About Ted Summerfield aka punzhu puzzles

I'm a former member of the Radio Television News Directors Association and during the last 30 years I've written news stories, sports stories, stories for children, puzzles, and plays for puppets. Many of my ebooks are color picture books for children, and include printable black and white pictures at the end of a story. Please visit my blog for the latest information on my ebooks, and any updates or changes or comments. Ted. PS: Please help stop cruelty to animals and support your favorite humane society or organization.

The White House rolls back a rule on polluting wetlands

AFTER WITNESSING near-biblical calamities, Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972. The Cuyahoga river in Ohio caught fire in 1969, the same year 26m fish died in Florida’s Lake Thonotosassa, the largest recorded fish kill, because of pollution from food-processing plants. “Dirty Water”, a song from that era about the repellent Charles river, remains an anthem of Boston sports teams to this day. Since the early 1970s the White House has interpreted the statute in different ways. President Donald Trump’s team, who released a draft rule on December 11th, apparently want to take water law back to the 1980s.

Despite the simple intentions of the Clean Water Act, its language was anything but. It sought to eliminate the discharge of toxic pollutants into “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). Without further guidance, that would seem to encompass everything from frog ponds to the Mississippi river. Sorting out exactly which waterways are subject to pollution safeguards has been the subject of endless redefinition and litigation since. The Supreme Court’s justices last considered the question in 2006, and even they failed to muster a majority opinion. Writing for four of the nine, Antonin Scalia argued that federal authority extended only to “relatively permanent” waters. Writing for himself, Anthony Kennedy said that the rule should apply to waters that bear a “significant nexus” to navigable waters. Controlling precedent lies somewhere in the middle of these two nebulisms.

Protecting wetlands has been a relatively bipartisan endeavour, at least at the federal level. Richard Nixon signed the original Clean Water Act. George H.W. Bush’s administration declared a goal of “no net loss” of wetlands. One-third of Americans get some of their drinking water from the streams being deregulated. “This would be the most significant weakening of Clean Water Act protections in its history,” says Jon Devine of the Natural Resources Defence Council, a lobby group.

For Mr Trump, the rollback completes a campaign pledge made to farmers, who objected vociferously to the Obama-era regulation. Organisations like the Farm Bureau, another lobby group, whipped up fears of government asserting authority over ditches and ponds. In truth both the regulation and the original law already contain generous carve-outs for farmers, says Caitlin McCoy, a fellow at Harvard Law School.

The EPA’s professed rationale for the change is to provide regularity clarity and certainty. A look at its other recent actions suggests that the real aim is to please regulated industries. The agency pushed for rules allowing coal-power plants to resume dumping wastewater contaminated with mercury, arsenic and lead into streams and rivers. It has relaxed rules governing the disposal of coal ash—the toxic by-product produced by combustion that can leach into streams. And it is doing all it can to rehabilitate the struggling coal industry, which retains a political heft out of proportion to its economic value.

But other groups also stand to benefit from diminished water protections: mining companies, factories and chemical processors are keen to see the Obama-era rule disappear. Property developers and golf-course owners often have their plans stymied by wetland protections (why Mr Trump might be sensitive to their plight remains a mystery). Fore!

Source: The Economist magazine.

 

 

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Friskier frogs: endangered species gets a sex appeal boost

Australian researchers are applying a sex hormone to the skin of the critically endangered northern corroboree frog in a world-first treatment to encourage females to accept less desirable mates in captivity.

A trial conducted by the University of Wollongong and Taronga zoo found that, by administering the hormone to both a male and female frog before pairing them off, researchers could increase the chance that they would accept their allocated partner from about 22% to 100%.

In a world-first, the researchers put a few drops of the synthetic gonadotrophin-releasing hormone on the frog’s stomach instead of using the accepted technique of injecting the hormone under the skin.

It is the same type of hormone used in IVF.

The article in The Guardian, which you may read here, doesn’t mention if this treatment would be effective for men on dating sites.

In 649 days, President Trump has made 6,420 false or misleading claims

Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

On Sept. 7, President Trump woke up in Billings, Mont., flew to Fargo, N.D., visited Sioux Falls, S.D., and eventually returned to Washington. He spoke to reporters on Air Force One, held a pair of fundraisers and was interviewed by three local reporters.

In that single day, he publicly made 125 false or misleading statements — in a period of time that totaled only about 120 minutes. It was a new single-day high.

