Sugar in the diet may increase risks of opioid addiction

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As North America’s opioid crisis worsens, schools across Canada are purchasing naloxone anti-overdose kits. Research suggests that risks of opioid addiction could also be addressed through attention to children’s nutrition.
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Francesco Leri, University of Guelph

Could a diet high in refined sugars make children and adults more susceptible to opioid addiction and overdose? New research, from our laboratory of behavioral neuroscience at the University of Guelph, suggests it could.

Approximately 20,000 people died of fentanyl-related overdoses in the United States last year and in Canada there were at least 2,816 opioid-related deaths. During 2017 so far, over 1,000 people have died of illicit drug overdoses in British Columbia. High schools are stocking up on the overdose-reversing drug naloxone and universities are training staff to administer the drug.

Nobody is talking about sugar.

And yet there is substantial experimental evidence that refined sugar can promote addictive behaviours by activating the brain’s rewards centres in much the same way as addictive drugs. Opioid abuse is also associated with poor dietary habits, including preferences for sugar-rich foods, as well as malnutrition. These connections have led to questions of whether excessive consumption of refined sugar may affect vulnerability to opioid addiction.

To explore the possible role of a sugar-rich diet in opioid addiction, we investigated whether unlimited access to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) altered rats’ neural and behavioural responses to the semi-synthetic opioid, oxycodone.

Our findings suggest that a diet high in corn syrup may dampen the reward associated with oxycodone and may therefore encourage consumption of higher quantities of the drug.

Opioids, high fructose corn syrup and addiction

High fructose corn syrup is a refined sugar that typically includes more fructose than glucose. It is a commonly used food additive in North America, produced by chemically processing corn. Although it is employed in many processed foods, its use in soft drinks appears to have the biggest impact on health. In fact, there is a significant relationship between increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain, metabolic syndrome and hypertension.

Recently, our laboratory has been exploring the impact of HFCS on behaviours and brain markers of addiction in laboratory rats. In one study conducted by my PhD student Meenu Minhas, animals had unrestricted around-the-clock access to bottles containing a water solution sweetened by HFCS. After about a month of voluntary drinking, the bottles were removed and, after a few sugar-free days, animals’ behavioural and neural responses to oxycodone were assessed.

Similar to other opioids, oxycodone induces pharmacological effects that include analgesia, euphoria and feelings of relaxation. Some common street names include: “hillbilly heroin,” “perc,” and “OC.” Oxycodone is the active ingredient in a number of formulations which include intravenous injections, immediate release solutions/capsules (Percocet, Percodan, OXY IR, OXY FAST), and extended release preparations (OxyContin).

Oxycodone is also highly addictive and has impacted the lives of numerous North Americans. There are estimates that its consumption increased by almost 500 per cent from 1999 to 2011. The U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that approximately 27.9 million people aged 12 or older used oxycodone products. Moreover, 4.3 million people aged 12 or older reported misusing oxycodone-containing products in the past year.

Dampening drug’s reward may increase use

At the neural level, HFCS exposure decreased oxycodone-induced release of dopamine, which is a desire-promoting neurotransmitter active in the brain’s reward circuits.

Furthermore, at low doses, sedative drugs like opioids and alcohol normally interfere with inhibition and stimulate a variety of “psychomotor” behaviors — such as sociability, extroversion, talkativeness, sensation seeking and interest in novelty. Our study in rats found that exposure to the high fructose corn syrup reduced this psychomotor stimulation induced by oxycodone.


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Our experiments show that chronic exposure to high fructose corn syrup had an impact on both the neural and behavioural responses to oxycodone, resulting in changes likely to affect drug-taking and drug-seeking behaviour. They suggest that a high sugar diet may dampen the reward associated with a given dose of oxycodone. And that this may cause people to consume more of the drug.

These results suggest that nutrition, and high fructose corn syrup intake in particular, can influence responses to opioids — a finding that may be relevant both to clinical uses of opioids and to treatment of addiction.

The ConversationWe can win the war on opioid addiction only if we tackle the problem from multiple angles. Our findings, and those of other laboratories, strongly suggest that prevention of unhealthy diets may not only help reduce the obesity epidemic, but also reduce environmental factors that may predispose to opioid addiction.

Francesco Leri, Professor of Psychology, University of Guelph

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

À quand la fin du mercure?

For information in English:
http://mercuryconvention.org/
https://www.epa.gov/international-cooperation/minamata-convention-mercury

Defne Gonenc, Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement (IHEID)

Comment mieux protéger les hommes et l’environnement des dangers du mercure ? C’est la question qui a occupé, du 24 au 29 septembre les signataires de la Convention de Minamata.

Le but de cette convention, entrée en vigueur le 16 août dernier, est de préserver la santé humaine et les écosystèmes des émissions et rejets anthropiques de ce produit chimique hautement toxique. Le Programme des Nations unies pour l’environnement (PNUE) estime que 8 900 tonnes de mercure sont rejetées chaque année dans la nature (rejets naturels et anthropiques).

De multiples effets délétères

Le mercure est un métal très toxique, capable d’affecter le fonctionnement du cerveau. Selon l’Organisation mondiale de la santé (OMS), il peut provoquer des tremblements et autres symptômes neuropsychiatriques tels que la fatigue, l’insomnie, l’anorexie, la dépression, la nervosité, l’irritabilité ou encore des problèmes de mémoire. Il est particulièrement dangereux pour ceux qui consomment beaucoup de poisson puisqu’il s’immisce dans toute la chaîne alimentaire.

Selon le Programme des Nations unies pour l’environnement, la plus grande source d’émissions de mercure concerne les mines d’or artisanales à petite échelle, suivie de la combustion du charbon. Le mercure est en effet utilisé lors de l’extraction de l’or par les mineurs. Sachant qu’environ 15 % de l’or est produit dans un cadre artisanal et à petite échelle, le recours au mercure est largement répandu.

Les dangers de l’usage du mercure dans les mines artisanales (GEF, 2016).

Éliminer progressivement le mercure

La Convention de Minamata tire son nom d’une ville de pêcheurs située au Japon dont les habitants ont été gravement contaminés pendant des décennies. De 1932 à 1966, une usine pétrochimique à effet rejeté des métaux lourds, et tout particulièrement du mercure, affectant plus de 10 000 personnes. Cet événement dramatique a permis une prise de conscience des dangers du mercure.

Si elle n’agit pas de façon immédiate, la Convention constitue un indicateur précieux pour les mesures à venir limitant l’usage du mercure. Le traité prévoit ainsi l’interdiction de l’ouverture de nouvelles mines du mercure et son abandon graduel dans les mines d’or existantes.

Il vise également son élimination progressive dans un certain nombre de produits courants, comme les thermomètres, ainsi que le contrôle de ses rejets et de ses composés. Car le mercure est présent dans de très nombreux objets du quotidien à l’image des piles ou encore des produits cosmétiques.

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Les faiblesses de la Convention

Au-delà des promesses, la Convention de Minamata peut-elle réduire efficacement l’utilisation du mercure dans le monde ? Plusieurs points du texte illustrent des faiblesses, comme l’ont souligné certains groupes de défense de l’environnement.

En premier lieu, alors même que le traité exige des pays concernés qu’ils établissent des plans d’action pour réduire l’utilisation du mercure dans l’extraction minière artisanale, aucun objectif exact ni aucune échéance n’ont été spécifiés.

On peut également regretter que la Convention de Minamata ne soit pas aussi contraignante pour les centrales électriques à charbon déjà en fonctionnement que pour les nouvelles centrales. Seules ces dernières auront désormais l’obligation d’utiliser la meilleure technologie disponible.

On le voit, le traité de Minamata demeure très souple, sa mise en œuvre dépendant du moment où le pays veut agir.

La question du financement

Le financement constitue également l’une des grandes faiblesses du traité, la mise en place des mesures pour lutter contre les effets du mercure dépend des capacités de chaque pays. Et le peu de volontarisme des pays industrialisés n’arrange rien : ces derniers préfèrent en effet s’appuyer sur le Fonds pour l’environnement mondial (GEF) afin de réduire l’usage du mercure.

Soulignons enfin que certains pays où le mercure est beaucoup utilisé dans l’extraction artisanale d’or à petite échelle, comme l’Inde, le Suriname et les Philippines, n’ont pas encore ratifié le traité.

The ConversationEn dépit de ses faiblesses, le traité témoigne de la volonté de la communauté internationale d’agir contre les effets nocifs du mercure. C’est une initiative précieuse, mais ce n’est qu’une première étape.

Defne Gonenc, Research assistant, Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement (IHEID)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Are energy efficiency programmes all they seem?

Ross Gillard, University of York and Carolyn Snell, University of York

The cost of energy in the UK is once again a hot topic. During the party conference season, Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, announced that the Scottish government will set up a publicly owned, not for profit energy company. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn restated his wish to nationalise utility companies to “stop the public being ripped off”. And the Conservative prime minister Theresa May promised to fix the “broken” energy market, in part by imposing a cap on some domestic energy prices.

The UK government swiftly followed this season of rhetoric with two supporting policy announcements. It has drawn up draft legislation to set an energy price cap, although this may take until the winter of 2018/19 to be enacted. Second, it has published a clean growth strategy, which promises “cleaner air, lower energy bills, greater economic security and a natural environment protected and enhanced for the future”.

It’s not easy to address the social, environmental and economic dimensions of domestic energy in one go, as these different goals interact with each other. For example, a price cap clearly makes energy more affordable, but it doesn’t reduce the amount of energy needed or used. While the sheer price of energy is problematic for many people, so too is inefficient housing which increases bills and associated greenhouse gas emissions.

The clean growth strategy addresses this by reconfirming a commitment to require large energy companies to install efficiency measures such as insulation and heating systems. This scheme, the energy company obligation (ECO), now has £3.6 billion in funding through to 2028. It aims to help 2.5m fuel-poor households. Alongside stricter regulations within the private rented sector, the ECO is intended to upgrade all fuel-poor homes to a decent standard by 2030.

But it’s worth putting the rhetoric and promises of these policy announcements into context. Help for people in fuel poverty has decreased since 2010, largely due to the coalition government abandoning publicly funded schemes in England in favour of privately funded energy supplier obligations like ECO. Though social and environmental policies do add to fuel bills, policymakers assume that this increase is more than offset by people using less energy thanks to efficiency savings.

How much heat is escaping out of your windows?
Ivan Smuk / shutterstock

In our research we are currently looking at whether ECO is an effective way to address affordability and energy efficiency in vulnerable people’s homes. England is the only one of the four UK nations that relies solely on this market-driven scheme, so it’s important to evaluate its impact. We recently highlighted a number of potential problems, and solutions. To begin with, only certain people are eligible. Proxies such as welfare benefits, demographics and postcodes are used, but they can arbitrarily exclude households on the margins of these measures who may indeed be vulnerable.

People also struggle to upgrade their homes if the work does not enable a certain amount of carbon savings at a certain price. In other words, private companies are likely to prioritise meeting their statutory obligations rather than findings and helping the most vulnerable households. Even for those that do secure funding, it’s at best a long and complicated process. Some upgrades are never completed because installers are not equipped to manage the needs of people with, for example, disabilities or mental health conditions.

What is clear from our comparative research of the UK nations is that state funded schemes, such as nest in Wales and home energy efficiency programmes in Scotland, are better able to target, and respond to the needs of, vulnerable households. Market driven schemes are different as they will, by definition, seek out the most cost effective work. But this ceases to be an asset once the low-hanging fruit has all been picked, and those with the greatest need (and potentially higher costs) are left subsidising other people’s housing upgrades.

The ConversationAn energy price cap will certainly provide some initial relief. But unless it is continually ratcheted down or extended to more customers it will not provide long-term savings or wider benefits. Increasing investment in energy efficiency ticks more social and environmental boxes, but the regressive approach to funding such a scheme in England means it will continue prioritising cost-effective carbon savings over helping those most in need.

Ross Gillard, Research associate, University of York and Carolyn Snell, Senior Lecturer in Social Policy, University of York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

AI can predict whether your relationship will last based on how you speak to your partner


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I’m TALKING.
Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

Ian McLoughlin, University of Kent

Any child (or spouse) who has been scolded for their tone of voice – such as shouting or being sarcastic – knows that the way you speak to someone can be just as important as the words that you use. Voice artists and actors make great use of this – they are skilled at imparting meaning in the way that they speak, sometimes much more than the words alone would merit.

But just how much information is carried in our tone of voice and conversation patterns and how does that impact our relationships with others? Computational systems can already establish who people are from their voices, so could they also tell us anything about our love life? Amazingly, it seems like it.

