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Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Duggars: How fundamentalism's teachings on sexuality create predatory behavior

So, it's in the news everywhere: A Duggar son groped his sisters while they slept when he was 14. The family essentially hushed it up. And, now that he is buddies with Ted Cruz, it became a juicy news story. (Nothing like a political AND sexual scandal to sell ads...)

And the aftermath is predictable. The Duggars get their show suspended, and the (now adult) kid loses his job. And, there is a brobdingnagian pile of schadenfreude to be found in the tabloids.

I have been saying privately for years that something like this would absolutely come to light regarding the Duggars, so this is no surprise to me at all.

As an attorney, I have handled several cases involving fundamentalist families with sexual issues, and the facts seem very familiar.
I'm not going to get into specifics, because of attorney client privilege. However, there does seem to be a certain amount of commonality in how these go down.

I firmly believe that the beliefs within Christian Fundamentalism strongly contribute to these failings - and indeed make them inevitable.

First, let me note again that I spent a portion of my teens involved in Bill Gothard's organization. My law school education was at his law school, so I know of what I speak. The Duggars are big in the Gothard organization, and promote it through their TV show. So, I know the exact teachings that they follow and promote.

That's why, despite never having seen more than a few minutes of the show at a time, and having no idea which kid was Josh, I was able to make this prediction. All I needed to know was that they followed Gothard's teachings about sex and gender, and I knew that it was more likely than not that a sex scandal would surface sooner or later.

In addition, I have been discussing this with some friends, many of them also ex-Gothardites, and some common issues have arisen, and I decided I probably should address them a bit from the perspective of both a lawyer and a former Fundie.

Because the perpetrator in this case (and in my cases as well) was a minor - age 14 - a boy in the throes of puberty - the issues are not quite as straight forward as they would be in a typical pedophile case.

While I would not defend what this boy did - it was pretty clearly sexual assault - I do understand some of why, and strongly believe that Gothard's teachings contributed to the way he acted out.

Again: I am not minimizing sexual assault, or excusing perps.

What I intend to show is that Fundamentalist teachings on sex tend to lead to young men who would not otherwise be predators act out in predatory ways.

So here are my thoughts:

  1. How do we distinguish who is a predator and who isn't? And is a person always a predator?
This is important, because I have seen several people castigate the wife of this man for marrying him, and insist that he never be allowed around children. Some have gone so far as to call him unequivocably a child molester who will never change. Does an act at age 14 mean one is a predator in every case? Or could one grow and change and not be a threat?

I am not defending predators, and I am not defending what he did. However, based on my own cases and my personal experience of the terrible teachings of Gothard, I am not convinced that he is a real predator or pedophile. He may be, but he is not necessarily one.

One initial issue concerns the very nature of pedophilia. A true pedophile is attracted to children because they are children. The very age is the source of the attraction. In addition, true pedophiles are, more often than not, extremely skilled at identifying victims and seducing them, and then keeping them quiet afterward. Most true pedophiles have hundreds of victims by the time they are caught. And - very important - they are not really "curable" in any true sense. They absolutely must be kept away from children, with no exceptions.

In comparison to true pedophiles, there are others who might very well be attracted to sexually mature persons, but who take what is available, so to speak. For example, two kids who "play doctor" are unlikely to be pedophiles, even if they are experimenting with another young child. It is more likely than not that they will function sexually with adults when they grow up.

Thus, while, again, I am not defending what he did, I do think that more information is needed before we should be quick to paint this guy as a pedophile or sexual predator. I'll explain more later about why I believe the teachings lead to predatory behavior in otherwise normal teens.

2. The troubling thing about the case is the combination of an age gap and lack of consent.

The reason you get police involvement in this case (and in others that I have handled) is one or both of two things: a. A greater than 4 year age gap

b. Nonconsensual touching.

The cops are not interested in investigating two 14 year olds having sex, or two 9 year olds playing doctor. There is no crime there. The reason this became an issue was that there was no consent, and there may well have been an age difference. Thus, this was a sexual assault, which is why it was a matter for law enforcement.

However, I believe that the belief system contributed to a situation where a 14 year old lacked a healthy understanding of consent.

3. Gothard's teachings on sexuality strongly contribute to these sexual problems

And make no mistake, these teachings are NOT limited to Gothard, but have significantly infiltrated Evangelicalism as a whole. The root of the harmful teachings are an obsession with sexual "purity" and a terror that the kids might have sex before they are married. Most of Gothard's empire was built on feeding these fears and promising an escape. A guarantee that by following his formula, the kids would be good little virgins on their wedding night.

However, what really ends up happening in far too many cases is that the teachings cause sexual dysfunction of one sort or another. In some cases (known personally to me) the child is able to successfully repress all sexuality, but then has difficulty functioning sexually once married. In others, as in some of my cases, the lack of healthy sexual views leads to a really messed up response to puberty and acting out in harmful ways toward others.

Here are the teachings that I believe significantly contribute to the problem:

  1. Thinking about sex is lust, and lust is as bad as doing it.
This is a common thread in every one of my own cases. This idea is hammered into children by Gothard and others. The hope is that they would be able to banish all sexual thoughts and desires until that magical wedding night when the switch is flipped. I discussed this further in my series on Modesty Culture. The problem is that "lust" is defined for all practical purposes as any and all sexual thoughts or desires. For a young man going through puberty, this is, for all but a few, completely impossible. There is no winning, just endless frustration and shame. (I was never a pubescent girl, so I can't speak to that, but I would imagine this can be frustrating for girls too.)

The huge problem with this teaching is that it does not distinguish between having thoughts and desires, and acting on them in an inappropriate way. To the young person, just developing (one hopes) critical thinking skills, this can and does lead to problems in making decisions. After all, if one has already fallen into sexual sin in the realm of thought, why not at least get some satisfaction for the trouble. All the guilt and shame is already there, so why not try to at least get a little gratification.

Needless to say, this worldview is not very good at addressing the issue of consent. Since all sexual sin is the same (see Piper, John), then the difference between lusting and sexually assaulting someone is blurred.

b. "Modesty Culture" teaches that female bodies are the source of said sinful lust.

I won't rehash all of this, but I do recommend that you read my series on Modesty Culture. In essence, it is rape culture, rebranded for the Christian market. The source of male sexual sin is the woman, who, by virtue of being attractive, causes him to lust.

Thus, for someone raised in this worldview, the girl is as much at fault as he is.

I believe this also leads to non-consensual touching of very young girls.

© Gothard

I pointed this out in my post on "defrauding" and rape, and included a picture from Gothard's curriculum wherein a boy who was caught in the same sort of act as the Duggar kid blamed changing his infant sister's diapers.

The fact that this occurred is completely predictable in light of the teachings. The burden is placed on extremely small girls to keep their bodies covered at all times, or they could be sexually assaulted.

[Addendum: here is more on Gothard's advice for handling incest and abuse.]

Again, note that consent never even enters the discussion. Sexual sin is sexual sin, regardless of whether it is consensual or assault.

c. Sexual desire is presented in a gendered way.

This one plagues our greater culture too, but it is particularly popular in Christian circles. The idea is that women don't really want sex. However, they trade it (and their bodies) to men in exchange for commitment - that is, a promise of lifetime financial support.

Thus, females will always want to say no to sex, so the man will have to impose on them to some degree. (Ideally for the fundie, women would - as they are taught to - give men sex on demand after marriage as their "duty" and to keep those horny men from cheating.)

