body’

Exclusive: Comprehensive analysis finds harm from head to toe, including dementia, heart and lung disease, fertility problems and reduced intelligence

Damian Carrington

Air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the human body, according to a comprehensive new global review.

The research shows head-to-toe harm, from heart and lung disease to diabetes and dementia, and from liver problems and bladder cancer to brittle bones and damaged skin. Fertility, foetuses and children are also affected by toxic air, the review found.

The systemic damage is the result of pollutants causing inflammation that then floods through the body and ultrafine particles being carried around the body by the bloodstream.

Air pollution is a “public health emergency”, according to the World Health Organization, with more than 90% of the global population enduring toxic outdoor air. New analysis indicates 8.8m early deaths each year – double earlier estimates – making air pollution a bigger killer than tobacco smoking.

But the impact of different pollutants on many ailments remains to be established, suggesting well-known heart and lung damage is only “the tip of the iceberg”.

“Air pollution can harm acutely, as well as chronically, potentially affecting every organ in the body,” conclude the scientists from the Forum of International Respiratory Societies in the two review papers, published in the journal Chest. “Ultrafine particles pass through the [lungs], are readily picked up by cells, and carried via the bloodstream to expose virtually all cells in the body.”

Prof Dean Schraufnagel, at the University of Illinois at Chicago and who led the reviews, said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if almost every organ was affected. If something is missing [from the review] it is probably because there was no research yet.”

The review represents “very strong science”, said Dr Maria Neira, WHO director of public and environmental health: “It adds to the very heavy evidence we have already. There are more than 70,000 scientific papers to demonstrate that air pollution is affecting our health.”

She said she expected even more impacts of air pollution to be shown by future research: “Issues like Parkinson’s or autism, for which there is some evidence but maybe not the very strong linkages, that evidence is coming now.”

How air pollution reaches every part of the body ...

The WHO has called air pollution the “silent killer” because its widespread effects are often not ascribed to toxic air.
Lungs and heart

The harmful effects of dirty air shown in the review begin when the pollution is inhaled.

This results in breathing problems, from asthma to emphysema to lung cancer. There is now overwhelming evidence that air pollution results in serious harm not only to the lungs, but also to the heart. Here it increases the risk of heart attacks as arteries narrow and muscles weaken.

One reason for the wide-ranging damage from air pollution is that very small particles can penetrate the lungs and be carried around the body. “They land in the organs directly,” Schraufnagel said.

“Animal studies have shown they can even travel right up the olfactory nerve into the brain.” An emerging area of research also suggests air pollution can affect how genes function, he added.
Brain and mind

Strokes, dementia and reduced intelligence are all conditions affecting the brain that have been linked to air pollution.

There is also evidence that poor sleep can be a consequence of breathing toxic air.

The main reason for the far-reaching damage from air pollution is systemic inflammation, said Schraufnagel.

“Immune cells think a [pollution particle] is a bacteria, go after it and try to kill it by releasing enzymes and acids,” he said.

“Those inflammatory proteins spread into the body, affecting the brain, the kidneys, the pancreas and so forth. In evolutionary terms, the body has evolved to defend itself against infections, not pollution.”
Abdominal organs

Among the many other organs affected is the liver. Schraufnagel said the latter surprised him, until he thought about the liver’s role in removing toxins from the body: “It makes perfect sense, but I would not have thought about it before starting the study.”

Research highlighted in the review also links air pollution to numerous cancers, including in the bladder and the gut, where an increase in irritable bowel syndrome has also been found.

Even skin and bones are affected, with skin ageing, hives and brittle bones associated with toxic air.

Reproduction, babies and children

Perhaps the most disturbing impact of toxic air is the damage to reproduction and children. Fertility is reduced and miscarriages increased by exposure to air pollution.

The unborn are also affected, with a recent study finding pollutants in the placentas that nourish foetuses.

Air pollution is also strongly linked to low birthweights for babies, which has lifelong consequences.

Children are especially vulnerable, the review found, as their bodies are still developing.

Exposure to dirty air leads to stunted lungs, increases in childhood obesity, leukemia and mental health problems.

‘Doctors need to speak up’

Schraufnagel is concerned that many doctors are unaware of this wide-ranging damage associated with air pollution.

“Some have no idea air pollution affects the organs they specialise in. But it affects their organs too and they had better pay attention,” he said. “They need to educate their patients and then they should speak up” in favour of action.

Researchers cannot experiment on people and so by necessity many studies show significant associations between poor air quality and disease, but cannot prove cause and effect.

However, Schraufnagel said particularly compelling evidence comes from three types of study: where air pollution and illness change in tandem over time, where the “dose” of pollution correlates with levels of disease and from animal studies.

For example, government action to slash pollution before the Beijing Olympics in 2008 led to a rise in birth weights in the city.

“Harmful effects occur even at levels below air quality standards previously considered to be safe,” warn the review scientists, who between them represent every continent. But they add: “The good news is that the problem of air pollution can be addressed.”

“The best way to reduce exposure is to control it at its source,” said Schraufnagel. Most air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, heat homes and power transport.

“We need to work on these factors in a very dramatic way,” said Neira. “We are probably the first generation in history to be exposed to such a high level of pollution. People will say that in London or other places it was worse 100 years ago, but now we are talking about an incredible number of people exposed for a long time.”

“We have megacities where all the citizens are breathing toxic air,” she said. “However, with all the tonnes of evidence we are collecting now, politicians will not be able to say we didn’t know.”

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« Reply #4 on: Nov 14, 2019, 04:33 AM »

NSW and Queensland bushfires: no letup for exhausted communities as fires flare 'all around us'

As New South Wales and Qld fires rip through more than 1 million hectares on Australia’s east coast, residents like Ian Wheeler have spent days engulfed in smoke

Michael McGowan in Hillville and Ben Smee
14 Nov 2019 21.12 GMT

Ian Wheeler’s bloodshot eyes say more about the last four days in the so-small-it-barely-registers village of Killabakh, on the New South Wales mid-north coast, than he ever could.

Along with his partner, April Walsh, Wheeler spent Wednesday the same way he’s spent every day since Sunday: engulfed in smoke.

The Rumba Dump fire – as it is known – tore over the ridgeline overlooking their property on the weekend and has spent the days since spreading along the mountains that surround them on three sides.

The two of them explained – while running back and forth from the creeping fire front with hoses and cheering the helicopters who dumped a steady load of water onto the blaze – that this was, in fact, nothing.

“We were here until 2am, maybe 2.30am this morning,” Wheeler said. “That whole mountain across from us was glowing, literally glowing. I have never seen anything like it.”

“It just keeps changing direction,” Walsh added. “It was coming down from one direction, then it was coming from the other side of the hill, then it was going back the other way again. It’s all around us.”

This fire alone had already burned through more than 27,000 hectares by Wednesday afternoon, and remained out of control in a number of places including Killabakh, which lies about 20km north of Taree. The damage could easily be missed. Nearby on Wednesday Guardian Australia stumbled upon the abandoned remains of a burnt-out home at the end of a rough cattle track, its singed solar panels still standing amid the ruins.

All told, the hundreds of bushfires across New South Wales have now ripped through more than 1 million hectares across the state, amid an unprecedented bushfire emergency still unfolding before the Australian summer has even begun.

North of the border in Queensland, where at least 14 homes were destroyed, heavy winds caused havoc through most of Wednesday, whipping fire fronts through thousands of hectares of dry bushland.

On Thursday morning, 61 fires were still burning in NSW, while 80 were still alight in Queensland.

The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said on Wednesday evening that 400 people had been evacuated from the town of Buxton, 76km south of Bundaberg.

“The fire is expected to have a significant impact on the community,” Queensland Fire and Emergency Services warned.

Firefighting crews were battling more than 80 fires on the ground in that state, though there was hope that easing weather conditions could bring a reprieve on Thursday.

At Pechey, north of Toowoomba, one of two emergency level fires, a privately owned water-bombing helicopter crash-landed in gusting winds, tipping onto its side and injuring the 70-year-old pilot.

The pilot was taken to hospital in a stable condition, but the abandonment of the helicopter posed a significant problem for firefighters worried it could explode as the fast-moving fire front moved through the area.

Homes in Noosa North Shore were evacuated for the second time in a week, as a bushfire returned to the bushland area connected to the Sunshine Coast holiday strip by a river ferry.

And in the Scenic Rim and the hinterland of the Gold Coast, where multiple fires were burning, authorities said any changes to wind patterns could be devastating overnight.

The Scenic Rim mayor, Greg Christensen, said the situation was “unprecedented” and there was a 90km stretch covered by active fire.

“I’m concerned certain wind conditions could push rapidly towards some communities. I’m equally concerned that the fire has the potential if wind conditions are right to cause ember attacks to the north ... and that could threaten a number of residents,” he said.

Across the country in Western Australia, a bushfire reportedly destroyed two homes and damaged two others in Geraldton.

