Thursday, 19 July 2018

Serena Williams wants to know why she’s drug-tested more than other athletes

“Just test everyone equally,” the seven-time Wimbledon winner said.

Serena Williams is curious why she’s tested for doping far more often than other top tennis players.

The star athlete took questions from media during a press conference on Sunday to discuss her upcoming match against the Netherlands’ Arantxa Rus at the Wimbledon tournament in London. One reporter asked her to comment on a recent Deadspin article that revealed Williams is tested for doping much more often than other male or female players.

“I never knew that I was tested so much more than everyone else,” the seven-time Wimbledon champion said. “Until I read that article I didn’t realize it was such a discrepancy with me as well as against the other players that they listed, at least the American players — both male and female.”

Deadspin’s report last week said Williams has been tested five times this year ― more than double the number of tests for other top American women’s tennis players.

“It would be impossible for me to not feel some kind of way about that,” said Williams, 36. “I just found it quite interesting.”

The Deadspin article recounted a controversy in which Williams missed a recent drug test. Williams said Sunday that the tester showed up 12 hours earlier than the time they had agreed upon, and she wasn’t able to get to the meeting in time.

Williams said it was “a little frustrating” that she received a “missed test” designation because the tester showed up unannounced.

According to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency guidelines, athletes are required to let the agency know of their whereabouts for a one-hour period of the athlete’s choosing every day, even when not competing. An athlete will receive a “missed test” rating for unavailability during the window.

Drug testers can make unannounced visits outside of that one-hour window, but if the athlete is not available they will not receive a “missed test” designation. Each athlete gets three “missed tests” before they receive a doping rule violation.

“How is it I’m getting tested five times? I’m OK with that. Literally verbatim I said: ‘I’m going with that, as long as everyone is being treated equally. That’s all I care about,’” she added.

“Tennis has given me so much. It’s such an amazing sport. I feel like equality, that’s all I’ve been preaching, it’s all about equality,” Williams continued. “If that’s testing everyone five times, let’s do it. Let’s be a part of it. It’s just about being equal and not centering one person out. Just due to the numbers, it looks like I’m being pushed out. Just test everyone equally.”

A spokeswoman for Williams told Deadspin earlier that the testing was “invasive and targeted.”

“Over her 23-year career in tennis, Serena Williams has never tested positive for any illegal substance despite being tested significantly more than other professional tennis players, both male and female – in fact, four times more frequently than her peers,” the statement reads.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency “may target test athletes as USADA deems appropriate,” spokesman Brad Horn told Deadspin. “We test only in accordance with international standards and would never conduct testing in an unfair way. We are always available to discuss this with athletes, if they have concerns.” 

(Source: HuffPo)

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Your gut bacteria want you to eat a cupcake

A new study suggests the microbes in humans' intestines may influence food choices.

Humans’ gastrointestinal tracts are home to 10,000 species of bacteria, which get energy from our half-digested lunches. (Another estimate puts the number of species as high as 36,000.) In exchange, they help us break down food and keep harmful bacteria out, and have also been shown to help regulate fat storage and provide vitamins.

But a recent review published in BioEssays suggests that these bacteria might be a little too big for their britches, bossing their hosts around and demanding certain kinds of foods. “Microbial genes outnumber human genes by 100 to 1 in the intestinal microbiome,” the article says, so the microbes are winning the numbers game at least. But it’s not like they’re all on the same team. The authors (who hail from the University of New Mexico and the University of California, San Francisco) note that many different species compete for space and nutrients in our intestines, and the more dominant ones may have more influence on their humans.

They may do this by inducing cravings: “Individuals who are “chocolate desiring” have different microbial metabolites in their urine than “chocolate indifferent” individuals, despite eating identical diets,” the study says. Or, they may influence people’s moods—crying in infants with colic has been linked to changes in the gut microbiome. And one thing parents do to stop their babies’ crying is feed them.

The article suggests some potential mechanisms by which the bacterias exert their influence: They may change the expression of taste receptors, making certain foods taste better; they may release hunger-inducing hormones; or they may manipulate the vagus nerve (which connects the stomach to the brain) to control their hosts’ eating behavior.

And different bacteria want people to eat different things—some crave sugar, some crave fat. Some microbes found in people in Japan are especially good at digesting seaweed.

Humans, of course, are not entirely powerless against the prodding influence of our gut flora. The relationship works both ways—the food someone chooses to eat influences their microbiome. And probiotics can change gut populations too. Certain probiotics have been shown to reduce fat mass or improve mood.

But microbes’ potential influence on cravings does offer a convenient excuse—the next time you’re trying to convince your friends to order a pizza, try shouting “My gut bacteria demand tribute!” and see where that gets you.

(Source: The Atlnatic)

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Why kids love 'fascist' cartoons like 'Paw Patrol' and 'Thomas'

Parents like to see themselves as purveyors of possibility. We want our children to inhabit a world in which identities are both mutable and equal, and imagination and empathy reign supreme!

But young children, as dictated by their tastes in popular culture, have something else in mind. They're drawn to worlds in which identities are fixed, order trumps imagination and transgressions are met with routine punishment.

This clash between what parents desire for their children and what children desire for themselves is most easily observable in cartoon preferences. So often, the more parents dislike a show, the more their children love it.

Two of the most divisive shows are "Thomas the Tank Engine" and "Paw Patrol," both of which have been eviscerated by grown-ups on discussion boards, in social media and in widely shared essays in prestigious publications.

"Thomas," the long-running television franchise about a group of working trains chugging away on the Island of Sodor, has been called a "premodern corporate-totalitarian dystopia" in the New Yorker, imperialist and sinister in Slate, and classist, sexist and anti-environmentalist in the Guardian. And yet people -- presumably parents -- spend $1 billion on "Thomas" merchandise every year.

"Paw Patrol" is equally polarizing. The show, about a group of rescue dogs led by a boy named Ryder, is a regular source of complaint among parents and of adoration among their kids.

Buzzfeed called the show "terrible" and pointed to instances of gender and social inequality that go unchecked on the show. In the Guardian, Ryder is described as a megalomaniac with an implied "unstoppable God complex." Nevertheless, "Paw Patrol" is ubiquitous. Branded merchandise featuring Ryder and the gang outsells most other television shows, according to recent data from the Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association. A recent Amazon search for "Paw Patrol" yielded 24,814 results.

It's tempting as a parent -- especially those of us who are aghast at contemporary politics -- to be disturbed by the notion of our children tuning in for a regular dose of primary-colored authoritarianism. What ever happened to "Free to Be ... You and Me?"

But, rage as we might, these shows are a source of comfort for our young children, whose id-driven brains seek out the order, stability and even punishment in their entertainment.

Despite their reputation of innocence, children are bubbling cauldrons of conflicting feelings and impulses. This is especially the case during toddler and preschool years, when they become aware of their capacity to do bad things and struggle with understanding those urges.

The neat moral order of shows like "Thomas" and "Paw Patrol" gives them a context for these feelings, explained Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of "How Toddlers Thrive." Good and bad are clearly articulated states in those shows, she said, and should one misbehave, the repercussions are clear and predictable.

"This is an age group that is constantly dealing with all these negative feelings in themselves. 'Am I good?' 'Am I bad?' They are trying to figure out what that means," Klein said.

These shows also help children navigate their paradoxical relationship with power. On one hand, they desperately want some power. Watching the pups in "Paw Patrol" go on a mission or the trains in "Thomas" being useful allows them to feel as though they too have an important role to play.

