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.

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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.

Feel the love, feel the hate in the cauldron of Trump’s wild rallies: Ed Pilkington

There is no understanding Donald Trump without understanding his rallies.

They are the crucible of the Trump revolution, the laboratory where he turns his alternative reality into a potion to be sold to his followers. It is at his rallies that his radical reimagining of the US constitution takes shape: not “We the people”, but “We my people”.

As America reels from a gunman killing 11 Jewish worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue; pipe bombs being sent to 14 of the US presidents’ leading opponents, and Trump declaring himself a nationalist and sending thousands of troops to the US border to assail unarmed asylum seekers; the most powerful person on earth continues to rely on his rallies as seething cauldrons of passion.

And that’s not all. Trump is using them as a test run for his 2020 bid for re-election.

Which is why I have crisscrossed the country, from Montana and Wisconsin in the north to Texas in the south, Arizona in the west to North Carolina in the east, to observe the president delivering his message to his people.

On the morning of the fourth rally, the outside world blasts its way into Trumpland. Shortly after 10am, as CNN anchors are telling their viewers about a series of pipe bombs mailed to the Clintons, the Obamas and to George Soros, they have to rush off air because the network has received its own explosive device.

At the same time, Jacob Spaeth and three of his buddies are lining up in a field in Mosinee, Wisconsin. They are all wearing the same distinctive red T-shirt. It bears a cartoon sketch of a smiling Trump urinating profusely over the CNN logo.

Spaeth never watches CNN – he occasionally sees clips of it on Facebook. He gets his information from Infowars, the website of Alex Jones. Jones, a conspiracy theorist, is on the record as saying 9/11 was a government set-up and that the 2012 Newtown school shooting in which 20 children were killed was fabricated. Within hours he will be broadcasting that this week’s pipe bombs are also a hoax.

Spaeth embodies one of the most puzzling aspects of my week in Trumpland. Throughout the five rallies, I talk to scores of people, all of whom, without exception, are welcoming and pleasant. Yet hours later, in the pressure-cooker of the rally, they will turn on me and my mainstream media colleagues and hurl insults at us.

Spaeth admits that when he went to a Trump rally in Minnesota last month he took part in the finger-jabbing and the chanting of “CNN sucks”. It made him feel happy to be able to express his feelings so openly among like-minded folk. “I don’t see it as bullying,” he says.

There’s only one explanation for this pattern of behavior: that Trump enables good, civil Americans to metamorphose into media baiters. “Those people, fake news,” the president says sneeringly at almost every rally, pointing to the caged pen where reporters are cooped up during his speeches.

Read the compete article in The Guardian newspaper here.

 

Fact check: Donald Trump’s State of the Union address analyzed

Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech continued Trump’s tradtion of telling tall tales. Let’s separate Trump’s fake news from the facts.

Tax cuts

We enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history. Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses.

A typical family of four making $75,000 will see their tax bill reduced by $2,000 – slashing their tax bill in half.

This April will be the last time you ever file under the old broken system – and millions of Americans will have more take-home pay starting next month.

The tax cut signed into law last month is not the largest in American history, but the eighth largest, at about 0.9% of the gross domestic product. In 1981, Ronald Reagan signed the largest cut, at 2.89% of GDP.

The $1.1tn tax cut will mean lower taxes for every income bracket in 2019, but it is misleading to suggest that those cuts will last for everyone.

Over time the cuts disproportionately save money for the wealthiest. Some of the tax cuts phase out in 2025, meaning that by 2027 Americans earning less than $75,000 will see tax increases. More than 75% of the savings will go to people who earn more than $200,000, according to Moody’s, or about 5% of taxpayers.

The top 1% of earners will save hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, through the cuts, according to the Tax Policy Center. The president’s family could save as much as $11m, according to an analysis by the New York Times. The tax plan also eliminated the estate tax, which only affected a few thousand families with extraordinary wealth.

The stock market

Small business confidence is at an all-time high. The stock market has smashed one record after another, gaining $8tn in value. That is great news for Americans’ 401k, retirement, pension, and college savings accounts.