The mayor, Shane Van Styn, said he had been told about property loss at Utakarra but it was yet to be officially confirmed.

Wednesday brought some reprieve in NSW after Tuesday’s catastrophic fire danger, but there were still dozens of blazes keeping firefighters and residents busy. Just south of Killabakh, in the suburb of Hillville, a fire was briefly upgraded to emergency level again on Wednesday thanks to gusting winds that seemed to make spot fires break out at will.

Geert Lampen’s home there was spared, though only just, thanks to two helicopters relentlessly water-bombing a fire as it approached his home.

“This place has been like an airport,” he told Guardian Australia.

Lampen’s family evacuated earlier in the week along with much of the suburb, but he stayed behind to protect his home.

When the wind picked up on Wednesday morning it pushed the fire that had burned more than 22,000 hectares in a north-westerly direction and towards his home.

“It’s scary, you know, when the fire has been coming and you knew it was coming but all you could do was try to prepare and basically be on lockdown. You just do what you can.”

More than 50 properties were destroyed on Tuesday while firefighters dealt with some 300 blazes across the state. But there were still some 73 fires burning, 50 of which were uncontained.

In smoke-filled Taree, residents waited nervously for news at the packed-out evacuation centres. Both the Taree and nearby Wingham’s showgrounds were at full capacity, while families were setting up makeshift camps at an evacuation centre at Club Taree, with cars parked up to the gates.

“You just think, how long is your luck going to last?” Sharon Chamberlain told AAP as she fed her neighbours’ horses, left behind at the evacuation centre as their owners battled blazes.

“When you lock the door for the last time and you walk away, and you don’t know if it’s going to be there when you get back, that’s one of the hardest things.

“How much more are we expected to take?”

The commissioner of the Rural Fire Service, Shane Fitzsimmons, said on Wednesday that many firefighters were feeling “deflated” after a gruelling running battle.

Many residents feel the same. “I’m just exhausted,” one woman in a nearby general store told Guardian Australia. “Everything has been packed up for days, I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.”

The people here have gotten used to living in thick smoke. In Rainbow Flat, where fires destroyed a number of properties on Friday last week, people were still coming to terms with what has happened.

Col Meredith was one of the few who stayed behind in the small village when fires tore through on Friday night. Col’s house survived, but his neighbour a few hundred metres up the road wasn’t so lucky.

Despite helping to protect his and a few other neighbours’ homes, he feels guilty he wasn’t able to stop the fire tearing through his friend’s property.

“I wasn’t sleeping, just lying in bed about midnight hearing the crash of the trees. I heard a big bang and thought it was just another tree but when I came back here in the morning, it was the roar of the house going.”

A few days later, he’s still reliving Friday night. It was scary, he said, to watch the speed at which the fire moved up the ridge near his home.

“It’s an adrenaline rush, you know, I slept four hours last night and that’s the most I’ve slept in days. I’m tired and I’m aching but I was still up at 5am,” he said.

Police investigations have begun into some of the NSW fires, while two men have been charged with possessing RFS equipment, with one reportedly seen in the Royal national park dressed as a firefighter.

A local mayor, Jennifer Anderson, slammed potential arson in the the Sydney suburb of South Turramurra as an “almost unimaginable” act during Tuesday’s catastrophic fire conditions.

“As mayor it seems almost unimaginable that someone would put our community in such danger,” she said.

At one point, 16 fires were simultaneously at “emergency” level as Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter and Illawarra-Shoalhaven had the “catastrophic” rating and despite remaining dangerous on Wednesday the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, admitted she was “hugely relieved” that there had been no further deaths since the weekend, when three people died in rural NSW.

“I have to confess to being hugely relieved this morning that yesterday our amazing volunteers and emergency service personnel withstood the catastrophic conditions and did manage to save life and property,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.


Immune system could be altered for years after a wildfire

Tiny particles penetrate into the lungs and the bloodstream

Fermin Koop

Exposure to wildfire smoke may alter the immune system for years, new research found, as the tiny particulate matter in the smoke that penetrates into the lungs and into the bloodstream could linger for a long time.

When exposed to wildfires, people are also inhaling noxious fine particles measuring less than 2.5 microns, or a fifth the size of a particle of dust or pollen. Researchers have had a hard time quantifying exposure to those tiny particles.

A new study, published in the journal Allergy, found exposure to high levels of that tiny particulate matter, abbreviated as PM2.5, impairs the immune system of children. The researchers tested the blood of 36 children exposed to wildfire smoke blown into Fresno in 2015.

In their results, they found changes in a gene involved in the development and function of T cells, an important component of the immune system. The alteration made the gene less capable of producing T regulatory cells, potentially putting the children at greater risk of developing allergies or infection.

    “T regulatory cells act as peacekeepers in your immune system and keep everything on an even keel,”Mary Prunicki, an allergy researcher and lead author, told WIRED. “You have fewer of these good, healthy immune cells around when you’re exposed to a lot of air pollution.”

As with wildfires, controlled fires to clear out underbrush, known as prescribed burns, also can cause health effects. Thirty-two children exposed to smoke from prescribed burns had immune changes, too, but the effect wasn’t as strong as it was for children exposed to wildfire smoke, the study showed.

The research did not follow those children to see if their altered immune systems led to worse health outcomes, but an ongoing study at the University of California, Davis, raises some similar concerns. This one focused on rhesus macaques that live in an outdoor enclosure at the California National Primate Research Center and were exposed to 10 days of PM2.5

At three years of age, researchers examined 50 monkeys that had been exposed to wildfire smoke. They produced less of an immune-related protein as compared to monkeys not exposed to smoke as babies. That protein triggers inflammation to fight pathogens. A closer examination o revealed immune-related genetic changes as well.

    “Clearly, the toxicants in air pollution are having a permanent effect on the DNA of immune cells,” Lisa A. Miller, principal investigator, told WIRED. “It’s a change that stays with that cell for its entire life.”

The National Interagency Fire Center predicts an “above normal” potential for wildfires this summer for Northern California. People can take precautions to limit their exposure when wildfire smoke blankets their area. Some cities provide “clear air centers” like a wildfire version of the evacuation shelters used during hurricanes.

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« Last Edit: Nov 14, 2019, 04:42 AM by Darja » Logged
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« Reply #5 on: Nov 14, 2019, 04:35 AM »

Sexting: do men and women do it differently?

When you think of sexting, you usually think of men sending unsolicited pictures. But what about the relationships that thrive on it – and the women who love it?

Elle Hunt
Thu 14 Nov 2019 07.00 GMT

Madeleine Holden has three simple tips for taking a good dick pic. First, zoom out. Second, clear the background of clutter. Third, experiment with angles. Then, for extra credit, consider tone, narrative, aesthetics and the desires of the recipient. “It was always those that elevated a dick pic from – to use my scale – a C- to an A+.”

As founder of Critique My Dick Pic, a popular Tumblr blog that ran for five years from 2013, Holden wrote thoughtful reviews of photographs of about 500 strangers’ genitals, from almost 10,000 submissions. (It was brought to an end in December last year by Tumblr’s ban on explicit visual content, a move widely decried as a blow to the diversity of sexual imagery online.)

Holden, a New Zealand-born lawyer and writer, had begun the project to counter the popular narrative around dick pics as nearly exclusively unsolicited and unwelcome, and to redeem them as “something that could have erotic potential”, she says. “I sort of felt like we had written off the possibility that the receiver could ever find them hot.”

Inspiration had struck when – after receiving “dozens, maybe hundreds” of unwanted dick pics from strangers, as happens to women on the internet – Holden finally received one from a partner that was actually good. Compared to the standard shot – a close-crop of the penis, often starkly illuminated by camera flash, that Holden came to term “the log” (hence her repeated refrain: “zoom out”) – “it was welcome and it was artful and I was thrilled to receive it”.

It revealed to her that, with dick pics, “there’s a way to do it that’s clunky and really not hot – and there’s a way to make it actually erotic”.

With the proliferation of “disappearing” picture messaging on Snapchat and Instagram and even an increasing number of dedicated secure platforms, sexting is becoming increasingly common, and not just for casual or one-off encounters. Dr Rob Weisskirch, professor of human development at California State University Monterey Bay, says his research shows that sexting is actually most common within a committed relationship: “It’s just a part of the behaviours, nowadays, in how we communicate with our romantic partners.”

    There’s a way to do it that’s clunky and really not hot – and there’s a way to make it actually erotic
    Madeleine Holden

Yet even as it becomes more commonplace, the persistent framing of sexting is that straight men send images to women who did not ask for them, and straight women send images to men who ask for them. This is a myth, says Dr Michelle Drouin, a developmental psychologist and expert on technology and relationships. In fact, studies have shown them to record similarly diverse responses when asked about their sexting behaviours. “Men can sometimes feel uncomfortable sexting, just like women do. In terms of motivation, they often cite the same thing: fun, flirtation, laying the groundwork for sexual activity.”

