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HuckleB's Journal
HuckleB's Journal
April 12, 2016

How are you celebrating Beverly Cleary's 100th Birthday?

Yes, she is still alive, and her books still enchant every new generation of readers.

Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

Ramona, Henry, Ribsy, and all the rest of your characters, and readers, thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

April 12, 2016

Female chief in Malawi breaks up 850 child marriages and sends girls back to school


"Theresa Kachindamoto, the senior chief in the Dedza District of Central Malawi, wields power over close to 900,000 people… and she’s not afraid to use her authority to help the women and girls in her district. In the past three years, she has annulled more than 850 child marriages, sent hundreds of young women back to school to continue their education, and made strides to abolish cleansing rituals that require girls as young as seven to go to sexual initiation camps. With more than half of Malawi’s girls married before the age of 18, according to a 2012 United Nations survey — and a consistently low ranking on the human development index, Kachindamoto’s no-nonsense attitude and effective measures have made her a vital ally in the fight for women’s and children’s rights.

Kachindamoto, who was born in Dedza District, had been working as a secretary for twenty-seven years in another district when she was called to come home and serve as a chief. Upon her return, she was dismayed at the sight of 12 year-old girls with babies and young husbands and quickly began to take action. Last year, Malawi raised the legal age to marry to 18, yet parental consent continues to serve as a loophole to allow younger girls to marry. Kachindamoto ordered 50 of her sub-chiefs to sign an agreement ending child marriage in Dedza District. When a few male chiefs continued to approve the marriages, Kachindamoto suspended them until they annulled the unions. In addition to annulling the marriages (330 in June of 2015 alone!), this fierce chief sent the children back to school, often paying their school fees with her own money. She has also asked parliament to raise the minimum age of marriage again to 21.

In an area where girls are often married early to ease a family’s financial burden and where one in five girls in Malawi are victims of sexual abuse, Kachindamoto is also taking a stand against the cleansing camps where girls are routinely sent before marriage. The sexual initiation rites that take place there are extremely disturbing, particularly in a country where one in ten people has HIV. Kachindamoto is threatening to dismiss any chiefs that continue to allow these controversial practices. Kachindamoto has faced plenty of opposition to her efforts from parents and community members, even receiving death threats, yet she remains determined to continue changing minds and laws for the benefits of Malawi’s females and their futures. In Kachindamoto’s own words, “If they are educated, they can be and have anything they want.”


April 12, 2016

Another not so sweet victory for the Anti-GMO movement



Last week it was reported that demand for cane sugar is up, and outstripping supply. This comes as major food manufacturers are starting to reformulate their products in reaction to pending GMO labeling laws, in Vermont and potentially from the US Congress.

I’m sure many critics of biotech crops will see this as a step in the right direction. However, it will be interesting to see how they justify this shift. As it’s gone out of fashion to worry publicly about potential and imagined health risk of biotech in respectable circles, the current tactic is to opine about the environmental impacts of biotech crops. The problem here is that it’s nearly impossible to argue that switching from the biotech sugar beets that currently make up the bulk of the US sugar supply to sugarcane is in any way a net benefit to the environment. Sugarcane is an environmentally intensive crop. It requires large amounts of water and often threatens local aquifers. It is a tropical crop which requires the deforestation of vital, biodiverse habitat to allow for new production.

The Guardian in 2014:

Few commodities have a darker history than sugarcane. A labour-intensive monocrop that once relied on slavery, it has more recently encompassed child labour, land-grabs and [PDF] the displacement of communities. A notoriously “thirsty” crop, it depletes aquifers and pollutes seas with chemical fertiliser and pesticide run-off. The common practice of burning fields accounts for 20% of the crop’s CO2 emissions.

...Just as when Chipotle switched from biotech ingredients that used less insecticides and better herbicides to non-GMO ingredients that used more insecticides and less than better herbicides, the faux environmentalism of the Anti-GMO movement comes into greater and greater focus as they rack up another real world victory. Or should I say, “victory”."


The more one sees the actual real world affects that Vermont's labeling law, the more one has to recognize the ludicrous nature of the anti-GMO movement.

April 11, 2016

No, Planet Nine Will Not Send a Wave of Earth-Destroying Comets to Kill Us All



Quite a few people on Twitter and Facebook pointed out this one to me. The guilty party is an article in the U.K. tabloid fish-wrappery the Sun posted on Wednesday. It had this breathless (and grossly ridiculous) headline: “Mysterious Planet Wiped Out Life on Earth Once and Could Do It Again THIS MONTH”.


First, Planet Nine has not been “discovered.” At best, astronomers Batygin and Brown found indirect evidence for the existence of a massive planet out past Neptune (as have other astronomers before them). It’s pretty interesting evidence, even compelling, but does not yet add up to a discovery.

Second, Daniel Whitmire does not make the claim that the planet (if it exists) causes extinction events. In a recent paper, he does a bit of math showing that the existence of a trans-Neptunian planet is consistent with the idea of periodic showers of comets raining down on Earth (more on this in a moment), but he does not claim it actually does this. I’m also not sure the planet he hypothesizes is consistent with the evidence presented by Batygin and Brown; some of the orbital and planetary characteristics are similar, others aren’t.

Third, he doesn’t say it “killed all life” on Earth, because that would be really, really dumb. Mass extinctions don’t kill all life on Earth, or else we wouldn’t be here. They kill many, even most, species, but not all. I’m not nitpicking; in an article apparently designed to instill fear, phrasing like that is important.



You do have to read the whole thing. It's awesome!