On the other hand, children take comfort in the idea that someone is in charge. To them, Ryder isn't a megalomaniac, and Sir Topham Hatt of "Thomas" isn't a neocolonial autocrat. They're just the guys delegating responsibilities to their eager inferiors. And the fact that these leaders, both white males, look like most figures in position of authority in the real world is not lost on children.

"Children know there are a lot of scary things in the world, that there are a lot of bad things that can happen, and these shows make them feel like they could be part of fixing it," Klein said. "But they know at some level that they can't take care of things solely on their own, and being part of a team makes them feel safe."

Among these cartoons' many critics exists a subgroup of parents who are OK with some degree of autocracy and Manichean dualistic politics but just wish they would be presented with more nuance.
That's not so easy, however, explained Yalda T. Uhls, a research scientist who studies children and media at the University of California, Los Angeles, and for the nonprofit Common Sense Media.

"Rigidness and simplicity of narrative (in children's television shows) is really important, because in the real world so much is going on. And young children aren't really capable of abstract thought."

Uhls said preschool-age children pay close attention to social cues and status, all in an attempt to figure out where they stand. The clearly articulated hierarchies in these cartoons confirm what they are struggling to understand in their own lives: mainly, that someone else, probably a parent or teacher, is in charge.

Parents concerned with the unsavory elements in shows like "Thomas" and "Paw Patrol" should talk to their children about them, but "don't overthink it," Uhls said.

"It takes a long time for a child to learn something from media and then apply it to their own life," she said. For example, children won't immediately take up bullying just because they saw it go unpunished on television.

Katherine DM Clover, a mother of a 2-year-old in Detroit who occasionally watches "Thomas," struggles with whether she should use the same criteria to judge her child's TV preferences as she does her own.

"I think there is a fine line that parents walk when it comes to media. Obviously, there are some things that are going to be totally off-limits and some things that are more in the 'I don't love it, but whatever' territory. ... 'Thomas' feels like a very difficult call. Is this harmful, or is it just not to my taste?"

She said that for now, she still lets him occasionally watch the show, because Thomas is "so close to the line. And as a socially conscious parent, there are so many things that are way over it."

Sa'iyda Shabazz, who is based in Los Angeles, said she has no qualms letting her 4-year-old watch "Thomas," which is "his favorite thing in the entire world."

"I think it's evolved a lot over the years, which is why I don't really agree with the 'fascist' label," she said. "I think the characters show empathy more, and friendship is a bigger theme. And not for nothing, they're trains. Order and doing as you're told is important to running a successful train line."

Then there are the parents who are OK with the authoritarian elements in children's media but wish the authorities didn't always have to be white and male.

"I watched 'Paw Patrol' once with my daughter, and on that episode, Skye volunteered for a mission, but then Ryder picked two male pups," said Rebekah Pajak, a mother of a 2-year-old and a 1-year-old in Chicago. Skye is the only female in the core team of six rescue pups on the show. "I remember thinking, 'There's a glass ceiling in this cartoon!' "

Like many parents struggling with their children's media choices, Pajak doesn't want to get in the way of something her daughter enjoys -- and she really enjoys "Paw Patrol." But the concern about her daughter absorbing patriarchal messages lingers.

"I don't want to think one cartoon is going to shape her, but if she sees 10 cartoons, then I do have a concern. It's systemic. What is this all telling her collectively?"

Here's an idea, gratis, for the creative team behind of "Paw Patrol" and "Thomas," should they want to broaden their appeal to parents without alienating their fan base: Ryder and Sir Topham Hatt retire and are replaced by their equally domineering sisters. This, in turn, boosts the social status of all the non-male characters. Children would still get the satisfaction of immersing themselves in an orderly universe where rules are rules, and everyone is in his or her place. Just without the white guy on top.

(Source: CNN)

Monday, 16 July 2018

Time-honored passport stamp vanishing in name of digital convenience

As electronic entry procedures usher arriving passengers more quickly through immigration control at airports around the world, one of the casualties of progress is the time-honored passport stamp.

While many travelers welcome the improved efficiency, those who regard passport stamps as souvenirs of their travels are going to miss the memories that an immigration stamp can trigger of the far-off destinations they have visited.

“There is a trend to eliminate the passport stamp to shorten processing times, especially in advanced countries,” a Japanese airport official said.

With air travel growing, airports are looking for ways to prevent congestion, and ditching the tradition is one of the solutions.

In Japan, this has seen the use of biometric identification, including facial recognition, emerge as a way to replace passport stamping to track people entering and leaving the country.

To speed up the immigration process, Hong Kong abolished passport stamps in 2013 and began issuing computer-generated landing slips instead. The slips bear the visitor’s name, arrival date and permitted period of stay.

Tourists show off passport stamps after arriving at Narita airport earlier this month. Many airports around the world are abolishing passport stamps and introducing biometric identification instead to speed up immigration procedures amid growing airport congestion. | KYODO
Eligible passengers arriving at Australia’s major airports have the option of guiding themselves through passport control via a SmartGate that uses the data in “e-passports” and facial recognition technology to perform security checks.

Tokyo businessman Teruo Kawakita of Chuo Ward takes overseas trips every two months. For him, the digitally streamlined border checks are a development to be praised.

“I always arrange my schedule taking into account (the time needed) for immigration control. There is nothing better than a shortened wait,” Kawakita, 35, said.

In 2007, Japan started using automated gates in which both Japanese and foreign people with valid visa qualifications can register their fingerprints and passport details, even on the day of their flight, to pass through arrival and departure procedures more smoothly.

In October, Japan began testing facial recognition gates on residents, with an eye to installing about 140 of them at Narita, Haneda, Chubu, Kansai and Fukuoka airports by the end of March 2019.

Japan is also considering using the system on foreign visitors in the future.

But for travelers who place a nostalgic value on passport stamps, automated gates are no substitute for a visual reminder of a far-off destination visited. And stamps do just that, with the designs varying from country to country.

Those using the automated gates can ask to have their passports stamped by an official after they clear the gate, and many of them do.

Sachiko Noro, 51, a company employee from Tsugaru in Aomori Prefecture who returned from a trip to the United States earlier this month, said nothing beats the human touch.

“When I look back over the stamps, I am filled with the feeling that I actually traveled to those countries,” he said. “It may be a trend of the times, but I am sad to see them go.”

(Source: JT)

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Bitcoin trading prohibited in Qatar: Central Bank

In a statement sent to all banks operating in the country, Qatar Central Bank said that trading in Bitcoin is not allowed in Qatar and penalties will be levied if the circular is violated.

Active trading in Bitcoin have been noticed in some countries, but it is an illegal currency because there is no commitment from any central bank or a government in the world to exchange their value for money issued and cleared for payment for the goods traded globally or for gold, the statement said.

“This cryptocurrency is highly volatile and can be used for financial crimes and electronic hacking as well as risk loss of value because there are no guarantors or assets,” it added.

Representation of the Bitcoin virtual currency standing on the PC motherboard is seen in this illustration picture, February 3, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
The central bank explained that in order to ensure the safety of the financial and banking system, all banks operating in the country are not allowed to deal in any way with this currency or exchange it with any other, or open accounts to deal with it or send or receive any money transfers for the purpose of buying or selling this currency.