New research, just published in the journal PLOS-ONE, has analysed the vocal characteristics of 134 couples undergoing therapy. Researchers from the University of Southern California used computers to extract standard speech analysis features from recordings of therapy session participants over two years. The features – including pitch, variation in pitch and intonation – all relate to voice aspects like tone and intensity.

A machine-learning algorithm was then trained to learn a relationship between those vocal features and the eventual outcome of therapy. This wasn’t as simple as detecting shouting or raised voices – it included the interplay of conversation, who spoke when and for how long as well as the sound of the voices. It turned out that ignoring what was being said and considering only these patterns of speaking was sufficient to predict whether or not couples would stay together. This was purely data driven, so it didn’t relate outcomes to specific voice attributes.

How a tone of voice can change the meaning of a few words.

Interestingly, the full video recordings of the therapy session were then given to experts to classify. Unlike the AI, they made their predictions using psychological assessment based on the vocal (and other) attributes – including the words spoken and body language. Surprisingly, their prediction of the eventual outcome (they were correct in 75.6% of the cases) was inferior to predictions made by the AI based only on vocal characteristics (79.3%). Clearly there are elements encoded in the way we speak that not even experts are aware of. But the best results came from combining the automated assessment with the experts’ assessment (79.6% correct).

The significance of this is not so much about involving AI in marriage counselling or getting couples to speak more nicely to each other (however meritorious that would be). The significance is revealing how much information about our underlying feelings is encoded in the way we speak – some of it completely unknown to us.

Words written on a page or a screen have lexical meanings derived from their dictionary definitions. These are modified by the context of surrounding words. There can be great complexity in writing. But when words are read aloud, it is true that they take on additional meanings that are conveyed by word stress, volume, speaking rate and tone of voice. In a typical conversation there is also meaning in how long each speaker talks for, and how quickly one or other might interject.

Consider the simple question “Who are you?”. Try speaking this with stress on different words; “Who are you?”, “Who are you?” and “Who are you?”. Listen to these – the semantic meaning can change with how we read even when the words stay the same.

Computers reading ‘leaking senses’?

It is unsurprising that words convey different meanings depending on how they are spoken. It is also unsurprising that computers can interpret some of the meaning behind how we choose to speak (maybe one day they will even be able to understand irony).

But this research takes matters further than just looking at the meaning conveyed by a sentence. It seems to reveal underlying attitudes and thoughts that lie behind the sentences. This is a much deeper level of understanding.

The therapy participants were not reading words like actors. They were just talking naturally – or as naturally as they could in a therapist’s office. And yet the analysis revealed information about their mutual feelings that they were “leaking” inadvertently into their speech. This may be one of the first steps in using computers to determine what we are really thinking or feeling. Imagine for a moment conversing with future smartphones – will we “leak” information that they can pick up? How will they respond?

Congratulations. Changes in your voice, pulse and pupil size all indicate you’ve found a romantic match.
Astarot/Shutterstock

Could they advise us about potential partners by listening to us talking together? Could they detect a propensity towards antisocial behaviour, violence, depression or other conditions? It would not be a leap of imagination to imagine the devices themselves as future therapists – interacting with us in various ways to track the effectiveness of interventions that they are delivering.

Don’t worry just yet because we are years away from such a future, but it does raise privacy issues, especially as we interact more deeply with computers at the same time as they are becoming more powerful at analysing the world around them.

The ConversationWhen we pause also to consider the other human senses apart from sound (speech); perhaps we also leak information through sight (such as body language, blushing), touch (temperature and movement) or even smell (pheromones). If smart devices can learn so much by listening to how we speak, one wonders how much more could they glean from the other senses.

Ian McLoughlin, Professor of Computing, Head of School (Medway), University of Kent

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Investing in people’s futures

“IMF research has shown that excessive inequality hinders growth and hollows out the country’s economic foundation. It erodes trust within society and fuels political tensions.”

In the past three decades, economic inequality between countries has declined sharply, said Christine Lagarde at her recent public speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

“But if we look at inequality within countries, especially some advanced economies, we see widening gaps and an increased concentration of wealth among the top earners.”

There are no lesser human beings and higher human beings. That idea is a fallacy. Greater equality brings greater happiness, particularly if it lifts everyone who is in deep poverty out of it, and even benefits those at the top.

In 1981, the average top marginal tax rate in advanced economies was 62%. In 2015, it was 35%. New IMF research (which will be published next week) suggests that some advanced economies could raise their top tax rates without slowing growth. “Worth considering.”

“What is not yet done is only what we have not yet attempted to do.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

Why (ex)Hurricane Ophelia took a wrong turn towards Ireland and Britain – and carried all that dust

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Met Office

Alexander Roberts, University of Leeds

Hurricane Ophelia, by then downgraded to Storm Ophelia, reached Ireland on Monday October 16. At the time of writing there had already been three deaths and countless reports of severe damage to buildings and fallen trees. Unlike other severe storms to reach Ireland and Britain, such as the 1987 Great Storm, Ophelia was in many ways a typical tropical cyclone with a tight spiral of cloud, powerfully strong winds, and a cloud-free eye.

But what set it apart from other Atlantic hurricanes was its direct route to Europe. While hurricanes do sometimes take a circuitous route westward across the ocean and loop back again towards Europe, this one took a short cut.

Ophelia began as a rather innocuous looking group of clouds in the Atlantic Ocean, several hundred miles south-west of the Azores and roughly on the same latitude as Morocco or northern Florida. Yet even at this stage it was unusual. Most named storms in the Atlantic are generated in warmer waters much further south and, as such, they are generally driven across the ocean by the easterly (blowing westwards) trade winds. They eventually dissipate as they curve north into the Atlantic or make landfall in the Caribbean, Mexico or the US.

Tracks of all Atlantic hurricanes from 1851 to 2012.
Nilfanion / US National Hurricane Centre, CC BY-SA

In Ophelia’s case, moderate atmospheric shear (changes in direction and strength of wind with height) and relatively cool sea surface temperatures meant it took several days to develop the well-defined low pressure centre, strong winds and spiral clouds of a hurricane. Then, instead of travelling west, like most Atlantic hurricanes, Ophelia began to head north-east.

This can be explained by the position and strength of the mid-latitude jet stream, an atmospheric feature that plays a major role in determining the weather over Western Europe. When its path loops north over the UK it can produce stable warm conditions in the summer (as in the record-breaking heatwave of July 2015), and bright cold days in the winter. When its path west to east is more direct, it guides low pressure storm systems across the UK and Ireland and can be responsible for the rapid strengthening of storms in a short period of time (described colloquially by forecasters as a “weather bomb”).

https://giphy.com/embed/uDOWJ8J8zD1fy
A northwards loop of the jet stream (far right) guided Ophelia from the Azores to Ireland.

It is this that produced such a rapid change in direction for Ophelia. Such waves on the mid-latitude jet stream are not unusual, however, the combination of both the jet’s and Ophelia’s position produced the conditions to guide the ex-hurricane toward the British Isles.

Adrift in the Azores

Tropical cyclones that form in or travel to the region near the Azores can become trapped. Stronger vertical wind shear to the north and south as well as colder sea surface temperatures in the surroundings can lead to storms that travel very slowly and eventually dissipate due to unfavourable conditions.

If there is no external force that can help to steer the storm, but conditions remain favourable, then tropical cyclones can persist for a long time. An example of this was Hurricane Nadine which circled the same part of the ocean where Ophelia formed for almost a month in 2012, the fourth longest-lived Atlantic hurricane on record.

First part of Ophelia’s journey. Compare to the map above – very few hurricanes take this route.
US National Hurricane Centre

That may have been Ophelia’s fate too, had it not been for the mid-latitude jet stream which instead guided the hurricane directly toward Ireland. It is partly due to this behaviour that the forecasts have been so accurate. Jet streams are generally well represented in numerical weather models, and so their influence on a storm’s path can be well predicted.

Ahead of Ophelia’s arrival the UK had a weekend of unseasonably balmy temperatures thanks to warm tropical air driven northwards. This is partly due to the winds circulating around the Ophelia low pressure centre, but also the positioning of the jet stream helping to draw air up from the tropics.

What about that dust?

On Monday much of the UK looked far less like a hurricane had arrived, and much more like the whole country had been put through a rosy Instagram filter. The sun was particularly red at dawn and throughout much of the day the whole sky glowed a yellowy-orange.

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This effect was partly thanks to the southerly winds on Ophelia’s eastern side, which transported Saharan dust and smoke from Iberian forest fires. In fact several flights over the UK were forced to make emergency landings when smoke could be smelt in the cabin. Increased number of particles in the atmosphere then scattered light preferentially from the blue end of the spectrum, leaving the more orange and red colours to reach our eyes.

The ConversationBut Ophelia also produced a layer of upper level clouds, thick enough to block out much of the sun’s rays directly but thin enough to allow a large amount of diffuse, scattered light to pass through. On a day when the sky was not full of smoke and dust particles, this would have appeared like a run-of-the-mill white skied, overcast day. However, on Monday it led to Facebook feeds being filled with photos of a bright orange sun at midday and yellow clouds.

Alexander Roberts, Researcher, Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science (ICAS), University of Leeds

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

This Too Shall Pass

Eclipsed Words

“And this, too, shall pass.”

This is a proverb indicating that all material conditions, positive or negative, are temporary and time solves all problems.

I once read that the great Abraham Lincoln used to have a grand affinity for this proverb. On September 30, 1859, Abraham Lincoln included a similar story in an address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society in Milwaukee. This is what he said;
“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.”

How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!

When we are in trouble, we feel that we are the only person who is facing these mountains full of doubts…

View original post 397 more words

Deadly explosion in Somali capital Mogadishu brings shock, outrage, and resilience

Laura Hammond, SOAS, University of London

More than 300 people were killed and at least 500 injured on October 14 when a truck bomb exploded in a crowded intersection in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. The attack is being called the worst in the history of the city, a particularly alarming statistic considering that the capital has regularly been the scene of violent conflict since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991.

No one has yet officially claimed responsibility for the attack, although the Guardian reported that a man, detained when he tried to drive a second vehicle loaded with explosives into the capital, told security officials that the rebel group Al-Shabaab was responsible.

Al-Shabaab is a terrorist group that has been fighting against the federal government of Somalia since late 2006. It is an extremist Islamist group with ties to Al-Qaeda, working to include Somalia in an international jihad. Its strength has waxed and waned in the intervening decade. Since 2011, when it staged what it called a “tactical withdrawal” from Mogadishu, its activities in the capital have mainly consisted of suicide bombings, detonations of improvised explosive devices and targeted assassinations of political figures.

Its capabilities in Mogadishu, as in nearly all Somali cities, are held in check by the combined forces of the African Union-backed AMISOM peacekeeping force and the Somali Federal Security Forces. But Somalia’s military is notoriously weak, hampered by the fact that it is made up of a collection of clan militias seconded to the national authorities by their leaders, with often weak allegiance to the national project.

Al-Shabaab continues to control large swathes of the Somali countryside, and retains the ability to carry out large-scale attacks. It is playing a long game. In the short term the group is working to thwart the Somali government’s efforts to consolidate its power, but it does not have enough power to defeat the government or to drive it from the capital. In the longer term, Al-Shabaab professes to be working to expel foreign – Western – influence in Somalia and to establish a state based on an extreme reading of sharia law.

The recent explosion was significant for the scale of its devastation and the size of the arsenal contained in the truck. Details of where the explosives for the attack were obtained are yet to emerge, but it’s clear that the operation must have been planned and carried out by a group with considerable organisational power.

Crisis mode

The attack couldn’t have come at a worse time for the federal government of Somalia. A week before, both Somalia’s minister of defence and military chief resigned for reasons that remain unclear. The suspicions are that the two were rivals, but were also frustrated at a lack of support coming from the months-old administration of President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.

The government is trying to put in place a new Security Pact, agreed in May 2017 at an international conference held at London’s Lancaster House. That plan, which was to see the first of AMISOM’s troops withdrawing in 2018, is very likely to be stalled as a result of the attack.

The attack is also likely to put a damper on the rhetoric rising out of the city in recent years that Mogadishu was becoming safer. With so many innocent civilians affected, the notion that only high-profile politicians or security personnel are at risk is now seriously challenged. This is likely to deter many Somalis from the diaspora as well as those living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, from returning.

If Al-Shabaab is responsible for the dreadful loss of life, its official silence in the aftermath may be due to the very high number of civilian casualties. One theory is that the truck had been intended to explode outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but was detonated prematurely by the driver when it was stopped by security officials after getting stuck in traffic. The explosion then ignited a nearby fuel tanker, causing a fireball that destroyed buildings over several hundred metres in the centre of the city. Causing so many civilian casualties is likely to lead to serious and widespread backlash against Al-Shabaab – not the kind of PR they are looking for in their battle to bring down the government.

