Sunday, 15 December 2019

Assisted dying: Western Australia passes legislation

Western Australia has legalised voluntary assisted dying, becoming the second state in the country to do so.

There were cheers and emotional scenes in the public gallery as MPs passed the historic legislation in the state's lower house of parliament in Perth.

Some MPs also hugged each other on the floor of the legislative assembly.

Victoria legalised assisted dying in 2017. In August, a woman with terminal cancer became the first person to end their life under that law.
Supporters of the bill staged a rally in Perth in August

MPs in Perth took five hours to pass 55 amendments to the legislation which had been approved by the upper house - the legislative council - in a marathon session last week.

The controversial law has produced weeks of often impassioned debate.

Health Minister Roger Cook fought back tears as he welcomed the final passing of the bill, but said it was "not a time for jubilation".

"We are at the end of a very long process, a momentous process for the West Australian parliament and West Australian public," he told MPs.

"Everyone knows what this legislation is about. It's about reflection. And to reflect that we've chosen compassion and the right to choose."

State Premier Mark McGowan tweeted that it was "a remarkable moment for our state" and would go down in history as one of Western Australia's most important reforms.

The new law - which some opponents had described as dangerous and reckless - includes more than 100 safeguards.

A person seeking to be eligible would have to be terminally ill and in severe pain, Australian broadcaster ABC reported. Their condition would need to be likely to result in death within six months, or a year for a neurodegenerative condition.

Two verbal requests and one written request are needed and those requests would need to be signed off by two doctors independent of one another.

The scheme is expected to come into effect in about 18 months to give health providers time to prepare.

In August, Kerry Robertson, 61, died in a nursing home in Bendigo, Victoria, after using the state's new law to end her life.

Kerry Robertson, with her daughters Jacqui (left) and Nicole, died in August
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and it later spread to her bones, lungs, brain and liver.

Mrs Robertson was given permission to use the legislation after a 26-day approval process.

Her family said she was able to have "the empowered death that she wanted".

The Australian state of Queensland is also considering voluntary assisted dying legislation.

(Source: BBC)

The Earth was already ‘stressed’ before dinosaur extinction, fossil record reveals

‘Understanding how our planet responded to past extreme warming and CO2 can help us prepare for changes due to human-caused climate change’, scientists say

Scientists agree today’s climate crisis is primarily driven by human activity – but before the problems we inadvertently engineered existed, similar processes have occurred on numerous occasions.

Researchers investigating the state of the planet at the time the dinosaurs were wiped out after a colossal asteroid impact, say they have new evidence Earth was already unstable due to a rapid increase in carbon in the oceans.

The study, led by researchers at Northwestern University, is the first to measure the calcium isotope composition of fossilised clam and snail shells, which date back to the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event.

The researchers found that – in the run-up to the extinction event – the shells’ chemistry shifted in response to a surge of carbon in the oceans.

This carbon influx was likely due to long-term eruptions from the Deccan Traps – one of the largest volcanic features on Earth – about 200,000-square-miles of solidified basalt located in modern India.
Oceans were already acidifying by the time the asteroid credited with wiping out the dinosaurs struck ( Getty/iStock )

During the years leading up to the asteroid impact, the Deccan Traps spewed massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. The concentration of CO2 acidified the oceans, directly affecting the organisms living there.

“Our data suggest that the environment was changing before the asteroid impact,” said Benjamin Linzmeier, the study’s first author. “Those changes appear to correlate with the eruption of the Deccan Traps.”

“The Earth was clearly under stress before the major mass extinction event,” said Andrew D Jacobson, a senior author of the paper.

“The asteroid impact coincides with pre-existing carbon cycle instability.

But that doesn’t mean we have answers to what actually caused the extinction.”

The study will be published in the January 2020 issue of the journal Geology, which comes out later this month.

Previous studies have explored the potential effects of the Deccan Traps eruptions on the mass extinction event, but many have examined bulk sediments and used different chemical tracers.

By focusing on a specific organism, the researchers gained a more precise, higher-resolution record of the ocean’s chemistry.

“Shells grow quickly and change with water chemistry,” Dr Linzmeier said. “Because they live for such a short period of time, each shell is a short, preserved snapshot of the ocean’s chemistry.”