The central bank will impose penalties in accordance with the provisions of the Qatar Central Bank law and regulation of financial institutions issued by Law No. (13) for the year 2012 in the event of any violation of this circular.

Recently Banks in Britain and the United States have banned the use of credit cards to buy Bitcoin and other "cryptocurrencies", fearing a plunge in their value will leave customers unable to repay their debts.

(Source: The Peninsula)

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Artificial ovary could allow women to become mothers after cancer treatment without risk

Immature egg cells can develop successfully on an 'ovarian scaffold' stripped of the DNA and components that make up its living cells

An artificial ovary that can grow immature eggs into a fertilisable cell fit for implantation could one day let women become mothers after fertility-destroying cancer treatment, scientists have said.

Researchers from one of the leading fertility centres in Europe, Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, say they have demonstrated the world’s first working “bio-engineered” human ovary in early animal trials.

Currently women will have eggs frozen before chemotherapy or radiotherapy, which can destroy the viability of the cells.

Prepubertal girls or women who need urgent treatment before they produce eggs, rely on ovarian tissue, which contains thousands of immature eggs in fluid-filled sacs called follicles, to be preserved instead with the aim of transplanting it after treatment.

However, if there is a risk of any cancerous cells remaining in preserved tissue, reimplantation could be deemed too risky.

The Danish technique offers a way to avoid this, and potentially improve on IVF and other techniques as more potential eggs could be preserved and would develop naturally if they can be reimplanted.

The team used a chemical process to strip the ovarian tissues’ cells of DNA and other features which could contain the faulty instructions for cancer cells’ unconstrained growth.

Ovarian follicles, containing immature eggs, sit within the ovarian tissue which can now be decellularised to remove the risk of cancers tissue being reintroduced ( Getty/iStock )
They then implanted immature egg cells into this empty ovarian “scaffold”.

The team showed that the immature eggs and tissue scaffold could reintegrate and survive in this scaffold, and it could then be grafted into a living host – in this case a mouse.

In theory the eggs would begin to mature and release each month in line with the hormone cues of the menstrual cycle.

“This is the first time that isolated human follicles have survived in a decellularised human scaffold and, as a proof-of-concept, it could offer a new strategy in fertility preservation without risk of malignant cell re-occurrence,” said Dr Susanne Pors, who led the Rigshospitalet team.

Dr Pors added that the risk of cancer returning from reimplanted ovarian tissue is “real”, though her team and others have found the chances are low.

It comes after a UK team were the first to take immature cells from follicle to mature eggs outside of the body, but without an ovarian scaffold that could allow follicles to be reimplanted and develop naturally.

The latest study has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal and is presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) annual meeting in Barcelona on Monday.

But independent doctors said it was “groundbreaking” work, although the process now needs to be refined and shown to be safe in humans – which will take several years.

“This is an extremely important advance in the field of fertility preservation,” said Professor Adam Balen, professor of reproductive medicine and surgery at Seacroft Hospital, Leeds.

“The ability to successfully create a ‘new ovary’, by removing any tissue that might potentially reintroduce the cancer and fashioning a scaffold on which to grow the egg-containing follicles , allows the reimplantation of a ‘safe’ ovary, with the potential to successfully restore fertility.”

Dr Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynaecologist at Hammersmith Hospital, said: “If this is shown to be effective, it offers huge advantages over IVF and egg freezing.

“Because potentially these small pieces of tissue will have thousands of eggs and clearly, if it does work, there’s the advantage of then getting pregnant the old-fashioned way.

“We are some years away from that, and so IVF and egg-freezing is here now and will be with us for several years, but if this works it has dramatic potential.”

(Source: The Independent)

Friday, 13 July 2018

Marrying a Syrian means breaking up with America

Marrying a Syrian means breaking up with America, writes Anna Lekas Miller on CNN. Read on:

I start fiddling with the diamond ring that still isn't quite accustomed to its new place on my ring finger -- one of the few pieces of evidence of my relationship status -- and sneak a peek at my phone.

"Tisba7 3la khayer, habibti," my fiancé, Salem, has written to me from London, exactly 5,318 miles away and seven hours ahead of me. For some reason, the Arabic script makes me smile, a loving reminder of my other home.

Goodnight, my love.

Even though Salem and I have been dating for almost three years (and engaged for one of them), he still hasn't been able to join me for my family traditions in the United States. He is from Syria, one of the seven countries impacted by President Donald Trump's travel ban -- which, as of this week, has been deemed legal and legitimate by the Supreme Court of the United States. (While the list of banned countries has changed slightly over time, Syria has remained on every iteration of it.)

Due to the numerous iterations of this ban, Salem hasn't even had a chance to apply for a US visa, much less make a visit. I'm afraid that with the most recent news, it might be a few years before he can make it to our Christmas dinner.

Salem and I never particularly wanted to immigrate (in my case, return) to the United States, but it was nice to know that it was an option. We first fell in love in Istanbul -- and by default, with Istanbul. It felt like the perfect place for two journalists with a sense of adventure, and fascination with the changing world around them to create their home. To date, it is still one of the only places on earth where a Syrian and an American could meet one another logistically -- most other countries have too many visa restrictions in place.

Anna Lekas Miller and her fiancé Salem
Still, there were signs that our Istanbul chapter would not last forever. A few months after we moved in together, an attempted coup shook the country, sending it into a whirlwind of political chaos. As conflict reporters, we were used to staying above the fray -- but this time soon proved that it would be different.

Just a few months later, Salem was flying home from an assignment in Northern Iraq, when he was stopped at the border, and told he was no longer allowed to enter Turkey. The border officer ordered that he be deported back to Northern Iraq -- a place that he has no personal connection to whatsoever, besides it being his most recent point of departure.

Later that month, Trump signed the first executive order banning citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the United States. In short, in one stroke of a pen, he chucked our last option out the window.

I closely followed the news from Iraq, where I had since re-located, religiously keeping up with updates regarding visa waivers, and whether there were any exceptions being made for fiancé or spouse visas, in between covering the battle for Mosul. Lawyers told me to wait until the situation was more predictable, but I went to the consulate to see about the visa -- if we were going to be stuck here anyway, why not be proactive and use the time to process a visa and have a way out of here?

I was quickly told that we could only apply for a fiancé or spouse visa at the US Embassy in Baghdad, which, as our visas only permitted us to be in the Kurdish-controlled areas of Iraq, meant that this route was yet another dead end. Once again, I felt the door closing on us, along with my "romantic" dream of being married inside the militarized walls of the consular complex.

A few months later, Salem was able to travel to the United Kingdom for work -- where he immediately applied for asylum. We no longer had the privilege of time, something that applying for a US visa necessitates. We needed a home, and we needed to accept that the United States was not going to be it. Within three months, Salem got his UK asylum -- I went in and out on a tourist visa, and eventually applied for grad school, which will allow me to live in the United Kingdom on a student visa.

For the first time, Salem and I have a place that we can call home. I just wish that the United States could have given us the same.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Greater levels of vitamin D associated with decreasing risk of breast cancer

Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine suggest higher levels of vitamin D are associated with decreasing risk of breast cancer. Their epidemiological study is published in the June 15 online issue of PLOS ONE, in collaboration with Creighton University, Medical University of South Carolina and GrassrootsHealth, an Encinitas-based nonprofit organization that promotes vitamin D research and its therapeutic benefits.