Though there is increasing acceptance in this age of mainstream feminism and sex positivity that women desire sex as much as men do, the stereotype that “men are more visual” persists – even as other distinctions made on the basis of biological sex have begun to disintegrate.

A meta-analysis by Professor Jeff Temple of the University of Texas showed that though men were more likely to ask for naked pictures, both genders sent them at about the same frequency. Though it may not be conscious, the intent might at least be partly reciprocity, he says: “I imagine some of it is, ‘We’re going to both be in this together – if I’m going to send something, I’m going to want something in return.’”

It is hard to separate any truth in the assumption that men are more responsive to visual stimulus than women due to decades of sexism that punished female sexuality, says Temple – though his suspicion is that it is mostly, if not entirely, a product of “old-school thinking”: “My guess is that women and girls get turned on just as much as guys get turned on from sexual imagery.”

Holden had initially intended for Critique My Dick Pic to interrogate this. But as her inbox filled up with submissions, she came to realise that the reality was far more diverse than she could have ever imagined. “I was getting pictures of women with dicks, hearing from men who loved to see dicks.” Trans people in particular told her how meaningful it was to see themselves represented in an erotic space.

She started to suspect that even straight men were not being well served by the assumption of them as undiscerning consumers: “Maybe they are more likely to see a picture of a vagina and think the same thing they say about pizza – ‘if it’s good, it’s good, and if it’s bad, it’s still pretty good’.”

It is as the sex educator and writer Emily Nagoski writes in her 2015 book Come As You Are: “Variety may be the only truly universal characteristic of human sexuality.” To the question “are men’s and women’s sexualities the same, or are they different?” she answers: “Yes.” They are “made of the same parts, organised differently” and, though there are some biological differences, “there is at least as much variability within those groups as there is between those groups”.

Women’s sexual response is more sensitive than men’s to context, characterised by Nagoski as external circumstances and present mental state. This is partly a result of biological difference, yes – but it is also learned. Nagoski writes that – without the “obligingly obvious physiological response” of an erection to link to external stimuli – what girls learn from a young age about what is “sexually relevant” is more influenced by social context than it is for boys.

Coupled with the enormous variation within women, this means, again, that attempting to separate differences between male and female sexuality from the bigger picture is fraught, if not futile. If women are more reticent to initiate sexting, suggests Toronto-based sex writer and podcast host Kate Sloan, it may be out of internalised shame or fear of judgment, or because of their own experience of being objectified.

Conversely, the importance of context for arousal may be a factor in many women’s preference for written erotica over pornography. “You can write very explicitly what the characters are feeling,” says Sloan. “It just flies in the face of the shitty cultural stereotype that consent ‘ruins the moment’, because it’s often a central facet of what makes these stories so sexy.”

    If you’re a woman who’s into men, you actually don’t get to see a lot of the things you’re visually interested in
    Kate Sloan

If men do initiate the exchange of naked images more readily, says Sloan, they have been enabled to do so by a culture that predominantly tailors its imagery to the male gaze. “If you’re a woman who’s into men, you actually don’t get to see a lot of the things you’re visually interested in – you get to see a lot of what men think you’re going to be into.”

The dominance of that view can have lasting impact on what even straight women understand as attractive. When Sloan was a teenager, taking provocative, Suicide Girls-style pictures of herself – with a digital camera and tripod, as was necessary at the time – was “definitely a way of exploring the burgeoning idea that I might be sexy someday”.

Our tastes and desires are shaped by society, says Sloan, who is bisexual. She notes that even queer women not seeking to have sex with men may choose to present in such a “hyper-feminine” way as theoretically designed to impress them.

“In much the same way that you still have to make money if you disagree with capitalism, you still have to exist within patriarchy,” she says. “If part of that is that you’re only going to feel good if you have your red lipstick and high heels on, I don’t think there’s really anything wrong with that, as long as it is giving you genuine pleasure.

“I feel like you have to work with the boundaries you’ve been given, to a certain extent.”

Cultural norms are slowly changing, says Drouin, meaning some of our “more antiquated” ideas about differences between the sexes are being thrown out. “More women are embracing their sexuality and the culture is more accepting of that, certainly than 75 years ago.”

But for many women, sex remains inextricable from risk – of disease, pregnancy, violence – which inevitably affects their pursuit and enjoyment of it, regardless of the immediacy of the threat. This also applies to sexting, a “very, very risky endeavour” for both men and women, says Drouin: “These images can haunt you later on.”

Eva Bloom, a sex educator also in Toronto, says that though the taboo against sending naked images is slowly lifting, women are still being punished for it. Victims of revenge porn can sometimes suffer greater consequences than the person who illegally shared their pictures without consent.

But telling women not to sext because of the perceived risk denies them an “amazing opportunity for exploration”, says Bloom. Her recent study into sexting by young Canadian women found that those who did sext, even irregularly, were more likely to talk to their partners about safe sex, and what they liked and did not like in bed. Women who sexted frequently were more sexually satisfied, and more likely to report that their last sexual encounter was very pleasurable.

What makes men send dick pics? ... Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/08/what-makes-men-send-dick-pics

Though she has not yet established causation, Bloom suggests when there is trust, sexting can be a means of experimentation, and even vetting potential sexual partners. Sloan says that on her podcast The Dildorks, she and co-host Bex Caputo often advise that people float a fantasy with a partner over text first. “It feels lower pressure than being in bed with somebody and saying: ‘Hey, can we try this.’”

Sloan herself first dipped a toe into many of her own kinks this way. In general, she says, kinky and queer communities are more comfortable to approach sex as a highly individualised experience rather than assuming, “as so many straight, vanilla men do, that because you want to send a dick pic, it will be well-received”.

Holden says the best submissions she received for Critique My Dick Pic were those that were obviously concerned with pleasing the recipient, whether that was by displaying some “creative or artistic or erotic imagination” in the image or simply by clearing any piles of clothes from the background. “You have to think about ‘what would this person want to see?’

“There are generalisations you can make, there are even some gendered generalisations you can make – but, ultimately, sex is so individual and personal and touchy, at a certain point, you really do just have to say what you find hot.”

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« Reply #6 on: Nov 14, 2019, 04:54 AM »

Mexico’s human rights chief draws fury for asking if journalists have been killed

At least 11 media workers have been murdered in the country since president Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office

David Agren in Mexico City
Thu 14 Nov 2019 10.00 GMT

Mexico’s new human rights commissioner has questioned if journalists are actually killed in the country, which has become a cemetery for reporters over the past two decades – and has not become any safer since the arrival of a left-wing government late last year.

After being elected commissioner on Tuesday night, Rosario Piedra Ibarra blithely responded to reporters’ questions on the murder of reporters in the country by asking, “They’ve killed journalists?”

She then insisted attacks on media members “happened in past administrations and it’s something terrible” – even though at least 11 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since president Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office almost a year ago.

Mexican journalists responded with outrage to Piedra’s suggestion that attacks on the media had vanished with López Obrador’s arrival.

A collective of journalists forced to flee their homes after attacks or threats filed a complaint against Piedra with the National Human Rights Commission – one of the first received by the body since she became its commissioner.

“The simple ignorance of 131 journalists killed in Mexico, coming from the ‘ombudsman’, is, in itself, a violation of the human rights of those of us who have suffered violence for practicing journalism,” tweeted Victims of Forced Internal Displacement in Mexico, which filed the complaint.

“Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world to practice journalism,” said the press freedom organisation Article 19. Some 99% of the 131 murders of journalists since 2000 remain unsolved and unpunished, it added, even though Mexico has a special prosecutor for pursuing crimes committed against the press.

Media workers have come under attack from organised crime as well as corrupt public officials including police officers and members of local governments.

Three journalists were killed over just four days in August, including Jorge Ruiz Vázquez, who was killed in the eastern state of Veracruz after receiving multiple death threats and despite being in a government protection program.

A newspaper in Chihuahua, El Monitor de Parral, ceased publishing its print edition after being firebombed the same month. Assailants also ransacked the home of investigative reporter Lydia Cacho, stealing documents and killing her two dogs.

The comments from the new commissioner come amid a worsening relationship between López Obrador and the press corps, who often come under intense criticism by the president’s most ardent supporters for asking uncomfortable questions during his daily press conference.

Last month, López Obrador, commonly called “Amlo,” accused the press of ingratitude and chided them for “biting the hand of the person who removed its muzzle”. He previously told them to pick sides – preferably his side.

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« Reply #7 on: Nov 14, 2019, 04:56 AM »

‘Climate of fear’: Nigeria intensifies crackdown on journalists

Activists warn muzzling of press under President Buhari could lead to return to dark days of military rule

Eromo Egbejule
Thu 14 Nov 2019 10.47 GMT

Fisayo Soyombo was eating an evening snack in Lagos in late October when a colleague called to warn him about a plan hatched by Nigerian government officials at a clandestine meeting to arrest him.