Trump’s tsunami of untruths helped push the count in The Fact Checker’s database past 5,000 on the 601st day of his presidency. That’s an average of 8.3 Trumpian claims a day, but in the past nine days — since our last update — the president has averaged 32 claims a day.

Fittingly, the 5,000th claim was a tweet about the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III: “Russian ‘collusion’ was just an excuse by the Democrats for having lost the Election!”

On nearly 140 occasions, the president has falsely claimed that the Russia investigation was made up or a hoax. But the information on Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election was developed by the intelligence community and published in a declassified report, in which the agencies said they had “high confidence” it was correct.

The president’s 5,001st claim was another tweet: He claimed that the administration “did an unappreciated great job” dealing with Hurricane Maria when it struck Puerto Rico in 2017.

That’s just spin that ignores a raft of official reports. A study by George Washington University estimated the death toll at between 2,658 and 3,290. Puerto Rico adopted the midpoint number, 2,975, as its official death toll. The island’s population dropped 8 percent because of the death toll and heavy out-migration after the hurricanes, according to the GWU study. A separate report by the Government Accountability Office found a litany of issues that prevented the Federal Emergency Management Agency from responding quickly and efficiently to the Puerto Rican disaster. Full power was not restored to Puerto Rico for 11 months after the hurricane.

Almost one-third of Trump’s claims — 1,573 — in The Fact Checker’s database relate to economic issues, trade deals or jobs. He frequently takes credit for jobs created before he became president or company decisions with which he had no role. He cites his “incredible success” in terms of job growth, even though annual job growth under his presidency has been slower than the last five years of President Barack Obama’s tenure. Almost 50 times, Trump has claimed that the economy today is the “greatest” in U.S. history, an absurd statement not backed up by data.

In the wake of the Woodward book, Trump resurrected a claim that dates from his first 100 days in office — that he has accomplished more than any other president in history in the same period of time. He made that statement six times in four days after news reports about the Woodward book.

Besides the tax bill, Trump has signed few noteworthy pieces of legislation, in contrast with the whirlwind of major bills passed in the first two years of the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson or Obama. As of his 600th day, Trump had signed about the same number of bills as Obama and George W. Bush but is behind every other president since Dwight D. Eisenhower, according to a calculation by Joshua Tauberer of GovTrack. He noted that Trump is just behind Obama in terms of the number of pages, indicating that much of the legislation he has signed has been about increasing government spending.

Donald Trump has put America at an historical level of debt, made America a joke in the eyes of many nations and with his fawning over dictators and princes is defining MAGA as Make America Grovel Away.

The godfather of fake news

Christopher Blair takes a sip of his coffee.

Then he carefully focuses on one of the three screens in front of him.

He’s in his home office, 45 minutes outside Portland, Maine, on the US East Coast.

Stroking his thick beard, he looks at his bookmarks bar.

He takes another sip before his coffee goes cold, inhales long and hard, then logs into the back end of one of his many websites.

He begins by choosing a subject. Which “lucky” politician will be on the receiving end of his attention today?

Bill Clinton? Hillary Clinton? One of the Obamas?

Or maybe the subject of his story won’t be a person, but a policy. Gun control? Police brutality? Feminism? Anything that will push buttons.

Perhaps he’ll make up a controversial incident, a crime, a new law or a constitutional amendment.

“Changing” the US constitution is particularly fun – he’s already written more than 30 fake amendments. (There are only 27 genuine ones.)

Blair sits back in his chair and focuses intently on the screen. He leans forward, places his hands on the keyboard and starts the same way he does every time.

Caps lock. BREAKING. Colon…

BREAKING: Clinton Foundation Ship Seized at Port of Baltimore Carrying Drugs, Guns and Sex Slaves

The words flow from the thoughts in his head. Unconnected to reality, he needs no research, and no notes.

His fingers rhythmically tap the keys. Letters form into words, words into sentences and sentences into a blog of about 200 words.

It doesn’t take long to write.

Publish.

Blair sits back in his chair and watches the likes and shares roll in.

The Fact Checker.

More than 3,000 miles (5,000km) away in a small town an hour east of the Belgian capital, Brussels, there’s another office in another family home.

Outside, children play in the garden on a warm summer’s afternoon.

Maarten Schenk navigates the steep set of stairs to his basement office. There’s an L-shaped desk in one corner – in another, a cooler is filled with bottles of peach-flavoured iced tea.

His desk resembles Blair’s. On it, sit three computer monitors, with the machine hard drives tucked away neatly underneath.

On one of the screens, he suddenly notices a lot of activity. The US is waking up, and spiking numbers on one page catch Schenk’s attention.