Again, this makes for problems when it comes to a discussion of consent. Because women will never say "yes" voluntarily, "no" is meaningless. As another Fundie, Doug Wilson put it, the man has to "conquer, plant, and colonize," while the woman "accepts, receives, surrenders." Not a good place to start for healthy consensual sexuality.

For a young man raised in this worldview, then, he has no real reason to hope that a woman might actually desire to have sex with him. Thus, at some point, he will simply have to take what he wants. And who might be available and weak enough to be imposed on? Perhaps young girls...

d. No outlets for sexual feelings are acceptable - until marriage.

It is hard to describe just how repressive Gothardism is to those who haven't experienced it, but I'll try. Keep in mind that what applies to Gothardism also applies to most Fundie systems, and in some cases applies in significant part to mainstream Evangelicalism these days.
Because of the obsession with preventing sex, these systems impose significant "safeguards" against it occurring.

For example, as I have already noted, they insist on constant work to repress any and all sexual feelings, because these are "lust."

Second, as I noted, they work to keep female bodies from being visible. They must be hidden away as best possible, because without them, (presumably), young males wouldn't want sex. This is what is behind the obsession with the way young girls dress, as I pointed out in my series.
Third, in many of these systems - including Gothardism - cross-gender friendships are discouraged, and in some cases forbidden altogether.
The young people must be kept from each other, or sexual feelings might develop. (I wrote about this in my wife's story.)

Fourth, many of these systems discourage sex education because it might lead to lust. This is particularly the case for girls, who ideally would learn about sex from their husbands on the wedding night. I wish I was making that one up. Certainly, a robust family discussion of sex is out of the question. Instead, sex isn't talked about, except to say "don't do it and don't think about it."

Fifth, the whole system of "courtship" or "betrothal" further separates the genders until that magical wedding night. For those not familiar with "courtship," it forbids dating of any kind until both parties are ready to marry. That is, until he has enough money and income to support her. At that time, he asks her father for permission, and the courtship takes place under closely supervised conditions. Chaperones are present always, and the couple is considered as essentially engaged from the beginning of the process. I've blogged about this before here.

Again, there is a constant and continual control until the pressure can finally be taken off on the wedding night. Good luck, young people! Now you can try to shove aside all the baggage we gave you about sex and have fun now!

Now, for a young man, in a system like Gothard's, where college is discouraged, and all relationships are rigidly controlled, there really isn't much of an out. He can't think about sex, because that is sin. Of course, he can't masturbate either, because that is sin. He can't even be friends with a girl. In fact, he his kept physically separated from them. He is staring at having to completely satisfy his future father-in-law before he can even try a relationship, and that could be many years down the road if financial prosperity doesn't come quickly. You keep tightening that lid. Pushing down on all sexuality. The pressure keeps building.

He has zero options.

So he has the new feelings of puberty, an environment that discourages talking about sex, overwhelming guilt about sexual thoughts, teachings that blame girls for his desires, a long time until he would have any approved outlet for his sexuality, and......the only females available to him in any way are his little sisters.

How could this possibly go wrong?

And that, in my opinion, is how young men who would not otherwise become predatory end up engaging in sexual assault.

Again, it is not my intent to excuse bad behavior. Sexual assault is wrong, and a crime. And I am not familiar enough on a personal level with Josh Duggar to know if he has the markers of a predator or not.

However, my experience in these cases is that the young men involved - again, not adults, but 12-15 years old - have seriously screwed up beliefs about women, consent, and sex; because the teachings are obsessed with preventing sex, not in creating a healthy view of sexualty, which embraces consent, female sexual desire, and equality within the sexual relationship. These young men are in need of substantial deprogramming, which is obviously anathema to Gothardites, who are violently opposed to any non-Gothardite counseling or input.

So is Josh Duggar a predator and a danger to children? Maybe. But maybe not. Did he engage in sexual assault? Absolutely. Would he be a risk to do it again? Not necessarily.

Did the poisonous doctrines believed and promoted by his family contribute to the problem? I believe that they absolutely did.

© Gothard

And I believe that, even more than that, the way that Gothard advises dealing with victims in cases like this will cause even more harm within the family.

Far from having a productive conversation about consent, there probably was just a little "repentance and forgiveness" charade. The doctrines have clearly remained the same since, and the root problems will never be addressed.

There are no winners here.

Now that this is public, Josh will be forever branded as a sexual predator, whether or not he is an actual danger to anyone now or in the future.
The girls have had their bodily autonomy violated, but they will be taught that they may have contributed to their own assault. They were and will be expected to do the "repentance and forgiveness" charade, and pretend nothing serious happened. Their violation will not be treated with the seriousness that it deserves. And they will be taught that what Josh did was just another sexual sin, no worse or different from what they would commit if they made out with a boyfriend. And therefore, it is entirely possible that they will be considered "tainted" in the Fundie community. And this, after their innocence and budding sexuality have been the selling point of the show for years.

The poisonous doctrines will remain untouched and unexamined. There will be no discussion of consent. And, if my past cases are any indication, the parents will instead double down on isolating boys and girls from each other and policing all interaction.

And the cycle will continue.

Even though Gothard personally has fallen into disgrace because of his own problems with teen girls, his ideas will be recycled by a new false prophet, who will profit from Evangelicals desperate to guarantee that their children will arrive at the altar as good little virgins, pleasing to God because of their innocence.

Note on Evangelicalism's ongoing issue with child abuse:

[Note, after a comment by a reader, I decided I wasn't clear about this part. I believe Fundamentalism tends to breed predatory behavior. I also believe Evangelicalism has become influenced by Fundamentalism in the last few decades.

However, the reason that I believe Evangelicalism in general is having problems with child abuse is this: churches have children (potential victims), and churches rarely have policies for preventing predators from operating. Leadership is rarely trained to recognize predators, and policies regarding reporting of abuse are inconsistent. Many states, including my home state of California make clergy mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect, but many clergy do not realize this.

I also believe that few churches are really safe places for victims, and I am not alone. I recommend reading Boz Tchividjian's writings on child abuse and the church for more on this.]

These teachings also enable predators and abusers as well, as should be obvious with a bit of familiarity with how predators operate. Getting victims to blame themselves is much easier when the church lays the foundation. The teachings on authority - unquestioning obedience as to God himself - make it easier for those in leadership to prey on children, and keep them silent.

And let me say that our response to sexual predation by leaders has been atrocious. Our instinct is to protect and cover up, rather than expose and prosecute.

This obviously requires great vigilance, but also a reconsideration of how we talk about consent. Or more accurately: how we don't talk about consent. This is probably a topic for another post.

Suffice it to say that the teachings on sexuality tend to 1. protect predators and 2. create predatory behavior where it would not otherwise exist.

Note on why I say Fundamentalist:

I have also received some feedback that "fundamentalism" means different things to different people. So to clarify, see this follow up post.

Note on Pedophiles:

One of the questions that I do not see raised by those calling for him to be treated as a child molester would seem to be obvious: Is he primarily or even significantly attracted to children? That's important, because someone who is, is probably a continuing danger, but someone who is not attracted to children is not really a risk to offend in that way. Again, this seems obvious, but it apparently isn't.

Second, is he a risk to be commit rape or sexual assault in the future? There actually are identifiable risk factors for this as well. A propensity for violence is one. Violence in one area becomes violence in others. (Anyone who has helped victims of domestic violence know the connection between battering and sexual assault.) Perhaps a better way to put this would be to consider whether what he did was about sex, or about violence. In general, rape is about violence, not sex. On the other hand, these acts may not have been primarily about violence and control, but about a messed up view of sexuality and a lack of understanding of consent. A good way to check would be to see if there is an overall problem with control and violence.