The scientists pooled data from two randomized clinical trials with 3,325 combined participants and a prospective study involving 1,713 participants to examine the association between risk of female breast cancer and a broad range of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) concentrations, which was chosen as the marker because it is the main form of vitamin D in blood.

All women were age 55 or older. The average age was 63. Data were collected between 2002 and 2017. Participants were free of cancer at enrollment and were followed for a mean period of four years. Vitamin D levels in blood were measured during study visits.

Over the course of the combined studies, 77 new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed for an age-adjusted incidence rate of 512 cases per 100,000 person-years.

Researchers identified the minimum healthy level of 25(OH)D in blood plasma to be 60 nanograms per milliliter, substantially higher than the 20 ng/ml recommended in 2010 by the Institute of Medicine, now the National Academy of Medicine, a health advisory group to the federal government. Some groups, such as GrassrootsHealth, have advocated higher minimums for health blood serum levels of vitamin D, as much as 50 ng/ml. The matter remains hotly debated.

"We found that participants with blood levels of 25(OH)D that were above 60 ng/ml had one-fifth the risk of breast cancer compared to those with less than 20 ng/ml," said principal investigator and co-author Cedric F. Garland, DrPH, adjunct professor in the UC San Diego Department of Family Medicine and Public Health. Risk of cancer appeared to decline with greater levels of serum vitamin D.

Multivariate regression was used to quantify the association between 25(OH)D and breast cancer risk, with the results adjusted for age, body mass index, cigarette smoking and intake of calcium supplements, said first author Sharon McDonnell, an epidemiologist and biostatistician for GrassrootsHealth. "Increasing vitamin D blood levels substantially above 20 ng/ml appears to be important for the prevention of breast cancer."

Garland, who has previously studied connections between serum vitamin D levels and several types of cancer, said the study builds upon previous epidemiological research linking vitamin D deficiency to a higher risk of breast cancer. Epidemiological studies analyze the distribution and determinants of health and disease, but it has been argued that they do not necessarily prove cause-and-effect.

"This study was limited to postmenopausal breast cancer. Further research is needed on whether high 25(OH)D levels might prevent premenopausal breast cancer," Garland said. The population was also mainly white women so further research is needed on other ethnic groups.

"Nonetheless, this paper reports the strongest association yet between serum vitamin D and reduction in risk of breast cancer," Garland said.

Garland and others have advocated the health benefits of vitamin D for many years. In 1980, he and his late brother Frank C. Garland, also an epidemiologist, published an influential paper that posited vitamin D (produced by the body through exposure to sunshine) and calcium (which vitamin D helps the body absorb) together reduced the risk of colon cancer. The Garlands and colleagues subsequently found favorable associations of markers of vitamin D with breast, lung and bladder cancers, multiple myeloma and adult leukemia.

To reach 25(OH)D levels of 60 ng/ml, said Garland, would generally require dietary supplements of 4,000 to 6,000 international units (IU) per day, less with the addition of moderate daily sun exposure wearing very minimal clothing (approximately 10-15 minutes per day outdoors at noon). He said the success of oral supplementation should be determined using a blood test, preferably during winter months.

The current recommended average daily amount of vitamin D3 is 400 IU for children up to one year; 600 IU for ages one to 70 years (including pregnant or breastfeeding women) and 800 IU for persons over age 70, according to the National Academy of Medicine.

A 2009 paper published in the Annals of Epidemiology by Garland and colleagues recommended a healthy target level of serum 25(OH)D of 40 to 60 ng/ml, based on an expert consensus panel. This statement was published in Annals of Epidemiology (2009). Oral doses of vitamin D are often not specified since different individuals require different intakes to achieve targeted serum range. Except under medical supervision and monitoring, intake of vitamin D3 must not exceed 10,000 IU per day. Blood serum levels exceeding 125 ng/ml have been linked to adverse side effects, such as nausea, constipation, weight loss, heart rhythm problems and kidney damage.

(Source: Science Daily)

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

India trains delayed due to 'drunk' station master

Several trains were delayed in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh after the station master got drunk and fell asleep while on duty, officials said.

Deep Singh did not respond to repeated calls from officials, causing them to rush to the Murshadpur train station.

According to local media, Mr Singh was found sleeping in his office with empty liquor bottles under his cot.

Authorities said an inquiry had been ordered into the incident.

India runs 11,000 trains every day, of which 7,000 are passenger trains
They added that a medical examination showed a high level of alcohol in his blood.

"He was dead drunk and could barely walk," a senior railway official is quoted as saying in The Hindu newspaper. He added that it was "a very serious matter" which would be further investigated.

According to sources at the station, many long-distance trains had to stop and wait since there was no green signal at the station.

A large number of trains pass through the station every day. Across the country, more than 22 million Indians commute daily on about 9,000 trains.

Such unusual incidents are not uncommon in India. Employees were suspended in the state of Orissa after 22 carriages detached from a train and sped backwards for 11km (seven miles) in April.

Last November, a group of Indian farmers woke up to find that the train they were travelling on had sped 160km in the "wrong direction".

(Source: BBC)

Mother to take legal action against 'discriminatory’ uniform policy

'My daughter has been in great distress and I do not wish for any child to suffer the same'

The mother of a seven-year-old girl who cried every day because her school forced her to wear a skirt is planning to take legal action against the government’s “discriminatory” uniform policy.

Roberta Borsotti had to wipe away the tears from her young daughter’s face daily for nearly three years as she asked the same question: “If boys and teachers can wear trousers, why can’t I?”

Ms Borsotti was finally able to convince the Catholic school in London to change its uniform policy last month after threatening to take legal action. Now she wants to challenge the government.

The mother-of-three hopes to bring a judicial review against the Department for Education to ensure no other children have to experience the “distress and frustration” that her family went through.

Ms Borsotti told The Independent: “It has been draining for us as a family because for three years my daughter has been in great distress. Every morning she would cry and ask me: ‘What am I doing wrong? Is there something wrong with me?’”

(North Devon Gazette/SWNS)
“I do not wish for any child or their families to suffer the same and it is my aim that no one again will have to go through what my daughter went through, whether they want to wear trousers or skirts.

“It is high time therefore that the Department for Education’s guidance to schools is scrutinised against the equality and human rights standards of primary legislation,” she added.

Ms Borsotti is crowdsourcing funding to bring legal action against the government – which is believed to be the first time a challenge has been brought against the Department for Education.

It comes at a time when rigid school uniform policies have been under the spotlight. An analysis this week revealed that at least 40 secondary schools have banned girls from wearing skirts.

Some schools have been moving to gender-neutral uniforms to be more inclusive of transgender pupils. Last month, Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common said boys were not allowed to wear shorts for summer – but they insisted that boys were allowed to wear skirts if they wanted.

And this week, boys at Great Torrington School in Devon have been protesting their school uniform rules by wearing skirts after they were told shorts were not allowed despite hot weather.

The Borsotti family’s crowdfunding page – which has a target of £58,000 –  adds: “Uniform policies for girls do not have to be about trousers versus skirts. The uniform policies should give girls equality in uniform choice and clearly state their right to wear what they are most comfortable with.

“It is apparent that schools require clear and robust guidance from the Department for Education to ensure that a fair and equal approach is being taken.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Decisions about school uniform are made at a local level by school leaders, who are best placed to ensure these policies meet the needs of their pupils.

“To support school leaders, the department issues best practice guidance. We back schools to take these decisions, but we would expect them to consult parents and pupils and ensure their policies comply with equalities law.”