It’s true that the stock market is booming: the Dow Jones surpassed a record 26,000 points and saw its fastest-ever 1,000-point gain during the last year.

The stock market is not the economy, however, and does not reflect marginal wage gains and growing inequality. A Federal Reserve report published last year, for instance, found that the wealthiest 1% of American families controlled 38.6% of the country’s wealth in 2016.

Coal, energy and cars

We have ended the war on American energy – and we have ended the war on clean coal. We are now an exporter of energy to the world.

Thanks to a natural gas boom over the last 15 years, the US has become a global energy power. This success of natural gas – cheaper, more accessible and cleaner than coal – has marginalized the coal industry, limiting Trump’s efforts to save the industry.

Coal jobs and production declined for decades, collapsing 33% from 2011 to 2016, according to studies by Columbia University and the Department of Energy, due to competition from natural gas, automation and a shift away from coal in Asia.

Trump has tried to resurrect coal’s fading fortunes. He rescinded a rule that tried to keep coal mining waste out of waterways; ordered a revocation of Obama’s Clean Power Plan; and lifted a ban on mining leases on federal land. In 2017, coal exports increased compared to 2016, according to the Energy Information Association. Still, there has only been about 1% growth in coal jobs over the last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The phrase “clean coal,” coined by the coal industry, is itself controversial. The term applies not to any coal itself but power plants that remove heavy metal pollutants in the burning process and bury carbon emissions in the earth. Even such “clean” coal-fired plants still emit large levels of pollutants.

Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States – something we have not seen for decades. Chrysler is moving a major plant from Mexico to Michigan; Toyota and Mazda are opening up a plant in Alabama. Soon, plants will be opening up all over the country. This is all news Americans are unaccustomed to hearing – for many years, companies and jobs were only leaving us.

Chrysler is not moving any plant from Mexico; it is keeping the Mexican factory and investing in a Michigan one. Toyota-Mazda have planned for a $1.6bn factory in Alabama, to open in several years. Several of the plans Trump is touting have been in development for several years and the US has steadily increased jobs since 2010, according to the same Bureau of Labor Statistics figures the president earlier cited.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

3C of warming will leave world cities below sea level

How Shanghai would look with a rise of just 2C: the UN warned this week of a potential 3C scenario. Photograph: Nickolay Lamm/Courtesy Climate Central

Hundreds of millions of urban dwellers around the world face their cities being inundated by rising seawaters if latest UN warnings that the world is on course for 3C of global warming come true, according to a Guardian data analysis.

Data from the Climate Central group of scientists analysed by Guardian journalists shows that 3C of global warming would ultimately lock in irreversible sea-level rises of perhaps two metres. Cities from Shanghai to Alexandria, and Rio to Osaka are among the worst affected. Miami would be inundated – as would the entire bottom third of the US state of Florida.

South Beach, Miami, would be mostly underwater. Photograph: Nickolay Lamm/Courtesy Climate Central

In Miami – which would be almost entirely below sea level even at 2C warming – the sense of urgency is evident at city hall, where commissioners are asking voters to approve a “Miami Forever” bond in the November ballot that includes $192m for upgrading pump stations, expanding drainage systems, elevating roads and building dykes.

A 3C rise would lead to longer droughts, fiercer hurricanes and lock in sea-level rises that would redraw many coastlines. Depending on the speed at which icecaps and glaciers melt, this could take decades or more than a century.

At least 275 million city dwellers live in vulnerable areas, the majority of them in Asian coastal megacities and industrial hubs such as Shanghai, Shenzhen, Bangkok and Tokyo.

Japan’s second biggest city, Osaka, is projected to lose its business and entertainments districts of Umeda and Namba unless global emissions are forced down or flood defences are built up. Officials are reluctantly accepting they must now put more effort into the latter.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper site.

Republican official ‘would have shot’ Guardian reporter attacked by Gianforte

A Montana Republican party official “would have shot” Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs if he had approached her as he did Greg Gianforte, who assaulted Jacobs one day before he was elected to Congress.

Jacobs approached Gianforte in May, in a room where he was about to give a television interview. The Republican slammed Jacobs to the floor, breaking his glasses, and then punched him several times.

