How 'America's Got Talent' Contestant Kodi Lee Shattered Stereotypes About Disability

Lee was able to communicate that disability is a part of humanity – not separate from it.

America's Got Talent/YouTube

Vanderbilt University - June 7, 2019

This article was originally published in  The Conversation

If you haven’t seen Kodi Lee’s May 28 performance on “America’s Got Talent,” it’s worth a watch.

The 22-year-old Lee is blind and has autism. His rendition of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” brought the crowd to its feet – and thrilled viewers at home.
“Loved this moment so much! Stood up and cheered in my living room!” Oprah tweeted.

Much of the media coverage portrayed Lee as someone who, in developing his musical ability to such a high level, overcame all odds – a common though sometimes troublesome trope used to describe people with disabilities who achieve any measure of success.

Lee is certainly an exciting talent. But as someone who teaches a course on the intersection of disability and music, I was moved by other aspects of Lee’s performance as well.

Lee stunned the judges during his May 28 performance on ‘America’s Got Talent.’

One challenge for people with disabilities can be that others tend to conflate their disability with their personality and identity. Their disability becomes the defining aspect of who they are, which can prevent people from realizing that those with disabilities can have rich interior lives.
So listening to Lee sing about love – mature, adult love – I heard a 22-year-old man whose voice and delivery brimmed with emotion and rang with authenticity.

“I’ve been so many places in my life and time,” he begins. “We’re alone now and I’m singing this song to you,” he croons, evoking deep intimacy and connection.

Infantilizing and de-sexualizing people with disabilities is still commonplace – as though physical or intellectual disability should necessarily exclude the ability to feel desire and the longing to be desired.

Lee shatters these notions. To sing these lines believably means to have lived them or to have imagined their truth.

Perhaps the most joyful aspect of Kodi Lee’s performance, however, is rooted in the dimension of time.

Philosopher and disability theorist Licia Carlson has written that “the experience of disability may be defined in negative terms when people fail to live according to what is considered to be normal time.”
In other words, because many tasks can take longer for someone with a disability, keeping pace can feel like a constant struggle.

This is where music can be such a beautifully transporting experience. It has its own time that’s not tied to that of the real world. With its tempo, rhythm and dramatic pacing, music creates its own temporal universe.
While listening to Lee perform, everyone in the audience was listening along at his speed, which, as the performer, he controlled.

It was a rare opportunity for disabled and non-disabled to be fully present together, under the same umbrella of time and space.
Finally, I think it’s important to return to the title of the show: “America’s Got Talent.”

After the Industrial Revolution, the ability to contribute labor and earn a paycheck became defining features of what it meant to be American.
If being a “true” American traditionally implied independence and autonomy, this one element of national identity alone could be enough to stigmatize people with disabilities.

Kodi Lee belted out an overwhelming assurance – as if it should have ever been needed – that a blind man with autism is also included in the definition of America.

Stan Link, Associate Professor of the Composition, Philosophy and Analysis of Music, Vanderbilt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. The Conversation is a nonprofit organization working for the public good through fact and research based journalism.
Read the original article here.
The Conversation

New Category: Game of Thrones

There's a new category on Magatopia for you to enjoy. - Game of Thrones

Following is a list of all the online Game of Thrones magazines and blogs linked to on the new page. Magatopia delivers live headline feeds from the following sources:

  • Watchers on the Wall

    Winter is Coming

    The Sun - Game of Thrones



    Making Game of Thrones

    FanSided – Game of Thrones

    Global News | Game of Thrones

    The Conversation

    George R.R. Martin

    Den of Geek!

    Digital Spy


Link: - Game of Thrones is the internet's directory to thousands of free online magazines. All of the magazines Magatopia links to have news, articles or columns that you can read online for free.

6 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health From Social Media's Dangers

Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg
CC BY 3.0
Is social media helping you feel good?

Written by Jelena Kecmanovic, Georgetown University - May 31, 2019
Original story first published at The Conversation

More than one-third of American adults view social media as harmful to their mental health, according to a new survey from the American Psychiatric Association. Just 5% view social media as being positive for their mental health, the survey found. Another 45% say it has both positive and negative effects.

Two-thirds of the survey’s respondents believe that social media usage is related to social isolation and loneliness. There is a strong body of research linking social media use with depression. Other studies have linked it to envy, lower self-esteem and social anxiety.

As a psychologist who has studied the perils of online interactions and has observed the effects of social media (mis)use on my clients’ lives, I have six suggestions of ways people can reduce the harm social media can do to their mental health.

1. Limit when and where you use social media

Using social media can interrupt and interfere with in-person communications. You’ll connect better with people in your life if you have certain times each day when your social media notifications are off – or your phone is even in airplane mode. Commit to not checking social media during meals with family and friends, and when playing with children or talking with a partner. Make sure social media doesn’t interfere with work, distracting you from demanding projects and conversations with colleagues. In particular, don’t keep your phone or computer in the bedroom – it disrupts your sleep.

2. Have ‘detox’ periods

Schedule regular multi-day breaks from social media. Several studies have shown that even a five-day or week-long break from Facebook can lead to lower stress and higher life satisfaction. You can also cut back without going cold turkey: Using Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat just 10 minutes a day for three weeks resulted in lower loneliness and depression. It may be difficult at first, but seek help from family and friends by publicly declaring you are on a break. And delete the apps for your favorite social media services.