Resilience and solidarity

Yet amid the horror stories of suffering and loss, small glimmers of hope and resilience have emerged. One of the strongest and most immediate sources of support has been the Somali diaspora. Within hours it mobilised to raise money for Aamin Ambulance, the only free ambulance service in the city, to be able to take the wounded to hospital.

Daallo Airlines, a Somali-owned business, announced that it would transport all relief supplies into the country for free. Other crowdfunded efforts were started to provide support to the families of those affected. These efforts have raised thousands of dollars in just a few days.

International support is coming in many forms too. Djibouti responded by sending its minister of health and 30 doctors to help treat the wounded. Turkey evacuated 35 of the injured to be treated in Ankara, and sent ten tons of medical supplies to Mogadishu. Paris extinguished the lights on the Eiffel Tower on October 16 at midnight, and Toronto’s iconic name sign was illuminated in blue and white to pay respect to those affected.

The ConversationOnce the dust has settled, the fires are extinguished and the loved ones laid to rest, maybe – just maybe – this resilience will be able to grow to ensure that the peace that Somali so desperately needs will come at last.

Laura Hammond, Reader in Development Studies, SOAS, University of London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why blaming ivory poaching on Boko Haram isn’t helpful


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Talking about ivory-funded terrorism overlooks the real sources of income for terror groups.
Author supplied

Mark Moritz, The Ohio State University; Alice B. Kelly Pennaz, University of California, Berkeley; Mouadjamou Ahmadou, and Paul Scholte, The Ohio State University

In 2016, as part of a ceremony in Cameroon’s capital Yaoundé, 2 000 elephant tusks were burned to demonstrate the country’s commitment to fight poaching and illegal trade in wildlife. US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power gave a speech at the event linking poaching to terrorism.

The idea that terror groups like Boko Haram fund their activities through ivory poaching in Africa is a simple and compelling narrative. It has been adopted by governments, NGOs and media alike. But it is undermining wildlife conservation and human rights.

The problem is that such claims hinge on a single document which uses only one, unnamed source to estimate terrorist profits from ivory. The study hasn’t been backed up elsewhere.

Similarly, there is little evidence that terrorist activities are funded by wildlife poaching in Cameroon. We have studied wildlife conservation and pastoralism in the Far North Region of Cameroon in the last two decades. We have found that it is highly unlikely that Boko Haram is using ivory to survive financially. The elephant populations in the areas where Boko Haram operates are so low that this would be a faulty business plan to say the least. Only 246 elephants were counted in Waza Park in 2007.

Talking about ivory-funded terrorism overlooks the real sources of income for these groups. In Cameroon and Nigeria evidence shows that Boko Haram is using profits from cattle raids to support its activities. Boko Haram’s plunder of the countryside leaves cattle herders destitute.

The dangers of militarisation

The wrong focus has implications for conservation and human rights. Linking poachers and terrorists has led to a further militarisation of conservation areas in Africa. More guns and guards have been sent into parks to stop poachers.

The military approach has also led to serious human rights violations. These take the form of shoot-on-sight policies and other violent tactics carried out against local populations. Law enforcement in protected areas is important for controlling poaching and terrorism alike but it is not a perfect solution.

And wildlife conservation can suffer if well armed but underpaid park guards turn to poaching themselves.

It would be more helpful if properly paid and trained people provided security across the region rather than just in protected areas.

Consequences of the wrong connection

Ignoring the fact that cattle, not ivory, may be fuelling terrorism in places like Cameroon does a disservice to pastoralists. While livestock may compete with wildlife when pastoralists take refuge inside better-protected areas like parks, they do so only because their livelihoods are at risk.

Mistaking the true source of income for terrorist groups also means that their violent activities continue.

Finally, it diverts attention from corrupt conservation and government officials who may be complicit in poaching.

Of course, this is not to say that poaching is not happening. The dramatic declines in elephant populations in Cameroon and elsewhere in Africa indicate otherwise. The question is who is doing the poaching and why.

We challenge governments and organisations interested in wildlife, security and human rights to take a closer look at the evidence. Instead of sharing simple claims about terrorism and poaching, they should consider all the forms of economic support to terrorist organisations.

The ConversationIn Cameroon, this would mean offering better security for pastoralists and their cattle. Protecting cattle does not have the same appeal for Western audiences as protecting elephants. But it could be a way to conserve wildlife, protect human rights and stop funding for terrorism.

Mark Moritz, Associate Professor of Anthropology, The Ohio State University; Alice B. Kelly Pennaz, Researcher, University of California, Berkeley; Mouadjamou Ahmadou, Lecturer in Visual Anthropology, and Paul Scholte, Ecologist leading programs and organizations in conservation, The Ohio State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Funny people are more intelligent than their po-faced peers


File 20171013 11684 1g34s7o.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Marco Saroldi/Shutterstock

Lowri Dowthwaite, University of Central Lancashire

Albert Einstein attributed his brilliant mind to having a child-like sense of humour. Indeed, a number of studies have found an association between humour and intelligence.

Researchers in Austria recently discovered that funny people, particularly those who enjoy dark humour, have higher IQs than their less funny peers. They argue that it takes both cognitive and emotional ability to process and produce humour. Their analysis shows that funny people have higher verbal and non-verbal intelligence, and they score lower in mood disturbance and aggressiveness.

Not only are funny people smart, they’re nice to be around. Evidence suggests that having a good sense of humour is linked to high emotional intelligence and is a highly desirable quality in a partner. Evolutionary psychologists describe humour as a “heritable trait” that signals mental fitness and intellectual agility to prospective mates. In studies of attractiveness, both men and women rate funny people as more attractive, and cite having a good sense of humour as being one of the most important traits in a long-term partner.

Negative humour style.
Everett Collection/Shutterstock

In psychology we use the term “positive humour style” to refer to people who use humour to enhance relationships and reduce conflict. This type of humour is associated with relationship satisfaction, extroversion and high self-esteem Having a humorous outlook on life is also a good coping strategy. It helps people better manage stress and adversity.

More negative humour styles, such as sarcasm, ridicule and self-defeating humour, do not offer the same benefits. Instead, they tend to alienate people and are more often associated with depressed mood and aggression.

Not only do funny people make other people laugh, they also laugh more themselves. And neurobiology shows that laughter leads to brain changes, which may explain the link between humour and intelligence.

Neuropsychological studies have found that experiencing positive emotional states, such as joy, fun and happiness, increases the production of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine not only make us feel great, it also opens up the learning centres of the brain, which enables and sustains more neural connections. As a result, we become more flexible and creative in our thinking, and better at solving problems. It also boosts our working memory.

Humour for success

Evidence suggests that humour actually boosts perceptions of confidence, competence and status, making funny people very influential. Humour gets people to listen, helps communicate messages and aids learning. It is a powerful tool that many successful leaders use to enhance group cohesiveness and organisational culture. Studies of positive organisations suggest the more fun we have at work the more productive we are, and the less likely we are to suffer burn-out.

The “broaden and build” theory also supports the idea that experiencing positive emotions through humour actually alters our thoughts, actions and physiological responses. It creates a virtuous circle effect that enhances well-being.

Research on the use of humour in education also supports the notion that humour is an effective aid to learning. Several studies have demonstrated that lessons that are delivered with humour are more enjoyable for students, and also enhance students comprehension and recall of the topic.

Given the host of benefits that being funny brings, perhaps we could all benefit from joining a stand-up comedy workshop. It seems like the smart thing to do.

The Conversation

Lowri Dowthwaite, Lecturer in Psychological Interventions, University of Central Lancashire

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

To fight inequality, Indonesia should learn from China and India in combating digital illiteracy

Primatia Romana Wulandari, University of Melbourne

To mark the CAUSINDY (Conference of Australian and Indonesian Youth) held in Melbourne this week, The Conversation presents analysis from academics at the conference.


Indonesia shares similar characteristics with China and India as Asian countries that have more people between the ages of 15 and 64 than young children and the elderly.

Analysts call this surplus of people of productive working age a “demographic bonus”, which can contribute to the rise of China, India and Indonesia as leading economies.

The young populations of these countries are entering a shifting jobs landscape propelled by innovation in digital technology. China and India are moving to prepare their populations to take advantage of the digital era.


Read more: The robots are coming for your job! Why digital literacy is so important for the jobs of the future


But Indonesia has a lot of catching up to do to provide its people with skills including digital literacy, to be able to find employment in a world where the ability to use the internet via digital mediums, such as personal computers, smartphones, tablets and others, will be a necessary skill.

Changing jobs landscape

Before there was the internet, around 30 years ago, more than half of Indonesia’s population (54.7% in 1985) worked the land as farmers.

By 2016 only 34% were still working in the agriculture industry. Some 44.8% work in the services sector and 19.7% in manufacturing.

Data from Indonesia’s Statistics Agency show more than half of Indonesian workers (51.5%) are underqualified or lack the right skills to do the job. This occupational mismatch is often associated with low levels of education. Some 40% of workers’ skills and employment are well matched. And 8.5% are overqualified for their occupations.

The data show Indonesia is facing a skills shortage. One of the skills Indonesians lack is digital literacy.

What China and India are doing

China provides us with a good example of how to take advantage of an internet-enabled digital economy. It accounted for 30.6% of China’s GDP in 2016.

Even though China restricted its citizens’ internet access, by blocking certain websites and applications since 1997 (“the great firewall of China”), it has, on the other hand, driven the development of its native platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, QQ, Renren, Alibaba, JD.com and many others.

With its restrictions, China has reoriented internet adoption and online behaviours by maximising its market potential within the country.

For example, WeChat has grown rapidly since 2011 to rival Facebook and become the nation’s most-used social media app. It has radically changed the Chinese lifestyle and way of doing business. WeChat will potentially overtake Facebook in the future.

WeChat.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

It offers features such as instant messaging, commerce and mobile payment services. It makes a virtual workplace possible by offering components that enable and improve important business functions such as task co-ordination. It provides a convenient virtual wallet that can be used for almost every transaction, from paying utility bills to a coffee.

The Chinese diaspora has spread the use of WeChat worldwide. This is an example of China using its demographic bonus to create opportunities and a competitive environment that allow its citizens to redefine the global economic balance of power.

Meanwhile, India made a serious move to combat digital illiteracy by establishing the National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) in August 2014.

With the objective of “making one person in every family digitally literate by 2020”, India has pledged to provide 147 million people in rural India with the necessary skill to use the technology.

This can be seen as a positive move towards a more digital-savvy India that recognises the need of digital literacy for development.

What about Indonesia?

Indonesia currently focuses on traditional infrastructure development, such as roads, ports and a subway system, to improve physical connectivity and mobility. But the government should not lose sight of the importance of providing the population with the infrastructure to access information and technology.

A survey by the Association of Indonesian Internet Providers (APJII) pointed out that people living in the urban areas in Java, Sumatra and Bali enjoy internet access, whereas the rest of Indonesia is still struggling to connect.

According to Akamai, as of March 2017, the internet penetration rate in Indonesia is 50.4%. This is lower than neighbouring countries such as Australia (85.9%), Singapore (81.2%), Malaysia (67.7%), Philippines (52%), Vietnam (52.1%), and Thailand (60%).

The average speed of internet connection in Indonesia (7.2 Mbps) is also slower compared to Singapore (20.3 Mbps), Thailand (16.0 Mbps), Vietnam (9.5 Mbps) and Malaysia (8.9 Mbps).

Despite high smartphone sales (55.4 million users in 2015 with 4.5 million smartphones sold annually), Indonesia remains “a marketplace” rather than a rising power in the global competition. Indonesia is the third-largest smartphone market in the Asia-Pacific rgion, after India and China.

Indonesians can use social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp, but they do not have fast and reliable internet access to browse and research online, let alone create business opportunities.

Research by Edwin Jurriens and Ross Tapsell recommends that the Indonesian government start paying attention to the digital divide if Indonesia is serious about its objective to combat inequality.

Start with simple but necessary steps

Indonesia needs to develop policies with clear objectives to spur internet adoption and digital literacy.

If President Jokowi is serious about creating “1000 technopreneurs by 2020”, the government should start by:

  • working with the private sector to provide internet access and telecommunication services for rural areas

  • training citizens to use digital technology via formal and informal education programs nationwide

  • promoting and providing incentives to develop native online platforms.

This could involve, for example, holding hackathons to solve the real issues that Indonesians face daily, such as traffic jams, floods, finding markets for local products, access to health services and referral, options for different service providers, a channel to provide feedback to improve services, etc.

Instead of leaping towards the objective of creating “technopreneurs”, Indonesia could begin with a simple objective to start a nationwide movement to combat digital illiteracy, a hidden inequality that persists in Indonesia.


Read more: Researchers find Indonesia needs more digital literacy education


Indonesia should also provide an environment where tech startups can thrive, through tax rebates and investments, to really benefit the Indonesian economy.