“If that kid had done to me what he did to Greg, I would have shot him,” Karen Marshall, vice-president of programs for Gallatin County Republican Women told the Voice of Montana radio program on Thursday.

Marshall also described herself as a “friend” of Gianforte. According to federal records, a Karen Marshall from Bozeman, Montana, donated the federal maximum of $2,700 to Gianforte’s campaign for Congress.

The altercation occurred in a private room at a campaign event, after Jacobs asked Gianforte a question about healthcare. Several reporters were invited to the event, a picnic.

“That kid came on private property, came into a private building, and went into a very private room that I would not even have gone into,” Marshall said. “It was a setup. A complete setup. He just pushed a little too hard.”

Travis Hall, a spokesperson for Gianforte, told the Helena Independent Record: “Greg disagrees with those remarks, repudiates them and remains focused on being a strong voice for Montana in Washington.”

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

Trump’s tax plan and the wealthy

On Wednesday Donald Trump unveiled an ambitious tax plan, proposing sweeping tax cuts for individuals and corporations in what the president dubbed a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to overhaul America’s tax code.

“These tax cuts are significant. There’s never been tax cuts like what we’re talking about,” Trump said in characteristically grandiose fashion.

“We will make taxes simple, easy, and fair for all Americans.”

Significant, yes. Fair for all Americans? No. Great for the wealthy? You bet.

The individual tax rates would be 12%, 25% and 35% – and the plan recommends a surcharge for the very wealthy. But it does not set the income levels at which the rates would apply, so it is unclear just how much of a tax cut would go to a typical family.

Trump insisted the tax plan would not benefit the “wealthy or well-connected”, stating: “They can call me all they want, it’s not gonna help.”

The wealthy would only be calling Trump to thank him for his generosity. They’ll be great calls. The best calls. The most calls. The most fabulous calls.

There are also signs that the wealthiest sliver of Americans could still reap tremendous benefits from the proposed changes, even though Trump has suggested that the rich will not be better off. Ya. Right.

Trump also dedicated a considerable portion of his remarks in Indiana to railing against the estate tax, which he referred to as the “death tax” and would be eliminated under his plan. Such a move would primarily benefit top earners, including the president.

“We’re finally ending the crushing, horrible unfair disaster of the estate tax,” Trump said.

The tax in question applies to estates valued at more than $5.49m for individuals or $10.98m for married couples. According to the Tax Policy Center, a research group based in Washington, just 0.2% of estates of people who died were subject to the tax, which currently stands at a rate of 40% under the law.

Trump and Republicans in Congress have argued the estate tax has a crippling effect on family farms, ranches and small businesses. But a Tax Policy Center analysis of the year 2013 found only 3% of the 0.2% of the estates subject to the tax were farms and businesses.

3% of 0.2% isn’t exactly what some people would say is a “crushing, horrible unfair disaster”.

By contrast, a review by Bloomberg revealed huge savings for Trump and his cabinet, which is regarded as the wealthiest in US history.

Trump’s estate would save $564m, the review found, based on his estimated net worth of $3bn. Trump claims his net worth to be at least $10 bn, but he has refused to release his tax returns in a break from precedent, making it difficult to fully evaluate how Trump’s tax plan as president would affect him personally.

According to the Bloomberg analysis, a repeal of the estate tax would save Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, roughly $545m and potentially result in more than $900m in savings for Richard DeVos, the father-in-law of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary.

Trump’s phone is going to be ringing off the hook. They’ll be great calls. The best calls. The most calls. The most fabulous calls. Believe me.

Corporations would see their top tax rate cut from 35% to 20%. For a period of five years, companies could further reduce how much they pay by immediately writing off their investments.

New benefits would be given to firms in which the profits double as the owners’ personal income. They would pay at a 25% rate, down from 39.6%. This creates a possible loophole for rich investors, lawyers, doctors and others, but administration officials say they will design measures to prevent any abuses. Ya. Right.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

More on Trump’s tax plan:”Trump’s tax proposal would push US below Greece on inequality index