3. Pay attention to what you do and how you feel

Experiment with using your favorite online platforms at different times of day and for varying lengths of time, to see how you feel during and after each session. You may find that a few short spurts help you feel better than spending 45 minutes exhaustively scrolling through a site’s feed. And if you find that going down a Facebook rabbit hole at midnight routinely leaves you depleted and feeling bad about yourself, eliminate Facebook after 10 p.m. Also note that people who use social media passively, just browsing and consuming others’ posts, feel worse than people who participate actively, posting their own material and engaging with others online. Whenever possible, focus your online interactions on people you also know offline.

4. Approach social media mindfully; ask ‘why?’

If you look at Twitter first thing in the morning, think about whether it’s to get informed about breaking news you’ll have to deal with – or if it’s a mindless habit that serves as an escape from facing the day ahead. Do you notice that you get a craving to look at Instagram whenever you’re confronted with a difficult task at work? Be brave and brutally honest with yourself. Each time you reach for your phone (or computer) to check social media, answer the hard question: Why am I doing this now? Decide whether that’s what you want your life to be about.

5. Prune

Over time, you have likely accumulated many online friends and contacts, as well as people and organizations you follow. Some content is still interesting to you, but much of it might be boring, annoying, infuriating or worse. Now is the time to unfollow, mute or hide contacts; the vast majority won’t notice. And your life will be better for it. A recent study found that information about the lives of Facebook friends affects people more negatively than other content on Facebook. People whose social media included inspirational stories experienced gratitude, vitality and awe. Pruning some “friends” and adding a few motivational or funny sites is likely to decrease the negative effects of social media.

6. Stop social media from replacing real life

Using Facebook to keep abreast of your cousin’s life as a new mother is fine, as long as you don’t neglect to visit as months pass by. Tweeting with a colleague can be engaging and fun, but make sure those interactions don’t become a substitute for talking face to face. When used thoughtfully and deliberately, social media can be a useful addition to your social life, but only a flesh-and-blood person sitting across from you can fulfill the basic human need for connection and belonging.The Conversation
Jelena Kecmanovic, Adjunct Professor of Psychology, Georgetown University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Kami Rita Sherpa Breaks Record as He Climbs Mount Everest for the 24th Time

Image courtesy of Seven Summit Treks Pvt. Ltd. Used with permission.
Broke his own record for most summits on Mount Everest

Written by Sanjib Chaudhary - May 28, 2019
Original story first published at Global Voices

Climbing Mount Everest is on every adrenaline junkie’s wishlist, but Everest summiteer Kami Rita Sherpa has checked this off his list a record amount of times. Defying all odds, he climbed the world’s highest peak twice in a week this year – earlier on 15 May and again on 21 May 2019 – making his number of Everest ascents 24.
Seven Summit Treks, the company he works with, announced on Facebook:
21 May 2019 !
24th Ascents of Mt Everest 8848m by Kami Rita Sherpa, HUGE CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR SENIOR GUIDE.
This morning 6:30 AM Kami Rita climbed the Mt Everest for 24 times (2nd Ascents of this season) and broke his own record of 23rd Ascents! […]
According to the Tashi Lakpa Sherpa, MD at Seven Summit Treks, this morning at 6:30 AM Kami Rita climbed the highest peak via South Side with A TEAM OF INDIAN POLICE. “Guiding a team of Indian Police Mt Everest Expedition 2019 this morning Kami Rita Sherpa climbed Mt Everest for 24 times; he made the entire country proud, this is a golden mark in the history of mountaineering🇳🇵 ” Sherpa added.
Kami Rita belongs to the Sherpa ethnic group native to the most mountainous regions of Nepal and the Himalayas. Many Sherpas are good mountaineers and experts in their local area and they have long been serving as professional guides to foreign mountaineers who want to brave the extreme altitudes.

Kami Rita hails from Thame village in Nepal’s Solukhumbu District, known for its famous climbers. Thame has produced famous climbers including Apa Sherpa (aka Super Sherpa) who held the previous record of most Mount Everest summits and Ang Rita Sherpa who has climbed Everest 10 times without supplemental oxygen that has earned him the sobriquet ‘The Snow Leopard’.

Kami Rita climbed Everest on 13 May 1994 for the first time and has also climbed K2 and Lhotse one time each, Manaslu twice and Cho Oyu eight times, totalling 36 ascents of peaks over 8,000m according to Seven Summit Treks.

After climbing Everest so many times, Kami Rita has seen the visible effects of climate change on Everest. Speaking to BBC Nepali earlier this year, Kami Rita said:
पहिले १२/१३ वटा भर्याङ चढ्नुपर्थ्यो भने अहिले तीन-चारवटाले पुग्छ। […]
पहिले क्याम्प टूमै कति धेरै हिउँ हुन्थ्यो। अहिले हिमनदी मात्र छ। […] बाल्कोनीभन्दा माथि कम्मरसम्म हिउँ हुन्थ्यो अहिले ढुङ्गामात्र देखिन्छ।
Earlier we had to climb 12-13 ladders [at Kumbu Icefall] but we can do with 3-4 these days. […]
In earlier days Camp 2 used to see a lot of snow. Now there’s only a glacier. […] Above Balcony there used to be snow up to hips, now you see only rocks.
Around 300 climbers have died on Everest and only a few dead bodies have been brought down. Now, the melting of ice in Everest is exposing the dead bodies buried in the snow.

A recent report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development states that the Himalayas will lose more than one-third of their ice by the end of the century. In addition, many climbers leave tents, climbing equipment, gas canisters and human poop, making Everest a literal dumping site. However, climbing Everest is a big business with hundreds of aspirants seeking the help of Sherpa guides to reach the summit.