For both of these risks, I would also add in that one should evaluate for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is probably a factor in Gothard and Doug Phillips' issues with sexual assaults. And the better the person plays the "repentance and forgiveness" game, the more likely they are to be a narcissist.

I should add in here again that there is a reason that we do not try 14 year olds as adults. I'm not going to get into all the developmental stuff, but the same acts committed by a 25 year old would obviously be more indicative of a true pedophile than the same acts committed by a 12 year old. As age and maturity increase, so does responsibility and the likelihood that a bad act is not an outlier, but an indication of a serious risk.

On a related note, the problem with taking the easy route and labeling Josh Duggar a Child Molester:

We have a tendency as a society and as a religion to dismiss bad actions as being done by "bad people." That way, we can just say that somebody evil did something evil, and never look at the underlying structural and philosophical issues. So, domestic violence is just bad men beating women. Get rid of the bad men, and everything will be fine. It clearly has nothing to do with belief in the inferiority of women or the necessity that they obey and serve men. Move along, nothing to see here...

Similarly, we do this with racism. Other people, bad people, are racists. And some cops are jerks. That way, we don't have to look into structures of privilege, or bad law enforcement culture that leads to dead bodies. We don't have to actually clean house, just throw a few bad people out, and bam! utopia.

Similarly, in the cases of all these cases of sexual assault within Patriarchy, we want to be able to dismiss them as outliers. Bad acts by bad people. Josh Duggar is a child molester, so we just keep him away from kids, and everything will be fine.

And then we NEVER have to address the damage that our poisonous teachings on sexuality are causing. It is not an accident that we are attracting (and paying) narcissistic predators like Gothard and Phillips. And it is not an accident that there are problems with assault in Patriarchal families. At some point, one can't just blame bad luck for the lightning strikes. We have to admit we have been standing outside in the storm, holding a metal pole. We attract bad actors, and we make predatory acts by those who would not otherwise have been predators more likely.

True, let's remove the bad actors, but let's not ignore the other source of poison: bad beliefs and teachings.

Maybe Josh Duggar is a pedophile. Maybe he is a narcissistic jerk who will tend to rape and assault. But it is also possible that at age 14, the bad teachings simply bore their entirely predictable results.

Note on the Duggars and the media:

One of the annoying statements that I keep hearing is that this is somehow a "liberal media" attack on Christianity. This argument is getting a bit old, particularly when it is used to deflect the truth of a particular allegation.

I believe that it is super duper easy to see why this is huge news. And also why it should be huge news.

At the outset, I will say that I have grave moral misgivings about anyone who would put their family in the spotlight like that, as I do not believe it is healthy for them. But that is not all.

The whole reason the Duggars have made multiple millions selling their family is that they are essentially selling sex.

It starts with the premise: the Duggars are "quiverfull," which means that they believe all forms of birth control are sinful, and that "godliness" requires having as many children as physically possible. That philosophy is also taught by Gothard and other Patriarchists. It also is the way that you end up with 19 kids, and why every one of their children (so far) has ended up pregnant right after the marriage. This isn't just a philosophy about Christianity, but one that is central to their view of female sexuality.

Just as the Duggars promote the quiverful philosophy on their show, they also promote their view of "courtship," which I already mentioned. Unless one has been living under a rock, it is impossible to miss the fact that they loudly proclaim their belief that one should not even hold hands or kiss before marriage. The first physical contact is to be after the vows.

© US

Make no mistake, this is all about selling sex. You have these attractive, virginal young ladies, and their sex lives are on display for all to see. The invitation is to think about the girls and sex. I would call it "Virginity Voyerism."

This is the reason for the show. To promote Gothard's teachings on sexuality, gender, and marriage. As Gothard puts it, to "show the world a better way of life." These teachings are sold on the idea that they will prevent bad sexual things from happening. That they will deliver our kids to the altar as good little virgins. That the dress codes and the separation of the sexes will stamp out all this horrid lust and perversion and all that.

And then one more thing: lately Mrs. Duggar has been in the news for saying that transsexuals are a grave threat to children, equating them to child molesters. Furthermore, Josh (until his recent resignation) worked for the Family Research Council, which has been designated as a hate group for claiming (against the evidence) that homosexuals are child molesters seeking to prey on children.

Both of these claims were made after Josh assaulted his sisters in their sleep.

The hypocrisy is just astounding, and it is no wonder the media is all over this. This family, like Gothard and Phillips, made their fortune - millions of dollars - promoting a particular view of sexuality, and (in my view), trading on the pretty innocence of their daughters. And then used the platform to make unsupportable claims about LGBT people. And all the while, it wasn't the gays that were fondling the daughters.

Of COURSE the media is all over this.

It isn't just the Duggars, of course. Within the last two years, the three most visible representatives of the Patriarchy movement have all gone down in sexual flames. Gothard resigned after more than 30 women came forward with stories of how he assaulted and harassed them. Phillips (Vision Forum) folded his organization after it came out that he had sexually assaulted a young woman who worked for him. And now the Duggars, who were extremely close with both Phillips and Gothard have proven (as I predicted) to have some serious sexual skeletons in their own closets.

At some point, this ceases to be "bad luck" and "media conspiracy" and becomes what can only be described as bad fruit. The teachings themselves are incurably rotten, and lead to rotten, reeking, putrid fruit.

As I note, I believe Gothard's teachings are a deadly poison which has tainted generations of Evangelicals, and a part of me is glad to see yet another spokesperson for his organization and ideas go down in flames. But I do hurt for the kids, who didn't have a choice to become involved in Gothardism or have their lives on camera

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Housing Authority forces workers to wear orange vests so NYPD cops don't shoot them

© The Free Thought Project

In a testament to the "trigger-happy" nature of NYPD cops, the city Housing Authority has ordered all workers fixing elevators in NYC housing projects to wear construction orange vests.

New policies were enacted by the Housing Authority after officers pulled a gun on a maintenance crew and fatally shot an unarmed man in a stairwell in a separate incident.

According to a report:

"[The elevator workers] were basically told the reason was because of recent incidents where cops had pulled a gun on a caretaker and a supervisor on the roof of a housing project," a source said.

"No one got shot, but they also referred to the cop shooting and were told, 'We're doing this for your protection. Your lives are in jeopardy, and we don't want you to get hurt,' " the source said

Pulling no punches, one Housing Authority supervisor allegedly told his crews that the new policy was due to NYPD cops being "trigger-happy."

In addition to wearing the bright orange vests, workers will now also be required to wear their official identification on a neck lanyard.

"They said that in case a cop stops you, we don't want you reaching around in back pocket That could be another reason for a cop to shoot you," the source told the .

According to a Housing Authority spokeswoman, the new policies were simply standard operating procedure regarding safety.

"The issuance of the safety vests was one action taken to increase safety for elevator personnel through our ongoing 'Safety in Motion' initiative. Although not tied to any particular incident, we hope that this simple action will further protect these hardworking employees and allow them to be easily identified when needed," the spokeswoman said.

Regardless of the Housing Authority's public statements, it's quite clear that new measures are a response to the overall violent demeanor of the NYPD. More specifically, they are in response to the killing of unarmed father of two Akai Gurley in a dimly lit stairwell on November 20, 2014.

When city agencies feel the need to have their employees wear brightly colored vests to be sure they aren't killed by cops while on the job, you may just have a severe policing problem on your hands.


'Lost' Y chromosomes discovered on autosomes

© Thinkstock
The Y chromosomes have just moved to a different location!