Hours earlier, the second in a three-part undercover series by the Abuja-based investigative journalist on corruption in Nigeria’s criminal justice system had been published.

“I made two more calls that night [to government sources] and it was clear I was in trouble,” Soyombo said. According to all three contacts, the government wanted to prosecute him under a law criminalising certain types of communication with inmates.

Soyombo pulled out of a public event he had travelled to Lagos for, and went into hiding.

Had he been detained, Soyombo would have been the latest victim of a crackdown on the media and freedom of speech this year in Nigeria, which is 12th out of 13 on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Index, a ranking of countries with the worst records of unsolved murders of journalists.

Soyombo said he received a lot of support on social media in the days after he went into hiding, and that the plan to arrest him has seemingly been dropped. The Nigerian correctional service eventually released a statement saying work could be done to clean up the system, and that it had “no intention of arresting or harassing” Soyombo.

At least three journalists are currently detained in Nigeria.

Omoyele Sowore, an activist and founder of the New York-based online news agency Sahara Reporters, was taken by secret police from a hotel room in Lagos in August. Sowore, who stood as a candidate in February’s presidential elections and usually lives in the US, has been charged with treason, cyberstalking and money laundering for allegedly sharing false and insulting information about President Muhammadu Buhari. Despite being granted bail earlier this month his lawyers said they were denied access to him, and he remains in detention and is currently on hunger strike.

Jones Abiri, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Weekly Source newspaper, was arrested in May and charged with cyber crime, sabotage and terrorism. The case related to 2016 allegations of links to rebels in the Niger Delta, after which he was detained by Nigeria’s intelligence agency for two years without trial.

In the southern state of Cross River, Agba Jalingo, who publishes the Cross River Watch paper, was arrested in August, days after the publication of an article about alleged corruption. Jalingo has been charged with treason and a bail request has been declined.

Human rights activists and civil society groups say that the muzzling of the press under Buhari has raised the spectre of a return to the dark days of military rule in Nigeria.

Buhari, a former army general who has been president since 2015, was also Nigeria’s head of state in the mid-1980s, when he took power in a military coup. At the time he introduced the draconian Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusation) law, better known as Decree 4. The law targeted the press, criminalising the publication of information deemed injurious to the junta.

“These recent incidents suggest a disturbing trend towards repression of freedom of expression and create a climate of fear which may stifle the media,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Throwing reporters in jail for doing their job of informing the public sends a chilling message to journalists, activists and citizens.”

Soyombo said gagging the press was a misuse of power. “It is an irony that a president and state governors who ascended to power via the polls can suddenly not tolerate dissent,” he said.

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« Reply #8 on: Nov 14, 2019, 05:00 AM »

Hong Kong protests: foreign students start to leave as unrest shifts to universities

Danish university chief tells 36 students to return home as several protesters injured in violence

Lily Kuo and agencies
Thu 14 Nov 2019 02.20 GMT

Dozens of foreign students have been urged to leave Hong Kong after another night of clashes left several people seriously injured.

A worker for the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, struck by an object thrown by protesters earlier on Wednesday, was in critical condition, according to the government. A 15-year-old believed to have been hit in the head by a tear-gas canister has reportedly suffered a skull fracture.

A man dressed in black and around the age of 30 was found dead in Tsuen Wan in Hong Kong’s New Territories, according to police who said he appeared to have fallen from a building.

On Thursday, foreign students including mainland Chinese students were evacuating Hong Kong after several universities emerged as battlegrounds as protesters tried to prevent police from storming their campuses.

Several Nordic students at Hong Kong Baptist University were being moved after anti-government demonstrators moved on to its grounds, and the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) urged its 36 students in Hong Kong to return home.

Student Elina Neverdal Hjoennevaag told the Norwegian broadcaster NRK on Wednesday they were being sent to a hotel, adding: “I don’t really know what is happening. I must pack.”

She said she and several other exchange students were told to pack and move away, saying: “People walked out with their suitcases. Many cried.”

The Norwegian foreign ministry said on its website that “students should continuously evaluate campus safety if teaching is interrupted due to protests”.

Anders Overgaard Bjarklev, the head of DTU, said the decision to move came after some of the riots shifted to the campuses and “some of our students have been forced to move from their dormitories because they were put on fire”.

DTU would also resolve “any academic challenges associated with the interrupted course”.

Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, issued a statement calling on police and protesters to “exercise restraint and take steps to de-escalate tensions”.

“It is essential that the police respond proportionately to protests,” Payne said in a statement.

Police on Tuesday raided the Chinese University of Hong Kong, setting off violent clashes. The university remained barricaded by demonstrators on Thursday, with roadblocks and brick walls at the schools various entrances. Protesters also occupied a bridge that leads into the campus.

Police have accused the university of being a “manufacturing base for petrol bombs and a refuge for rioters and criminals” after some protesters fired burning arrows – taken from the university sports centre – at officers and threw 400 petrol bombs. Police fired more than 1,500 rounds of tear gas and more than 1,300 rubber bullets at the demonstrators. The city was paralysed, with much of its public transport suspended and all universities closed.

On Thursday the Hong Kong Education Bureau said all schools would suspend classes from Friday to Sunday due to transportation disruptions. Several universities have cancelled classes for the rest of the semester or moved lectures online

Hong Kong’s Education Bureau has suspended classes at primary and secondary schools for Thursday because of violence and described the situation in the city as “chilling”. The bureau also appealed for “school children to stay at home, not to hang around in the streets, to stay away from danger, and not to participate in illegal activities”.

    Our dark past ... has become the present reality for Hong Kong
    Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan president

Mainland Chinese students have also fled the unrest, taking advantage of a program that offers them a week of free accommodation in hotels and hostels in the neighbouring city of Shenzhen.

Chinese media reported that one hostel had received more than 80 applications for rooms by Wednesday morning.

The Beijing Evening News reported that protesters had broken into the dormitories of mainland students, spray-painting insults on walls and banging on doors.

Hong Kong police said on Wednesday that they had helped a group of mainland students leave their campus after it was barricaded by demonstrators.

Taiwan’s representative office in Hong Kong has reportedly helped 71 Taiwanese students return home.

The Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, called on Hong Kong’s government to cease “acts of repression,” saying such acts are threatening freedom and the rule of law.

Commenting on the police assault on students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Tsai tweeted that police in Taiwan used similar tactics during the years of martial law, which was lifted in 1987. She wrote: “Our dark past, which we have worked so hard to put behind us, has become the present reality for Hong Kong.”

China’s foreign ministry meanwhile again warned the US not to interfere with Hong Kong’s affairs, saying the city was part of China. Spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily briefing on Wednesday that members of the US Senate should stop trying to promote bills on human rights or democracy in Hong Kong. “I want to reiterate that Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong. Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs and cannot be interfered by any external forces,” he said.

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« Reply #9 on: Nov 14, 2019, 05:16 AM »

Trump cared more about investigating Biden than Ukraine, key witness reveals

House begins public hearings with testimonies from Bill Taylor and George Kent as president struggles to prevent investigation
Tom McCarthy in New York and David Smith in Washington
14 Nov 2019 21.12 GMT

Donald Trump cared more about investigating his political rival Joe Biden than the fate of Ukraine, according to dramatic testimony from a key witness in the first impeachment inquiry hearing before the American public.

Less than a year before the president faces re-election, the House of Representatives began public hearings on Wednesday into allegations that Trump abused the power of his office.

As Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair, gaveled the House intelligence committee into session, cameras from every major network carried the proceedings to millions of Americans, some of whom were encountering the allegations against Trump for the first time.

In an opening statement, Schiff said the hearings would explore whether Trump sought to exploit Ukraine’s vulnerability, condition White House acts on Ukraine’s willingness to help his re-election, and “whether such an abuse of his power is compatible with the presidency”.

Schiff said: “The matter is as simple and as terrible as that. Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency but the future of the presidency itself.”

Trump filled his Twitter account on Wednesday morning with video clips of his defenders attacking the proceedings. But in the hearing room, new testimony tied Trump directly to a plot to condition US military aid and a White House visit on a Ukrainian announcement of the Biden investigation.

Bill Taylor, the acting US ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, a state department deputy assistant secretary, were the first witnesses to be called. Taylor said one of his aides had heard Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, talking to Trump on the phone in July.

Taylor said: “Following the phone call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which [Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy] Giuliani was pressing for.”

The opening of the public impeachment hearings was a day Trump has struggled furiously to prevent, blocking witnesses, attacking investigators and throwing up a social media smokescreen. Trump has claimed his push for investigations in Ukraine arose from his concern about corruption in the country.

“I’m too busy to watch it,” Trump told reporters about the hearings. “It’s a witch-hunt, it’s a hoax.”
Bill Taylor arrives to testify.