For example, Gojek, one of the most successful local startups, was founded and is led by Nadine Makarim, an Indonesian. However, it could only succeed after receiving backing and investment from Warburg Pincus, KKR and Farallon Capital – all American-based equity firms.

The ConversationWe may celebrate Gojek as a successful Indonesian example of a startup that has helped to solve local issues by allowing access to convenient services. But, if we fail to understand who are “the real owners” of the business, Indonesia will only be “a marketplace”, not an emerging economy.

Primatia Romana Wulandari, PhD Candidate School of Social and Political Science, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Indonesia for Sale: in-depth series on corruption, palm oil and rainforests launches

How to combat racial bias: Start in childhood


File 20171011 9815 7g60uo.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Computer training can decrease children’s biases.
Jeff Inglis, CC BY-ND

Gail Heyman, University of California, San Diego

Racial bias can seem like an intractable problem. Psychologists and other social scientists have had difficulty finding effective ways to counter it – even among people who say they support a fairer, more egalitarian society. One likely reason for the difficulty is that most efforts have been directed toward adults, whose biases and prejudices are often firmly entrenched.

My colleagues and I are starting to take a new look at the problem of racial bias by investigating its origins in early childhood. As we learn more about how biases take hold, will we eventually be able to intervene before any biases become permanent?

Measuring racial bias

When psychology researchers first began studying racial biases, they simply asked individuals to describe their thoughts and feelings about particular groups of people. A well-known problem with these measures of explicit bias is that people often try to respond to researchers in ways they think are socially appropriate.

The kind of sorting task the Implicit Association Test presents to get at biases participants may not even be aware of.
Project Implicit

Starting in the 1990s, researchers began to develop methods to assess implicit bias, which is less conscious and less controllable than explicit bias. The most widely used test is the Implicit Association Test, which lets researchers measure whether individuals have more positive associations with some racial groups than others. However, an important limitation of this test is that it only works well with individuals who are at least six years old – the instructions are too complex for younger children to remember.

Recently, my colleagues and I developed a new way to measure bias, which we call the Implicit Racial Bias Test. This test can be used with children as young as age three, as well as with older children and adults. This test assesses bias in a manner similar to the IAT but with different instructions.

Here’s how a version of the test to detect an implicit bias that favors white people over black people would work: We show participants a series of black and white faces on a touchscreen device. Each photo is accompanied by a cartoon smile on one side of the screen and a cartoon frown on the other.

Example of a screen a child would see.
Gail Heyman, CC BY-ND

In one part of the test, we ask participants to touch the cartoon smile as quickly as possible whenever a black face appears, and the cartoon frown as quickly as possible whenever a white face appears. In another part of the test, the instructions are reversed.

The difference in the amount of time it takes to follow one set of instructions versus the other is used to compute the individual’s level of implicit bias. The reasoning is that it takes more time and effort to respond in ways that go against our intuitions.

Do young children even have racial biases?

Explicit racial biases have been documented in young children for many years. Researchers know that young children can also show implicit bias at the earliest ages that it has been measured, and often at rates that are comparable to those seen among adults.

Some studies suggest that precursors of racial bias can be detected in infancy. In one such study, researchers measured how long infants looked at faces of their own race or another race that were paired with happy or sad music. They found that 9-month-olds looked longer when the faces of their own race were paired with the happy music, which was different from the pattern of looking times for the other-race faces. This result suggests that the tendency to prefer faces that match one’s own race begins in infancy.

These early patterns of response arise from a basic psychological tendency to like and approach things that seem familiar, and dislike and avoid things that seem unfamiliar. Some researchers think that these tendencies have roots in our evolutionary history because they help people to build alliances within their social groups.

However, these biases can change over time. For example, young black children in Cameroon show an implicit bias in favor of black people versus white people as part of a general tendency to prefer in-group members, who are people who share characteristics with you. But this pattern reverses in adulthood, as individuals are repeatedly exposed to cultural messages indicating that white people have higher social status than black people.

A new approach to tackling bias

Researchers have long recognized that racial bias is associated with dehumanization. When people are biased against individuals of other races, they tend to view them as part of an undifferentiated group rather than as specific individuals. Giving adults practice at distinguishing among individuals of other races leads to a reduction in implicit bias, but these effects tend to be quite short-lived.

Children used an app that assessed their implicit racial bias.
Li Zhao, CC BY-ND

In our new research, we adapted this individuation approach for use with young children. Using a custom-built training app, young children learn to identify five individuals of another race during a 20-minute session. We found that 5-year-olds who participated showed no implicit racial bias immediately after the training.

Although the effects of a single session were short-lived, an additional 20-minute booster session one week later allowed children to maintain about half of their initial bias reduction for two months. We are currently working on a game-like version of the app for further testing.

Just one step along the way to a more egalitarian society.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Only a starting point

Although our approach suggests a promising new direction for reducing racial bias, it is important to note that this is not a magic bullet. Other aspects of the tendency to dehumanize individuals of different races also need to be investigated, such as people’s diminished level of interest in the mental life of individuals who are outside of their social group. Because well-intended efforts to reduce racial bias can sometimes be ineffective or produce unintended consequences, any new approaches that are developed will need to be rigorously evaluated.

The ConversationAnd of course the problem of racial bias is not one that can be solved by addressing the beliefs of individuals alone. Tackling the problem also requires addressing the broader social and economic factors that promote and maintain biased beliefs and behaviors.

Gail Heyman, Professor of Psychology, University of California, San Diego

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The IQ test wars: why screening for intelligence is still so controversial

<figure>
<img src=”https://images.theconversation.com/files/187082/original/file-20170921-21016-ld7zty.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&q=45&auto=format&w=754&fit=clip&#8221; alt=”File 20170921 21016 ld7zty.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1″ />
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For over a century, IQ tests have been used to measure intelligence. But can it really be measured?
<span class=”attribution”><span class=”source”>via shutterstock.com</span></span>
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</figure>

<span><a href=”https://theconversation.com/profiles/daphne-martschenko-238687″>Daphne Martschenko</a>, <em><a href=”http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-cambridge-1283″>University of Cambridge</a></em></span>

<blockquote>
<p>John, 12-years-old, is three times as old as his brother. <a href=”https://www.stanfordbinet.net/stanfordbinettest”>How old</a> will John be when he is twice as old as his brother?</p>

<p>Two families go bowling. While they are bowling, they order a pizza for £12, six sodas for £1.25 each, and two large buckets of popcorn for £10.86. If they are going to split the bill between the families, <a href=”http://www.tests.com/practice/WISC-Practice-Test”>how much</a> does each family owe?</p>

<p>4, 9, 16, 25, 36, ?, 64. <a href=”http://uk.businessinsider.com/mensa-iq-test-questions-2016-2″>What number is missing</a> from the sequence?</p>
</blockquote>

<p>These are questions from online Intelligence Quotient or IQ tests. Tests that purport to measure your intelligence can be <a href=”http://wechslertest.com/”>verbal</a&gt;, meaning written, or <a href=”https://www.psychologytoday.com/tests/iq/culture-fair-iq-test”>non-verbal</a&gt;, focusing on abstract reasoning independent of reading and writing skills. First created more than a century ago, the tests are still widely used today to measure an individual’s mental agility and ability. </p>

<p><a href=”http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb03/intelligent.aspx”>Education</a&gt; systems use IQ tests to help identify children for special education and gifted education programmes and to offer extra support. Researchers across the social and hard sciences study IQ test results also looking at everything from their relation to <a href=”http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v49/n7/full/ng.3869.html”>genetics</a&gt;, <a href=”http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J134v08n03_05″>socio-economic status</a>, <a href=”http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0160289606000171″>academic achievement</a>, and <a href=”http://doi.apa.org/getdoi.cfm?doi=10.1037/1076-8971.11.2.235″>race</a&gt;.</p>

<p>Online IQ “quizzes” <a href=”https://geniustests.com/”>purport</a&gt; to be able to tell you whether or not “you have what it takes to be a member of the world’s most prestigious high IQ society”.

 

<p>If you want to boast about your high IQ, you should have been able to work out the answers to the questions. When John is 16 he’ll be twice as old as his brother. The two families who went bowling each owe £20.61. And 49 is the missing number in the sequence. </p>

<p>Despite the hype, the relevance, usefulness, and legitimacy of the IQ test is still <a href=”http://www.jstor.org/stable/1466807″>hotly debated</a> among educators, social scientists, and hard scientists. To understand why, it’s important to understand the history underpinning the birth, development, and expansion of the IQ test – a <a href=”http://www.jstor.org/stable/799646″>history</a&gt; that includes the use of IQ tests to further marginalise ethnic minorities and poor communities. </p>

<h2>Testing times</h2>

<p>In the early 1900s, dozens of intelligence tests were developed in Europe and America claiming to offer unbiased ways to measure a person’s cognitive ability. The first of these tests was developed by French psychologist Alfred Binet, who was commissioned by the French government to identify students who would face the most difficulty in school. The resulting 1905 Binet-Simon Scale became the basis for modern IQ testing. Ironically, Binet actually thought that IQ tests were inadequate measures for intelligence, pointing to the test’s inability to properly measure creativity or emotional intelligence.

 

<p>At its conception, the IQ test provided a relatively quick and simple way to identify and sort individuals based on intelligence – which was and still is highly valued by society. In the US and elsewhere, institutions such as the military and police used IQ tests to screen potential applicants. They also implemented admission requirements based on the results.

 

<p>The <a href=”http://www.jstor.org/stable/367145?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents”>US Army Alpha and Beta Tests</a> screened approximately 1.75m draftees in World War I in an attempt to evaluate the intellectual and emotional temperament of soldiers. Results were used to determine how capable a solider was of serving in the armed forces and identify which job classification or leadership position one was most suitable for. Starting in the early 1900s, the US education system also began using IQ tests to identify “gifted and talented” students, as well as those with special needs who required additional educational interventions and different academic environments.

 

<p>Ironically, some districts in the US have recently employed a <a href=”http://abcnews.go.com/US/court-oks-barring-high-iqs-cops/story?id=95836″>maximum IQ score</a> for admission into the police force. The fear was that those who scored too highly would eventually find the work boring and leave – after significant time and resources had been put towards their training. </p>

<p>Alongside the widespread use of IQ tests in the 20th century was the argument that the level of a person’s intelligence was influenced by their biology. Ethnocentrics and eugenicists, who viewed intelligence and other social behaviours as being determined by biology and race, latched onto IQ tests. They held up the apparent gaps these tests illuminated between ethnic minorities and whites or between low- and high-income groups.

 

<p>Some maintained that these test results provided further evidence that socioeconomic and racial groups were <a href=”http://www.jstor.org/stable/20373194″>genetically different</a> from each other and that systemic inequalities were partly a byproduct of evolutionary processes. </p>

<h2>Going to extremes</h2>

<p>The US Army Alpha and Beta test results garnered widespread publicity and were analysed by Carl Brigham, a Princeton University psychologist and early founder of psychometrics, in a 1922 book A Study of American Intelligence. Brigham applied meticulous statistical analyses to demonstrate that American intelligence was declining, claiming that increased immigration and racial integration were to blame. To address the issue, he called for social policies to restrict immigration and prohibit racial mixing.

 

<p>A few years before, American psychologist and education researcher <a href=”https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lewis-Terman”>Lewis Terman</a> had <a href=”https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/history-of-education-quarterly/article/div-classtitlegateways-to-the-west-part-ii-education-and-the-making-of-race-place-and-culture-in-the-westdiv/8A08635C3AE273CE221B14C201481248″>drawn connections</a> between intellectual ability and race. In 1916, he wrote: </p>

<blockquote>
<p>High-grade or border-line deficiency … is very, very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among Negroes. Their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they come … Children of this group should be segregated into separate classes … They cannot master abstractions but they can often be made into efficient workers … from a eugenic point of view they constitute a grave problem because of their unusually prolific breeding.

 

</blockquote>

<p>There has been considerable work from both hard and social scientists refuting arguments such as Brigham’s and Terman’s that racial differences in IQ scores are influenced by biology.

 

<p>Critiques of such “hereditarian” hypotheses – arguments that genetics can powerfully explain human character traits and even human social and political problems – cite a <a href=”https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10539-014-9428-0″>lack of evidence </a> and <a href=”https://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&amp;lr=&amp;id=1RXSBwAAQBAJ&amp;oi=fnd&amp;pg=PA1&amp;dq=race+and+iq&amp;ots=GKR-p7pbM4&amp;sig=YEdxkcFzVjZCYQlBcs_qM69XV3U#v=onepage&amp;q=race%20and%20iq&amp;f=false”>weak statistical analyses</a>. This critique continues <a href=”https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/6/15/15797120/race-black-white-iq-response-critics”>today</a&gt;, with many researchers resistant to and alarmed by research that is still being conducted on race and IQ. </p>

<p>But in their <a href=”http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pn5jp”>darkest moments</a>, IQ tests became a powerful way to exclude and control marginalised communities using empirical and scientific language. Supporters of eugenic ideologies in the 1900s used IQ tests to identify “idiots”, “imbeciles”, and the “feebleminded”. These were people, eugenicists argued, who threatened to dilute the White Anglo-Saxon genetic stock of America.