(Source: The Independent)

Celine Dion: The truth about the man who changed her forever

Celine Dion is a household name and one of the globe's most legendary. She is strong, powerful and venerable. Much have been said about her unique, melodic, haunting and beautiful voice. But what do we really know about her?

Wherever Celine wants drama will take place! especially with these drastic new surprises she have to deal with. Celine had to learn how to balance her tremendous success, forbidden love affair, and health problems – all while facing her complax past.

Despite how Celine felt about Rene, her mom was strongly against the relationship and did almost everything in her power to dissuade Celine from being involved with him. It was probably the fact that he already had two failed marriages that worried Celine's mother.

In 1999 Celine’s husband Rene was diagnosed with throat cancer. His illness progressed at a rapid speed and soon he was unable to do even the basic things. Celine turned things around and spent almost every waking moment taking care of him.

When she first recorded Titanic's theme song "My Heart will go on" she believed it will fail and hurt her career. She even said in an interview "I didn’t really like the song at first. I did another song for a movie before. It was very successful, and I thought we were pushing our luck.”

In 2000 Celine decided to take a complete break from her hectic performance schedule and spend time with her family. After many failed attempts to conceive she underwent a surgical intervention to help her with her chances. On 25 January 2001, she gave birth to her first child, son Rene-Charles.

Before marrying Dion, Rene Angelil had already been married twice. His first marriage was to Denyse Duquette all the way back in 1966. The couple had a son together, Patrick Angelil. By the time Celine and Rene married, her stepson Patrick Angelil was older than her by a good few years.

Dion went through a number of near-death experiences, but none was as close and severe as when she was 5 and was knocked over by a truck leaving her with skull fractures and in a coma for almost a week. She thankfully survived this near death experience.

It was Rene who managed to convince Celine to at least do a single demo version of "My Heart Will Go On." She agreed to do the demo and that was the actual version that was used and became a global hit. She only ever sang the song that one time.

Another success for Celine was hit theme song "Beauty and the Beast", from the successful Disney's film of the same name, for which she recieved her first Grammy. But the song caused an extreme backlash from her Quebecois fans, because it was in English. She soon gained favor with them again when she refused the English Artist of the Year award.

Celine’s parents already had 13 children and were struggling financially when her mom found out she was pregnant again. This pregnancy was not planned and the entire family had to make adjustments and changes to welcome her into their already crowded home. It was so crowded that she had to sleep in a cabinet drawer because there were no more available beds.

Aside from her incredible singing talent, Celine is also a great chef, just like her mom, and she opened a restaurant called Nickels, which was so successful that she expanded into a very lucrative chain of restaurants across Canada. Celine also published her own magazine called Celine Dion Magazine.

The '90s were tough years for Celine. Rene had just been diagnosed with cancer and she decided to slow things down a bit after releasing 13 smash albums. During this time, National Enquirer released a fake story saying she is pregnant with twins. Dion sued them for $20 million. They apologized and donated money to the American Cancer society.

Over the years, Celine has been awarded many accolades such as the National Order of Quebec and stars on the Canadian and Hollywood Walks of fame. Celine, who did not even graduate from high school, has also received an honorary Doctorate from Laval University. She dedicated the doctorate to Rene as he had such a big influence on her life.

Celine was named after a Huges Aufray song called "Céline." Born into a family filled with the musical talent she gave her first performance at aged 5 at her brother’s wedding and shone above all her siblings. It was the start of her very illustrious singing career that just keeps getting better.

Celine’s brother, Jacques, and mother wrote a song for her to perform. Her mother insisted that it be sent out as her talent was not to be ignored. They sent the recording to many producers whose names they found on records. Finally, they got a producer to listen to the song. His name was Rene Angelil.

When her mother sent out the recording to producers, she attached a note saying that the singer was a very talented 12-year-old. Rene received many of these type of recordings and ignored it until one of Celine’s brothers got in touch with him. After his first listen he instantly wanted her to audition with him.

Celine’s arrived to her audition with Rene Angelil and he gave her a pencil and told her to pretend it’s a microphone and that she was performing to thousands of people. He wanted to see if she really had talent. Needless to say, her performance blew him away.

Celine knew right away that the audition went well because as she looked at Rene, he had tears streaming down his face. That was the moment in which she realized that he could make her a megastar. The journey would not be easy as she was young and had a lot to learn.

Rene was known as a gambling man, but in 1981 he took the biggest gamble. He mortgaged his home so that he could have the money to record and produce Celine’s first single, "La Voix Du Bon." The gamble paid off as the song quickly rose to number 1 in Canada.

Celine quickly rose to stardom. In 1984 Pope John II visited Quebec and Celine was asked to perform the French anthem for him at the Montreal Olympic Stadium. With over 65,000 people present, she says that this was one of the most special performances of her life.

As Celine rose to fame and her career started to blossom, she was still very young and upon advice from Rene, she took a break from her career to grow up out of the public eye. Many believed it to be a risky move, but it paid off.

After taking her 18-month “growing up” break, Celine returned a much more confident singer. Her English had also improved greatly and she released a comeback album Incognito. This album was a great success and she sold over half a million copies. It was the first album she released after signing to CBS, her new record label.

In 1990 Celine released her first full English album Unison. This album propelled her into the American market and spotlight and the single "Where Does My Heart Beat Now," topped the charts in the US. She was getting ready to do her first American tour when something shattering happened to her.

As Dion prepared for her debut American tour she was shattered when she lost her voice. Due to a grueling schedule, her vocal chords were so strained that she was speechless and was immediately advised to stop singing for a month or she would have to undergo major surgery.

Celine Dion has always been a very private person, but amid mounting rumors she finally opened up to the public and revealed that her relationship with Rene has moved from a purely business one to a personal and romantic one. She revealed everything in the sleeve of her album The Colour of My Love. “Maybe at 17, 18 years old, my feelings started to change for him,” Dion said. “I kind of saw him differently.”

They actually started dating when Dion was only 19 and Rene was twenty-six years older than her. The couple knew the public would have opinions about their relationship and the huge age difference. But they also knew this relationship was forever and announced they would be marrying soon and planned to start a family.

Celine and Rene had been secretly dating for almost 5 years before the relationship was revealed to the public. Rene was afraid of what people may think and say but Celine was the one who insisted that they eventually share their secret love. After all, she was in love and wanted the world to know.

As Celine’s fame grown, she was virtually Canadian Royalty. The couple wed in a lavish event, hosted at Montreal's Notre-Dame Basilica. the couple had the ceremony broadcasted on Canadian national TV. Some say that the couple had delusions of grandeur.

Celine commissioned designers Mirella and Steve Gentile to design her lavish wedding gown. The dress took over 1,000 hours to complete and had a train almost 21 feet long. To top it all, Celine wore a 20-pound tiara on her head. The wedding remained a talking point for quite a while.

When they marry, most couples start saving money to buy their first home. Not Celine and Rene. They had both amassed a fortune and had a number of properties to their names before the wedding. After they married they purchased an extravagant property in Florida that later they sold for over $72 million dollars.

Celine’s career skyrocketed after the huge success of Titanic and she embarked on her "Let’s Talk about Love" world tour. Whilst at one of her shows she received the news that Rene had cancer. She still went on stage and performed. Rene sadly passed away in January 2016.