Like every other year, new records have already been made with South Africa’s Saray N’ Kusi Khumalo becoming the first black African woman to successfully climb Everest. And some climbers have died and have gone missing on Mount Everest this year too. But the craze of climbing Everest, it seems, will never subside.

 Originally published, here, by Sanjib Chaudhary under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) license.

The man who is ageing too fast

"El tiempo desde la ventana"
 by Oneras is licensed 
under CC BY-SA 2.0
Nobuaki Nagashima has Werner syndrome, which causes his body to age at super speed. This condition is teaching us more about what controls our genes, and could eventually help us find a way to slow ageing – or stop it altogether.

Written by Erika Hayasaki - May 24, 2019
Original story first published at Mosaic

Nobuaki Nagashima was in his mid-20s when he began to feel like his body was breaking down. He was based in Hokkaido, the northernmost prefecture of Japan, where for 12 years he had been a member of the military, vigorously practising training drills out in the snow. It happened bit by bit – cataracts at the age of 25, pains in his hips at 28, skin problems on his leg at 30.

At 33, he was diagnosed with Werner syndrome, a disease that causes the body to age too fast. Among other things, it shows as wrinkles, weight loss, greying hair and balding. It’s also known to cause hardening of the arteries, heart failure, diabetes and cancer.

I meet Nagashima under the white light of a Chiba University Hospital room, around 25 miles west of Tokyo. A grey newsboy cap covers his hairless head freckled with liver spots. His eyebrows are thinned to a few wisps. Black-rimmed glasses help with his failing eyesight, his hip joints – replaced with artificial ones after arthritis – ache as he stands to slowly walk across the room. These ailments you might expect to see in an 80-year-old. But Nagashima is just 43.

He tells me that he has been in and out of hospital ever since his diagnosis. That his deteriorating health forced him to leave the military. Nagashima has had five or six surgeries, from his toes to hips to eyes, to treat ageing-related ailments. He’s lost 15 kilograms since he was first diagnosed. He needs a walking stick to do a distance over a few metres, and has a temporary job at the City Hall, going to the office when his body will allow but working from home when it doesn’t.

He remembers driving home after his diagnosis, crying to himself. When he told his parents, his mother apologised for not giving birth to a stronger person. But his father told him that if he could endure this disease, he was indeed strong, and maybe scientists would learn from him, gaining knowledge that could help others.

Apart from the X and Y sex chromosomes, we inherit two copies of every gene in our bodies – one from our mother and one from our father. Werner syndrome is what’s called an autosomal recessive disorder, meaning it only shows when a person inherits a mutated version of a gene called WRN from both parents.

Nagashima’s parents are ageing normally. They each have one functional copy of WRN, so their bodies don’t show any symptoms of the disease. But he was unfortunate to have received two mutated copies of WRN. His grandparents are still alive and as well as one might expect for a couple in their 90s, and the family are unaware of any other Werner cases in their family history.

WRN was discovered only in 1996, and since then there have been few examples of Werner. As of 2008, there were only 1,487 documented cases worldwide, with 1,128 of them in Japan.

Lest this seem like a uniquely Japanese condition, George Martin, co-director of the International Registry of Werner Syndrome at the University of Washington, thinks the number of actual cases globally is around seven times higher than the numbers recorded today. He says most cases around the world will not have come to the attention of any physicians or registries.

The huge imbalance in Japanese cases he puts down to two factors. First, the mountains and islands of the Japanese landscape and the isolating effect that’s had on the population through history – people in more isolated regions in the past were more likely to end up having children with someone more similar to them genetically. A similar effect is seen in the Italian island of Sardinia, which also has a cluster of Werner cases. Second, the startling nature of the condition, and the higher frequency with which it appears in Japan (affecting an estimated one in a million people worldwide but one in 100,000 in Japan), means the Japanese medical system is more aware than most when Werner syndrome appears.

In Chiba University Hospital, they hold records of 269 clinically diagnosed patients in total, 116 of whom are still alive. One of them is Sachi Suga, who can only get around in a wheelchair. Her muscles are so weak she can no longer climb in and out of the bath, which makes it difficult to keep up the Japanese practice of ofuro, the ritual of relaxing each night in a deep tub of steaming hot water. She used to cook breakfast regularly for herself and her husband, but now she cannot stand at a stove for more than a minute or two at a time. She’s resorted to preparing quicker-to-make miso soup the night before, which he eats before leaving for work at 5.30am.
Waif-like in a short black wig, Suga has tiny wrists as delicate as glass, and she speaks to me in a hoarse, throaty whisper. She tells me of the home aid worker who visits three times a week to help wrap her ulcer-covered legs in bandages. She has terrible back and leg pain. “It hurt so much, I wanted my legs to be cut off.” Yet on the positive side, the 64-year-old has long surpassed the average life expectancy of around 55 for people with Werner syndrome.

Only a handful of people with Werner currently attend Chiba. Recently, they started a support group. “Once our conversation started, I forgot about the pain completely,” says Suga. Nagashima says the meetings often end with the same question: “Why do I have this disease?”

If you were to unravel the 23 pairs of chromosomes in one of your cells you would end up with about two metres of DNA. That DNA is folded up into a space about a 10,000th of that distance across – far more compacted than even the tightest origami design. This compacting happens with help from proteins called histones.

DNA, and the histones that package it up, can acquire chemical marks. These don’t change the underlying genes, but they do have the power to silence or to amplify a gene’s activity. Where the marks are put or what form they take seems to be influenced by our experiences and environment – in response to smoking or stress, for instance. Some seem to be down to random chance, or the result of a mutation, as in cancer. Scientists call this landscape of markings the epigenome. We do not know yet exactly why our cells add these epigenetic marks, but some of them seem to be connected to ageing.