He watches as one particular story is gathering momentum and is quickly being shared on Facebook and other social networks.

Schenk logs into his own website and starts to type.

His job is to tell the world that what he’s seeing online – the story that’s currently going viral about a Clinton Foundation ship, allegedly carrying drugs, guns and sex slaves – is a complete fabrication.

It’s fake news.

During the 2016 US presidential election, journalists began noticing a rash of viral made-up stories on Facebook.

Bizarrely, many of the pages appeared to be posted by people from the Balkans and, after BuzzFeed reported on an unusual cluster of pages, reporters flocked to a small town called Veles in Macedonia.

“The Americans loved our stories and we make money from them,” one faker told the BBC. “Who cares if they are true or false?”

The stories were, in the main, pitched to Donald Trump supporters. They included rumours about Hillary Clinton’s health problems and illegal dealings, stories about luminaries like Pope Francis lining up behind the Republican candidate, and other false news sure to either please or rile Trump’s supporters.

Satire – not news, not opinion, and not propaganda – is how Blair describes his work.

His aim is to trick conservative Americans into sharing false news, in the hope of showing what he calls their “stupidity”.

“We’ve gone out of our way to market it as satire, to make sure that everybody knows that this isn’t real,” he says, pointing out that some of his pages have more prominent disclaimers than the world-famous satire site The Onion.

Once his stories go viral, the Facebook comments burst forth. And that’s when Christopher Blair the fake news writer becomes Christopher Blair the crusading left-wing troll.

“The mission with the trolling first and foremost is we pull them into the comments [section underneath each fake article],” he says.

It’s then that he starts on the offensive. The faker becomes the exposer, weeding out and reporting the most extreme users among his fans.

“I can show you hundreds of profiles we’ve had taken down,” he says. He claims that he’s exposed Ku Klux Klan members and hardcore racists.

“We’ve had people fired from their jobs,” he says.

“We’ve exposed them to their families. Say what you want about me being a monster. I’m pretty proud.”

Read the complete article on the BBC web site here.

A planet on the verge of climate catastrophe

How South Beach, Miami, could look if temperatures rise by 2C. Photograph: Nickolay Lamm/Courtesy of Climate Central/sealevel.climatecentral.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate catastrophe is now looking inevitable. We have simply left it too late to hold rising global temperatures to under 1.5C and so prevent a future of drowned coasts, ruined coral reefs, spreading deserts and melted glaciers.

At the same time, prospects of reaching global deals to halt emissions have been weakened by the spread of rightwing populism.

Svetlana Jevrejeva, at the National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool, has studied sea-level rises that will be triggered by melting ice sheets and expanding warm seawater in a world 3-5C hotter than it was in pre-industrial times, and concludes these could reach 0.74 to 1.8 metres by 2100. This would be enough to deluge Pacific and Indian Ocean island states and displace millions from Miami, Guangzhou, Mumbai and other low-lying cities. The total cost to the planet could top £11trillion.

Earth’s population stands at seven billion today and is predicted to rise to nine billion by 2050 and settle at over 11 billion by 2100 – when climate change will have wrecked major ecosystems and turned farmlands to dust bowls.

Unfortunately many experts believe Earth’s population will actually peak well beyond 11 billion. “It could reach 15 billion,” said Sarah Harper, of Oxford’s Institute of Population Ageing. “All sorts of factors suggest women, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, will still want to have relatively high numbers of children and this might keep the world’s population approaching 15 billion rather than 12 billion.”

In the past few years climate change has killed 70% of its livestock and forced tens of thousands of families to flee from its scorched interior to live in refugee camps. “You can touch it, the climate change, in Somaliland. It is real. It is here,” the country’s environment minister, Shukri Ismail Bandare, said in the Financial Times last week.

Sudan and Kenya are also victims of a drought that has dried the Horn of Africa faster than at any other time in the past 2,000 years. Similarly, in Vietnam, thousands a year are abandoning the once fertile Mekong Delta as rising seawater pollutes paddy fields. By 2050, the World Bank says more than 140 million will become climate refugees.

But the most telling example is provided by the US, which has emitted about a third of the carbon responsible for global warming. Yet it has essentially done nothing to check its annual rises in output. Lobbying by the fossil fuel industry has proved highly effective at blocking political change – a point most recently demonstrated by groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Heartland Institute, which helped persuade President Trump to pull out of the Paris agreement, thus dashing the planet’s last hope of ecological salvation. “The coalition used its power to slow us down precisely at the moment when we needed to speed up,” said the environmentalist Bill McKibben in the New Yorker. “As a result, the particular politics of one country for one half-century will have changed the geological history of the Earth.”