Seashells mostly are composed of calcium carbonate, the same mineral found in chalk, limestone and some antacid tablets. Carbon dioxide in water dissolves calcium carbonate. During the formation of the shells, CO2 likely affects shell composition even without dissolving them.

For this study, the researchers examined shells collected from the Lopez de Bertodano Formation, a well-preserved, fossil-rich area on the west side of Seymour Island in Antarctica. They analyzed the shells’ calcium isotope compositions using a state-of-the-art technique developed in Jacobson’s laboratory at Northwestern. The method involves dissolving shell samples to separate calcium from various other elements, followed by analysis with a mass spectrometer.

“We can measure calcium isotope variations with high precision,” Jacobson said. “And those isotope variations are like fingerprints to help us understand what happened.”

Using this method, the team found surprising information.

“We expected to see some changes in the shells’ composition, but we were surprised by how quickly the changes occurred,” Dr Linzmeier said. “We also were surprised that we didn’t see more change associated with the extinction horizon itself.”

The researchers said that understanding how the Earth responded to past extreme warming and CO2 input can help us prepare for how the planet will respond to current, human-caused climate change.

“To some degree, we think that ancient ocean acidification events are good analogs for what’s happening now with anthropogenic CO2 emissions,” Professor Jacobson said.

“Perhaps we can use this work as a tool to better predict what might happen in the future. We can’t ignore the rock record. The Earth system is sensitive to large and rapid additions of CO2. Current emissions will have environmental consequences.”

(Source: Independent)

Saturday, 14 December 2019

How Apple News editors quietly influence UK's election reading

Service has around 11m users a month in UK but faces much less scrutiny that other outlets

On Monday night, millions of iPhones in Britain buzzed with a push notification encouraging their users to watch three video clips that were said to “sum up a difficult start to election week for the Tories”.

Anyone who clicked through would have been offered an “awkward exchange” as the prime minister grabbed an ITV reporter’s phone, Labour activists heckling the health secretary, Matt Hancock, at a hospital in Leeds, and Boris Johnson trying to rebut claims that Priti Patel had made up crime figures.

What many might not have known is why they received the push alert. They may have been surprised to learn that the clips were chosen not by an algorithm but by Apple News’s five-strong team of UK editors.
 Apple News comes pre-installed on iPhones, giving it direct access to millions of readers. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The service has around 11 million users a month in the UK, according to Comscore data, and the number of people receiving its notifications is even larger, offering a level of direct access that even the BBC struggles to compete with.

While newspapers and TV channels have to fight to reach audiences, Apple News comes pre-installed on iPhones. And while traditional news outlets come under enormous scrutiny for their coverage, there has been little scrutiny of how journalists employed directly by Apple can influence which news is seen by around a sixth of the UK population.

Rasmus Nielsen, of the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for Journalism, believes the power of the service – and equivalents such as Samsung’s Upday - is under-appreciated. “Our data suggests that more than a quarter of online news users in the UK rely on one or more aggregators for online news, and Apple News and Google News have higher reach among people aged 18-24 than established brands like ITV and Sky or the Sun and the Mirror,” Nielsen said. “Their editorial processes, however, remains opaque, whether reliant on human editors, algorithms, or some combination.”

Journalists who work for Apple News have scrubbed the company’s name from their social media accounts, a move that reduces the risk of them being accused of bias but adds to the lack of transparency around their decisions.

People at British media organisations who deal with Apple News say the editors have a welcome reputation for promoting exclusives and high-quality news featuring original reporting in their “top stories” section. If the Apple News editors like what they see, their backing can deliver enormous numbers of readers – which gives these editors a power akin to an old-school newspaper boss choosing a front-page story.

“You could get a million views in the UK alone if they pick one of your stories,” said one social media manager at a British news site, who suggested outlets were hooked on traffic from the service. Although news websites struggle to make money from Apple News traffic, they are often loth to give up a source of traffic that can refer more readers than Facebook.

Apple News staff will tell British news outlets what type of stories and topics they would like to promote each week, creating the potential that one of the world’s biggest hardware manufacturers is indirectly influencing the editorial output of British news organisations.