 

<figure class=”align-right “>
<img alt=”” src=”https://images.theconversation.com/files/187086/original/file-20170921-21005-1qrdj6l.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&q=45&auto=format&w=237&fit=clip”&gt;
<figcaption>
<span class=”caption”>A plaque in Virginia in memory to Carrie Buck, the first person to be sterilised under eugenics laws in the state.</span>
<span class=”attribution”><a class=”source” href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/juliarowe/3582737724/sizes/l”>Jukie Bot/flickr.com</a>, <a class=”license” href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/”>CC BY-NC</a></span>
</figcaption>
</figure>

<p>As a result of such eugenic arguments, many American citizens were later <a href=”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3299450″>sterilised</a&gt;. In 1927, an infamous ruling by the US Supreme Court legalised forced sterilisation of citizens with developmental disabilities and the “feebleminded,” who were frequently identified by their low IQ scores. The ruling, known as Buck v Bell, resulted in over 65,000 coerced sterilisations of individuals thought to have low IQs. Those in the US who were forcibly sterilised in the aftermath of Buck v Bell were disproportionately poor or of colour.

 

<p>Compulsory sterilisation in the US on the basis of IQ, criminality, or sexual deviance continued formally until the mid 1970s when organisations like the Southern Poverty Law Center began filing <a href=”https://www.splcenter.org/seeking-justice/case-docket/relf-v-weinberger”>lawsuits</a&gt; on behalf of people who had been sterilised. In 2015, the US Senate voted <a href=”http://time.com/4534982/thom-tillis-eugenics/”>to compensate</a> living victims of government-sponsored sterilisation programmes.</p>

<h2>IQ tests today</h2>

<p>Debate over what it means to be “intelligent” and whether or not the IQ test is a robust tool of measurement continues to elicit strong and often opposing reactions today. Some researchers say that intelligence is a concept specific to a particular culture. They maintain that it appears differently depending on the context – in the same way that many cultural behaviours would. For example, burping may be seen as an indicator of enjoyment of a meal or a sign of praise for the host in some cultures and impolite in others.

 

<p>What may be considered intelligent in one environment, therefore, might not in others. For example, knowledge about medicinal herbs is seen as a form of intelligence in certain communities within Africa, but does not correlate with high performance on traditional Western academic intelligence tests.

 

<p>According to some researchers, the “cultural specificity” of intelligence makes IQ tests biased towards the environments in which they were developed – namely white, Western society. This makes them <a href=”http://nrcgt.uconn.edu/newsletters/winter052/”>potentially problematic</a> in culturally diverse settings. The application of the same test among different communities would fail to recognise the different cultural values that shape what each community values as intelligent behaviour. </p>

<p>Going even further, given the <a href=”http://tap.sagepub.com/content/12/3/283″>IQ test’s history</a> of being used to further questionable and sometimes racially-motivated beliefs about what different groups of people are capable of, some researchers say such tests cannot objectively and equally measure an individual’s intelligence at all. </p>

<h2>Used for good</h2>

<p>At the same time, there are ongoing efforts to demonstrate how the IQ test can be used to help those very communities who have been most harmed by them in the past. In 2002, the execution across the US of criminally convicted individuals with intellectual disabilities, who are often assessed using IQ tests, was ruled unconstitutional. This has meant IQ tests have actually prevented individuals from facing “cruel and unusual punishment” in the US court of law.

 

<p>In education, IQ tests may be a more objective way to identify children who could benefit from special education services. This includes programmes known as “gifted education” for students who have been identified as exceptionally or highly cognitively able. Ethnic minority children and those whose parents have a low income, are under-represented in gifted education.

 

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<span class=”caption”>There is ongoing debate about the use of IQ tests in schools.</span>
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<p>The way children are chosen for these programmes means that Black and Hispanic students are often overlooked. Some US school districts employ admissions procedures for gifted education programmes that rely on teacher observations and referrals or require a family to sign their child up for an IQ test. But research suggests that teacher perceptions and expectations of a student, which can be preconceived, have an impact upon a child’s IQ scores, academic achievement, and attitudes and behaviour. This means that teacher’s perceptions can also have an impact on the likelihood of a child being referred for gifted or special education.

 

<p>The <a href=”http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2372732215621310″>universal screening</a> of students for gifted education using IQ tests could help to identify children who otherwise would have gone unnoticed by parents and teachers. Research has found that those school districts which have implemented screening measures for all children using IQ tests have been able to identify more children from historically underrepresented groups to go into gifted education.

 

<p>IQ tests could also help <a href=”http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&amp;lr=&amp;id=mF_me7HYyHcC&amp;oi=fnd&amp;pg=PA91&amp;dq=%22achievement+gap+is+large+when+children+enter+kindergarten+and+does+not+appear+to+grow%22+%22Finally,+the+growing+income+achievement+gap+does+not+appear+to+be+a+result+of%22+&ots=wt9a5RH4pe&sig=JPRjS2uLIZAbFLluD6Wx6Av5anU”>identify structural inequalities that have affected a child’s development. These could include the impacts of environmental exposure to harmful substances such as lead and arsenic or the effects of malnutrition on brain health. All these have been shown to have an negative impact on an individual’s mental ability and to disproportionately affect low-income and ethnic minority communities.

 

<p>Identifying these issues could then <a href=”http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0277953696000287″>help</a&gt; those in charge of education and social policy to seek solutions. Specific interventions could be designed to help children who have been affected by these structural inequalities or exposed to harmful substances. In the long run, the effectiveness of these interventions could be monitored by comparing IQ tests administered to the same children before and after an intervention. </p>

<p>Some researchers have tried doing this. One US <a href=”https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF01712768?LI=true”>study in 1995 used IQ tests</a> to look at the effectiveness of a particular type of training for managing Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), called neurofeedback training. This is a therapeutic process aimed at trying to help a person to self-regulate their brain function. Most commonly used with those who have some sort of identified brain imbalance, it has also been used to treat drug addiction, depression and ADHD. The researchers used IQ tests to find out whether the training was effective in improving the concentration and executive functioning of children with ADHD – and found that it was.

 

<p>Since its invention, the IQ test has generated strong arguments in support of and against its use. Both sides are focused on the communities that have been negatively impacted in the past by the use of intelligence tests for eugenic purposes.

 

<p><img src=”https://counter.theconversation.com/content/81428/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic&#8221; alt=”The Conversation” width=”1″ height=”1″ />The use of IQ tests in a range of settings, and the continued disagreement over their validity and even morality, highlights not only the immense value society places on intelligence – but also our desire to understand and measure it.

 

<p><span><a href=”https://theconversation.com/profiles/daphne-martschenko-238687″>Daphne Martschenko</a>, PhD Candidate, <em><a href=”http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-cambridge-1283″>University of Cambridge</a></em></span></p>

<p>This article was originally published on <a href=”http://theconversation.com”>The Conversation</a>. Read the <a href=”https://theconversation.com/the-iq-test-wars-why-screening-for-intelligence-is-still-so-controversial-81428″>original article</a>.</p>

Five ways the meat on your plate is killing the planet


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Francis Vergunst, Université de Montréal and Julian Savulescu, University of Oxford

When we hear about the horrors of industrial livestock farming – the pollution, the waste, the miserable lives of billions of animals – it is hard not to feel a twinge of guilt and conclude that we should eat less meat.

Yet most of us probably won’t. Instead, we will mumble something about meat being tasty, that “everyone” eats it, and that we only buy “grass fed” beef.

Over the next year, more than 50 billion land animals will be raised and slaughtered for food around the world. Most of them will be reared in conditions that cause them to suffer unnecessarily while also harming people and the environment in significant ways.

This raises serious ethical problems. We’ve compiled a list of arguments against eating meat to help you decide for yourself what to put on your plate.

1. The environmental impact is huge

Livestock farming has a vast environmental footprint. It contributes to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, acid rain, coral reef degeneration and deforestation.

Nowhere is this impact more apparent than climate change – livestock farming contributes 18% of human produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. This is more than all emissions from ships, planes, trucks, cars and all other transport put together.

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Climate change alone poses multiple risks to health and well-being through increased risk of extreme weather events – such as floods, droughts and heatwaves – and has been described as the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century.

Reducing consumption of animal products is essential if we are to meet global greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets – which are necessary to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

2. It requires masses of grain, water and land

Meat production is highly inefficient – this is particularly true when it comes to red meat. To produce one kilogram of beef requires 25 kilograms of grain – to feed the animal – and roughly 15,000 litres of water. Pork is a little less intensive and chicken less still.

The scale of the problem can also be seen in land use: around 30% of the earth’s land surface is currently used for livestock farming. Since food, water and land are scarce in many parts of the world, this represents an inefficient use of resources.

Inside the milk machine.
Shutterstock

3. It hurts the global poor

Feeding grain to livestock increases global demand and drives up grain prices, making it harder for the world’s poor to feed themselves. Grain could instead be used to feed people, and water used to irrigate crops.

If all grain were fed to humans instead of animals, we could feed an extra 3.5 billion people. In short, industrial livestock farming is not only inefficient but also not equitable.

Livestock production may have a bigger impact on the planet than anything else.
Shutterstock

4. It causes unnecessary animal suffering

If we accept, as many people do, that animals are sentient creatures whose needs and interests matter, then we should ensure these needs and interests are at least minimally met and that we do not cause them to suffer unnecessarily.

Industrial livestock farming falls well short of this minimal standard. Most meat, dairy and eggs are produced in ways that largely or completely ignore animal welfare – failing to provide sufficient space to move around, contact with other animals, and access to the outdoors.

In short, industrial farming causes animals to suffer without good justification.

5. It is making us ill

At the production level, industrial livestock farming relies heavily on antibiotic use to accelerate weight gain and control infection – in the US, 80% of all antibiotics are consumed by the livestock industry.

This contributes to the growing public health problem of antibiotic resistance. Already, more than 23,000 people are estimated to die every year in the US alone from resistant bacteria. As this figure continues to rise, it becomes hard to overstate the threat of this emerging crisis.

The meat industry also poses a threat to global food security.
Shutterstock

High meat consumption – especially of red and processed meat – typical of most rich industrialised countries is linked with poor health outcomes, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and various cancers.

These diseases represent a major portion of the global disease burden so reducing consumption could offer substantial public health benefits.

Currently, the average meat intake for someone living in a high-income country is 200-250g a day, far higher than the 80-90g recommended by the United Nations. Switching to a more plant-based diet could save up to 8m lives a year worldwide by 2050 and lead to healthcare related savings and avoided climate change damages of up to $1.5 trillion.

Ultimately, it’s unethical

Most people agree that as a basic rule an action that promotes the overall happiness of others is morally good, while an action that causes harm or suffering without good justification is morally wrong.

Meat eating is wrong not because there is something special about pigs or chickens or dogs or cats, but because of the harm it causes, whether that harm is caused to animals, humans, or the wider environment.

Love animals, don’t eat them.
Shutterstock

Most people living in industrialised countries have historically unprecedented dietary choice. And if our nutritional needs can now be met by consuming foods that are less harmful, then we ought to choose these over foods that are known to cause more harm.

The ConversationEating less meat and animal products is one of the easiest things we can do to live more ethically.

Francis Vergunst, Postdoctoral researcher, Université de Montréal and Julian Savulescu, Sir Louis Matheson Distinguishing Visiting Professor at Monash University, Uehiro Professor of Practical Ethics, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tackling climate change could bring North and South Korea closer and help stabilise the region

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North Korea is no doubt watching closely as the region moves forward on energy cooperation.
House Committee on Foreign Affairs/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Hun Park, Yonsei University

The Paris Agreement, signed in 2015 requires every country to make pledges to tackle climate change. North Korea is no exception.

Given that air pollution doesn’t recognise borders, there are already several emissions-reduction projects underway that will require cooperation between Asian nations.

To meet its obligations, South Korea has pledged to buy emissions credits on the international market, offsetting 11.3% of its business-as-usual emissions in 2030. That is 96.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions – already more than North Korea’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2013 (78 million tonnes).

Because North Korea has its own obligations now, foreign countries including South Korea can no longer earn carbon credits from their carbon-offsetting projects in the country.