Steve Horvath, professor of human genetics and biostatistics at the University of California, Los Angeles, has used one type of these, called methylation marks, to create an “epigenetic clock” that, he says, looks beyond the external signs of ageing like wrinkles or grey hair, to more accurately measure how biologically old you are. The marks can be read from blood, urine, organ or skin tissue samples.

Horvath’s team analysed blood cells from 18 people with Werner syndrome. It was as if the methylation marking was happening on fast-forward: the cells had an epigenetic age notably higher than those from a control group without Werner.

Nagashima’s and Suga’s genetic information is part of a database held by Chiba University. There is also a Japan-wide database of Werner syndrome and the International Registry at the University of Washington. These registries are providing researchers with insights into how our genes work, how they interact with the epigenome, and how that fits with ageing as a whole.

Scientists now understand that WRN is key to how the whole cell, how all our DNA works – in reading, copying, unfolding and repairing. Disruption to WRN leads to widespread instability throughout the genome. “The integrity of the DNA is altered, and you get more mutations… more deletions and aberrations. This is all over the cells,” says George Martin. “Big pieces are cut out and rearranged.” The abnormalities are not just in the DNA but in the epigenetic marks around it too.

The million-dollar question is whether these marks are imprints of diseases and ageing or whether the marks cause diseases and ageing – and ultimately death. And if the latter, could editing or removing epigenetic marks prevent or reverse any part of ageing or age-related disease?
Before we can even answer that, the fact is, we know relatively little about the processes through which epigenetic marks are actually added and why. Horvath sees methylation marks as like the face of a clock, not necessarily the underlying mechanism that makes it tick. The nuts and bolts may be indicated by clues like the WRN gene, and other researchers have been getting further glimpses beneath the surface.

In 2006 and 2007, Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka published two studies which found that putting four specific genes – now called Yamanaka factors – into any adult cell could rewind it to an earlier, embryonic state, a stem cell, from which it could then be turned into any other type of cell. This method, which earned Yamanaka the Nobel Prize, has become a mainspring for stem cell studies. But what made this all the more interesting was that it completely reset the epigenetic age of the cells to a prenatal stage, erasing the epigenetic marks.

Researchers replicated Yamanaka’s experiments in mice with a condition called Hutchinson–Gilford progeria syndrome, which has similar symptoms to Werner but only affects children (Werner is sometimes called adult progeria). Remarkably, the mice rejuvenated briefly, but they died within a couple of days. Totally reprogramming the cells had also led to cancer and loss of the cells’ ability to function.

Then in 2016, scientists at the Salk Institute in California engineered a way to partially rewind the cells of mice with progeria using a lower dose of the Yamanaka factors for a shorter period. The premature ageing slowed down in these mice. They not only looked healthier and livelier than progeria mice who hadn’t had the treatment, but their cells were also found to have fewer epigenetic marks. Moreover, they lived 30 per cent longer than the untreated mice. When the researchers applied this same treatment to normally ageing mice, their pancreases and muscles also rejuvenated.
Separately, the same scientists are also using gene editing technology on mice to add or subtract other epigenetic marks and see what happens. They’re also trying to modify the histone proteins to see if that can alter genes’ activity. Some of these techniques have already shown results in reversing diabetes, kidney disease and muscular dystrophy in mice. The team are now trying similar experiments on rodents to see if they can reduce the symptoms of arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.

The big question remains: is the disappearance of the epigenetic marks related to the reversal of cell development – and possibly the ageing of the cell – or an unrelated side-effect? Scientists are still trying to understand how changes in epigenetic marks relate to ageing, and how Yamanaka factors are able to reverse age-related conditions.

Horvath says that, from an epigenetic point of view, there are clear commonalities in ageing across many regions of the body. Epigenetic ageing in the brain is similar to that of the liver or the kidney, showing similar patterns of methylation marks. When you look at it in terms of these marks, he says, “ageing is actually rather straightforward, because it’s highly reproducible in different organs”.

There’s a feverishness around the idea of resetting or reprogramming the epigenetic clock, Horvath tells me. He sees huge potential in all of it, but says it has the feel of a gold rush. “Everybody has a shovel in their hand.”
Jamie Hackett, a molecular biologist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Rome, says the excitement comes from the suggestion that you can have an influence over your genes. Previously there was a fatalistic sense of being stuck with what you are given, and nothing you can do about it.

Back in the Chiba hospital room, Nagashima removes one of his high-top sneakers, which he has cushioned with insoles to make walking more bearable.

He tells me about his former girlfriend. They had wanted to marry. She was understanding after his diagnosis and even took a genetic test so they could be sure they would not pass the condition on to their kids. But when her parents discovered his condition, they disapproved. The relationship ended.

He has a new girlfriend now. He wants to make her his life partner, he tells me, but to do so he must get up the courage to ask for her parents’ permission.

Nagashima slips down a brown sock, revealing a white bandage wrapped around the sole of his swollen foot and ankles. Beneath, his skin is raw, revealing red ulcers caused by his disease. “Itai,” he says. It hurts. Then he smiles. “Gambatte,” he says – I will endure.

Steve Horvath and colleagues say that the DNAm GrimAge estimator (named after the Grim Reaper) is the best epigenetic predictor of lifespan, time to heart disease, time to cancer and age at menopause.

Horvath and team find that Werner syndrome is associated with increased epigenetic age of blood cells.