Essential genes lost by the Y chromosome in humans and other mammals and previously thought to have been eliminated have actually just relocated to other chromosomes, the authors of a study appearing in the latest edition of the journal have discovered.

In the paper, lead author Dr. Jennifer Hughes of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and her colleagues explain that, while the Y chromosome has the majority of the 640 genes it had once shared with the X chromosome, those genes live on elsewhere in the genome.

"The Y chromosome," Dr. Hughes, a research scientist in the lab of David Page, told redOrbit via email, "is particularly vulnerable to gene loss because it does not have a homologous partner for genetic recombination.

Our lab's previous work comparing Y-chromosome gene content across eight mammals revealed that the genes that did survive on the Y are extraordinarily long-lived and likely serve important biological functions."

"However, there are numerous exceptions where seemingly critical genes were lost from the Y chromosome in certain mammals," she added. "We discovered that in many cases, these genes were not actually eliminated but have found new homes in the genome. Our new study reveals that gene loss from the Y chromosome has been rescued by gene transposition, or relocation, to another chromosome at least 8 times in diverse mammalian species, including human."

Mechanism more widespread than previously believed

One example of genes apparently disappearing from the Y chromosome is found in a species of rodent indigenous to an island in Japan, the Ryukyu spiny rat. This creature's Y chromosome had vanished completely, with most of the genes linked to it moving on to either the X chromosome or to non-sex chromosomes known as autosomes.

Previously, this was believed to be an oddity found only in this one type of creature. However, new data suggests that the phenomenon of gene-relocation is widespread among several different mammal species, including humans. Critical genes thought lost from the Y chromosome have simply changed locations and continued functioning as normal, Dr. Hughes explained.

Dr. Hughes said her team found four genes that had completed this relocation, demonstrating for the first time that this phenomenon takes place in humans as well as in a wide range of other mammal species, including apes, rodents, cattle, and marsupials. These genes have been preserved, she said, because they are "indispensable for normal development."

"Our work demonstrates that rescue of Y gene decay via gene transposition is common among mammals," she told redOrbit. "Our findings also provide a new explanation for the relatively high frequency of gene transposition off of the sex chromosomes, which had previously been explained by the drive to escape inactivation during male germ cell development."

Red Sea parts for 2 new islands

© Jónsson et al., Nature Communications
A 2011 satellite photo of the eruption that created Sholan Island.

Two volcanic islands recently born in the Red Sea have yielded stunning images, providing scientists with new insights about a little-known rift in Earth's crust.

Both islands emerged in the Zubair Archipelago, a small chain of volcanic islands, owned by Yemen, that rise from the Red Sea between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The first of the new islands, now called Sholan Island, appeared in December 2011. The second island, called Jadid, surfaced in September 2013.

The Red Sea is an enormous crack in the Earth's crust called a rift, where the African and Arabian tectonic plates are tearing apart at about 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) per year. At a rift, the crust stretches apart slowly over centuries, like a piece of taffy candy, but it also sometimes suddenly splits when the strain becomes too great. For instance, in 2005, in nearby Afar, Ethiopia, giant fissures and fiery lava flows appeared in the rift zone after a series of earthquakes.

The new volcanic activity that formed these islands in the Red Sea could herald a rifting episode akin to that seen in Afar, said study co-author Sigurjón Jónsson, a geophysicist at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia.

"The segment of the plate boundary that goes on land in Afar has been looked at as the main boundary, but this new activity tells us the other branch in the Red Sea is still quite active," Jónsson told Live Science. "We will have to follow it in the years to come and see how it continues."

The chain of volcanic islands in the Zubair Archipelago marks another branch of the same rift zone, one that has been quiet for nearly 150 years. (Yemen's Jabal al-Tair Island erupted in 2007, killing several people at a naval base.)

The two eruptions in the Red Sea were heralded by swarms of small earthquakes triggered by magma squeezing through long, narrow cracks in the Earth's crust. The magma-filled cracks are called dykes, and are at least 6 miles (10 kilometers) long, the researchers reported Tuesday (May 26) in the journal . The islands are both less than 0.6 miles (1 km) wide.

Researchers Wenbin Xu and Joël Ruch, also of King Abdullah University, estimated the size of the dykes by measuring small changes in surface height as shown by satellite images snapped before and after the eruptions.

© Jónsson et al., Nature Communications
A satellite image of the entire Zubair Archipelago showing the 2013 Jadid eruption.

When the molten rock finally broke through to the seafloor, violent steam explosions tossed lava into the air. The tiny, sand-size lava fragments built up the islands. Over time, the fragments, called tuff, cemented into a hard rock similar to sandstone, Jónsson said. Waves have since eaten away about 30 percent of Sholan Island, the first to erupt.

Similar earthquake swarms have rattled the region for years, the researchers noted. The seismic shaking could mean that magma had been tunneling underground for up to a decade before the volcanic islands appeared, the researchers said.

"We may not be over this period of heightened activity," Jónsson said. "If you look at all these swarms, we think the area was undergoing a rifting episode for a period of several years or more."

The new islands are far from towns and villages, and are unlikely to disrupt air traffic with large ash explosions, Jónsson said. Ships traversing the Gulf of Suez could also easily divert around the islands, he said.

​Volcanic eruption at Kuchinoerabu-jima, Japan triggers highest alert, evacuation advisory

A sudden volcano eruption on the small southern Japanese island of Kuchinoerabu-jima has forced authorities to raise the alert to the highest level and advise evacuation of the immediate area.

Although there were no reports of injuries or damage, the authorities are considering evacuation of some 150 residents of the small island, NHK national television reports.

Mount Shindake suddenly erupted about 10:00am local time, sending a large plume of black smoke into the sky. The Japan Meteorological Agency has issued a level five warning for the area, the highest on its scale, advising evacuations.

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Ecstasy could help alleviate anxiety for terminally ill patients


Ecstasy pills, which contain MDMA as their main chemical, are pictured in this undated handout photo courtesy of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration

California scientists are testing whether the illegal psychoactive drug commonly known as Ecstasy could help alleviate anxiety for terminally ill patients, the trial's principal funder said on Tuesday.

At least a dozen subjects with life-threatening diseases like cancer, and who are expected to live at least 9 months, will participate in the double-blind trial over the next year in Marin County, said Brad Burge, spokesman for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

Each subject will be randomly given either a full dose - 125 milligrams of MDMA, or a placebo with none of the drug, Burge said.

Burge said the goal is to test whether gravely ill patients suffering from debilitating anxiety, fear or depression due to their diagnoses can find a measure of peace during the extended ecstasy-influenced psychotherapy sessions.

The trial's principal investigator, Dr. Philip Wolfson, told the newspaper that the MDMA experience, lasting four or five hours, can be "transformationally potent" under controlled settings with a pair of trained therapists.

"It's a substance that supports deep, meaningful and rapidly effective psychotherapy," Wolfson told the

MDMA is a psychoactive drug that has been banned under federal law for decades.

While the Drug Enforcement Administration declined to comment, Burge said the federal agency has certified the security infrastructure of the clinic.

The Food and Drug Administration said U.S. law and FDA regulations prohibit the agency from disclosing information about drugs that are being developed and studied, said spokeswoman Sandy Walsh.

Results were expected within 12 to 15 months.

"Our hypothesis is that something is happening with MDMA that makes psychotherapy easier," Burge said.

"So with a lower dose of MDMA in the active placebo, it might fool the subject or the therapist. And by giving people the option of following up with another half dose, it just extends the window for therapy rather than making it more intense."

