Wading Into Muddy Waters
September 2, 2021
The Good News
- Native American tribes enforce mask mandates regardless of state bans (Guardian)
- Walgreens becomes newest member of the $15 an hour club (CBS)
“I love the feeling of the fresh air on my face and the wind blowing through my hair.” — Evel Knievel
Wading Into Muddy Waters
The Texas Heartbeat Act is now state law. It has the honor of being the most extreme anti-abortion law in the nation. It forbids abortions once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy, and usually before a person even knows they’re pregnant. There are no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Texas is the first state to successfully ban abortion at this point in pregnancy since the Supreme Court held that women have a constitutionally-protected “right to privacy,” including the right to terminate a pregnancy.
In crafting the fetal heartbeat bill, Republican lawmakers made the ban enforceable through private citizen lawsuits instead of through state government. As of September 1, complete strangers — in or out of Texas — can sue anyone who “aids and abets” in a post six-weeks abortion, including doctors, nurses, appointment schedulers, Uber drivers, the companion who accompanies a patient to the clinic, people who support abortion funds, and clinics. These Pregnancy Vigilante Plaintiffs can recover up to $10,000 per defendant, and recoup all their attorneys’ fees. The new law’s intimidation factor is unparalleled.
Abortion rights advocates and providers made emergency appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, requesting a temporary injunction to stop the law from going into effect until the case can be heard on the merits. Although SCOTUS has acted precipitously numerous times with regard to other issues, the justices took no action before midnight Tuesday — tacit indication of where the 6-3 conservative majority is leaning.
Major abortion providers in Texas said Wednesday that they are following the state’s new restrictive law, and have canceled appointments. Providers say at least 85% of the procedures previously completed in the state will now be prevented. The Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that studies reproductive health rights, says that now that most or all abortion care in Texas is shut down, the average one-way driving distance to a clinic would increase 20-fold, from 12 miles to 248 miles. However, many women will be unable to obtain an abortion outside of the state due to financial or circumstantial challenges. The University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Policy Evaluation Project estimates that around 80% of Texans seeking an abortion would not be able to obtain one in-state, and 46% of Texans seeking an abortion may be forced to continue their pregnancies. (Legiscan, Roe v. Wade, NBC News, Reuters, Texas Tribune)
Waffle We Do About This?
- Japan is facing a severe shortage of workers in technology and engineering. And in university programs that produce workers in these fields, Japan has some of the lowest percentages of women in the developed world. Up to age 15, Japanese girls and boys perform equally well in math and science on international standardized tests.
- But at this critical juncture, when students must choose between the science and humanities tracks in high school, girls appear to lose confidence and interest in math and science. In these fields, the higher the educational level, the fewer the women, a phenomenon many blame on cultural expectations. “The sex-based division of labor is deeply rooted,” one young woman said.
- To help change the trend, two women with science backgrounds co-founded a nonprofit called Waffle, which runs one-day tech camps for middle and high school girls. Asumi Saito and Sayaka Tanaka offer career lectures and hands-on experiences that emphasize problem solving, community, and entrepreneurship to counter the stereotypically geeky image of technology. “Our vision is to close the gender gap by empowering and educating women in technology,” Saito said. (NYT)
Seeking A Pollution Solution
- Cities in India routinely dominate global pollution rankings; toxic air kills more than a million Indians annually. A new report by The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) says that 480 million people in northern India face the “most extreme levels of air pollution in the world.”
- The study found pollution levels that are “10 times worse than those found anywhere else in the world.” Data from the EPIC report on Air Quality Life Index shows that residents in India’s capital of Delhi could see up to 10 years added to their lives if air pollution was reduced to meet the World Health Organization guideline of 10 µg/m³.
- High pollution levels also affect lives in western and central Indian states such as Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, where the average person is now losing 2.5 to 3 years of life expectancy as compared to early 2000. According to the report, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, which together account for nearly a quarter of the global population, consistently figure in the top five most polluted countries on earth. (BBC)
Additional World News
- It’s Election Season in Germany. No Charisma, Please! (NYT, $)
- Canada burns and the election heats up. Trudeau’s still trying to figure out if he’s a climate warrior. (Politico)
- Pope Criticizes Western Intervention in Afghanistan (NYT, $)
- COVID vaccinations in rural India spike amid supply concerns (Al Jazeera)
- Covid: Sri Lanka in economic emergency as food prices soar (BBC)
- Japan PM Suga intends to dissolve parliament mid-Sept, delay party chief race -media (Reuters)
- North Korea Rejects Covid-19 Vaccine Doses (WSJ)
A Downed Chopper
- An MH-60S Seahawk helicopter went down into the ocean off the California coast near San Diego on Tuesday. One sailor was rescued, while five others were missing. The cause of the crash wasn’t immediately clear. In a statement, the Navy’s Third Fleet said the helicopter was operating on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.