The White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, tweeted that the hearings were “boring”.

Devin Nunes, the senior Republican on the committee, declared the proceedings a “low-rent Ukrainian sequel” to the Russia investigation and said “it’s nothing more than an impeachment process in search of a crime.”

Republicans sought to blunt the impact of the testimony by pointing out that the witnesses had not had direct conversations with Trump about his intentions. They also argued that in asking for investigations, Trump was pursuing a legitimate anti-corruption agenda in Ukraine. Democrats responded that Trump has not expressed any anti-corruption initiative not having to do with Biden.

Taylor said: “I am not here to take one side or the other, or to advocate for any particular outcome of these proceedings. My purpose is to provide the facts as I know them.”

Taylor described his concern to discover, last spring, an informal policy channel in Ukraine led by Giuliani, and advanced by US officials close to the White House, including Sondland.

Sondland told Taylor that he had told the Ukrainians that “everything” – military aid and a White House meeting for Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy – depended on Zelenskiy’s willingness to announce an investigation of Biden, Trump’s political rival, Taylor testified.

With a half-century of foreign service experience between them, the witnesses described a US policy of supporting Ukraine as a frontline state against what they said was a Russian assault on the “rules-based order” in eastern Europe. For the newly elected Zelenskiy, Kent testified, a White House meeting would be crucial.

“A meeting with the US president in the Oval Office at the White House” would be seen, said Kent, “as the ultimate sign of endorsement and support from the United States”.

The US demand that Ukraine pursue politically motivated investigations, and the withholding of aid for Ukraine, undermined US efforts to promote the rule of law and threatened to give Russia a free hand in the region, the diplomats testified.

Taylor was asked what he meant when he said in a text message obtained by the committee that withholding security assistance for Ukraine to help a political campaign was “crazy”.

“To withhold that assistance for no good reason other than to help with a political campaign made no sense,” Taylor said. “It was counterproductive. It was illogical, it could not be explained, it was crazy.”

The White House and its allies sought to dismiss the hearing as dull and irrelevant. Press secretary Stephanie Grisham and Trump’s son, Eric, both dismissed it as “boring”, with Eric adding “#Snoozefest” in a tweet.

The president himself seemed to have found the historic day soporific, judging by his low-energy, croaky-voiced performance at a joint press conference at the White House with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan which started an hour late.

“Are you talking about the witch hunt?” Trump asked a reporter. “Is that what you mean? Is that what you’re talking about? I hear it’s a joke. I haven’t watched, I haven’t watched for one minute because I’ve been with the president, which is much more important as far as I’m concerned.”

Corey Brettschneider, the author of The Oath and the Office: A Guide to the Constitution for Future Presidents and a professor of constitutional law at Brown University, said that the president’s powers do not include exercising foreign policy for his own personal benefit.

“The framers dedicated a significant amount of time to thinking about this,” Brettschneider said. “They made a deliberate decision to say ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’, emphasizing that if the president abused power – not just committed a crime – then he or she would be removed.”


Impeachment hearings go public with a flurry of pomp, drama and tension

As key diplomats testified in an open session, Democrats hoped to overcome the polarization that has defined Trump’s presidency

Lauren Gambino in Washington
Thu 14 Nov 2019 02.29 GMT

Shortly after 10am on Wednesday, a single sharp rap of the gavel launched the House intelligence committee’s first public hearing into the impeachment of Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States.

In the vaulted chambers of the ways and means committee, the House’s grandest and most ornate meeting room, the day’s witnesses – William Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior state department official in charge of Ukraine policy – rose to their feet and solemnly raised their right hands to be sworn in.

“There are few actions as consequential as the impeachment of a president,” Schiff said. “While the Founders did not intend that impeachment be employed for mere differences over policy, they also made impeachment a constitutional process that the Congress must utilize when necessary.”

For Democrats, the hearing was their first opportunity to make their case to the American people that Trump had used the power of the presidency to exploit a foreign government for help against domestic political rivals. Republicans saw themselves as Trump’s defenders, injecting unfounded theories and wild accusations to distract from the mounting evidence of wrongdoing by the president.

But Trump’s fate will not be decided inside the columned walls of room 1100 of the House Longworth building. Rather, it will depend on whether Democrats can pierce the deep political polarization that has cleaved the country and defined Trump’s presidency. This, they believe, is their best chance to break through the partisan echo chambers and capture the nation’s attention, as happened during the impeachment hearings of Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon.

Roughly 48% of Americans say they support impeachment in one form or another, according to FiveThirtyEight’s impeachment polling tracker, while 44.4% say they do not support it. But all participating in the Capitol Hill drama on Wednesday were keenly aware that open hearings have the power to sway public sentiment: support for the impeachment of Richard Nixon climbed quickly, Pew Research has noted, after the process was televised and many Americans learned about the case in detail for the first time.

“This is a very serious event in our country,” the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, told her caucus, like a general steeling her troops for battle. “We wish it could have been avoided. None of us came here to impeach a president.”

The more than five-hour spectacle was at once dramatic and tedious – startling new testimony followed by long bouts of rote questioning.

The hearing room was icy cold, and as the hours ticked by, reporters pulled on winter coats and scarves. Lawmakers not on the intelligence committee filtered in and out of the hearing room, taking notes and documenting the scene on their camera phones. Republicans occasionally scoffed when Schiff spoke. A consensus formed on Twitter that Taylor had the voice of the late broadcasting legend Walter Cronkite.

Devin Nunes, a Republican from California and a close ally of Trump, was not as reserved. Angry and conspiratorial, the committee’s ranking member accused Democrats of a pursuing a “scorched-earth war” against Trump and called the investigation a “carefully orchestrated media smear campaign”.

Behind him, a trio of placards, positioned behind the dais and hoisted high enough to appear in any viewfinder any time a Republican spoke, clashed with the stately backdrop. An out-of-context quote from a Democrat, a tweet from the whistleblower’s attorney and an accusation that the chairman dismissed as patently false were par for the course in a climate of unrestrained political warfare.

The Democrats strained to show that they understood the gravity of their task, modeled by Schiff, who sat ramrod straight with a gaze fixed on the witnesses. Republicans tried a different tack, at times appearing to play more to the cameras in the room than the witnesses who were present to answer their questions.

Following a sober line of questioning from Democrats, the Republican congressman Jim Jordan, one of Trump’s most ferocious attack dogs, who was just added to the committee, jolted the room by unleashing a litany of grievances that he correctly assumed would boomerang across conservative media later that evening.

“The American people see through all this,” he said. “They understand this process is unfair. And they see through the whole darn sham.” He later demanded that the whistleblower, whose explosive complaint touched off the impeachment investigation, testify despite his desire to remain anonymous.

“Why don’t we get the person who started this whole thing on the stand?” Jordan raged.

“I’d be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify,” the Democratic congressman Peter Welch replied. “President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there.”

The White House has no plans to take part in the impeachment hearings, which Trump said he was “too busy” to watch, though he spent the day on Twitter, sharing sympathetic comments from allies and supporters.

But in a pronouncement that might have come from the former reality star himself, the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, declared the first day of public hearings “boring”.

Wednesday was only the opening act. In the coming days, more witnesses will come forward to testify in public proceedings that carry the risk of unraveling a presidency which is anything but boring.


New Republican impeachment strategy goes down in flames before first witness is called

Raw Story

Republicans this week released a set of talking points on Ukraine that have already been refuted although the first impeachment hearing isn’t until Wednesday.

According to Bloomberg, the talking points were distributed by Republican staffers on the House Intelligence Committee.

        The July 25 summary of the call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure.”
        Both Zelenskiy and Trump have said there was no pressure on the call.
        The Ukraine government was not aware of a hold on U.S. security assistance at the time of the July 25 call.
        Trump met with Zelenskiy, although not in the Oval Office, and U.S. security assistance flowed to Ukraine in September 2019 — both of which occurred without Ukraine investigating Trump’s political rivals.

Democrats contend that the call record shows that President Donald Trump did ask Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky for a quid pro quo when he suggested that military aid would flow after Ukraine did a “favor” by investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

The idea that both Trump and Zelensky have denied there was “pressure” on the call is also not likely to convince Democrats, who believe that both men have a vested interest in that line of defense.

It is unclear exactly when Ukraine became aware that military aid had been frozen but Laura K. Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, testified that Ukraine knew about the freeze by early August.

The Republicans’ final argument is that Trump did eventually meet with Zelensky and released the military aid.

But the White House only agreed to the release the aid and meet with Ukraine’s president after officials caught wind that members of Congress were looking into it.

“Only at the last minute, after key members of Congress erupted in protest over Mr. Trump’s actions, did the White House release the aid,” The New York Times reported on Monday.