Researchers at the Salk Institute show how epigenetic editing can affect the health of mice.

A team at the University of Washington review WRN mutations found around the world.

Erika Hayasaki has written about twin science, which offers a window into current epigenetic research.

 Originally published, here, by Erika Hayasaki under the terms of a Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.

Can changing the microbiome reverse lactose intolerance?

Karin Henseler -
Reversing lactose intolerance might make it possible for adults to enjoy a milkshake again.

Patricia L. Foster, Indiana University - May 22, 2019

After childhood, about two-thirds of the world’s human population loses the ability to digest milk. As far as we know, 100% of nonhuman mammals also lose this ability after weaning. The ongoing ability to digest lactose, the main sugar in milk, into adulthood is a biological abnormality.

Lactose cannot be directly absorbed in the intestinal tract and must, instead, be broken down into its two smaller component sugars by an enzyme called lactase. Normally, the activity of the gene that produces lactase, LCT, declines after infancy. New evidence suggests that this decline occurs not because the genetic code is changed, but because the DNA is chemically modified so that the lactase gene is switched off. Such modifications that affect gene activity while leaving the DNA sequence intact are called epigenetic. The epigenetic modification that turns off the lactase gene does not happen in lactose-tolerant individuals. This new finding gives an important insight into how lactose intolerance develops with age or after trauma to the intestinal tract.

I’m a microbiologist, and I became interested in the causes of lactose intolerance because it afflicts a close friend. He is of Norwegian descent and, like most Norwegians, is genetically lactose tolerant. But, he became permanently lactose intolerant at the age of 45 after a long regimen of antibiotics.

There are other cases of people who should be able digest lactose because of their genetics, but lose that ability late in life, either spontaneously or when the small intestine is damaged by disease or other traumas. In most cases, the lactose intolerance goes away when the underlying cause is treated, but some people become permanently lactose intolerant.

It seems possible, even probable, that such trauma to the digestive tract can trigger the same epigenetic change that normally turns off the lactase gene in childhood. Scientists have found other cases of such environmentally induced epigenetic changes, although more research is needed to establish the persistence and consequences of these alterations.

Lactose intolerance is mostly due to your genes

While the ability to produce the lactase enzyme persists into adulthood in only about 35% of adults worldwide, this proportion varies widely among ethnic groups. In the U.S., the proportion of lactose-tolerant people is about 64%, reflecting the mixture of ethnic groups that populate the country.

The ability of adults to digest lactose appeared in humans relatively recently. Specific genetic changes – known as single-nucleotide polymorphisms, SNPs – conveying lactase-persistence arose independently in various populations around the same time as their domestication of dairy animals. None of these SNPs are in the lactase gene itself, but instead are in a nearby region of the DNA that control its activity. Scientists have been trying to figure out how these changes exert their influence over this gene’s behavior.

Recently researchers have shown that one of the SNPs changes the level of epigenetic modification of the DNA in the lactase gene control regions. Specifically, the SNP prevents small chemical units, called methyl groups (which consist of one carbon and three hydrogen atoms) from being attached to the DNA. Methyl groups are especially important in regulating gene activity because when they are added to the DNA, they turn off the gene.

These studies imply that after early childhood, the lactase gene is usually shut off by DNA methylation. The SNPs that alter the DNA sequence in the control region, however, prevent this methylation from happening. This, in turn, results in the production of lactase because the gene is kept on.

To date, five different SNPs have been strongly associated with lactase persistence, and another 10 or so have been found in isolated populations. The estimated times of appearance of these SNPs in different cultures range from 3,000 (Tanzania) to 12,000 (Finland) years ago. That the trait persisted and spread in these populations indicates that the ability to digest milk beyond infancy had a significant selective advantage.

Lactic acid bacteria can digest the sugar lactose and produce lactic acid as a byproduct. Dr. Horst Neve, Max Rubner-Institut, CC BY-SA

Your microbiome and lactose intolerance

The symptoms of lactose intolerance include diarrhea, stomach pain, cramps, bloating and flatulence, all of which result from failure to break down lactose in the small intestine. As undigested lactose moves into the large intestine, water enters to reduce the lactose concentration, producing diarrhea. The lactose is eventually eaten by microorganisms in the large intestine, producing, as byproducts, various gases that cause bloating, cramping and flatulence.

Recent studies have shown that the symptoms of lactose intolerance can be relieved in some people by changing the population of their intestinal microbes, called the microbiome, to encourage lactose-digesting bacteria. Specifically, bacteria, called “lactic acid bacteria,” eat the lactose but produce the byproduct lactic acid instead of gas. While lactic acid has no nutritional value, it does not produce the unpleasant symptoms of lactose intolerance. This adaptation of the intestinal microbiome may be how some ancient pastoral populations with no genetic evidence of lactase persistence tolerated a dairy-rich diet.

Ingesting lactic acid bacteria as a probiotic can alleviate the symptoms of lactose intolerance, but these bacteria may not persist in the colon. A promising new strategy is to “feed” the lactic acid bacteria a complex sugar that they can digest but humans cannot. In initial clinical trials, subjects using this “prebiotic” reported improved lactose tolerance and had a corresponding shift in their intestinal microbiome. Larger clinical trials are in progress.

So there is hope for lactose-intolerant people that real ice cream may be on the menu again.