Those receiving the full dose have an option later to take another 62.5 milligram dose as part of the same session, and those receiving the placebo can later re-enter the trial, he said.

Doctors eye implantable antenna for long-term monitoring

© www.sbioak.org
RFID has your vital statistics up for grabs.

Tired of using a pesky thermometer to check on your health? If a new project funded by the National Science Foundation proves successful, we may soon have a small antenna implanted into our bodies to report on our vital statistics.

In the interest of what it calls "long-term patient monitoring," the NSF has granted $5,070 to a graduate fellowship project which seeks to develop an antenna that could be implanted inside the human body.

"Antennas operating near or inside the human body are important for a number of applications, including healthcare," reads the project grant. "Implantable medical devices such as cardiac pacemakers and retinal implants are a growing feature of modern healthcare, and implantable antennas for these devices are necessary to monitor battery level and device health, to upload and download data used in patient monitoring, and more."

The grant is also being partially funded by the National Research Foundation of Korea, and seeks to further develop Ultra High Frequency signals, testing different types of antennas to see which can most accurately transmit a signal from just beneath the skin.

"Ultra High Frequency [radio-frequency identification] RFID tag antennas are printed using conductive ink and have found increased applications due to advantages such as minimal cost, low maintenance, good tag read range, and ability to operate without an integrated battery," the grant reads.

That "ink" would, in many ways, resemble a tattoo, allowing healthcare specialists to insert the antennas with relative ease.

Speaking to the Washington Free Beacon, Jessica Arriens, a public affairs specialist with the NSF, stressed the potential benefits of the project. "The research could ultimately help improve a variety of health areas, since many areas use implanted medical devices: defibrillators, neural recording devices, cochlear and retinal implants."

She also took time to soothe the fears of those who might react negatively to the idea of a foreign object being permanently placed inside the human body. "Long-term just refers to the fact that implanted medical devices are, often, not a short-term patient option (think of a pacemaker or ear implant, for example - patients live with those long-term)."

If successful, the antenna would be the latest in a series of advances in bioengineering. Earlier this month, Google filed a patent for what it calls a Nanoparticle Phoresis. That device would be worn around a user's wrist and then detect and destroy harmful cells in the bloodstream.

That patent application followed an announcement from pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson that it was investing in research into genetic defects. Known as the Disease Interception Accelerator, that project aims to identify diseases long before they actually occur, allowing doctors to treat them before they become a problem.


"Radio-frequency identification (RFID) labeling in humans to store medical and biometric information offers promising possibilities to health care and patient safety. Nevertheless, the use of these devices is attached to not only a host of ethical issues, but possible security and physical risks. Active RFID tags, which contain internal batteries, offer benefits such as better reliability, wider transmission ranges, and increased data storage. But wider transmission ranges may threaten data security and patient privacy. Furthermore, because of their small size, RFID human implants may migrate under the skin and complicate removal. They also may interfere with the performance of electronic medical devices, such as surgical equipment and defibrillators, and medication. It is recommended that the medical community further investigate these concerns before accepting or rejecting RFID labeling in humans." -Robert M. Sade is a professor of surgery and director of the Institute of Human Values in Health Care at Medical University of South Carolina. He is also chair of the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs of the American Medical Association.

Ultra High Frequency (UHF) applications, for which the above bioengineering grant stipulates, are: asset tracking, supply chain, logistics, toll booths, real-time locating systems, container security, library material management and security. And human bio-monitoring? Guess that comes under container security or asset tracking. The medical community might consider the potential social consequences of RFID devices, such as "non-medical" applications in law enforcement.

World War II: "Operation Unthinkable", Churchill's planned betrayal and invasion of the Soviet Union, July 1945

The Yalta conference: Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill


Stalin believed that there were plans to use them later. He emphasized that it was an outright violation of the inter-governmental agreements that said the forces surrendered were to be immediately disbanded. The Soviet intelligence got the text of secret telegram sent by Winston Churchill to Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, the commander of British forces. It instructed to collect the weapons and keep them in readiness to give back to Germans in case the Soviet offensive continued.

According to the instructions received from Stalin, Zhukov harshly condemned these activities speaking at the Allied Control Council (the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and France). He said the world history knew few examples of such treachery and refusal to observe the commitments on the part of nations that had an allied status. Montgomery denied the accusation. A few years later he admitted that he received such an instruction and carried it out. He had to comply with the order as a soldier.

A fierce battle was raging in the vicinity of Berlin. At his time Winston Churchill said that the Soviet Russia became a deadly threat to the free world. The British Prime Minister wanted a new front created in the east to stop the Soviet offensive as soon as possible. Churchill was overwhelmed by the feeling that with Nazi Germany defeated a new threat emerged posed by the Soviet Union.

That's why London wanted Berlin to be taken by Anglo-American forces. Churchill also wanted Americans to liberate Czechoslovakia and Prague with Austria controlled by all allies on equal terms.

Winston Churchill

Not later than April 1945 Churchill instructed the British Armed Forces' Joint Planning Staff to draw up Operation Unthinkable, a code name of two related plans of a conflict between the Western allies and the Soviet Union. The generals were asked to devise means to

"impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire".

The hypothetical date for the start of the Allied invasion of Soviet-held Europe was scheduled for 1 July 1945. In the final days of the war against the Hitler's Germany London started preparations to strike the Soviet Union from behind.

The plan envisioned unleashing a total war to occupy the parts of the Soviet Union which had a crucial significance for its war effort and deliver a decisive blow to the Soviet armed forces making the USSR unable to continue fighting.

The plan included the possibility of Soviet forces retreating deep into the territory according to the tactics used in previous wars. The plan was taken by the British Chiefs of Staff Committee as militarily unfeasible due to a three-to-one superiority of Soviet land forces in Europe and the Middle East, where the conflict was projected to take place. German units were needed to balance the correlation of forces. That's why Churchill wanted them to remain combat capable.

The War Cabinet stated:

"The Russian Army has developed a capable and experienced High Command. The army is exceedingly tough, lives and moves on a lighter scale of maintenance than any Western army, and employs bold tactics based largely on disregard for losses in attaining its objective. Equipment has improved rapidly throughout the war and is now good. Enough is known of its development to say that it is certainly not inferior to that of the great powers. The facility the Russians have shown in the development and improvement of existing weapons and equipment and in their mass production has been very striking. There are known instances of the Germans copying basic features of Russian armament."

The British planners came to pessimistic conclusions. They said any attack would be "hazardous" and that the campaign would be "long and costly". The report actually stated:

"If we are to embark on war with Russia, we must be prepared to be committed to a total war, which would be both long and costly." The numerical superiority of Soviet ground forces left little chance for success. The assessment, signed by the Chief of Army Staff on June 9, 1945, concluded: "It would be beyond our power to win a quick but limited success and we would be committed to a protracted war against heavy odds. These odds, moreover, would become fanciful if the Americans grew weary and indifferent and began to be drawn away by the magnet of the Pacific war."

The Prime Minister received a draft copy of the plan on June 8th. Annoyed as he was, Churchill could not do much about it as the supremacy of the Red Army was evident. Even with a nuclear bomb in the inventory of US military, Harry Truman, the new American President, had to take it into account.

Meeting Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, President Truman took the bull by the horn. He made a thinly veiled threat to use economic sanctions against the Soviet Union.