But if South Korea provides technical assistance such as satellite monitoring of North Korea’s reforestation progression and then can obtain the country’s “informed consent”, a mutual effort to generate carbon credits could be discussed.

Air pollution

Addressing transboundary air pollution is the latest development in regional cooperation. North Korea has been an inaugural member (since 1993) of the North-East Asian Subregional Programme for Environmental Cooperation (NEASPEC), one goal of which is to mitigate transboundary air pollution.

A recent study by the Seoul Metropolitan Government (written in Korean) revealed that 38% of pollution particles in the city’s ambient air come from China, and another 7% from North Korea.

A Japanese air-transport model estimated that more than 45% of ambient PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) concentration in Nonodake (350km north of Tokyo) is from China. Although reducing this pollution in a coordinated way will be a difficult task, real-time data exchange (as proposed by NEASPEC) might be relatively easier.

If the Northeast Asian countries share real-time emissions data as well as the currently available meteorological data, they could generate more reliable pollution forecasts and help people prepare for high-pollution events. The harder task of particle pollution mitigation will be better addressed when the level of negotiating partners is upgraded from the current ministerial level to head of state level.

Developing neighbour-friendly energies

If Northeast Asia is to have a sustainable energy future, more regional cooperation will be required.

The trilateral Russia-China-Korea natural gas pipeline is bringing Russian natural gas to South Korea. Natural gas is not a sustainable energy source, but it can be a “bridging fuel” to help countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by replacing coal until their renewable energy technology and systems evolve. Then, a natural gas pipeline is an attractive option for South Korea, the world’s second-biggest LNG importer after Japan.

Currently, South Korea’s natural gas imports consist entirely of more expensive LNG. In the early 2000s, the Trans-Korean natural gas pipeline proposal was planned to supply Russian natural gas to South Korea using a shortcut pipeline passing through North Korea.

Reportedly, South Korean President Moon has shown interest in the project too. However, the project is not possible until the nuclear crisis in the Korean Peninsula is resolved.

Instead, there is an alternative for South Korea to seek a regional détente with a natural gas pipeline. Russia’s “Power of Siberia” pipeline is planned to connect into the capital region of China. If this happens, extending the supply chain to South Korea via an undersea pipeline between China’s Shandong peninsula and Korea’s Incheon will be simpler. The pipeline would enhance the three countries’ economic ties and political cooperation.

Asia clean grid connections

The other energy option, the Asia international grid connection, is a project promoted by South Korea, Japan, and Mongolia. The basic idea is that vast solar and wind energy potential of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert can be utilised by South Korea and Japan. A super grid would connect the countries in Northeast Asia.

This option’s most prominent supporter is Masayoshi Son, chief executive of SoftBank, Japan’s third-largest public company. Several research institutions and the Korea Electric Power Corporation, South Korea’s only operator of the national grid, have been studying its feasibility.

The Asian Development Bank is conducting a technical feasibility assessment, at Mongolia’s request. In April, the Renewable Energy Institute, an organisation founded by Mr Son in Tokyo, found the project will benefit all participating countries, citing many successfully operating international grid connections. But it lacks China’s active participation.

If further research can find evidence that the project will significantly improve China’s air quality by reducing coal consumption, national governments of the region might help make it happen.

The ConversationOf course, true green détente in Northeast Asia cannot happen without North Korea’s support and participation. However, if any of the reviewed four options become reality, it will give North Korea a strong incentive to cooperate.

Hun Park, Research Professor, Sustainability, Yonsei University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Here’s why your sustainable tuna is also unsustainable

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Not all tuna are caught using sustainable methods.
(Pixabay)

Megan Bailey, Dalhousie University

Tuna is one of the most ubiquitous seafoods. It can be eaten from a can or as high-end sashimi and in many forms in between. But some species are over-fished and some fishing methods are unsustainable. How do you know which type of tuna you’re eating?

Some tuna is certified as sustainably caught by groups such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) that set standards for sustainable fishing. But these certifications are only good if they are credible.

In late August, several media outlets published stories about On the Hook, a new campaign by a consortium of retailers and academics who have taken issue with some fishing practices allowed by the MSC. As a university professor whose research focuses on private seafood governance, including certifications and traceability, and fisheries policy, I am deeply familiar with the issues at hand. I support the campaign, but don’t stand to gain from the outcome.

The Western and Central Pacific skipjack tuna fishery is one of the world’s biggest. Some of the tuna caught here carries the MSC’s blue label, identifying it as the best environmental choice for consumers. But the same boats making that sustainable catch may also use unsustainable methods to catch unsustainable fish on the same day.

The On the Hook coalition sees this as at odds with the MSC certification, as do I. Yes, sustainable and unsustainable fish can be separated; there are people on board whose sole job is to do this. But rewarding fishermen for their sustainable catch, while allowing them to fish unsustainably, dupes consumers into supporting companies that take part in bad behaviour.

Does sorting work?

The On the Hook campaign singles out one fishery in particular: the “purse seine” fishery in the tropical western Pacific Ocean. This fishery covers the waters of eight island nations, including Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Under the Nauru Agreement, these nations, usually referred to as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), collectively control access to about one quarter of the world’s tuna supply.

Fishermen can use nets to catch free-swimming adult tuna and earn MSC certification for their catch. But these same fishermen can also use fish aggregating devices (FADs) — instruments that attract all kinds of marine life, including adult tuna, juvenile tuna and hundreds of species of sharks, turtles and other fish — to net their catch. Fishing on FADs is faster and less costly, but these devices are associated with high levels of bycatch, one of the main sustainability concerns in many fisheries. Fishing on FDAs does not earn MSC certification.

Fish aggregating devices attract ocean-going fish such as tuna.
(Shutterstock)

Under normal operations, the fishermen use both methods. “Compartmentalization” is a technique that allows the unsustainable portion of the fish to be separated on board the vessel from the sustainable portion. This is supposed to provide assurance to consumers that they are making a sustainable choice. Yet the negative environmental impacts connected to FAD fishing operations should surely also be considered in an MSC assessment. Currently, this does not happen.

Compartmentalization remains necessary because there isn’t enough of an economic advantage for companies to make only sustainable catches. It costs fishermen more to fish sustainably because they have to find the tuna, instead of waiting for it to come to the FAD.

A fleet using both methods can be part of a higher value premium market and earn financial security from the high volume, yet unsustainable, fishery. If purse-seining tuna vessels need to subsidize their sustainable fishing with unsustainable practices, then MSC certification has not provided the incentive it set out to.

A holistic fishery

Millions of tonnes of tuna have been fished from the waters of the Western and Central Pacific fishery. But the countries controlling these waters have not benefited to a large extent, mostly due to a lack of cooperation in bargaining for benefits, which allowed distant nations to exploit the fishery.

In the past decade, these Pacific Island states have increased their bargaining power in regional negotiations by implementing a scheme that controls the number of boats that can enter their waters. Under the program, called the vessel day scheme (VDS), these countries can now charge higher fees to boats that want access.

For example, PNA countries used to extract between three per cent and six per cent of the value of tuna fishery in their waters. Since their bargaining power has increased, they can now extract more than 14 per cent of the value, and this number is likely to continue to rise.

This is no small accomplishment for these Pacific Island nations, and other coastal state collectives are now trying to emulate their success. But this does not mean that all of the practices they allow are commendable, including those that are not representative of the “best environmental choice” in seafood.

On my Facebook feed, a colleague recently commented: “A Pacific Islander owned sustainably certified fishery is the wrong target.”

Let me clear up this misconception. The On the Hook campaign is not targeting the PNA, but the MSC. It would like the MSC to delay the recertification — authorized by the accreditation body in September — of the PNA fishery until the compartmentalization practice has been addressed. The fishery needs to be considered holistically.

A school of tuna.
(United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization/Danilo Cedrone), CC BY

For example, the MSC could specify that to earn a certification, a boat cannot fish sustainably and unsustainably on the same fishing trip. Consumer dollars should not be supporting the very practices the MSC condemns.

Another colleague remarked that because the PNA is challenging big industry, the On the Hook campaign might benefit big industry and hurt the PNA. In fact, it is the same boats, the same fleet, the same companies that are fishing MSC-certified tuna and on FADs.

Muddy waters

My colleagues also worry that the campaign calls into question the credibility of the MSC label. But this has actually become commonplace, with many groups pointing at examples of certified fisheries that are not sustainable. For example, the WWF has recommended that seafood buyers should stay away from MSC-certified Mexican tuna.

I would argue that the MSC is tarnishing itself by normalizing the practice of compartmentalization. It is no longer clear that fish carrying the MSC label offer the best environmental choice. Many Canadian fisheries, like lobster, herring, and Atlantic redfish, are MSC-certified. The faltering credibility of the MSC is a major risk for Canadian fish harvesters who rely on the MSC label to communicate their good fishing practices.

Additionally, Canadian consumers who are used to searching for the blue MSC check mark when they shop for seafood can no longer do so thinking that the logo conveys accurate information. Consumers need to know that the waters are muddy, that seafood sustainability is a moving target, and that it is not easy to make the right choice when standing in the aisle at the supermarket.

Governments and businesses need to make that choice easier for consumers. And they could start by dealing with compartmentalization in the PNA fishery — and elsewhere.

The PNA countries could also make demands. They could allow access rights only to vessels that agree to drop the practice of compartmentalization and that are transparent about their fishing practices.

The ConversationMore than anything, the MSC needs to take a good look at itself and remember what it is supposed to represent — the best environmental choice — not consumer confusion.

Megan Bailey, Assistant Professor, Canada Research Chair, Integrated Ocean and Coastal Governance, Dalhousie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Dental tourism industry exploits workers in Mexico


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Research calls for global regulation of dental tourism – to prevent poor working conditions for local populations serving a wealth North American elite.
(Shutterstock)

Krystyna Adams, Simon Fraser University

The town of Los Algodones in Mexico is nicknamed “Molar City”. It has a population of just 6,000 people and, shockingly, it has more than 500 practising dentists. This has produced an intense clustering of dental clinics within a four block radius.

Many of these dentists chose to work in this town because of the tourist traffic, given its proximity to the Mexico-United States border. Thousands of Canadian and American tourists park their cars and walk across the border into Los Algodones to spend the day souvenir shopping, eating and drinking in the local restaurants, and purchasing alcohol, prescription drugs and dental care at lower costs than available back home.

In 2015 and 2016, I spent four months living in Los Algodones conducting interviews and participating in local events for a doctoral research project in health sciences at Simon Fraser University. My work investigates dental travel as part of the wider phenomenon of “medical tourism” — an industry that is growing rapidly as more and more patients seek access to new or more affordable medical treatments outside of their countries of residence.

My research raises concerns about exploitative industry practices in Los Algodones, Mexico. These include poor working conditions and discriminatory practices for employees in dental clinics, harassment of Indigenous street vendors and lack of access to dental care for local residents.

Inside ‘Molar City’

Most of the residents and employees I met during my research in Los Algdones were grateful for the much-needed economic benefits of the dental tourism industry. But I also heard concerns and frustrations from members of the local population. They felt that many of the industry activities were unfair and difficult to change.

One interviewee explained how dental tourists often come with prejudiced assumptions about Mexico, stating: “We see a lot of racism […] people trying to come here and saying, okay it is Mexico, I can ask for anything and pay you less.”

There are more than 500 dentists practising in dental clinics like this one in Los Algodones.
(Krystyna Adams), Author provided

Local residents and industry employees felt that dental tourists’ perceptions of Mexico as unsafe and underdeveloped are driving poor working conditions and discriminatory practices.

For example, employees work long hours to promote Los Algodones’ reputation for their employers as an ideal site to purchase dental care. Some also said they had experienced harassment from dental tourists negotiating lower prices and faster care.

Harassment of Indigenous vendors

Clinic employees and local residents also experience stressful interactions in the industry to meet the expectations of clinic owners. Some owners encourage employees to minimize their Mexican accents. This is done to distance Los Algodones from prejudiced perceptions of Mexico as an underdeveloped place with inferior medical care.

One participant described how a dental clinic owner offered to pay him to dump buckets of water on the heads of Indigenous souvenir vendors working near his clinic. Along with harassment, clinic owners also encourage Indigenous vendors to “stay cool, sell stuff cheap, and smile to people.” Many owners worry that the presence of Indigenous vendors might deter tourists by representing the underdeveloped Mexico of tourists’ imaginations.

Tourists enjoying a promotional party in support of Los Algodones’ dental tourism industry.
(Krystyna Adams), Author provided

Local residents struggle to access dental care

My research also revealed that dental clinic owners’ concerns about reputation can decrease access to dental care for local residents. Clinic owners suggested they’re too busy marketing their services and treating foreign patients to treat many locals. Some owners are using free X-rays to entice tourists, who shop around for their ideal care.