‘The mess right in front of us’: Impeachment hearings reveal as much about dishonest congressional GOPers as Trump

on November 14, 2019
By Terry H. Schwadron, DCReport @ RawStory
- Commentary

If the point of Wednesday’s public testimony opening impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump were meant to show off credible accounts from straight-laced, super-patriotic, service-oriented diplomats, they were bulls-eyes.

If the point of Republican questionings was to make a mockery of the proceedings, they may have boomeranged—the Republicans are the ones who come across as partisan nitpickers intentionally trying to misdirect the point, underlying meaning and urgency of these proceedings.

If the overall tone, as Democratic leaders insist, was supposed to reflect somber, serious, sober consideration, well, they did that and more. Indeed, they made it downright scary to learn that Donald Trump and his team are running around in ways that show little respect for other nations, no understanding of diplomacy and no ability to actually handle appropriate communications within his team.

The testimony popped with moments such as when seasoned diplomat Bill Taylor learning almost by happenstance that Trump, Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland and personal attorney Rudy Giuliani were holding up military aid for public commitments to seek political dirt on political foe Joe Biden. The testimony reflected that Taylor, the official liaison to Ukraine, was finding out about the entire Team Trump lobbying of Ukrainians and the multiple details from repeated legations almost by accident.

It made any citizen watching the proceedings wonder why Trump shouldn’t be removed from office because he is incompetent even apart from abuse of office.

A New Phone Call

An hour in, we learned of a new phone call between Trump and Sondland, loud enough on a cell phone for a diplomatic aide to overhear, in which the president personally expressed interest only in an arrangement to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to go public with a promise to investigate the Bidens. After the call, the aide asked Sondland what the president thought of Ukraine. The ambassador “responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”

What? Sondland, whose ambassadorship does not even include Ukraine, can call the president directly, on an open cell phone, in a restaurant in Kyiv, where the Russians are listening in? Is this how these people operate?

The message was clear and chilling: Whatever else comes out of these hearings, Trump should not be the president of the United States because he doesn’t understand what the job is. Further, it shows that Republicans are so fixated on protecting Trump that they cannot see the forest for the procedural trees.

In addition, there were loads of underlying questions, including why Trump would pursue—and his enablers help achieve—political advantage for himself from a nation at war, but also a policy that would help fan Russian aggression against a European ally.

See Nothing Republican Defense

By contrast with the prim dryness of Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) offered us a sarcastic, flailing and politically partisan rebuttal that led me, as a listener here, to conclude that he, speaking for other Republicans, simply doesn’t want to hear that Trump abused his office.

Instead, we got the sideshow of trying to call the original whistleblower, whose report had gone to Congress via the intelligence community’s Inspector General Michael Atkinson after having been held up by the White House. Whatever you think of the “fairness” of the committee impeachment inquiry, it seems fairly obvious that unveiling the name of the whistleblower at this point, when we have actual fact witnesses before us, is useless as a practical matter. Calling the whistleblower is a deflection.

Nunes and Republicans are correct about one thing: This impeachment process is another in a series of investigations and threats of impeachment by Democrats frustrated by Republican opposition. But what Nunes did not acknowledge is that the series of investigations is directly related to the continuing series of words and deeds by Trump himself.

Trump Brought It On Himself

Let’s be clear that whatever is pursued against Trump is because Trump conducts himself in ways that try to put himself beyond Constitutional review, oversight or law.

The questions from Republicans were odd to my ear, working hard to establish that these two witnesses should have known that Trump had longstanding concerns about Ukraine and political concerns from 2016, based mostly on what the rest of the world has come to see as conspiracy theories or on events years before any of the current players were in office in either country. Rather than attack the credibility of these witnesses, the questions then were aimed at legitimizing Trump’s concerns about Ukraine.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the designated bulldog, scored a couple of points in questioning the details of when Taylor learned the bulk of his details, but they were details and they were, well, confusing, which may have been the point.

Meanwhile, Republican committee members festooned the hearing room with signs meant to draw attention to unfair Democratic handling of the hearings and general process to this point.

From a concentrated start, the hearings diffused and attention among viewers I talked with dissipated.

The hearing accomplished two things: It re-established that seeing the witnesses publicly can be a powerful persuasion, more than some kind of show. And it makes it obvious that Republicans on the committee, in the House, and especially in the Senate, are sticking their heads in the sand to avoid looking at the mess right in front of them.


Trump made a ‘huge mistake’ talking to reporters about impeachment: Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann

Raw Story

One of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s top prosecutors explained on MSNBC how President Donald Trump made a “huge mistake” on Wednesday.

Andrew Weissmann, who is now an MSNBC legal analyst, was interviewed by Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press Daily.”

The former federal prosecutor says Trump committed a blunder by denying a call with a Gordon Sondland staffer.

“Why is that?” Todd asked.

“Because he now can’t rebut it,” Weissman replied.

“He has now said I don’t remember that phone call. So you’re going to have Sondland testifying to it. You’re going to have a staffer testifying to it,” he explained. “If [Trump] doesn’t like their testimony, he’s going to have to say, ‘Oh, now I remember that I didn’t say that.'”


Leaked emails reveal Trump aide Stephen Miller's white nationalist views

Exclusive: Miller’s messages with then Breitbart writer Katie McHugh attempted to steer the website’s coverage

Jason Wilson
Thu 14 Nov 2019 07.00 GMT

The senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller promoted racist fears of demographic replacement of white people by non-whites, disseminated conspiracy theories positing a United Nations-inspired plan to colonize America, and implied a Mark Zuckerberg-sponsored bipartisan organization was promoting illegal voting, according to emails provided exclusively to the Guardian.

Like other emails revealed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) this week, the messages were sent in an effort to shape Breitbart News coverage with conspiratorial, white nationalist-influenced ideas during the Trump campaign.

The emails were part of a correspondence with Katie McHugh, then a writer for the far-right website Breitbart. According to the SPLC, 80% of the emails in their 900-email correspondence were tightly focused on issues of race and immigration.

In one email, sent on 24 July 2015, Miller forwarded McHugh an Amazon link to a book written by James Simpson: The Red-Green Axis: Refugees, Immigration and the Agenda to Erase America. The book posits that refugee resettlement is part of a plan to erase American sovereignty and culture.

Simpson is a prolific conspiracy-minded author and anti-immigration activist The Red-Green Axis is one in a series of Simpson screeds that propose conspiracy theories about immigration, Islam and liberals. It argues that refugee resettlement should be understood as a part of a broad agenda of demographic replacement.

“The entire refugee/asylee agenda,” Simpson writes, “must be viewed as a UN-inspired plan aimed at the West, especially America, to erase borders and dilute Western culture through mass immigration from the world’s failed nations.”

Simpson claimed that then president Barack Obama was party to the conspiracy: “Its goal is to seed America and other Western countries with virulent Muslim groups who will not assimilate but instead attempt to dominate. With President Obama at the helm, that plan now has its greatest advocate.”

The racist idea of demographic replacement – whereby white Americans are steadily replaced by non-whites to the detriment of the US – is present in an email sent by Miller to McHugh on 1 July 2015, with the subject heading “some articles you may find useful”.

The email features several links with short comments on immigrants by Miller, who highlights aspects of the linked material that resonate with his agenda. For example, Miller links to a CityLab article about the challenges facing schools teaching English to immigrant children with the comment: “Major metro areas get most population growth from immigrants.”

Miller then links to a Brookings Institution report on America’s increasing diversity with the comment: “White youth population disappearing.”

According to McHugh, who was fired by Breitbart over anti-Muslim tweets and has now renounced the far right, the emails typified Miller’s attitudes and those of many in the far-right milieu he inhabited.

“They viewed immigration as a plot to undermine American sovereignty,” McHugh told the Guardian. “He wanted refugee resettlement cut to zero and an end to legal immigration.

“Much of the far right thinks this way.”

In other emails, Miller expresses antipathy for specific non-white immigrant communities.

On 8 July 2015, Miller sent McHugh a local news video alleging the involvement of Somali refugees in an underage prostitution ring, remarking: “Looks like this is from a couple years ago, but good to have on hand.”

McHugh responded: “At some point it would be great to write a big round up of Somali crimes – after asking local officials the specific benefits their diversity provides us with?”

Miller responded:“Exactly.”

He then linked to a piece from Real Clear Politics arguing that stalled social mobility is related to “importing millions of low skill immigrants” from Latin America.

Later the same day, Miller sent McHugh a report by the American Immigration Council, which showed that immigrants commit fewer serious crimes than native-born citizens. McHugh responded: “I’m guessing they lump El Salvador MS-13 gang members with Canadian neurosurgeons.”

Miller replied: “Of course.”

Miller also revealed a hostility towards Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s efforts to promote immigration reform, via the lobbying group FWD.US.

McHugh told the Guardian that Facebook and other tech companies were the subject of special ire from Miller due to perceived “anti-conservative bias” and support for policies like the H-1B visa program, which allows US companies to hire foreign nationals in specialized occupations.