On May 8, the US President ordered to greatly reduce the lend-lease supplies [military aid] without prior notification. It went as far as the return US ships already on the way to the Soviet Union back to home bases. Some time passed and the order to reduce the land lease was cancelled otherwise the Soviet Union would not have joined the war against Japan, something the United States needed. But the bilateral relationship was damaged.

The memorandum signed by Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew on May 19, 1945 stated that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable. It called for taking a tougher stand in the contacts with the Soviet Union. According to him, it was expedient to start the fighting before the USSR could recover from war and restore its huge military, economic and territorial potential.

The military received an impulse from politicians. In August of 1945 (the war with Japan was not over) the map of strategic targets in the USSR and Manchuria was submitted to General L. Groves, the head of US nuclear program. The plan contained the list of the 15 largest cities of the Soviet Union: Moscow, Baku, Novosibirsk, Gorky, Sverdlovsk, Chelyabinsk, Omsk, Kuibyshev, Kazan, Saratov, Molotov (Perm), Magnitogorsk, Grozny, Stalinsk (probably Stalino - the contemporary Donetsk) and Nizhny Tagil. The targets were given descriptions: geography, industrial potential and the primary targets to hit. Washington opened a new front. This time it was against its ally.

London and Washington immediately forgot they fought shoulder to shoulder with the Soviet Union during the Second World War, as well as the their commitments according to the agreements reached at the Yalta, Potsdam and San-Francisco conferences.

Israeli soldier put in military prison for speaking out against Israeli racism, occupation

This week, during the filming of Deutsche Welle's "The New Arab Debates," Corporal Shachar Berrin, a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spoke out about the actions of his fellow officers. During a discussion about the military situation in Israel, Berrin stood up to address the panel about how members of the Israeli military would treat Palestinian people like animals. He also expressed that this is a systematic problem that exists pretty much across the board in the IDF.

During the Q&A section of the debate, Berrin stood up and said:

Next, moderator Tim Sebastian asked if Berrin was speaking from personal experience. Berrin then told the panel and the audience that:

Immediately after the incident, Berrin was court marshalled and sentenced to a week in military prison.

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Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, it changes your brain


© naturalhealth365.com

Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was one of the first scientists to take the anecdotal claims about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and test them in brain scans. What she found surprised her — that meditating can literally change your brain. She explains:

Q: Why did you start looking at meditation and mindfulness and the brain?

Lazar: A friend and I were training for the Boston marathon. I had some running injuries, so I saw a physical therapist who told me to stop running and just stretch. So I started practicing yoga as a form of physical therapy. I started realizing that it was very powerful, that it had some real benefits, so I just got interested in how it worked.

The yoga teacher made all sorts of claims, that yoga would increase your compassion and open your heart. And I'd think, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm here to stretch.' But I started noticing that I was calmer. I was better able to handle more difficult situations. I was more compassionate and open hearted, and able to see things from others' points of view.

I thought, maybe it was just the placebo response. But then I did a literature search of the science, and saw evidence that meditation had been associated with decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life.

At that point, I was doing my PhD in molecular biology. So I just switched and started doing this research as a post-doc.

Q: How did you do the research?

Lazar: The first study looked at long term meditators vs a control group. We found long-term meditators have an increased amount of gray matter in the insula and sensory regions, the auditory and sensory cortex. Which makes sense. When you're mindful, you're paying attention to your breathing, to sounds, to the present moment experience, and shutting cognition down. It stands to reason your senses would be enhanced.

We also found they had more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making.

It's well-documented that our cortex shrinks as we get older - it's harder to figure things out and remember things. But in this one region of the prefrontal cortex, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds.

So the first question was, well, maybe the people with more gray matter in the study had more gray matter before they started meditating. So we did a second study.

We took people who'd never meditated before, and put one group through an eight-week mindfulness- based stress reduction program.

In this excerpt from the documentary , which tells the stories of people adding mind-body medicine to their healing practices, Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar talks about the connection between the mind and body during meditation. ()

Q: What did you find?

Lazar: We found differences in brain volume after eight weeks in five different regions in the brains of the two groups. In the group that learned meditation, we found thickening in four regions:

1. The primary difference, we found in the posterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering, and self relevance.

2. The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.

3. The temporo parietal junction, or TPJ, which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion.

4. An area of the brain stem called the Pons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced.

The amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress in general. That area got smaller in the group that went through the mindfulness-based stress reduction program.

The change in the amygdala was also correlated to a reduction in stress levels.

Q: So how long does someone have to meditate before they begin to see changes in their brain?

Lazar: Our data shows changes in the brain after just eight weeks.

In a mindfulness-based stress reduction program, our subjects took a weekly class. They were given a recording and told to practice 40 minutes a day at home. And that's it.

Q: So, 40 minutes a day?

Lazar: Well, it was highly variable in the study. Some people practiced 40 minutes pretty much every day. Some people practiced less. Some only a couple times a week.

In my study, the average was 27 minutes a day. Or about a half hour a day.

There isn't good data yet about how much someone needs to practice in order to benefit.

Meditation teachers will tell you, though there's absolutely no scientific basis to this, but anecdotal comments from students suggest that 10 minutes a day could have some subjective benefit. We need to test it out.

We're just starting a study that will hopefully allow us to assess what the functional significance of these changes are. Studies by other scientists have shown that meditation can help enhance attention and emotion regulation skills. But most were not neuroimaging studies. So now we're hoping to bring that behavioral and neuroimaging science together.

Q: Given what we know from the science, what would you encourage readers to do?

Lazar: Mindfulness is just like exercise. It's a form of mental exercise, really. And just as exercise increases health, helps us handle stress better and promotes longevity, meditation purports to confer some of those same benefits.

But, just like exercise, it can't cure everything. So the idea is, it's useful as an adjunct therapy. It's not a standalone. It's been tried with many, many other disorders, and the results vary tremendously - it impacts some symptoms, but not all. The results are sometimes modest. And it doesn't work for everybody.

It's still early days for trying to figure out what it can or can't do.

Q: So, knowing the limitations, what would you suggest?

Lazar: It does seem to be beneficial for most people. The most important thing, if you're going to try it, is to find a good teacher. Because it's simple, but it's also complex. You have to understand what's going on in your mind. A good teacher is priceless

Q: Do you meditate? And do you have a teacher?

Lazar: Yes and yes.

Q: What difference has it made in your life?

Lazar: I've been doing this for 20 years now, so it's had a very profound influence on my life. It's very grounding. It's reduced stress. It helps me think more clearly. It's great for interpersonal interactions. I have more empathy and compassion for people.

Q: What's your own practice?

Lazar: Highly variable. Some days 40 minutes. Some days five minutes. Some days, not at all. It's a lot like exercise. Exercising three times a week is great. But if all you can do is just a little bit every day, that's a good thing, too. I'm sure if I practiced more, I'd benefit more. I have no idea if I'm getting brain changes or not. It's just that this is what works for me right now.

Tony Blair to receive award for lifetime services to war

© kennardphillipps/Reuters

Tony Blair is to receive the prestigious 'War Award' for his lifetime services to war, following his official resignation from his position as Middle East Peace Envoy.

A polarising and an often controversial figure, Blair had denied he was leaving the position he has held for the past 8 years after finally reading the job description, instead maintaining he simply wanted to explore other job opportunities.

"It's always nice to be honoured," Blair said he accepted his award, a large container filled with blood, in front of a small gathering of private security companies and reprehensible individuals he has helped through his work with Tony Blair Associates.

Honoured for his continued insistence of interventionism in Iraq and Syria while occupying the office of Middle East Peace Envoy, private military firms and arms dealers thanked the former Labour leader for all he has done for their profit margins and bank accounts.