Most of the dental services in Los Algodones are also focused on the provision of major restorative treatment rather than preventative care, given the needs of dental tourists. Most local residents cannot afford this type of care. This is concerning as there are limited publicly funded dental care options available in this region of Mexico.

Overall, the “dental Shangri-la of the Mexican desert” is only an oasis for those able and willing to travel and pay for dental care. For many, the industry provides much-needed employment. But this might be stressful, unfair work for individuals unable to use the dental oasis for their own health needs.

The need for global regulation

Participation in the global medical tourism industry is increasing and research shows that this growth raises serious ethical challenges, at least in the industry’s current form. Researchers have raised concerns about the negative impacts on the health of local people who live and work in these medical tourism destinations.

My in-depth investigation of industry practices in the town of Los Algodones provides more evidence to support these concerns. It suggests the need for better global regulation of dental tourism and medical tourism more widely.

This regulation is needed to avoid competition between industry sites driving down labour standards in the global industry and diverting health resources away from populations in need. This regulation could enforce acceptable work conditions to avoid a race-to-the-bottom effect as industry sites try to attract customers to lower-cost, desirable medical care.

The ConversationMore information about these concerns could also help individuals participating in the industry to avoid harmful practices. It could remind medical tourists that cost savings for care might come at a cost to fair labour standards — and that they should allow sufficient time for treatment and be prepared to pay fair prices.

Krystyna Adams, Doctoral student in Health Sciences and SFU Medical Tourism Research Group, Simon Fraser University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Feeding pigeons

“I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them for years. But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings; that one was different. It was a female. I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me.
I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.” – Nikola Tesla

Eat less meat, save species and ecosystems, says WWF UK

 

Indonesian folklore of vengeful female ghosts hold symbols of violence against women


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The female ghost in Indonesia’s most recent horror movie is scary. But the data on maternal mortality rates and sexual violence against women are scary too.
Rapi Films

Gita Putri Damayana, Indonesian Center for Law and Policy Studies (PSHK)

Indonesian moviegoers have had something to talk about these past two weeks. A top box-office movie by director Joko Anwar, Satan’s Slave, has a hair-raising ghost, called “Ibu” or “Mother”, haunting almost 2 million viewers. The millions were scared of “Ibu”, but I have scary data haunting Indonesian women and these ghosts are real.

In the annals of Indonesian folklore, female ghosts take centre stage. The country has kuntilanak, sundel bolong and Si Manis Jembatan Ancol. Most female ghosts in Indonesia were loving mothers or ordinary women before they started haunting the world with dark agendas.

Among the most popular ghosts are kuntilanak and sundel bolong; their narratives are reproduced in pop culture products, most notably movies.

Kuntilanak was a woman who died at childbirth (or died delivering a stillborn, according to another version). Sundel bolong was a woman who was raped and became pregnant, then died at childbirth.

Kuntilanak is said to have a penchant for haunting women during delivery and stealing newborns, while sundel bolong terrorises men walking alone in the dark of night.

The third one is Si Manis Jembatan Ancol, loosely translated into The Pretty One Haunting Ancol Bridge, referring to Ancol, an area in North Jakarta. Men were said to have raped and killed Si Manis in North Jakarta when she escaped her husband.

A different kind of female ghost, an outlier, is Nyai Roro Kidul, believed to be the ruler of the southern sea of Java, who becomes the mystical wife of each Mataram king.

To know more about the issue of women in Indonesia’s ghost folklore, read Indonesian fictions, Sihir Perempuan (Black Magic Woman) and Kumpulan Budak Setan (Devil’s Slaves Club), by author, scholar and feminist Intan Paramaditha.

‘Kuntilanak’: victim of poor access to healthcare

There’s a thread connecting the female ghosts beyond their gender: most of them are victims.

Of course, no scientific evidence supports the existence of these ghosts. But the background story of each ghost shares similar themes. These women were victims of gender inequality and sexual violence. They also had poor access to healthcare.

Indonesian Health Ministry data show the maternal mortality rate in 2015 reached 305 per 100,000 live births. The average rate in the Asia-Pacific region in 2015 was 127, while the average in developed countries is 12 per 100,000 live births.

The ministry data showed the top two causes of deaths in 2013 were post-partum bleeding (30.3%) and preeclampsia (27.1%). These deaths could have been avoided had the women had access to proper care.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s data on sexual violence, experienced by both Si Manis and sundel bolong, are also harrowing. The Central Statistics Bureau surveyed 9,000 women respondents in 2016 and reported that one in three Indonesian women aged 15-64 has experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.

In another report, the bureau recorded 1,739 reported rape cases in 2015, higher than robbery using sharp weapons or firearms, which reached 1,097 in the same year.

But “Ibu”, the woman in the movie set in 1981, would probably have a better fate today compared with her fate then. She was lying helpless for three years without a proper diagnosis. In 2017, at least, she would probably have received a better diagnosis thanks to Indonesia’s universal healthcare, BPJS Kesehatan, implemented since 2014.

Don’t let there be another ‘sundel bolong’

Of course juxtaposing the stories of Indonesian female ghosts with real data is only a way for me to highlight an important issue using folklore and a popular culture product.

But the popular ghosts’ stories reveal the close connections between violence against women and access to healthcare for women in the distant past. As the maternal death rate shows, the state of healthcare for Indonesian women today remains grim.

Perhaps, we would not have the story of kuntilanak haunting young mothers and their newborns had more real live Indonesian women survived child labour and deliver healthy babies.

Si Manis‘s violent rape and murder story is said to have originated from a true story in Dutch colonial time. Today, the streets of 21st-century Jakarta are not yet safe for women.

Sundel bolong’s unwanted pregnancy, a result of rape, could have been avoided if she received adequate reproductive healthcare. Indonesia has issued a regulation legalising abortion for rape victims, but its implementation remains elusive.

Harsh punishment for rapists would have also spared sundel bolong from having to haunt those villains on her own. An online survey by women NGOs last year revealed 93% of rapes were not reported. Data from a 2013 masculinity survey by women’s crisis centre Rifka Annisa showed only 21.5% of respondents who admitted to committing sexual violence suffered legal consequences.

High maternal mortality rate, sexual violence: the real ghosts

The plights of these women ghosts, as told by the older generations, serve as a warning about the state of Indonesian women today. The numbers and data should be scary stories for Indonesian women.

Policymakers should pursue systematic changes, or we will forever see more women sharing the plights of sundel bolong, kuntilanak and Si Manis Jembatan Ancol.

The ConversationIf we don’t improve reproductive health services for women and let impunity reign among sexual violence perpetrators, we will continue the legacy of the female ghosts to our next generation. Not only in movies, but in real life as well.

Gita Putri Damayana, Researcher at PSHK and lecturer at Jentera Law School, Indonesian Center for Law and Policy Studies (PSHK)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Irony of Susceptibility to Manipulations: Grooming Neurotypicals for Social Ineptitude

Henny Kupferstein

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The stereotypes of autistic people perpetuate a myth that they are socially inept. Yet non-autistics, also known as neurotypicals, portray ineptitudes on the basis of their susceptibility to body language, communication, and perceptual manipulations. How we learn these signals opens the debate for nature versus nurture, and the acquisition of social skill aptitude. Who is more socially equipped? The one who is capable of surrounding himself with pretentious body language, or the one who is mindful of her full spectrum of awareness? A neurotypical who communicates with learned body gestures is currently considered evolved, while the acquisition of those skills are a direct result of the inability to survive otherwise. The autistic who remains authentic in order to adapt to the current environment is potentially most equipped to function in society.

The cycle of life requires attracting a mate, reproduction, and adaptations for exploitation to those who threaten…

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Winter morning energy boost

If you are one of those people who has trouble getting going on dark winter mornings, I have a potentially great tip for you.

Do you have a floor lamp in your bedroom? Do you have one in your main room? And if you work from home, do you have one in your office? Or some kind of other suitable table lamp?

Go find yourself one or more daylight bulbs. Nothing fancy. Just an ordinary daylight bulb, like this one:
Philips LED A60 E27 Edison Screw Cool Day Light Bulb, Frosted, 6500 K, 13 W (100 W)
or this one (bayonet):
Ecozone Biobulb, Energy-Saving Daylight Bulb, Bayonet Cap B22, 25W Equivalent to 100w, 1750 Lumens, Full Spectrum, Daylight White 6500k, Uses 75% Less Energy.
or this one (also bayonet, but this one uses more energy):
AURAGLOW 9w LED B22 Bayonet Light Bulb, Daylight Cool White, 60w EQV
or this one:
Bright Full Spectrum Energy Saver Natural Cool Daylight (6500K) low energy 11w = 55w Edison Screw ES E27good for SAD (Seasonally Affected Disorder) Compact Twisted Spiral Light Bulb.

(No, I am not talking about seasonal affective disorder and I am not talking about the lighting equipment that is available for treating that.)

In the morning, light helps kick shut down our serotonin production and boost our adrenaline. They go through a daily cycle.

Our morning coffee helps – if you are the morning coffee type – but in midwinter, even my morning coffee is not enough to jump-start my day.

Switching on a daylight lamp in the morning makes me feel much more active – alive, no longer sluggish – from the get-go.

Some of us have another challenge throughout the entire year. My office space happens to get little daylight and I started noticing that I would often be off to a great start until I went from my kitchen into the office and sat down at my desk. So in the morning, I now always switch on a daylight lamp there. It helps a lot!

One word of warning. Although it can be tempting, certainly if you notice the boost in your energy level you get from a daylight lamp, do not leave such a lamp on too late in the day as a habit. Because that can end up making you very sleepy!

It’s a matter of balance. Like most things in life.

In Mexico, undocumented migrants risk deportation to aid earthquake victims


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Undocumented migrants are among those helping to rebuild the hardest-hit areas of Oaxaca state, where federal aid has been slow to trickle down.
Presidencia de la República Mexicana CC-by-2.0, CC BY-SA

Luis Gómez Romero, University of Wollongong

After two earthquakes that left more than 450 dead and 150,000 houses damaged, my home country of Mexico faces huge challenges in recovery.

According to official estimates, the country will need more than 30 billion pesos (around US$2 billion) to rebuild. The resources required for Mexico’s recovery are almost double the country’s annual gross domestic product, according to World Bank figures.

Manpower, at least, has not been an issue. Search-and-rescue teams from several countries – including Chile, Colombia, Israel, Japan, Panama, the United States and Spain – arrived in the days after the earthquakes to dig survivors out of the rubble. Dozens of foreigners who reside in Mexico also joined the Mexican volunteers in their rescue efforts.

Among these international brigades was a group of undocumented Central American migrants who, interrupting their travel northward to the U.S., stayed in Mexico to help clean up debris and assist the victims.

Their efforts have been largely focused in two of the cities most impacted by the historic Sept. 7 quake, Juchitán and Asunción Ixtaltepec, in Oaxaca. But after the Sept. 19 Mexico City earthquake, some members also volunteered to help dig out survivors from the rubble of the nation’s capital.

With anti-immigrant sentiment on the rise in both the United States and Mexico, which is now deporting Central American migrants in record numbers, these undocumented good Samaritans are changing the Mexican narrative on migrants – brick by brick, rescue by rescue.

Layover on La Bestia

The nearly 50 Central American migrants assisting in Oaxaca’s earthquake recovery effort are staying at Hermanos en el Camino (Brothers of the Road), a Catholic-run shelter in hard-hit Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

Felipe González, a volunteer at the shelter, told me via telephone that after the urgent rescue efforts ended, they have continued their work, distributing aid among those who lost their homes.

The migrants who organized this aid brigade are from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, and they have diverse backgrounds, but what they have in common – both with each other and with Mexican earthquake victims – is a history of hardship.

According to a May report from Doctors Without Borders, almost 40 percent of the roughly 500,000 Central American immigrants the organization surveyed in Mexico fled their countries after experiencing physical attacks, threats against themselves or their families, extortion or forced gang recruitment.

The Brothers of the Road shelter is located in Ciudad Ixtepec, one of the stops on the main route that Central American immigrants heading north used to follow through Mexico. Normally, the facility serves to provide relief to immigrants who ride atop “La Bestia” – that is, the Beast, the Mexican network of freight trains – to travel to the U.S.

Normally, any savvy immigrant passing through Mexico hopes to avoid detection. At the behest of the U.S., Mexico has been cracking down on undocumented Central American migrants, policing train tops with drones and increasing travel speeds from 18 to 37 mph. As a result, a new maritime route through the Pacific is now opening up.

Mexico has also stepped up deportations. In 2014, for example, Mexico “returned” 107,814 migrants, the majority of them from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In 2015, deportations rose to 181,163. In 2016, it was 159,872.