Florida

No region of the US has more to lose from climate change than southern Florida. If scientists’ worst predictions are realised, an entire metropolitan area, currently inhabited by more than six million people, is likely to be swamped by a 1.5-metre sea-level rise before the end of this century, a rise that could see the tourist mecca of Miami simply disappear.

It’s a doomsday scenario that has united the leaders of Miami-Dade county and the cities of Miami and Miami Beach in an attempt to find solutions to the most severe effects of rising oceans before it is too late. Their plan to combat the physical, economic and social challenges of climate change, as part of the global 100 Resilient Cities programme, will play a key role in determining whether the low-lying region will still be habitable in the coming decades or surrendered to the ever-rising Atlantic.

“It’s a problem that can be managed, it’s not a problem that can be fixed and you walk away from,” said Susanne Torriente, chief resilience officer for Miami Beach, where hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars have already been spent elevating roads, constructing higher sea walls and investing in modern, high-capacity pumps and stormwater drainage systems.

“Every generation will add to the work that we have begun,” Torriente says. “We are always learning, it’s a constant process of learning, re-evaluating and improving.”

Read the complete article on The Guardian news site here.

Bowel movement: the push to change the way you poo

 

 

 

 

 

 

People often say pooping is taboo, but lately it seems more like a cultural fetish. There are poop emoji birthday parties for three-year-olds, people WhatsApping photos of their ordure to friends, TripAdvisor threads on how to avoid or avail yourself of squat toilets. Through the miracle of online media, you can now discover that, in the past year, both Brisbane, Australia and Colorado Springs, Colorado, suffered reigns of terror by mystery “pooping joggers” who ran around crapping on people’s lawns. There’s a whole YouTube subculture devoted to infiltrating restrooms with vintage toilets and surreptitiously flushing them over and over again (one of these channels has more than 16m views). The renowned novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard has devoted passage after passage to his bowel movements. You can even read opinion pieces about the pleasures of evacuating in the nude.

But it’s the banal Squatty Potty that’s doing the most to change not just how people discuss poop, but how they actually do it. “It’s piercing that final veil around bodily use and bodily functions,” Barbara Penner, professor of architectural humanities at UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture, and one of the preeminent scholars of the modern bathroom, told me. Perhaps it’s because this small, unlovely stool embodies a grand ambition: to upend two centuries of western orthodoxy about going to the loo.

Shitting, like death, is a great leveller. It renders beluga caviar indistinguishable from tinned ham, a duchess as creaturely as a dog. Even God’s only son may be transformed by the act: the stercoranistes, an early Christian sect, believed in a double transubstantiation, Christ into the communion wafer, and thence into dung. Though at different times and places the excrement of certain personages – be they the Dalai Lama or those with “healthy” gut biomes – has been revered for its healing powers, shit itself is a strict egalitarian. Faecal-borne disease knows no kings; cholera can kill anyone.

People have long tried to resist the democratic power of defecation, imposing rigorous distinctions on and through the act. Since at least the 19th century, bathrooms have been arenas of racial and gender oppression, from the Jim Crow south to the era of trans rights. Hinduism is infamous for its caste system, according to which the Dalits, formerly known as “untouchables”, are forced to manually dispose of the faeces of higher castes. In Kenya, the nomadic Samburu use personal trowels to cover their excrement; the beading on the handle expresses the owner’s status within the tribe. In the US and UK, the bathroom is often, per square foot, the most expensive room in the home. Wedgwood, who made your posh grandmother’s dinner set, made her posh grandmother’s toilet pan.

Like any technological solution, however, the water closet set in motion new problems. The use of water to dispose of faeces has been “a central element of our perilous fantasy that the planet was created for human convenience,” one Canadian scholar has written. Alongside improved hygiene and stronger taboos also came an explosion in various so-called “modern” diseases, such as haemorrhoids and constipation, which were attributed to seated toilets. One 20th-century physiotherapist described constipation as “the greatest physical vice of the white race”.

Antidotes, such as low-to-the-ground toilets known as “health closets”, which would allow for a half-squat position, have been on the market in Britain since at least the 1920s, Barbara Penner notes in her book Bathroom. Around mid-century, a predecessor of the Squatty Potty was on sale at Harrods. In the mid-1960s, in the US, a Cornell University architecture professor named Alexander Kira proposed a number of squatting and semi-squatting toilet designs in his monumental study The Bathroom, in which he called the seated toilet “the most ill-suited fixture ever designed”. Yet no solution to the problems posed by the modern toilet really took off. Until now.