Much of this reflects a decision to stick to promoting mainstream outlets as part of Apple’s attempt to ensure a high quality of news stories, as opposed to the chaotic free-for-all news environment of Facebook or Twitter. This can be a boon for traditional news organisations such as the Sun and Daily Telegraph, which are well represented alongside left-of-centre outlets such as the Mirror, HuffPost and the Independent.

(The Guardian is not on Apple News. A spokesperson for Guardian News & Media said the company was in preliminary discussions about returning to the service in the future if it “would help to deliver our strategy to develop new and engaged audiences for Guardian journalism”. No firm decision has been made.)

Apple declined to comment on the record on how Apple News worked but provided a comment from its editor-in-chief, Lauren Kern, setting out its plans for covering the general election.

“Curation has always been a guiding principle of Apple News. We select high-quality articles from trusted sources to help readers get up to speed on the most relevant news and the most important issues of the day,” Kern said.

“In the UK election guide, our team of editors will spotlight well-sourced, well-reported stories to provide Apple News readers with reliable news and information from a wide range of news outlets.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Padma-winning photographer scaled many Himalayan peaks to click stunning pics

“If you truly love something, you will appreciate everything about it, so in my case, I dedicate myself entirely to the mountains on every trip.”

For over three decades now, one name in the country has resonated with the untamed beauty of the wild mountains and echoed through the misty peaks of the mighty Himalayas.

Equipped with his courage, grit, tripod and a camera, Anup Sah has scaled the most difficult heights, in pursuit of pure beauty.

And after years of hard work, his service has finally received the most prestigious recognition.

“What I am today is all because of my father,” said the ace photographer who was recently awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honour in India.

A force to be reckoned with, Anup is one of the pioneer professional photographers across the country, and one of the few from Uttarakhand who has received both national and international acclaim.

“I was so fortunate to be born in Nainital, in the lap of nature, amidst unlimited beauty. And my father took all efforts to introduce me to it,” said Anup while speaking to the Better India.

As one speaks to him, one gets the sense that his journey, vision, and career have been deeply influenced by two entities—his father, the late CL Sah Thulgharia and the Himalayas.

An avid trekker, his father would often get his teenage son to accompany him on his treks to the mountains. Anup found himself bewitched by the beauty of nature and felt the need to capture it in a camera.

Recognising his enthusiasm, his father gifted him his first camera, an Agfa Isoly in 1964, thus kickstarting his inspiring journey to the Himalayas and beyond.

“In 1968, my father started the Naini Tal Mountaineering Club (NTMC), to encourage more people to behold the magic of nature. Over the last 50 years, we have trained more than 50,000 people in rock climbing and have taken hundreds on treks. Even I learnt the basics there and completed the advance mountaineering course from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM). With two years of hard work, my father was chosen for the All India NCC Panchachuli Expedition in 1970 and was among the six of the first Indian team to scale Mt Nanda Khat in 1972.

Anup continued his trysts with the mountains at every given opportunity for the next many decades, capturing every speck of Himalayan beauty in its entirety.

“A lot of photographers today form agendas when visiting a spot. The picture is already painted in their mind, and they try and replicate it in front of their lens. For me, this was never about replication or using a technique to get desired results; but about honest and pure interaction with nature. If you truly love something, you will appreciate everything about it, so in my case, I dedicate myself entirely to the mountains on every trip. From the smallest insects, birds animals to the towering peaks, the people living there, hill culture, festivals—everything forms the subject of my work,” expressed the 69-year-old photographer.

A man who rose to become an icon in the photography circuit feels humbled not by awards but by love.

“When young aspiring photographers especially in Uttarakhand come to me and say that they took up photography seeing me or that I inspired them, my heart truly gets overwhelmed with joy. I can never explain that feeling in words. So in response, I try and pass the valuable lessons I have learnt in this lifetime,” he says.

Comparing to the recent surge in photography aided by technological advancements, he added that photography cannot become a ‘readymade’ art.

“We learnt at a time when every click was crucial and could not be wasted or corrected through photoshop. We had to be disciplined and patient, waiting for the right moment to capture the beauty in all its rawness. That was the price for originality. Today, with technological advancements that practice is no more and it has caused harm to the quality of photos. You can take a brilliant photograph even with your mobile camera, provided you stay honest and original!” he said.