In 2010 Celine and Rene found out they were expecting twins. Celine had undergone a number of IVF treatments and finally conceived. In October she gave birth to beautiful two boys, Eddy and Nelson. Eddy was named after songwriter Eddy Marnay and Nelson was named after Nelson Mandela, South Africa's former legendary president.

Post the catastrophic Asian tsunami in 2004, Celine vowed to do what she could to raise funds to aid the victims of the natural disaster. She aslo donated $1 million for Hurricane Katrina victims, saying “there’s people still there waiting to be rescued. To me that is not acceptable…How can it be so easy to send planes in another country to kill everybody in a second and destroy lives. We need to serve our country.”

Celine’s father, Adhemar Dion, has always been in the background and little was known about him. However, on the day he passed away in 2003 Celine went on stage and dedicated her show to him. She said that he would want the show to go on and that he had always been her biggest supporter and fan.

How do you tell your children that their beloved parent has passed away? Celine took the time with her children to prepare them and talk them through Rene’s illness and eventual death. She felt that preparing the children was the best way for them to be able to deal with the emotional turmoil.

Celine had gone a great lengths to shield her children from the manic clicking of the paparazzi. However, after Rene’s passing, her 15-year-old son, Rene Charles, caused quite a social media storm when he presented an award with his mom at the Billboard Music Awards.

Celine’s mother has always been a great driving force and constant support to her daughter. Therese Dion celebrated her 90th birthday in a feisty style. Celine posted a number of photos from her mom's birthday party on social media and said how blessed she was to still have her mom by her side.

Celine Dion has always been very open and gracious with media. She gives them plenty of her time. On an interview on Ellen DeGeneres' show, the latter complimented her on her jewelry and Celine immediately started singing Donna Summer's hit "She works hard for her Money."

The week Celine Dion lost the love of her life to cancer, she also lost her brother to the same disease. The emotional toll on her was heart-breaking, but Celine is a real fighter and always sees the positive in everything. She said in an interviwe that her husband Rene was there to escort her brother to heaven.

Celine Dion comes from a family of 14 kids. The entire family, including her parents, have musical talent, but none of them made it in the industry on the same scale as Celine. Her sister Claudette did venture into the music world and made some money, but nothing compared to the incredible stardom of her sister.

Celine is a very astute businesswoman as well as a megastar. After being renowned as one of the music industry’s best-dressed stars she launched her own fashion line with over 200 items, including handbags and accessories. She has always said that her designs are inspired by her family.

Celine appeared in many TV shows and has had a string of roles over the years. One of her most memorable performances was in thesoap opera All My Children where she played herself and performed her song “Taking Chances.”

From humble beginnings of having to sleep in a drawer to one of the wealthiest performers ever, Celine has an estimated fortune of over $700 million. Her voice is by far her biggest asset and has taken her very far.

After the attack of September 11 Dion returned to the spotlight once again with her emotionally charged performance of "God Bless America" at the concert held as a tribute to the heroes who perished in this terrorist attack.

Hollywood has the most iconic Walk of Fame in the world. But, Canada has its own version of it. Celine Dion is the only celebrity in the world, to date, who has stars on both.

In 1634 Zacharie Cloutier fled France and crossed the ocean and founded one of the first French-Canadian Families. Global stars like Celine Dion, Madonna, Beyonce and Shania Twain, all have genetics tracing right back to him. Apparently, Jack Kerouac and Alanis Morissette are also related.

Celine Dion does not just have an astounding voice, she also has a great ear and tongue for foreign languages. Not only does she sing in French and English, but has recorded and performed in Spanish, German, Italian, Latin, Japanese and even Mandarin Chinese. She has really engaged with fans in their own languages.

Dion hit the number one spot globally with her theme song of Titanic. But before that, Peabo Bryson was included in the recording of “Beauty and the Beast” due to Dion’s lack of fame at the time.

Not only does Dion love to play golf, but is often seen at the big tournaments watching the masters play. Celine decided to open her own golf course located in Terrebonne near Montreal, Canada which is called "Le Mirage."

At music awards, whenever Celine is nominated, the award usually goes to her. Celine has performed at many award ceremonies around the world and holds the record for most performances by a single artist at the Academy Awards.

The smash hit “It’s all coming back to me now” was written by Jim Steinman who wanted the song to be sung as a ballad by a female artist. Originally it was going to be recorded by Meatloaf, but Steinman insisted, Celine got it, and the rest is history. Meatloaf did eventually record a version of the song.

After the loss of her true love, Celine has admitted that it’s incredibly hard for her and she is often lonely. The loving and nurturing of her children brings her immense comfort and purpose.

Celine has a voice like no one else. She can sing anything and has a natural way of always adding her own spin into the song. Some of her best covers include "I drove all night" by Cindi Lauper, "All by myself" by Eric Carmen or Lennon’s "Beautiful Boy." She also loves to sing duets with the likes of Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson.

In 1988 Celine Dion represented Switzerland in the Eurovision contest and performed to millions of people globally. Celine won the competition by a single vote over the UK. The competition was held in Ireland and this win propelled her into stardom.

When Celine was signed by CBS she joined the ranks of artists like Michael Jackson at the label. When she was 18 she said she wanted to be like Michael and achieve as much as he had. She remained a firm fan of his, right up to his death.

Celine’s large family owned a piano bar called Le Vieux Baril in Charlemagne, Quebec. All the kids, including Celine, used to practice and perform in the bar. Celine started performing at age 5 and soon became the firm favorite with the clientele. The bar was demolished in later years.

(Source: Tetty Betty)

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The most ignorant countries in the world, mapped

A new study has found that a large number of people in some of the worlds most developed nations are ignorant of a lot of important topics.

The Perils of Perception 2017 study by Ipsos MORI assessed the perception of 29,133 people around the world on topics concerning their nation and others.

The subjects included murder and suicide rates, deaths at the result of terrorism, teenage pregnancy, foreign-born prisoners and health issues such as vaccinations and diabetes.

Other issues covered in the interviews included religion, consumption of sugar and alcohol and the percentage of people using Facebook and smartphones.

Results showed that people in nearly all of the 38 nations which took part in the study were ignorant of the aforementioned topics but some were worse than others.

The compiled data showed that Scandinavians had the best idea of what was happening at home and abroad as Denmark, Norway and Sweden were all found to be the most accurate, with the Swedes coming out on top.

At the other end of the spectrum, the bottom three in descending order were The Philippines, Brazil and South Africa.

Great Britain placed ninth in accuracy with the United States down in sixteenth, behind Russia, Germany and China.

There have been some significant changes in the results of this study since the 2016 version.

Back then, India was found to be the most ignorant while the Netherlands was considered to be the least ignorant.

In 2017, India rose up four places while the Netherlands slipped an astonishing 19 places.

Individuals who took part in the survey were aged between 16 and 64 with the interviews taking place between September 28 and October 19.

(Source: The Independent)

Iceland is having the worst summer for 100 years – is Britain’s heatwave to blame?

Reykjavík’s ice-cream vendors, camp sites and outdoor swimming pools are struggling as our unusually pleasant summer spells bad news for our north-western neighbours

As you enjoy the sunshine, spare a thought for Iceland. It is having the greyest, wettest summer since 1914, preceded by rain every single day in May.