April 11, 2016

The Volcano Gambit (How Climate Change Denialists Abuse Volcano Science)


"Anyone reading pundits and politicians pontificating profusely about climate or environmental science will, at some point, have come across the “volcano gambit”. During the discussion they will make a claim that volcanoes (or even a single volcano) produce many times more pollutant emissions than human activities. Often the factor is extremely precise to help give an illusion of science-iness and, remarkably, almost any pollutant can be referenced. This “volcano gambit” is an infallible sign that indicates the author is clueless about climate science, but few are aware of its long and interesting history…


Later that year, in October, President Reagan commented on the eruption, suggesting that “one little mountain out there [Mt. St. Helens], in these last several months, has probably released more sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere than has been released in the last ten years of automobile driving or things of that kind.” However, while the volcano emitted roughly 2×106 metric tons SO2, annual emissions from cars were 30 x 106 tons (out of a total human emission of ~131×106 tons). Reagan was out by a factor of 150. This was just the beginning of the mangling.

More relevant for the growth of the volcano gambit, these results got more and more warped in subsequent retellings. For instance, in 1990, Dixy Lee Ray, the ex-marine biologist and former (Democratic) governor of Washington, wrote in her book: “The eruption of Mt. St. Augustine in 1976 injected 289 billion kilograms of hydrochloric acid directly into the stratosphere. That amount is 570 times the total world production of chlorine and fluorocarbon compounds in the year 1975…. So much is known.” She mixed up the huge eruption 700,000 years ago, with a much smaller one in 1976, but it would get worse.


Rush Limbaugh discussed this at various points in 1992 and in his 1993 book. On Nightline he stated: “it is man-made products which are causing the ozone depletion, yet Mount Pinatubo has put 570 times the amount of chlorine into the atmosphere in one eruption than all of man-made chlorofluorocarbons in one year”. (Note the further confusion attributing the eruption 700,000 yrs to the one that just happened). In his book “The Way Things Ought To Be” (1993) Limbaugh stretched the facts still further: “Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines spewed forth more than a thousand times the amount of ozone-depleting chemical in one eruption than all the fluorocarbons manufactured by wicked, diabolical, and insensitive corporations in history.” He claims he got this information from Dixy Lee Ray’s book, “the most footnoted, documented book I have ever read.” Which, as noted above was already garbled. (More discussion on Limbaugh’s errors here and here).



A very real explanation for this silly gambit by the world's denialist crowd.

April 11, 2016

Volcanic Eruption of Denial (Climate Change Denialists Abuse Volcano Science To Further Their Myths)


"I love the website RealClimate. Actual, working climate scientists write the articles there, and they discuss the current news about climate. They also take on the deniers, and do so in an expert and clear fashion.

I was really impressed with a recent commentary they wrote about how volcanoes are so abused by the deny-o-sphere. If you pay any attention at all to media when climate is discussed, you’ve probably heard a claim like this: “The eruption of [such-and-such] volcano put 100 times as much [pollutant or greenhouse gas] into the air as all human activity for a year!”

These claims are dead wrong; so wrong in fact that it’s difficult for me to believe that the people making them are being honest. The RealClimate article goes into the history of these claims, which is interesting in and of itself. But what I always find fascinating is how the deniers take scientific data and then dishonestly alter them to sound reasonable.

For example, volcanoes put chlorine into the atmosphere. Deniers then compare that to human outputs of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which damage the ozone layer. But even if a single volcanic eruption put out more chlorine than human activity in a year (and they generally put out far less), the chlorine is in the form of hydrochloric acid (HCl), which is water-soluble and rains out almost immediately. CFCs are much hardier molecules and stay in the atmosphere for long periods of time. Both have chlorine, but they are very different molecules, with very different behaviors, and therefore very different effects. Comparing them is shaky at best.




April 11, 2016

The Indian Woman Who Hunts The Witch Hunters



Last year, the home ministry informed the parliament that at least 77 people - mostly women - were killed and 60 others injured in "witch hunting incidents" in Assam since 2010. Last year, in a particularly grisly incident, a feted athlete was branded a witch, tied up and severely beaten. (More than 2,000 'witchcraft murders' have taken place in India since 2000)

Women are often branded witches to help relatives and neighbours grab their land and property, to settle personal grudges, or for denying sexual favours.

In tribal villages where superstition is rife and the public health system is in a shambles, quacks and shamans thrive and conspire with locals to blame women for crop failures, illnesses and natural calamities. Single women, widows or old couples are the main targets.

For the last 15 years, Ms Rabha, a slight and diminutive woman with big-rimmed spectacles and a girlish laugh, has been leading a courageous campaign against witch-hunting.



Horrific and inspiring, at the same time.

April 11, 2016

The patient called me ‘colored girl.’ The doctor training me said nothing. (Racism In Medicine)



Again and again during my four years of training, I encountered racism and ignorance, directed either at patients or at me and other students of color. Yet it was very hard for me to speak up, even politely, because as a student, I felt I had no authority — and didn’t want to seem confrontational to senior physicians who would be writing my evaluations.

These situations made me worry for our future: How can medical professionals address the needs of a rapidly diversifying population, when we cannot address prejudice within our own community?

I did try, once, to speak up, but it didn’t end well. My first clinical rotation was in the ear, nose, and throat clinic. On my first day, I overheard the attending physician grumbling about accommodating an elderly Haitian man with limited English who had misunderstood his appointment time. “We’ll stick the med student on him,” he said. I was excited to test my skills, but I couldn’t help but feel that my seeing this patient was intended as a punishment for him — and that made me uncomfortable.


I needed to know if my experiences were anomalies, so I checked in with two well-respected black physicians who focus on diversity in academia. Dr. Marcus Martin, a vice president at the University of Virginia, and Dr. Eve Higginbotham, a vice dean at the University of Pennsylvania, both assured me that I wasn’t alone. In fact, they said such experiences were all too common.



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