The Trump administration has kept up the pressure. In a letter sent to Congress and Senate leaders on Oct. 8, the U.S. president requested that the Department of Homeland Security be granted broad powers to assist “partner nations” in “removing aliens from third countries whose ultimate intent is entering the United States.”

Tough border enforcement isn’t the only reason that Central American migrants normally aim to hurry through Mexico under the radar. Nearly one-third of women surveyed by Doctors Without Borders in 2014 had been sexually abused during their journey, and 68 percent of all migrants were victims of violence.

Migrants are among the many victims of Mexico’s drug war. In 2010 and 2011, 265 migrants from Central and South America were murdered by the Zetas cartel in the northern Mexican town of San Fernando, Tamaulipas, just 55 miles from Texas.

The North American dream

Even knowing the dangers presented by both the state and the drug lords, the guests at the Brothers of the Road shelter risked everything to pitch into the rescue effort after the quake that hit Oaxaca and Chiapas, two of the poorest states in Mexico, in September.

“We’re immigrants in search of the American dream,” Denio Okele, an Honduran migrant, explained to NBC News. But, he continued, “we arrived in Oaxaca, and an earthquake occurred. We are thus helping the people who need assistance.”

Their reasons for helping range from solidarity and compassion to gratitude. “We have received a lot support from people, so we want to help them,” Wilson Alonso, also from Honduras, told the Spanish newspaper El País.

The sacrifice of this migrant humanitarian aid team has earned them hero status in Mexico. Like other volunteers who dug their neighbors free from the rubble with their bare hands, they have been lauded on social media and interviewed by reporters. And for once, the legal status of a group of Central Americans was not the story.

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As José Filiberto Velásquez, a Catholic priest at the Brothers of the Road shelter, told one Mexican reporter, these migrants have shown Mexicans through their actions that, quite simply, “immigrants are good people.”

Pact of the defeated

The Central American migrants’ story is just one example of the spirit of national solidarity that carried Mexico through the days after the two killer September quakes.

After Mexico City’s Sept. 19 temblor, lines of citizens formed next to collapsed buildings to clear broken pieces of buildings covering victims. Brigades of volunteers offered food, clothing, water and other aid. Restaurants became relief centers.

Social media activists quickly organized, tweeting information on exactly what assistance or supplies were needed, and where, under the hashtag #Verificado19S.

After a frightful year in which citizens also lived through half a dozen high-profile government corruption scandals, one of the world’s highest murder rates and nonstop insults from the president of the United States, Mexico has emerged from its two natural disasters with a renewed sense of national pride.

Even though construction began on eight prototypes of Trump’s proposed border wall in San Diego, Calif., just six days after the second earthquake, the mood in Mexico today is almost optimistic.

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The solidarity on display recalls what Argentinian writer Ernesto Sábato calls “the pact of the defeated.” In a world full of “horror, treason and envy,” Sábato writes in his memoir, “Antes del Fin,” it’s often “the most unprivileged part of humanity” that shows everyone else the path to salvation.

The ConversationRight now in Mexico, earthquake-impacted locals and undocumented migrants alike are working together to rebuild their futures. In facing the years of hard recovery and U.S. antagonism ahead of it, a “pact of the defeated” may be as good a starting point as any.

Luis Gómez Romero, Senior Lecturer in Human Rights, Constitutional Law and Legal Theory, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

In Latin America, is there a link between abortion rights and democracy?

Larissa Arroyo Navarrete, University of Costa Rica

Three-quarters of all abortions in Latin America are performed illegally, putting the woman’s life at risk. Together with Africa and Asia, the region accounts for many of the 17.1 million unsafe abortions performed globally each year, according to a new report in The Lancet, published jointly with the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy group.

Though worrying, this fact is unsurprising in a region where six countries ban abortion under all circumstances: the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Suriname. Such complete criminalization, even when fetal termination is necessary to save a woman’s life, exists in only two other places in the world: Malta and the Vatican.

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Numerous studies confirm that restrictive laws do not in any way prevent women from seeking or getting abortions. And in the vast majority of Latin American countries – including Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and, since August 2017, Chile – this medical procedure is legal, though it generally requires specific justification, such as maternal health or rape.

Not so in Central America, home to three of the eight countries in the world with total abortion bans. As I am a Costa Rican lawyer and feminist, to me, it’s no small matter that women in many neighboring countries lack access to this basic health service.

Why does this region so studiously avoid recognizing women as full individuals entitled to their own human rights? In my view, there’s a clear link in Latin America between the state of a country’s democracy and the reproductive rights of its female citizens.

Neighbors Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador are among the few countries in the world with total abortion bans.
Cacahuate/Wikimedia, CC BY

Honduras: Land of inequality

In Honduras, for example, it was only after the 2009 coup d’état that ousted President Manuel Zelaya – a huge democratic setback that ushered in an era of violence – that the country passed a total ban on abortion.

Today, women must carry to term even a pregnancy that endangers their life, and emergency contraception is heavily penalized. These restrictions were reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in 2012.

Despite efforts by human rights defenders and official statements by the United Nations, independent experts and NGOs like Amnesty International, there has been no material progress in advancing the reproductive rights of Honduran women.

In some ways, this is not surprising. In post-coup Honduras, human rights violations – ranging from violence and poverty to impunity – are routine fare for the entire population. Rampant gender inequality is just another symptom of this dismal situation.

Nicaragua and El Salvador: Dangerous setbacks

The situation in Nicaragua, just to the south, is similar. There, “therapeautic abortion” – the common parlance for ending a pregnancy for health-related reasons – was acceptable from 1837 until relatively recently. But starting in 2007, President Daniel Ortega, who has modified the Constitution to end term limits, began passing legal amendments to ban abortions completely, without any exceptions.

Ortega supported abortion rights during his first presidency, in the 1980s. But he has since embraced the Catholic Church’s position of strong opposition, with deadly consequences for Nicaraguan women.

In 2010, for example, a pregnant woman who went by the pseudonym of “Amelia” was refused treatment for metastatic cancer because the state ruled that the regime of chemotherapy and radiotherapy – which her doctor had urgently recommended – might trigger a miscarriage.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ultimately issued injunctions for Amelia, but the damage was already done. She died in 2011.

Impossible though it may seem, women fare worse in El Salvador, a civil war-torn country rife with violence, unpunished crimes and criminal infiltration of the police. In 1999, El Salvador constitutionally mandated that human life starts at the moment of conception.

This legal argument is now used to uphold a full criminalization of abortion, even under the most extenuating circumstances, such as when a woman’s life is at risk, the pregnancy is the result of rape or the fetus is severely malformed.

Anti-abortion sentiment is so virulent in El Salvador today that even miscarriages may be investigated on suspicion that they were self-induced. This persecution has had lethal consequences: Women who’ve spontaneously lost a pregnancy have been accused of murder, sometimes by even their own law-abiding relatives.

In 2016, Sweden offered political asylum to a Salvadoran woman who was sentenced to 40 years of prison for the aggravated homicide of a fetus miscarried before she even knew she was pregnant.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women has requested that El Salvador decriminalize abortion, saying that the fact that most women prosecuted and sentenced for this crime are among the country’s most vulnerable citizens – young, uneducated, jobless and single – represents a powerful social injustice.

Women’s citizenship

Though there are great economic, cultural and political differences between these three countries, across Central America the connection between the lack of rule of law and women’s restricted reproductive rights is noteworthy.

That’s because denying women the ability to make decisions about their own bodies means that a woman’s life matters only to the extent that she is the custodian of a potential future life, rather than as a life worthy of protection.

The Constitutional Court of Colombia agrees. In 2006, it stated in its legal justification for decriminalizing abortion, “The dignity of women does not permit that they be considered mere receptacles.”

In Chile, which recently legalized abortion after nearly a half-century of its total prohibition, history shows a similar relationship between democracy and women’s rights. In 1931, the Chilean Congress approved the voluntary interruption of pregnancy for medical purposes if the woman’s life was endangered or the fetus was not viable.

This exception remained in place until, in 1973, under the dictatorship of Augustin Pinochet, abortion became illegal. In 1980, the Chilean Constitution established that the law protected the life “of the unborn,” indicating that the life of a woman was worth less than that of an embryo.

Feminists in Chile celebrated three new exceptions to the abortion ban – mother’s health, fetal health, rape – but also wondered what took so long.
Corporación Miles Chile

Even after democracy was restored to Chile, in 1991, this ban remained in place. It was not until August 2017, some 26 years later, that the country adopted a more sensible approach, focused on protecting women’s lives and health. The Chilean case demonstrates that once women lose their value as individuals in the eyes of the state, it is difficult to win back.

What’s at risk in the Latin American regimes where abortion is still forbidden, then, are not only women’s lives but also the political systems of Central American society itself. Can democracy exist in places that don’t recognize women as people?

The ConversationLee en español.

Larissa Arroyo Navarrete, Professor of Human Rights, University of Costa Rica

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tortilla Española

One of my favorite foods. I love potatoes. All you need is eggs, onions, oil and potatoes.

Ingredients
3⁄4 cup Spanish olive oil
6 medium russet potatoes, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
6 eggs

Instructions
Heat oil over medium-high heat in a 10″ saute pan. Add potatoes and onions and cook, lifting and turning, until potatoes are soft but not brown, about 20 minutes.

Beat eggs in a large bowl until pale yellow. Transfer sauteed potatoes and onions with a slotted spoon to beaten eggs. Reserve oil. Add the potato mixture while it’s hot enough to start cooking the eggs but not so hot as to souffle them.

Heat 1 tbsp. reserved oil in the same pan over medium heat. Add egg and potato mixture, spreading potatoes evenly in the pan. Cook uncovered until the bottom is lightly browned, about 3 minutes.

Gently shake pan so tortilla doesn’t stick, then slide a spatula along edges and underneath tortilla. Place a large plate over pan and quickly turn plate and pan over so tortilla falls onto plate. Add 1 tsp. reserved oil to pan, slide tortilla back in (uncooked side down), carefully tuck in sides with a fork, and continue cooking over medium heat until eggs are just set, about 3 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve at room temperature.

Ingredients:
3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced (see notes)
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup onion, chopped
7 eggs
1/4 cup milk
Vegetable oil

Preparation:
Place the potatoes, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the paprika in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat the potatoes evenly with the oil and seasonings.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, cover and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring 3 or 4 times to ensure even cooking. Remove the cover and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the potatoes begin to develop some golden color. Add the onion, adjust the seasoning to taste, and continue to cook until the potatoes are lightly browned and tender, 12 to 15 minutes total. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

While the potatoes cool, whisk the eggs together with the milk until slightly frothy. Stir in the cooled potatoes and combine well.

Film the bottom of a large nonstick skillet with vegetable oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the egg-potato mixture and cook for 2 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking until the top of the tortilla is set (just slightly wet). Be sure to shake the pan from time to time to keep the tortilla moving freely while it cooks.

Once the egg-potato mixture appears to be set on top, place a large, flat plate upside down on top of the pan, then flip the tortilla onto the plate. Gently slide it back into the pan to finish cooking on the second side ~ about 2 minutes should do it. Transfer to a plate and cut into wedges.

Recipe Notes:
You can use just about any potato for this dish, but Yukon Gold is our preferred variety. Dice them into small cubes, about 3/8-inch, or slice them into 1/8-inch slices and be sure to season them well during the browning process.

 

The problem with zen

Zen or zen buddhism may be one of the most abused concepts of our time. Does it matter? No.

I use the word “abused”  but what I mean is “misused” because zen and mindfulness are often deployed as marketing gimmicks.

A pretty pebble sells for more if you call it a zen pebble and a garden pond becomes more special if you start calling your garden a zen garden, which helps sell ponds.

Zen is not about the pond. It is about the garden.

It is about what is right here, right now.

And it just struck me that that’s where things often go wrong too. Zen does not say “if there is a bear in front of you that is about to attack you, right here, right now, smile at it sweetly because it is probably empathy bear and empathy bear feels your pain”. But that’s what a lot of people seem to think.

Zen says “if there is a bear in front of you that is about to attack you, right here, right now, get out of there but do not forget to grab your rucksack”.

Because if the bear gets you, it won’t matter whether you took your rucksack or not, but if the bear doesn’t, it will.

When you fall off a cliff, get stuck on a branch and find tigers waiting below and a juicy ripe berry in front of you, go for the berry because it won’t matter to the tigers. But it will make a difference for you, regardless of whether the tigers get you or not.

Zen is practical. Zen says “look after your garden and stop obsessing over the damn pond.” The garden will bring you food. The pond won’t. Zen also says “don’t discriminate between people with pond and people without pond”.

A veggie patch is much more zen than a pond (unless the pond was already there anyway).

Zen is about letting go of the idea that you have to have a pond.

Zen is not about hedonism either, however. That would be the same as obsessing over the pond.