According to Icelandic meteorologist Trausti Jonsson, the UK heatwave is to blame for Iceland’s struggling ice-cream vendors, outdoor pools and campsites. “The people of Reykjavík are paying for the sunshine in England and southern Scandinavia,” he said, thanks to high pressure over western Europe changing the jet stream and pushing clouds over the north of the continent.

But is our sunny luck really causing Iceland’s damp squib? “It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario,” says the Met Office’s Alex Deakin. “Is the high pressure causing the jet stream, or is the jet stream causing the high pressure?”

‘Take that, Reykjavík!’ Two Icelandic girls join in the Independence Day celebrations on 17 June. Photograph: Alamy
The location of the jet stream (a group of strong winds above the Earth’s surface, which helps to steer weather around the world) is the main driver of heatwaves. To necessitate Icelanders getting the sun cream out, it needs to move north. If it moves closer to Britain, it could bring sun to the country, but they won’t get much heat.

No other countries have the strong meteorological relationship that the UK does with Iceland. “Often our weather is the opposite to what’s happening in Iceland,” says Deakin. “The geography is such that the width of the jet stream is either going to be across Iceland or the UK.”

Both countries are in exposed positions in a huge ocean, whereas the rest of Europe is influenced by the large land mass.

Are any other countries affected by our heatwave? “Iceland has borne the brunt of it in this scenario,” says Deakin. With high pressure across the UK and north-west Europe, low-pressure systems can appear across the Mediterranean, which lead to thunderstorms, such as those recently across Greece.”

At some point, for the sake of our lawns, we may want the jet stream back. Will that happen any time soon? “It looks very unlikely. This fine and sunny weather will continue for most of next week.” Sorry, Iceland.

(Source: The Guardian)

HIV vaccine human trials leave scientists 'cautiously pleased'

Researchers urge cautious optimism as experimental treatment moves on to next stage of testing

Scientists are cautiously optimistic after a trial HIV vaccine showed promising results in initial tests on humans.

A study published in medical journal The Lancet examined the effects of the vaccine in 393 test subjects, who were chosen from 12 HIV clinics in East Africa, South Africa, Thailand and the US.

Seven groups were given different combinations of the vaccine, while one group was administered with a placebo.

All subjects who received a vaccine responded by producing some form of immune response against HIV during the course of testing.

A side-study carried out by researchers tested strains of the vaccine on rhesus monkeys for resistance against the simian-human immunodeficiency virus, a disease similar to HIV that affects monkeys.

The most effective vaccine combination was found to protect 67 per cent of monkeys used in the trial against the virus.

Close to 37 million people worldwide are thought to be living with either HIV or Aids, of which more than two million are children ( AFP )
As the tests were deemed successful, a second round of trials is now taking place on a group of 2,600 women in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr Dan H Barouch, a principal investigator on the study and a professor at Harvard Medical School, said he was “pleased” with the research, but urged the results should be treated with caution.

“I would say that we are pleased with these data so far, but we have to interpret the data cautiously,” he told CNN.

“We have to acknowledge that developing an HIV vaccine is an unprecedented challenge, and we will not know for sure whether this vaccine will protect humans.”

Close to 37 million people worldwide are thought to be living with either HIV or Aids, of which more than two million are children.

According to UNAIDS, the joint United Nations programme on HIV and AIDS, an estimated 1.8 million people worldwide become newly infected with the virus each year – roughly 5,000 new cases every day.

Although HIV treatments have become exponentially better since the disease was officially identified in the early 1980s, a vaccine has proved elusive.

Prep, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, can prevent HIV being transferred sexually between partners, with experts suggesting it could prevent one in four cases.

However, the drug must be taken regularly, unlike a vaccine, in order to prevent the user contracting the virus.

(Source: The Independent)

'Allo princess: is Meghan Markle acquiring a British accent?

A video of the duchess speaking to well-wishers is evidence that her accent is evolving, but how long does it normally take for you to lose your accent?

When a video of the Duchess of Sussex greeting the public surfaced this week, America’s greatest fear was confirmed: the duchess has gained a British accent. It’s a subtle difference, but one can detect a hint of the Queen’s English in the duchess’s intonation.

“You can hear some sounds changing, yes,” confirms speech and dialect coach John Fleming. “Some examples can be heard in her R sounds at the end of syllables. In recent clips, those Rs are lighter than the typical general American accent. She is also using the British English vowel normally heard in the word ‘thought’ in the phrase ‘We all had a nice day’, in the word ‘all’.”
People changing accents is often criticised as a sign of inauthenticity. Madonna, for example, was ridiculed when she started talking like her former husband Guy Ritchie. But dialect coach Pamela Vanderway explains that a change in accent is unavoidable when you start life in a new country.

“It’s absolutely normal for a human being to take on the accent of the people around them when they want to belong to that group,” she tells me on the phone from Los Angeles. “Accents are one of the ways human beings identify as being part of a group. [In] Meghan’s situation, she is representing the royal family, so she’s part of England. So there’s a particular pull for her to take on that way of speaking [and] she may or may not be taking it on consciously.”

 Meghan, Duchess of Sussex meets guests during the Your Commonwealth Youth Challenge reception at Marlborough House. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images
She says even the idea of a single royal enunciation is a misconception. “Prince Charles himself, if you look up his first television interview ever, his accent has changed,” she says. “Speech is a living thing. It’s not locked down.”

Which makes sense when you recall Lindsay Lohan’s bizarre new accent, debuted after spending time in Turkey, or Charlize Theron’s gradual shredding of her Afrikaans drawl. According to Vanderway, it’s a fast way to fit in or to declare: “I’m with my people.”

But that’s also why the recent duchess revelation has left those of us in North America puzzled as to her new dialect – we feel left behind. (Or maybe more specifically, “What, you think you’re better than me?”) “There’s very much of a cultural identity thing and what [accents] signify,” she says. “And then we have that other layer of experience, that if someone’s leaving our group and hear them change, we get nervous. My own mother acted like I smelled funny because I talked differently after college.”

Plus, there’s the matter of the duchess being a trained actor. “She likely has had to work in accents before, British or otherwise. This means that her mouth is a little bit more malleable, and so – in the same way that you might pick up a bit of southern US accent on a trip to Georgia – she has picked up some British English sounds after being immersed in the culture and surrounded by various UK accents.”

So even if the duchess begins to sound more British, it’s not a question of abandoning her California dialect, but more a willingness to adapt and to belong with her new family.

And that means we needn’t worry about the duchess rejecting us, because like us, she’s just learning to adapt.

“Do you know how many accents there are on the planet?” Vanderway asks me before we hang up. “Exactly as many people there are.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Conjuring spirits in Florida

In Sarasota, there is a community surrounding a litany of roadside psychics and more than 100 mediums and spiritual guides. Why?

On a recent Sunday, Phyllis Town, 66, and more than 40 congregants rotated in and out of Sunday service at the Sarasota Center of Light, founded 68 years ago as a nondenominational church that wed Christianity and metaphysical spirituality, and where all ministers are mediums, to receive their own individual “vibrational healings.”
Phyllis Town, associate minister and board member of the Sarasota Center of Light, receives
a vibrational healing from Reverend Jim Toole at the Center of Light on Tuesday afternoon.
Michael Adno for The New York Times

The stained glass window of the sanctuary at the Sarasota Center of Light.
Michael Adno for The New York Times
With Ms. Town seated, Rev. Jim Toole, 60, took a breath, closed his eyes and positioned his hands just above the top of her head.  For about 10 minutes, Reverend Toole moved his hands around Ms. Town’s upper torso and head mere inches from her face, careful not to touch her. As she sat silently, carefully breathing, he explained that he was channeling energy. When Reverend Toole was finished, he softly whispered in Ms. Town’s ear as a grin stretched across her face.