- It had been conducting “routine flight operations” about 60 nautical miles off the coast when it “crashed into the sea” about 4:30 p.m. local time. Five crewmen aboard the Lincoln at the time of the crash were also injured. There was no word on what caused those sailors’ injuries. (NYT)
- On Tuesday, Virginia’s highest court upheld a lower court ruling enjoining the suspension of a northern Virginia gym teacher who said he won’t refer to transgender students by the pronouns they use. Tanner Cross, a teacher at Leesburg Elementary, cited his religious convictions at a May board meeting in which the school board debated proposed changes to its policies about the treatment of transgender students.
- After Cross spoke up saying he wouldn’t use the pronouns requested by transgender students, the school board ordered his suspension. He filed suit asking for an injunction against the order. A district court judge ruled that the school system had violated Cross’ free speech rights, and granted the temporary injunction.
- Loudoun County Public Schools then appealed to the state Supreme Court, which left the lower court’s temporary injunction in place for now. Since Cross filed his lawsuit in May, two additional teachers in Loudoun County have joined him as plaintiffs. A trial is scheduled for next week in Loudoun County to settle the issue permanently. (ABC News)
Additional USA News
- ‘It could’ve been worse’: Utah governor wrestles with Covid compromises (Politico)
- In a ‘sea change’ for the agency, CDC is sharing data earlier (CNN)
- Anti-vaxxers swarmed a Georgia mobile vaccination site, forcing it to shut down (WaPo, $)
- McCarthy warns telecom and social media companies that comply with January 6 committee records requests (CNN)
- White House thanks interpreter in hiding who helped rescue Biden in 2008 and commits to evacuating Afghan partners (CNN)
- Wealthy GOP donors flock to DeSantis as presidential speculation swirls (NBC)
- Social Security won’t be able to pay full benefits by 2034 (CNN)
Here’s a research project worth giggling about. According to a study published Tuesday in Biology Letters, the laughing patterns of human infants match those of great apes. Human adults primarily laugh while exhaling, whereas infants and great apes laugh during both inhalation and exhalation.
The author of the study is Mariska Kret, associate professor of cognitive psychology at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Kret originally discovered this phenomenon while attending a talk by renowned primatologist Jan van Hooff with a friend. When van Hooff said apes laugh during inhalation and exhalation, Kret’s friend showed a video of her baby laughing in the same manner.
Kret was intrigued. So to test whether infants laugh like apes, Kret collected audio clips of laughing babies ages 3 months to 18 months. Then, she asked novice listeners to rate what percentage of the laugh was produced by inhaling versus exhaling. As a control, researchers included five clips of adults laughing. After two rounds, including at least 100 listeners each, the amateur listeners concluded that infants laughed both while inhaling and exhaling, whereas adults mainly laughed by exhaling. Kret then had expert listeners analyze the sound bites, and they reached virtually the same conclusions.
The researchers also learned that listeners perceived the laughter produced by exhaling more positively, pleasanter, and more contagious. Adults do it by inhaling first, then producing “ha-ha-ha” sounds in short bursts, starting loud, then fading away. “The ape-type is more difficult to describe but there is an alternation huh-ha-huh-ha,” Kret said.
Marina Davila-Ross, a reader in comparative psychology at England’s University of Portsmouth, wasn’t involved in the study, but wants us to know that infant laughter isn’t necessarily similar to all species of great apes, just those that are evolutionarily closest to humans, like chimpanzees and bonobos. “It seems to reflect that laughter is to some extent biologically deeply grounded,” she explained.
Kret’s research also shows that older infants produced more exhaling laughter than younger ones, which she says may mean they’re learning the “communicative function” of laughter. In future research Kret hopes to repeat her experiment with other vocalizations, such as crying. But for now, she’ll continue running more of those laughter experiments, which I think we can all agree is pretty funny. (CNN)
- German central bank inundated with money damaged in floods (AP)
- Say hello to handstanding spotted skunks, ‘the acrobats of the skunk world’ (CNN)
- Hubble snaps striking space object that looks like a Star Wars lightsaber (CNET)
- How Scorpion Tails Do the Bend and Twist (NYT, $)
- Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo breaks men’s career international scoring record (ESPN)
- States That Cut Unemployment Benefits Saw Limited Impact on Job Growth (WSJ)
- Can the Wisdom of Crowds Help Fix Social Media’s Trust Issue? (Wired)