Patricia L. Foster, Professor Emerita of Biology, Indiana University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Foreigner by CJ Cherryh

Science Fiction Book Review

Written by Paul - May 16, 2019
Original story first published at Lightly Seared on the Reality Grill

That was superb. Foreigner is a first contact novel wrapped in a thriller, the twist being that, this time, it’s humans that have landed on an alien planet and having to navigate a completely alien culture.
It had been nearly five centuries since the starship Phoenix, lost in space and desperately searching for the nearest 5G star, had encountered the planet of the atevi. On this alien world, law was kept by the use of registered assassination, alliances were defined by individual loyalties not geographical borders, and war became inevitable once humans and one faction of atevi established a working relationship. It was a war that humans had no chance of winning on
this planet so many light years from home.
Now, nearly two hundred years after that conflict, humanity has traded its advanced technology for peace and an island refuge that no atevi will ever visit. Then the sole human the treaty allows into atevi society is marked for an assassin’s bullet.
The book is split into three parts, the first two of which detail the arrival of the starship and the first encounter between atevi and humans. Then we get into the meat of the story, which centres on Bren Cameron, the one human living in atevi society. Bren is a paidhi, essentially humanity’s ambassador to the Atevi.

When Bren finds himself targeted by an assassin, he finds himself shunted from location to location, desperately trying to understand what is happening and who he can trust.

There are two things that really stand out here, the first of which is the Atevi themselves. This is a truly alien race in terms of their attitudes, their instincts and their culture, and this alienness makes them difficult to comprehend and impossible to fully understand. This keeps Bren permanently off balance as his human instincts are consistently wrong.

The other thing to note is CJ Cherryh’s writing style. Once Bren is introduced, the story is told entirely from Bren’s perspective — what Bren doesn’t know neither does the reader and if Bren doesn’t understand the importance of something it won’t be mentioned. This approach demands some work from the reader in that there is much that is not explained, but the depth of the story is such that it is well worth the effort.

With Foreigner CJ Cherryh gives us one of the strongest explorations of how cultures interact — and conflict — with each other that I have read in a long time. The novel is complex, detailed and utterly gripping and will probably bear reading again.

 Originally published, here, by Paul under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck

The imminent need for basic income in recognition of our machine-driven future
Written by Scott Santens - May 14, 2019
Original story first published at

Late last year, I took a road trip with my partner from our home in New Orleans, Louisiana to Orlando, Florida and as we drove by town after town, we got to talking about the potential effects self-driving vehicle technology would have not only on truckers themselves, but on all the local economies dependent on trucker salaries. Once one starts wondering about this kind of one-two punch to America’s gut, one sees the prospects aren’t pretty.
We are facing the decimation of entire small town economies, a disruption the likes of which we haven’t seen since the construction of the interstate highway system itself bypassed entire towns. If you think this may be a bit of hyperbole… let me back up a bit and start with this:

Source: NPR

This is a map of the most common job in each US state in 2014.
It should be clear at a glance just how dependent the American economy is on truck drivers. According to the American Trucker Association, there are 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the US, and an additional 5.2 million people employed within the truck-driving industry who don’t drive the trucks. That’s 8.7 million trucking-related jobs.
We can’t stop there though, because the incomes received by these 8.2 million people create the jobs of others. Those 3.5 million truck drivers driving all over the country stop regularly to eat, drink, rest, and sleep. Entire businesses have been built around serving their wants and needs. Think restaurants and motels as just two examples. So now we’re talking about millions more whose employment depends on the employment of truck drivers. But we still can’t even stop there.
Those working in these restaurants and motels along truck-driving routes are also consumers within their own local economies. Think about what a server spends her paycheck and tips on in her own community, and what a motel maid spends from her earnings into the same community. That spending creates other paychecks in turn. So now we’re not only talking about millions more who depend on those who depend on truck drivers, but we’re also talking about entire small town communities full of people who depend on all of the above in more rural areas. With any amount of reduced consumer spending, these local economies will shrink.
One further important detail to consider is that truck drivers are well-paid. They provide a middle class income of about $40,000 per year. That’s a higher income than just about half (46%) of all tax filers, including those of married households. They are also greatly comprised by those without college educations. Truck driving is just about the last job in the country to provide a solid middle class salary without requiring a post-secondary degree. Truckers are essentially the last remnant of an increasingly impoverished population once gainfully employed in manufacturing before those middle income jobs were mostly all shipped overseas.
If we now step back and look at the big national picture, we are potentially looking at well over 10 million American workers and their families whose incomes depend entirely or at least partially on the incomes of truck drivers, all of whom markedly comprise what is left of the American middle class.
So as long as the outlook for US trucking is rosy, we’re fine, right?

The Short-Term Job Outlook of the American Trucker

The trucking industry expects to see 21% more truck driving jobs by 2020. They also expect to see an increasing shortfall in drivers, with over 100,000 jobs open and unable to find drivers to fill them. Higher demand than supply of truckers also points to higher pay, so for at least the next five years, the future is looking great for truck drivers. The only thing that could put a damper on this would be if the demand for truck drivers were to say… drive off a sharp cliff.
That cliff is the self-driving truck.
The technology already exists to enable trucks to drive themselves. Google shocked the world when it announced its self-driving car it had already driven over 100,000 miles without accident. These cars have since driven over 1.7 million miles and have only been involved in 11 accidents, all caused by humans and not the computers. And this is mostly within metropolitan areas.
“And as you might expect, we see more accidents per mile driven on city streets than on freeways; we were hit 8 times in many fewer miles of city driving.” — Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car program
So according to Google’s experience, the greater danger lies within cities and not freeways, and driving between cities involves even fewer technological barriers than within them. Therefore, it’s probably pretty safe to say driverless freeway travel is even closer to our future horizon of driverless transportation. How much closer? It has already happened.
On May 6, 2015, the first self-driving truck hit the American road in the state of Nevada.