When prodded, he reveals that one of his favourite works is the photograph of Om Parbat in Mansarovar.

Although known for his photographic wonders and mountaineering prowess, Anup is also a prominent naturalist, apiarist (beekeeper), mushroom expert and the current chairman of NTMC.

“Photography is one of the many ways I express my love for nature. My relationship with nature is everlasting, and I hope to create a long legacy of such people who find their way back into the lap of nature and stand up to protect and preserve it for generations to come,” he concluded.

Anup has not only pushed India to a global map through his art but has also motivated thousands to look at what truly matters—our roots.

All images credit: Anup Shah

(Source: TBI)

Friday, 13 December 2019

Daisetsuzan: Life in the icy white forest

Winter lasts most of the year in Daisetsuzan, the high mountain range that stretches across the center of Hokkaido. The first flurries of snow arrive in September, and the final thaw doesn’t come till the following June. Yet some animals live successfully and apparently quite happily in this frozen world winter has come to Daisetsuzan.

Winter wonderland: As a blizzard lifts, the forest's appearance is transformed by a fresh coat of white. Snow newly settled on the top branches of birch trees glistens in the sunlight. | KENJI ITO
It’s only October, but the once-dazzling autumn foliage has all dropped from the trees. As cold air moves in from Siberia, the scene changes dramatically. Fresh snow settles first on the mountain peaks, then advances inexorably down the slopes until it reaches the bottom and the entire landscape has turned white. Day after day the vast forests are blanketed with sparkling ice crystals. Soon, all signs of human encroachment have disappeared from the high ridges, now the domain of no one but the wind.

Boasting several of the island’s highest peaks, the Daisetsuzan range is known as the “roof” of Hokkaido. It extends over an area of some 230,000 hectares, about the same size as all of Kanagawa Prefecture. Daisetsuzan was declared a national park 80 years ago, in 1934.

When a winter coat comes in handy: A male Ezo deer covered in snow. Coming face to face with one of Daisetsuzan’s yearlong residents makes you wonder who has it better — them or us. | KENJI ITO
The highest peak is Mount Asahi, 2,290 meters above sea level. For the most part the topography is gentler than on the highest summits of Honshu to the south, which rise to more than 3,000 meters. But here in the far north the tree line is much lower, yielding to a high-altitude zone of tundra where alpine flora reign in a unique natural environment.

As the source of the bountiful Ishikari River, the Daisetsuzan range is revered by the region’s indigenous Ainu people, who call it Kamui Min-tara — the garden of the gods.

It’s early morning and a blizzard has just cleared. The temperature is minus 25 degrees Celsius, so cold that your breath freezes and frost forms on your eyelashes. The snow is waist-deep, so skis must be fitted with nonslip devices. Even then, every step requires caution.

The biggest snowdrifts are as much as 5 meters deep. When the sun begins to shine through the trees, it casts a greenish light on the ground below, giving the white blanket a coral-like hue and fostering the illusion that you are traversing an ocean of snow.

Kya, kya, kya! A high-pitched cry suddenly echoes in the treetops as a Hokkaido red squirrel leaps from a branch, shaking fresh snow down onto the forest floor. As though responding to a signal, the snow piled high on the surrounding branches also begins to fall in one frozen shower after another, forming a curtain of crystalline light as the cascading flakes catch the sun.
A foxy perspective: As the sunlight filters softly through the trees, an Ezo red fox perks up its ears and sniffs the air for interesting scents. How does this landscape appear to the vulpine eye, do you suppose? | KENJI ITO

Stand still for a moment and you can feel your hands and feet turning numb. They seem to be on the verge of freezing — and yet you can’t take your eyes off the tiny animals scampering about in the woods. Leaving the trees for open fields of snow, you’ll see the tracks of mountain hares, rhythmic evidence of their hopping gait where they passed by just a short while ago.

Life thrives in this snowy realm all year round. Perhaps most astonishing of all is the fact that January and February, Daisetsuzan’s coldest time of year, are the months when brown bears snuggled away in their winter lairs give birth to their cubs.

(Source: JT)