Blair's insistence in recent years that attacks be carried out in Syria sit in contrast to his attempts to bestow a knighthood on Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad while Blair was still prime minister.

The former British prime minister is most famous for his role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and it was hoped that taking up the role of Middle East Peace Envoy would go some way to repairing his public image as more than someone with the blood of innocent Iraqi civilians on his hands.

"Thank you for all your kind gifts," Blair added as he clutched a DVD copy of Iraq War: Greatest Hits.

Returning the volatile Middle East Region to unparalleled levels of peace in the last few years had almost distracted the public from his collusion with several dictators, including Muammar Ghaddafi.

However, his high profile consultancy work which included helping the Kazakstan Government win the PR war following a massacre in 2011, has always meant Blair would be the most obvious candidate for this year's War Award.

Airlines spraying fliers with pesticides inside the plane

Chemical pesticide exposure happens... If you live nearby a farm you know what it feels like. Spraying happens. If it's not aerosol spraying high up in the sky or wafts from crop dusting - it's being sprayed while inside a locked, pressurized tube? Is there no escape? What is a chemical sensitive or asthmatic person to do? Have you ever felt sick after a flight but couldn't pin it as a virus? Do you ever feel like a bug?

A few countries require pesticide spraying on flights, yet most countries have quietly reserved the right to do so with or without "need." Many spray for "passenger safety" from rodents and insects - however, bug sprays are among the worst chemicals for human exposure.[1] Previously, flight attendants told that it had nothing to with safety but keeping up appearances - who would want to see pests in their plane? But, is it really necessary to spray you while you're on board?

corrected "Science Babe" - who incorrectly told Food Babe that airline spraying didn't happen - by verifying that, yes, it does. claims that misting passengers typically happens on other global airlines but that US airlines usually wait to spray until passengers are gone.

Sara Novak of Organic Authority reports malaria and yellow fever given as justifications for spraying and says:

For the most part, two methods are used to spray. The World Health Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization have outlined two methods deemed "safe." One involves spraying insecticides using aerosol cans while you're onboard. In fact, inbound flights to Cuba, Ecuador, (only Galapagos and Interislands), Grenada, India, Kiribati, Madagascar, Seychelles, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay require this method of spraying.

The other method involves treating plane interior surfaces with insecticides when passengers are not onboard. This protects against malarial mosquitoes and bugs that cause Chagas disease for example. Cockroaches, fleas, ticks, biting mites, and other pests can also be controlled using this method, which is required on inbound flights to Australia, Barbados, Cook Islands, Fiji, Jamaica, New Zealand, and Panama.

Roger Wendell who runs a travel blog recorded this video of a flight attendant hosing down the cabin with an unidentified chemical.

[embedded content]

He said:

Unfortunately I've traveled quite a bit and have had a lot of pesticide sprayed on me inside aircraft cabins. I've experienced this on flights into Africa and South America but have heard it's required by other countries around the globe as well. The World Health Organization says it's safe but the procedure still makes me cough and gag every time they do it...

recounts the exact chemicals used and reports that the practice is not new:

Exposing travelers on domestic flights to dangerous chemicals is not new. From 1944 until the late 1970s, airlines sprayed DDT on their planes, sometimes even while passengers were on board. And from 1986 to 1996, Northwest Airlines used Bolt, a pesticide that contains chlorpyrifos, a potential nervous system poison. In 1994, the reported that chlorpyrifos may cause symptoms ranging from nausea to convulsions, and may also produce birth defects and other genetic damage in humans.

The report goes on to show that the practice is dangerous and completely useless next to non-invasive, non-chemical methods that can first determine if there is even a need (bait station, caulking, sticky traps, gels etc...). And it can lead to pest resistance.

many experts point out that pesticide use on planes is not only dangerous, but useless. As far back as 1983, then Assistant Surgeon General Donald Hopkins said that "disinsection [spraying] of aircraft has never been shown to be highly effective in disease control and prevention."

Obviously, no one wants the spread of disease. But this is the problem with unfettered regulatory acceptance of chemical patent holders - innovative and safe alternatives never see the light of day. The EPA ushers in chemical approvals, often taking the word of the company. It does not play a role in inspection or checking up on human health effects. Some would say that kind of exposure of a threat was an assault and a crime. With safer alternatives already available, such chemical exposure appears senseless.

In 2015 - is this the best we can do? Well-intentioned or not, it is a sorry shame that you cannot even hop a plane to your vay-cay without being cooked and sprayed...



[1] , by the late Bruce Haney

About the author

Heather Callaghan is a natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at NaturalBlaze.com and ActivistPost.com. Like at Facebook.

Noctilucent clouds seen over Scotland


© M. J. S. Ferrier
Barassie Beach in Ayrshire, Scotland.


The fine-structured blue clouds floating above the dark, ordinary storm clouds are the NLCs. "It was hard to tell the full extent of the display due to a storm system passing through," says Ferrier. "But the noctilucent clouds were definitely there." Jimmy Fraser of Alness, Scotland, also photographed the display. "It was a great start for the NLC season here in northern Scotland," says Fraser.

NLCs are Earth's highest clouds. Seeded by meteoroids, they float at the edge of space more than 80 km above the planet's surface. The clouds are very cold and filled with tiny ice crystals. When sunbeams hit those crystals, they glow electric-blue.

Noctilucent clouds first appeared in the 19th century after the eruption of super-volcano Krakatoa. At the time, people thought NLCs were caused by the eruption, but long after Krakatoa's ash settled, the clouds remained. In recent years, NLCs have intensified and spread with sightings as far south as Utah and Colorado. This could be a sign of increasing greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere.

Observing tips:

Look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the Sun has dipped 6o to 16o below the horizon. If you see luminous blue-white tendrils spreading across the sky, you may have spotted a noctilucent cloud.


© Jimmy Fraser
Alness, Scotland

Radar Echoes From The Noctilucent Zone:

Every summer since the late 1970s, radars probing Earth's upper atmosphere have detected strong echoes from altitudes between 80 km and 90 km. These altitudes comprise the "noctilucent zone," where water vapor crystallizes around meteor smoke to form icy noctilucent clouds (NLCs). The first NLCs of the 2015 northern summer season were spotted by NASA's AIM spacecraft on May 19th. The radar echoes have followed close behind.

Les Dean of the MST Radar Facility in Aberystwyth, Wales, reports: "We detected our first echoes of the summer season on May 26th."

Researchers call them "Polar Mesospheric Summer Echoes" or "PMSEs." They occur over the Arctic during the months of May through August, and over the Antarctic during the months of November through February. These are the same months that NLCs appear.

But do the radar echoes actually come from noctilucent clouds? "The association is controversial," notes Dean. A leading theory holds that the ice particles in noctilucent clouds are electrically charged, and this makes them good reflectors of HF radio waves. However, NLCs are not always visible when the radar echoes are observed and vice versa. So the connection is not clear-cut.

One thing is sure: the northern season for both NLCs PMSEs has begun. Stay tuned for more echoes from the noctilucent zone.


© Jimmy Fraser
Alness, Scotland


"What is happening 90 km above Earth's surface?" wonders researcher Rob Stammes at the Polarlightcenter in Lofoten, Norway. For the past two nights, he has detected intense radio reflections using a forward scatter meteor radar. The phenomenon is almost surely linked to the PMSEs and noctilucent clouds reported above.

Natural birth & breastfeeding: Replaceable?