Self-driving trucks are no longer the future. They are the present. They’re here.
“AU 010.” License plates are rarely an object of attention, but this one’s special — the funky number is the giveaway. That’s why Daimler bigwig Wolfgang Bernhard and Nevada governor Brian Sandoval are sharing a stage, mugging for the phalanx of cameras, together holding the metal rectangle that will, in just a minute, be slapped onto the world’s first officially recognized self-driving truck.
According to Daimler, these trucks will be in a decade-long testing phase, racking up over a million miles before being deemed fit for adoption, but the technology isn’t even anything all that new. There’s no laser-radar or LIDAR like in Google’s self-driving car. It’s just ordinary radar and cameras. The hardware itself is already yesterday’s news. They’re just the first ones to throw them into a truck and allow truckers to sit back and enjoy the ride, while the truck itself does all the driving.
If the truck needs help, it’ll alert the driver. If the driver doesn’t respond, it’ll slowly pull over and wait for further instructions. This is nothing fancy. This is not a truck version of KITT from Knight Rider. This is just an example of a company and a state government getting out of the way of technology and letting it do what it was built to do — enable us to do more with less. In the case of self-driving trucks, one big improvement in particular is fewer accidents.
In 2012 in the US, 330,000 large trucks were involved in crashes that killed nearly 4,000 people, most of them in passenger cars. About 90 percent of those were caused by driver error.
That’s like one and a half 9/11s yearly. Human-driven trucks kill people.
Robot trucks will kill far fewer people, if any, because machines don’t get tired. Machines don’t get distracted. Machines don’t look at phones instead of the road. Machines don’t drink alcohol or do any kind of drugs or involve any number of things that somehow contribute to the total number of accidents every year involving trucks. For this same reasoning, pilots too are bound to be removed from airplanes.
Humans are dangerous behind the wheel of anything.
Robot trucks also don’t need salaries — salaries that stand to go up because fewer and fewer people want to be truckers. A company can buy a fleet of self-driving trucks and never pay another human salary for driving. The only costs will be upkeep of the machinery. No more need for health insurance either. Self-driving trucks will also never need to stop to rest, for any reason. Routes will take less time to complete.
All of this means the replacement of truckers is inevitable. It is not a matter of “if”, it’s only a matter of “when.” So the question then becomes, how long until millions of truckers are freshly unemployed and what happens to them and all the rest of us as a result?

The Long-Term Job Outlook of the American Trucker

First, let’s look at the potential time horizons for self-driving cars. Tesla intends to release a software update next month that will turn on “autopilot” mode, immediately allowing all Tesla Model S drivers to be driven between “San Francisco and Seattle without the driver doing anything”, in Elon Musk’s own words. The cars actually already have the technology to even drive from “parking lot to parking lot”, but that ability will remain unactivated by software.
Tesla-driven humans won’t be able to legally let their cars do all the driving, but who are we kidding? There will be Teslas driving themselves, saving lives in the process, and governments will need to catch up to make that driving legal. This process is already here in 2015. So when will the process end? When will self-driving cars conquer our roads?

Source: Morgan Stanley

According to Morgan Stanley, complete autonomous capability will be here by 2022, followed by massive market penetration by 2026 and the cars we know and love today then entirely extinct in another 20 years thereafter.
Granted, this is only one estimate of many and it’s all educated guesswork. So here are some other estimates:
Take all of these estimates together, and we’re looking at a window of massive disruption starting somewhere between 2020 and 2030.
There is no turning the wheel in prevention of driving off this cliff either. Capitalism itself has the wheel now, and what the market wants, the market gets. Competition will make sure of it. Tesla and Google are not the only companies looking to develop autonomous vehicles. There are others.
A company named Veeo Systems is developing vehicles as small as 2-seaters to as large as 70-seat buses, and will be testing them in 30 US cities by the end of 2016.
At 25 to 40 percent cheaper, the cost to ride the driverless public transit vehicles will be significantly less expensive than traditional buses and trains… The vehicles are electric, rechargeable and could cost as low as $1 to $3 to run per day.
The project is code-named Titan and the vehicle design resembles a minivan, the Wall Street Journal reported… Apple already has technology that may lend itself to an electric car and expertise managing a vast supply chain. The company has long researched battery technology for use in its iPhones, iPads and Macs. The mapping system it debuted in 2012 can be used for navigation…
Uber said it will develop “key long-term technologies that advance Uber’s mission of bringing safe, reliable transportation to everyone, everywhere,” including driverless cars, vehicle safety and mapping services.
It’s this last one that fully intends to transform the transportation landscape. Uber is going all-in on self-driving vehicles to the point it wants to entirely eliminate car ownership as a 20th century relic.
Travis Kalanick, the CEO and founder of Uber, said at a conference last year that he’d replace human Uber drivers with a fleet of self-driving cars in a second. “You’re not just paying for the car — you’re paying for the other dude in the car,” he said. “When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle.” That, he said, will “bring the cost below the cost of ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away.”
That’s the potential of self-driving cars — the outright extinction of car ownership. And with that, the elimination of entire industries built up around the existence of car ownership like: mechanics, car washes, parking, valets, body shops, rental companies, car insurance, car loans, and on and on. Even hugely expensive and capital intensive mass-transit infrastructure projects like streetcars and light rail can be dropped in favor of vastly cheaper on demand robotic “transportation clouds”, and all those construction and maintenance jobs right along with it.
Big players are already in the game. There are huge savings to be found, huge profits to be created. Higher quality and safety is assured. Driverless vehicles are coming, and they are coming fast.
But again, what about trucks specifically?
Any realistic time horizon for self-driving trucks needs to look at horizons for cars and shift those even further towards the present. Trucks only need to be self-driven on highways. They do not need warehouse-to-store autonomy to be disruptive. City-to-city is sufficient. At the same time, trucks are almost entirely corporate driven. There are market forces above and beyond private cars operating for trucks. If there are savings to be found in eliminating truckers from drivers seats, which there are, these savings will be sought. It’s actually really easy to find these savings right now.
Wirelessly linked truck platoons are as simple as having a human driver drive a truck, with multiple trucks without drivers following closely behind. This not only saves on gas money (7% for only two trucks together), but can immediately eliminate half of all truckers if for example 2-truck convoys became the norm. There’s no real technical obstacles to this option. It’s a very simple use of present technology.
Basically, the only real barrier to the immediate adoption of self-driven trucks is purely legal in nature, not technical or economic. With self-driving vehicles currently only road legal in a few states, many more states need to follow suit unless autonomous vehicles are made legal at the national level. And Sergey Brin of Google has estimated this could happen as soon as 2017. Therefore…
The answer to the big question of “When?” for self-driving trucks is that they can essentially hit our economy at any time.