On 2 June 2015, from a government email address identifying him as a staffer for then senator Jeff Sessions, Miller sent a long brief, pushing back on a speech by the FWD.US president, Todd Schulte.

Miller sent excerpts from the speech, with key phrases bolded, highlighting Schulte’s desire for “citizenship for the undocumented” and his advocacy for “people who are unskilled to come here” along with skilled migrants.

Arguing that “immigrants, as a share of national population, are set to eclipse every prior watermark in 7 years”, Miller cited research from the Harvard economist George Borjas, who has also appeared at events organized by the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigrant thinktank.

“Providing citizenship to illegal immigrants,” he concluded, “further increases low-wage labor flows as illegal immigrants granted green cards and citizenship can petition for their relatives to join them.”

The White House did not immediately respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.

In response to an earlier story about Miller’s emails to McHugh, which also contained themes of white nationalism and anti-immigration fears, the White House said the SPLC was a “far-left smear organization”, adding that “they libel, slander, and defame conservatives for a living”.

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« Reply #10 on: Nov 14, 2019, 08:11 AM »

Devin Nunes is bravely defending Trump. That's bad news for the president

Richard Wolffe

The ex-dairy farmer isn’t exactly the cream of the cream: his bizarre claims on the president’s behalf have backfired

Thu 14 Nov 2019 11.00 GMT

If you were on trial on national television, facing the possible loss of your job and the probable loss of what remains of your reputation, you might not place your fate in the hands of Devin Nunes.

Nunes is a one-time dairy farmer who now milks the bursting udders of an entire herd of conspiracy-minded cows.

Mad cow disease had the rare power to leap across species through an unusually mysterious vector known as a prion. Mad Devin disease appears similarly devastating to the human brain through an unusually mysterious vector known as Vladimir Putin.

    Nunes led the herd in arguing that this is a victimless crime – the Ukraine president got his stupid missiles anyhow

The California congressman – who somehow qualified as the most senior Republican on the House intelligence committee – opened his defense of Donald Trump with a long moo about Moscow and the Democrats’ interest in the Mueller investigation.

“After the spectacular implosion of their Russia hoax on July 24, in which they spent years denouncing any Republican who ever shook hands with a Russian,” Nunes explained, “on July 25 they turned on a dime and now claim the real malfeasance is Republicans’ dealings with Ukraine.”

This was a curious turn, even for the nonsensical Nunes. In the court of American public opinion (where we’re told this impeachment thing will really play out), the concept of innocent Russian handshaking is not entirely obvious.

It also seemed like a rookie mistake to suggest that the impeachment of the president was an indictment of all Republican dealings with the former Soviet Union.

“In the blink of an eye, we’re asked to simply forget about Democrats on this committee falsely claiming they had ‘more than circumstantial evidence’ of collusion between President Trump and the Russians,” Nunes said, reviving the Democrats’ case against Donald Trump in ways that didn’t seem entirely helpful to Donald Trump.

Among the things Nunes wanted us never to forget was “them trying to obtain nude pictures of Trump from Russian pranksters who pretended to be Ukrainian officials” and something about “fabrications of Trump-Russia collusion from the Steele dossier”.

Thanks to Nunes, these nude Trump pictures are now seared into our collective minds.

Lest we forget, when Nunes was actually running the intelligence committee, he used its resources to turn on the US’s intelligence community for having the temerity to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Less the cream of the cream, Nunes is more like the curd of the absurd. This sadly is the bovine bedlam we’re all committed to for the next 12 months of American politics.

It’s a place where the best defense of Trump exhorting a foreign leader is that he was somehow rooting out corruption; where he was supposedly investigating foreign interference in the 2016 election when he was bribing a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 election; where the FBI and CIA have undermined themselves; and where the Democrats have been colluding with the Russians.

Nunes led the herd in arguing that this is a victimless crime – the Ukraine president got his stupid missiles anyhow. In fact Nunes was really arguing that impeachment is the criminal victimization of a poor helpless crusader for truth, justice and good government, who happens to live in the people’s house on Pennsylvania Avenue.

By some miracle of telekinesis, Nunes’s brain created a White House video featuring our humble hero, who insisted that his own impeachment wasn’t all it seemed on live television.

“What’s going on now is the single greatest scam in the history of American politics,” said the real estate guy who is something of an expert in scams.

Trump placed impeachment at the heart of the mother of all big government conspiracies involving Democrats taking away everyone’s guns, healthcare, votes, freedom and judges. The Democrats currently control the House of Representatives, which is an awesome branch of government, but not quite that awesome.

“It’s all very simple,” said our very simple president. “They’re trying to stop me because I’m fighting for you.”

This may come as news for anyone who is not circling the barnyard. Trump was apparently fighting for regular Americans when he was extorting the Ukraine president to smear Joe Biden.

Trump and Nunes are obviously hoping that voters cannot see through the fog on this farm. These hearings are so darn complicated and foreign, maybe Americans will never remember whether four legs are good or bad.

This is the latest in a long line of so-called defense strategies that have run the gamut from unlikely to unbelievable. First came the wild fabrications: Trump’s phone call with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy was supposedly perfect, and the whistleblower doesn’t exist. Then came the wild conspiracies: the Democrats were themselves fabricating evidence in secret hearings that somehow included Republicans. We spent an epoch or two debating Latin tit-for-tats. Now we have arrived at the stage of debate that involves hurling turds at a wall in the hope of finding something adhesive.

As with most TV shows, the impeachment hearings are less about substance and more about style. The Democrats carefully cast as their first witnesses a pair of diplomats who seemed to have stepped out of a kinder, gentler era of American values.

William Taylor, the US ambassador to Ukraine, is a Vietnam veteran who previously served in the same position under President George W Bush. Taylor looks like he was chiseled whole out of granite, and he tolerated no end of Republican stupidities with a stony certitude. It was frustratingly hard for Trump’s allies to chip away at his central revelation that Trump himself was personally interested only in the Bidens, not Ukraine.

George Kent, a bow-tied foreign service official in charge of the entire European and Eurasian region, was so steadfastly committed to old-fashioned American democracy that he was happy to express his unease with Hunter Biden’s business interests in Ukraine. Sadly for Trump, these good government types take a seriously dim view of a president corruptly using American military aid to manipulate American elections.

The first day of the public impeachment hearings was not a fair fight. Against these die-hard diplomats, the GOP relied on Jim Jordan, who just can’t seem to shake off the stench of sex abuse at Ohio State University, where he used to coach wrestling.

Then there was the flustered questioning from John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican who was briefly Trump’s nominee for director of national intelligence – until he was overwhelmed by his own problematic relationship with the truth on his personal resume.

“Are either of you here today to assert there was an impeachable offense in that call?” Ratcliffe barked at the two unimpeachable witnesses. “Shout it out – anyone?”

As Taylor tried to explain that it’s for congressmen to answer, Ratcliffe withdrew his own question.

“This is your job,” said Taylor, speaking on behalf of us all. If only Republican members of Congress understood the strange foreign language these career diplomats speak.

• Richard Wolffe is a Guardian US columnist

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« Reply #11 on: Nov 15, 2019, 04:12 AM »

Steel foam could replace aluminum in aircraft wings

A new hybrid material could radically improve aircraft performance.

Tibi Puiu

A novel hybrid material that resembles metal foam could someday replace aluminum in the leading edges of aircraft wings.

The new material developed at North Carolina State University is a combination of a steel composite metal foam (CMF) and epoxy resin. The mixture is just as light as aluminum, but tougher and with additional characteristics that make it highly desirable for aerospace applications.

Afsaneh Rabiei, lead author of the new study, and colleagues call their hybrid material infused composite metal foam (CMF).

Metal foams are made of hollow, metallic spheres — usually made from stainless steel or titanium — that are embedded in a metallic matrix made of steel, aluminum or metallic alloys. This configuration makes metal foams incredibly light and tough at the same time. Tests performed by other researchers in the past showed that CMFs can withstand a .50 caliber bullet, as well as resist high temperatures and the blast pressure from a high explosive incendiary device.

For their study, the North Carolina State University researchers employed a steel-steel CMF, meaning both the spheres and the matrix were made of steel. They then infused the CMF in a hydrophobic (water-repelling) epoxy resin. Vacuum forces pulled the resin through both the hollow spheres and the tiny pores found in the steel matrix.

During one experiment, the researchers designed a head-to-head test between the infused CMF and aerospace-grade aluminum, which evaluated how the two performed in three key areas: contact angle (how fast water streams off of an aircraft’s wing), insect adhesion (how well bugs stick to the wing), and particle wear (resistance to erosion). All of these factors influence the performance of an aircraft’s leading edge.

The contact angle is simply a measure of how well water is repelled by a surface, such as an aircraft’s wing. If the wing builds up water, it can significantly lower the aircraft’s performance. In the new study, the researchers found that the infused CMF had a contact angle which was 130% higher than aluminum.