Now that we know the microbiome and is largely responsible for our digestion, immunity, and assimilation and production of nutrients, we are charged with learning about its optimal manifestation. How is it created? What are the ingredients to a healthy microbiome? Are there some more critical and some less critical steps?

As I describe here, it turns out the steps may be as simple as following the evolutionary order of operations.

1. Eat right

2. Birth vaginally in your place of dwelling

3. Breastfeed

A new study in Cell Host & Microbe (don't you love that there are actually journals with these titles?) points a finger at the hubris involved in positioning surgical birth and bottle-feeding as "separate but equal" alternatives.

Fecal samples of 98 Swedish infants over the first year of life revealed the following:

  • As has been previously demonstrated, C-section birth results in infant colonization with: "skin and oral microbes, but also bacteria from the surrounding environment during delivery." Specifically, " in particular , were less prevalent or missing in the C-section-delivered newborns compared to vaginally born infants, and this difference remained at 4 and 12 months." The microbiota of C-section babies contained higher proportions of antibiotic-resistance genes and these babies overlapped with their mother's stool patterns only 41% of the time rather than 72% in the vaginal births (which were potentially still contaminated by the hospital microbiome according to this study).
  • . Exclusively breast-fed infants had increased levels of taxa that are used as probiotics such as . Four-month old formula-fed infants had elevated levels of , in agreement with previous studies.
  • The authors state:
    "Our results underscore the role of the gut microbiota for the production of essential amino acids and vitamins for the growing infant. While the infant gut microbiota acquired significant capacity to produce amino acids and vitamins after 4 months of life, the increase in transporters capacity indicates that the newborn's microbiome is poised to the upcoming change in the intestinal environment and progression to a mature profile. Intriguingly, considering evidence that the gut microbiota may affect behavior, many functions of the developing gut microbiome linked to the metabolism of vitamins, iron, and amino acids are also required for normal brain development (Lozoff et al., 1987), thus adding to the possibility that the gut microbiota might affect behavior."
  • The cessation of breastfeeding rather than the introduction of solid food is what directs the transition to a more adult-looking microbiome.
It Happens This Way For A Reason

Suzanne Humphries, MD, takes us on a tour in this videoseries about the design behind the infant immune system - that babies are born into a "clamped-down" immunologic state which breastfeeding serves to template over the first two years. She explores the importance of full cord blood transfer, and the wrong-headedness of provoking adult-like immune responses through vaccines. Medicine has had a way of treating infants and babies like mini-adults. Perhaps awareness of the microbiome development will force us to acknowledge the mother-infant dyad and the uniqueness therein.

This above study, unsurprisingly, did not control for the influence of vaccination on the infant's microbiome. There has been shamefully scant literature examining the effects of vaccines on our native ecology and no research on the role of microbiota in increased vulnerability to injury. This may be related to the fact that true scientific acknowledgement of the microbiome and our enmeshment with the microbial world undermines the entire premise of vaccination.

Despite acknowledgement that:

"...no comprehensive studies have been undertaken to examine the gastrointestinal microbiota in relation to vaccine administration and if there is a discernible alteration in the community following vaccine administration,"

a handful of studies indicate that:
  • "At greatest risk of intestinal injury by rotavirus are those with a microbial predisposition high in LPS-producers as viral infectivity is most virulent in presence of LPS and other sugars in the cell wall of certain bacteria" - Keith Bell referencing this study.
  • Cholera vaccine significantly increases gram negative bacteria (1)
  • Regarding the flu vaccine: "We find that LAIV vaccination reverses normal bacterial clearance from the nasopharynx and significantly increases bacterial carriage densities of the clinically important bacterial pathogens and (2)
  • Bifidobacter or the absence of may dictate vaccine response.
  • With over 90 serotypes of pneumococcus identified, the Prevnar vaccine targets 7 resulted in shifts in nasopharyngeal colonies toward different strains associated with pathology including ear infections. The authors state:

    "...we observed an increase in culture-proven carriage in the original randomized controlled trial, as well as further increases in culture-proven and carriage observed in surveillance studies 3 - 5 years after PCV-7 implementation in the Netherlands."

Even the vitamin K shot with its whopping megadose of synthetic K1, propylene glycol, and polysorbate 80, was noted to impact gene expression. The authors state:

We observed enriched levels of genes for vitamin K2 (menaquinone) synthesis in newborns, which correlated with the high abundance of Bacteroides and Escherichia/Shigella.

The Microbiome Is Real And It's Here To Stay

Medical interventions and pharmaceuticals of all kinds must be subject to study of their microbiota-based effects. Risks associated with these interventions must also be stratified along individual microbiota profiles. Because this is not being done and has not been done, we must proceed with extreme caution, defaulting always to the power of the evolutionary principle which demands that we honor our connectivity to the natural world and to the wisdom of our own biology.

In the words of Rene Dubos:

"We are beginning, in fact, to witness the appearance of man-made diseases caused by the rapid changes in human ecology brought about by the new therapeutic procedures."

His words echo like a gentle commentary, now turned into a threat under the weight of our disconnection from these foundational concepts. Let's get back to basics and help our new mothers do the same.
About the author

Scientists identify epigenetic marks on DNA of ancient humans

A new study by anthropologists from The University of Texas at Austin shows for the first time that epigenetic marks on DNA can be detected in a large number of ancient human remains, which may lead to further understanding about the effects of famine and disease in the ancient world.

The field of epigenetics looks at chemical modifications to DNA, known as epigenetic marks, that influence which genes are expressed -- or turned on or off. Some epigenetic marks stay in place throughout a person's life, but others may be added or removed in response to environmental factors such as diet, disease and climate. If the modification is made to sperm or egg DNA, the changes could be inherited.

"By looking at epigenetic marks, we can better understand what genes are expressed during a person's life and how different environmental stresses shaped physical traits and health across generations," said UT Austin anthropology researcher Rick Smith, lead author of the study.

Previous studies of modern DNA looked at people who experienced famine in utero during World War II, revealing epigenetic changes related to diet, growth and metabolism. Similarly, other modern DNA studies have shown that some epigenetic marks are tied to cancer and may contribute to the development of the disease. Researchers say that investigating these marks in ancient DNA could improve understanding of the health of ancient populations.

Smith worked with Deborah Bolnick, a UT Austin associate professor of anthropology, and Cara Monroe, a Washington State University anthropologist, looking for an epigenetic mark known as cytosine methylation in the remains of 30 ancient humans from five archaeological sites in North America, ranging in age from 230 to more than 4,500 years old. The researchers successfully recovered methylation in 29 of the samples -- a dramatic improvement over previous studies, Smith said.

Prior to this study, cytosine methylation had primarily been detected in isolated ancient remains -- one Neanderthal and one Denisovan from Siberia, between 50,000 and 130,000 years old; a 4,000-year-old Paleo-Eskimo from Greenland; and a 26,000-year-old bison from Canada. Researchers have also identified methylation in barley samples from Egypt that are between 200 and 2,800 years old.

Unlike these previous studies of ancient DNA, Smith used a technique called bisulfite sequencing -- a "gold standard" method commonly used to measure methylation in modern DNA, providing more precise measurements. Many researchers thought it wouldn't yield results when applied to degraded ancient DNA, because it further degrades DNA. However, this research indicates that bisulfite sequencing can be successful when used on more recent and better-preserved DNA, Smith said.

"By studying methylation in ancient DNA from archaeological populations, not just isolated samples, we may gain insights into how past environments affected ancient societies," Bolnick said. "Future research in ancient epigenetics should open a new window into the lives and experiences of people who lived long ago."