The Eve of Massive Social and Economic Disruption

Main Street USA has already taken a big hit, and increasingly so, over the past few decades. Manufacturing has been shipped overseas to areas where labor is far cheaper because costs of living are far cheaper. Companies like Walmart have spread everywhere, concentrating a reduced labor force into one-stop shopping facilities requiring fewer total workers than what was needed with smaller, more numerous, and more widely spread Mom & Pop type stores. Companies like Amazon have even further concentrated this even further reduced labor force into automated warehouse centers capable of obviating stores entirely and shipping directly to consumers.
All of the above means fewer ways of securing employment in fewer places, while commerce has become more geographically concentrated and access to money has become increasingly shifted away from the bottom and middle of the income spectrum towards the top.

Source: Mother Jones

This is what happens when good-paying jobs are eliminated, and that money not spent on wages and salaries instead stays in the hands of owners of capital, or is given in smaller amounts to lower-paid employees in lower-wage jobs. Inequality grows more and more extreme and our land of opportunity vanishes. Economic growth slows to a crawl.
This is where we’re at and this is what we face as we look towards a quickly approaching horizon of over 3 million unemployed truckers and millions more unemployed service industry workers in small towns all over the country dependent on truckers as consumers of their services.

Glenrio, Texas. Abandoned gas station.
The removal of truckers from freeways will have an effect on today’s towns similar to the effects the freeways themselves had on towns decades ago that had sprung up around bypassed stretches of early highways. When the construction of the interstate highway system replaced Route 66, things changed as drivers drove right on past these once thriving towns. The result was ghost towns like Glenrio, Texas.
With the patience that carved the Grand Canyon over eons, nature reclaims Glenrio, where the clock stopped with the bypass of Route 66. The replacement of Route 66 with a four-lane superhighway that allowed motorists to zip past rather than wander through ultimately allowed Glenrio to decline.
With self-driving cars and trucks, here again we face the prospect of town after town being zipped past by people (if even present) choosing to instead just sleep in their computer-driven vehicles. Except this time, there is no new highway being made for businesses to relocate closer to and new towns to emerge along. This time, as is true of the effect of technology on jobs, it’s different. This time, there’s no need for entire towns to even exist at all.

The Road Left to Take

As close as 2025 — that is in a mere 10 years — our advancing state of technology will begin disrupting our economy in ways we can’t even yet imagine. Human labor is increasingly unnecessary and even economically unviable compared to machine labor. And yet we still insist on money to pay for what our machines are making for us. As long as this remains true, we must begin providing ourselves the money required to purchase what the machines are producing.
Without a technological dividend, the engine that is our economy will seize, or we will fight against technological progress itself in the same way some once destroyed their machine replacements. Without non-work income, we will actually fight to keep from being replaced by the technology we built to replace us.
Just as our roads a decade from now will be full of machine drivers instead of human drivers, a 21st century economy shall be driven by human consumers, not human workers, and these consumers must be freely given their purchasing power. If we refuse, if we don’t provide ourselves a universal and unconditional basic income soon, the future is going to hit us like a truck — a truck driven solely by ourselves.
To allow this to happen would be truly foolish, for what is the entire purpose of technology but to free us to pursue all we wish to pursue? Fearing the loss of jobs shouldn’t be a fear at all. It should be welcomed. It should be freeing.
No one should be asking what we’re going to do if computers take our jobs.
We should all be asking what we get to do once freed from them.

Scott Santens writes about basic income on his blog. You can also follow him here on Medium, on Twitter, on Facebook, or on Reddit where he is a moderator for the /r/BasicIncome community of over 26,000 subscribers.

This article was written on a crowdfunded monthly basic income. If you found value in this article, you can support it along with all my advocacy for basic income with a monthly patron pledge of $1+.

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Special thanks to Arjun Banker, Topher Hunt, Keith Davis, Albert Wenger, Larry Cohen, Danielle Texeira, Paul Wicks, Liane Gale, Jan Smole, Joe Esposito, Robert F. Greene, Martin Jordo, Victor Lau, Shane Gordon, Paolo Narciso, Johan Grahn, Tony DeStefano, Andrew Henderson, Erhan Altay, Bryan Herdliska, all my other funders for their support, and my amazing partner, Katie Smith.

This article was originally published, here, by Scott Santens under the terms of a Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license.

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