Read the complete article on The Guardian here.

Home Field Disadvantage

The USA women’s baseball team prepare to face Canada during the super round of the Women’s Baseball World Cup 2018 in Viera, Florida at USSSA Space Coast Stadium on Wednesday, August 29, 2018. (Cassi Alexandra for Longreads)

The moment the members of Team USA disembarked their plane in Orlando, their fears were realized. This was the first Women’s Baseball World Cup ever played on United States soil, and they expected to be ignored.

At the last World Cup, played in 2016 in South Korea, Team USA didn’t make it to the final round of the only competition they ever play in. But at least in Korea they had been acknowledged. More than that, they’d felt important and beloved, barraged by reporters’ questions at every turn and hounded by fans: fans holding handmade signs with sparkling lettering, fans who knew their names and numbers, fans who sent love notes down to the dugout in the middle of their games.

For every day of the past two years each woman had trained, practiced, and dreamed about playing baseball. According to USA Baseball, the members of the U.S. women’s national baseball team are among the top 20 players in the country, but here at home, almost no one knows they exist.

Before Team USA played Team Japan, the defending, five-time World Champions, on the first night of the tournament’s second round, a five-year-old girl threw a ball back and forth with her father just outside the stadium. She wore a glove, and he caught her lobs with his bare hands. She said she wanted to play baseball. Her father said “hell yeah,” he’d let her play. “If she wants to fight for it, I’ll fight with her.” But to play baseball as a woman in America, you have to be willing to fight your entire life, because at every phase, you’re set up to fail.

It’s no wonder when Team USA played Japan on the first night of the Super Round, they made a couple mental errors: a ball not thrown on a steal, a miscommunication at second base. They are a team in uniform, but not in time spent on the diamond. They haven’t been given the time or resources to become a team the way Japan has.

In 2009, Kenichi Kakutani, a wealthy Japanese business owner, invested heavily in women’s baseball in Japan after watching a baseball tournament for high school girls. He formed what would eventually be called the Japanese Women’s Baseball League (JWBL), a tiny, four-team league that has made Team Japan an absolutely dominant force, taking gold at every WBWC in the past decade. Because more than 25 private high schools in Japan had women’s baseball teams, the talent was there to fuel the league, and the league itself encouraged more private high schools to start teams.

U.S Federal courts have ruled under Title IX that baseball and softball are separate sports and that girls cannot be excluded from baseball teams just because a softball team exists at the same school. Softball is played on a smaller field, with a different ball, and different rules. In softball, runners cannot take a lead off bases. With a runner firmly on base, an infielder has to change her entire job, watch the pitcher for a throw-over, watch the runner for a steal, maybe even change her positioning. Without lead offs, there are far fewer steals, no balks, and far less nuance. “People come up to me and tell me on a daily basis that I should switch to softball,” Sementelli says. “You have to be the only girl on the team, or you have to switch to softball. It takes a lot for a little girl to fight to play on the big field.”

Let’s say a young girl is willing to face all those battles and she wins. She plays varsity baseball in high school, loves the game. Maybe she even gets to attend the new Trailblazer series for women. “We have seen tremendous success in getting young men who have participated in our Breakthrough Series to play collegiately and so we wanted to apply the same approach for young women,” MLB’s Reagins says. There are no women’s baseball teams at any level of the American college system.

If a woman can reach the college level, she often can’t afford to fight her way onto a men’s team. Anna Kimbrell, a catcher for Team USA, played baseball through high school but switched to softball in college because she was offered a big scholarship to play. She returned to baseball after graduation. “You have to be pretty stubborn to refuse to play softball,” Ring says. “If you’re being rational and you want a college scholarship, it’s softball.”

Most of the women on 2018’s Team USA won’t get to play again until the next World Cup in 2020. Underwood, at 37, is still deciding whether or not she’ll keep playing. They will return to their lives and their real jobs. They will dream about playing on the diamond again and wake up disappointed. Each year, thousands of girls will switch over to softball, or quit playing the game entirely because no one has made a path for them to go forward.

“That’s the story of women’s baseball,” Underwood said. “We don’t get to play in the same facilities. We don’t get the same attention. We don’t get the same opportunities.”

Read the complete article in Long Reads here.