Meanwhile, the infused CMF also outperformed aluminum for insect adhesion, measured as the maximum height of insect residue that builds up on a material and by the amount of area covered by insect residue. The infused CMF had 60% better protection against insect adhesion with regard to height and 30% with regard to surface area.

The CMF also fared better than aluminum in erosion tests — retaining a contact angle that was 50% higher than aluminum. This is particularly important from an economic standpoint since it implies a longer lifetime for a leading-edge wing made from infused CMF.

    “Aluminum is currently the material of choice for making the leading edge of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft wings,” Rabiei says. “Our results suggest that infused CMF may be a valuable replacement, offering better performance at the same weight.

    “By the same token, the results suggest that we could use different materials for the matrix or spheres to create a combination that performs as well as conventional aluminum at a fraction of the weight. Either way, you’re improving performance and fuel efficiency.”

The findings appeared in the journal Applied Surface Science.

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« Reply #12 on: Nov 15, 2019, 04:15 AM »

South Africa is repaving its roads with recycled plastic milk bottles

A company developed a technology to fix the roads and deal with plastic waste

Fermin Koop

South Africa managed to find a single solution to two problems it’s currently facing. The country is now recycling plastic milk bottles to make new roads, hoping to solve its waste problems while improving the quality of the roads.

Shisalanga Construction became in August the first company in South Africa to lay a section of road that’s partly plastic, in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province on the east coast. It has now repaved more than 400 meters of the road in Cliffdale, on the outskirts of Durban, using asphalt made with the equivalent of almost 40,000 bottles.

In order to make the roads, the company uses a thick plastic typically used for milk bottles known as high-density polyethylene (HDPE). They replace six percent of the asphalt’s bitumen binder, so every ton of asphalt contains roughly 118 to 128 bottles.

The method releases fewer toxic emissions than during traditional processes and its compound is more durable and water-resistant, withstanding temperatures as high as 70 degrees Celsius (158F) and as low as 22 below zero (-7.6F).

While the cost is similar to other methods, the company believes there will be a financial saving as its roads are expected to last longer than the national average of 20 years. “The results are spectacular,” said general manager Deane Koekemoer. “The performance is phenomenal.”

About 70% of the plastic in South Africa is sourced from landfill. The plastic will only be taken from landfill if there is somewhere for it to go — such as into roads. Shisalanga says that by turning bottles into roads it is creating a new market for waste plastic, allowing its recycling plant partner to take more out of the nation’s dumps.

Shisalanga has applied to the South Africa National Roads Agency (SANRAL) to lay 200 tons of plastic tarmac on the country’s main N3 highway between Durban and Johannesburg and is awaiting approval for the project. If it meets the agency’s requirements, the technology could be rolled out across the nation.

India began laying plastic roads 17 years ago, and the concept has been tested in locations across Europe, North America, and Australia. But there are concerns over potential carcinogenic gases created during production and the release of microplastics (tiny particles of plastic) as the roads wear away.

Shisalanga has spent five years researching the technology. Its technical manager Wynand Nortje said its method of melting the plastic into the bitumen modifier minimizes the risk of microplastics. “The performance of our plastic mix is better than traditional modifiers, the fatigue seems improved and resistance to water deformation is as good or better,” he adds.

Roads are one of many creative solutions to reusing plastic waste. Companies around the world are turning it into bricks, fuel, and clothing. Some other international companies have even found ways to repurpose so-called “non-recyclable” plastic into roads.

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« Reply #13 on: Nov 15, 2019, 04:17 AM »

Plastic-hunting barge cleans up world’s rivers

The aim of the project is to clean 1.000 of the world's most polluted rivers

Fermin Koop

Seeking to find new solutions to the global plastic problem, the non-profit organization The Ocean Cleanup unveiled a new project meant to cut off ocean plastic at the source by cleaning up 1,000 of the world’s most polluted rivers by 2025.

About 1% of rivers are actually responsible for 80% of the plastic that ends up in the ocean so the project will prove critical. To that end, The Ocean Cleanup has announced The Interceptor—a new scalable solution to tackle river plastic.

The ship is essentially a catamaran that glides across the surface of rivers, channeling plastic toward a conveyor belt. The trash then gets deposited into the attached dumpsters.

    “To truly rid the oceans of plastic, we need to both clean up the legacy and close the tap, preventing more plastic from reaching the oceans in the first place,” said Boyan Slat, Founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup. “Combining our ocean cleanup technology with the Interceptor, the solutions now exist to address both sides of the equation.”

The Interceptor’s conveyor belt. Credit: The Ocean Cleanup

The Interceptor moves with the water’s current, so it doesn’t need to be towed. Plastic on the water’s surface gets pushed by the current toward a conveyor belt, then funneled into six dumpsters on a separate barge that floats underneath the vessel.

When the dumpsters get full, the system sends a message to operators on land. The operators can then dispatch a boat to tow the barge (and the plastic waste) to shore. The Ocean Cleanup estimates that one vessel can remove around 110 tons of plastic per day.

The organization said the vessel is designed to operate in almost any river, but it can be tailored to suit different types of conditions. For example, some rivers have a concentrated path of debris, so the conveyor belt can simply take in the trash that flows toward the vessel; in other cases, a guardrail can channel plastic toward the vessel’s mouth.

A first prototype was dispatched in the Cengkareng Drain, a river that runs through Jakarta, Indonesia. It includes a guardrail to funnel plastic toward the conveyor belt. Instead of depositing trash into dumpsters, the belt dumps waste into giant garbage bags that are then towed to shore.

At the same time, a second prototype was dispatched in the Klang River in Malaysia. The waterway abuts Port Klang – a well known dumping ground for plastic waste. On that vessel, the conveyor belts send plastic directly into dumpsters on the floating barge.

The organization plans to deploy one of the remaining prototypes in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, and the other in a river in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. By the end of 2025, The Ocean Cleanup hopes to deploy their vessel in the thousand rivers worldwide that send the most plastic pollution into the ocean.

Around 8.8 million tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans each year. Over time, this trash can accumulate in offshore garbage patches and linger there for decades. The largest of these vortexes, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is located in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California.

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« Reply #14 on: Nov 15, 2019, 04:19 AM »

Recycling plastic could become easier thanks to this new technology

A factory in France has created a process to recycle any plastic into any other plastic

Fermin Koop

As the world seeks new and innovative ways to deal with the plastic problem, a “biorecycling” factory in France has created a process that lets any plastic be recycled into any other plastic. This could change the market for recycling and help increase the volume of plastic that’s recycled.

The France-based startup Carbios developed a process through which PET plastic waste is mixed with water and enzymes, heated up, and churned. The enzymes decompose the plastic into the material’s basic building blocks, which can then be separated, purified, and used to make new plastic.

Unlike traditional recycling, which degrades materials each time you do it, this type of “biorecycling” can happen repeatedly without a loss in quality. “Our process can use any kind of PET waste to manufacture any kind of PET object,” said Martin Stephan, the company’s deputy CEO.

By working with different types of waste, the company believes that it can help increase the volume of plastic that’s recycled. That’s critical for keeping plastic out of the environment, and it’s also key at a time when manufacturers have new goals to ramp up their use of recycled packaging.

For example, Nestlé plans to use 50% recycled plastic in its packaging in the U.S. by 2025. Earlier this year, Nestlé, along with PepsiCo and Suntory Food and Beverages, joined a consortium with L’Oreal and Carbios to help the recycling technology get to market more quickly.

    “They need more recycled materials . . . and they know that reaching those goals is impossible with the existing technologies,” Stephan told Fast Company. “It’s not enough. You don’t have enough volume, and you don’t have enough quality. We will bring volumes by recycling material waste, which today is not recycled because they have low or no value.”

According to Stephan, around one million metric tons of PET food containers go on the market in Europe each year. But the recycling rate is close to zero, both because the trays are contaminated with food and because the structure of the plastic means that it can’t easily be recycled into the form used to make plastic bottles.

But the new process would make it economically viable for recyclers to work with that waste. There’s still a challenge of getting consumers to recycle in the first place. If they better understand that there’s value in the material, recycling rates might increase, Stephan argued.

Carbios developed the technology by starting at a landfill. It put pieces of plastic near the landfill, then studied the biology of the soil in places where the plastic had partially degraded over time. In the soil, some microorganisms were evolving to use enzymes to break down plastic.

Several startups are also working on a new generation of recycling technology, but Carbios says that there are some advantages to using biology rather than chemical recycling. The process uses lower temperatures than another new tech, saving energy. It doesn’t use solvents. And it can accept a wider range of waste.

Earlier this year, the company demonstrated that it could make a 100% recycled plastic bottle using the new process. The ground will break on the company’s first demonstration plant this year, which is expects to open in 2021. It plans to license the tech to PET producers, which can plug it into their existing plants that make plastic from oil.

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