“I come here because it’s the only time I get touched,” a woman told Ms. Town during one session.

The sentiment of missing someone’s touch resonated with Ms. Town, whose husband “transitioned,” because “it never occurred to me that I was going through that as a widow.” Nearly six years ago, in the wake of his death, she devoted herself to the Center entirely.

The Sarasota Center of Light, formerly the Shrine of the Master Church. The church's former symbol is still visible on the exterior of the sanctuary facing Tuttle Avenue.CreditMichael Adno for The New York Times
Reverend Toole and Ms. Town are part of a dense spiritual constellation concentrated among two neighboring cities, Sarasota and Bradenton in Florida, that also encompasses the Spirit University, a litany of roadside psychics and more than 100 mediums and spiritual guides. Unlike other American spiritual outcrops like Lily Dale, N.Y., and Cassadaga, Fla., Sarasota wasn’t founded as a spiritual community. And its wealth of spiritualists isn’t billed as an attraction.

As Americans search for means to cope with loss, and even though interest has grown immensely in the past century, the stigma of fortunetelling fraud, psychic scams and skepticism still haunts the practice.

“I thought I was a witch,” said Ms. Town, who is an associate minister at the Sarasota Center of Light. “Spirits would come to me — dead relatives and things like that.” It took the community in Sarasota to bring her out of her shell.  And like any community, Town’s story demonstrates the value of a room full of people on any given day, the kinship, the warmth, the sense of being less alone in the world.

A cabinet used for the practice of physical, trance, among other forms of mediumship
by mediums and psychics at the Sarasota Center of Light. Only certain members of the
Center are granted access to this part of the campus.
Michael Adno for The New York Times

Here, the remnants of a medium’s trance are scrawled on the cabinet walls.
Michael Adno for The New York Times
Siesta Key’s public beach, lauded as America's Number 1 beach by Dr. Beach in 2011 and 2017, in part because of its finely textured white sand.CreditMichael Adno for The New York Times
As a native, I’ve heard stories about Sarasota’s energy grids, vortexes, a Calusa force field that prevents hurricanes and the 99-percent quartz-crystal sand at Siesta Key. All of it helps draw the metaphysical community. “You don’t move to Sarasota; you’re called,” a man told me. When I was growing up, the string of roadside psychics along Route 41 was as omnipresent as the car dealerships and pawn shops with their neon signs burning late into the night. It is where many psychics live and work today. In retrospect, it seemed absurd not to be more aware of the deep spiritual community here straddling the line between the physical and metaphysical worlds, but throughout my childhood, it was unclear what was simply Southern lore or if Sarasota truly held spiritual significance, what was real and what many deemed a “scam.”

Nationally, Americans increasingly consider themselves “spiritual but not religious,” according to a Pew Research Center survey, a metric that spiked to 27 percent from 19 percent in the last five years. While American spiritualism is often depicted as rooted in Native American, Caribbean, Latin American or African cultures, spiritualists today span a vast racial spectrum, and Southwest Florida represents a mere sliver of the broader spiritual diaspora.

Among the earliest evidence of a metaphysical adviser in Sarasota was on January 18, 1912, in the Sarasota Times, when advertisements for a tropical tree nursery and farm seed flanked the first mention of a “Clairvoyant Palmist" by the name of Princess Gladys. The ad appeared once a week for a month then vanished. That same year, John and Mable Ringling of the Ringling Circus bought their home along Sarasota Bay and in 1927 would  move the Circus’ headquarters to Sarasota. A slew of fortunetellers and palm readers followed.

In the 1930s, the word “psychic” was mentioned in Sarasota newspapers 116 times. By the 1970s, it appeared 1,555 times over that decade.

A collection of bells within the chapel at the Sarasota Center of Light that are used
by mediums and to teach the practice of mediumship.
Michael Adno for The New York Times
Many of the bells belong to the founder of the Sarasota Center of Light,
Reverend Dorothy Flexer, as well as two of the three trumpets, with one
belonging to Reverend Jim Toole. Above the table, two photographs
depict Russell Flexer, left, and Reverend Dorothy Flexer.
Michael Adno for The New York Times
Catherine Rosenbaum followed her parents south when they retired from Philadelphia to Longboat Key in Sarasota. After a divorce in 2008, she turned to the stars, culling  numerology, astrology and intuition to make a living as a reader, or as she would say, “a reflector.”

“The angels filled my books,” she said.

At 13, Ms. Rosenbaum would trace the constellations with her finger outside her home in Philadelphia. She took so strongly to the night sky that at 14, her mother would take her for weekly lessons with an astrologer after school. Ms. Rosenbaum, 64, has been a full-time medium for 10 years, but  noted, “I was born like that.” She added: “I always felt what everybody else was feeling, but I never had a sense of myself.”

An entrance to the healing garden at the Sarasota Center of Light.CreditMichael Adno for The New York Times
Now she does readings seven times a month at a shop called Elysian Fields in central Sarasota. While she often meets with private clients in person, much of her time is devoted to phone readings with people as far away as Taiwan.

As for the process, “it’s not something I can explain,” Ms. Rosenbaum said. She starts with someone’s name and birth date and uses numerology, astrology and symbol-based systems; then she enters her clients’ auric field (a descriptor for the layers of energy that surrounds the body and correspond to chakras as stated), allowing their energy to envelop her. “Everything has information in it,” she explained, noting the presence of their fears, traumas and desires. “There’s no hiding.”

Catherine Rosenbaum, 64, a reflector and medium based in Sarasota who followed her parents here after they retired from Philadelphia.CreditMichael Adno for The New York Times
Ms. Rosenbaum believes that most people are looking for peace in their lives — whether it’s the courage to take risks, pursue a dream or just fend for themselves. She and other mediums try to teach people to “stop living like other people.”

“I’m more evolved,” said Ondrej Zouhar, 37, a client. In 2017, he moved to Sarasota and began to see Ms. Rosenbaum regularly. He said he felt pressure to find fame and be perceived as wealthy, but with Ms. Rosenbaum as a guide, he felt like he could finally trust himself, and the external pressure fell away.

Ultimately, it comes down to listening — a prosaic pursuit with profound outcomes: “It’s a beautiful thing to watch people become themselves.”

A moribund tree trunk sits next to farm equipment as the sun sets.
In Myakka City, a litany of ranches marches East from Sarasota harkening back
to the area’s agrarian roots before palmetto bundles gave way to lawns.
Michael Adno for The New York Times

Parking at a roadside psychic along US 41 in Bradenton, Fla.
Michael Adno for The New York Times
Victoria Ackerman, 57, the founder of Spirit University, echoed Ms. Rosenbaum’s sentiment of becoming oneself. After abruptly coming off the drug  Cymbalta, prescribed for the pain and depression associated with fibromyalgia, she found herself in an emergency room. “All of a sudden, everything stopped,” she remembers.

In what she calls her “near-death experience,” Ms. Ackerman made a promise to herself to recalibrate  her life’s compass.

It began with a book, “Dream Healer” by Adam McLeod, a self-published memoir about a proposed connection between hard science and forms of healing that aren't taken seriously by the western medical community.

Victoria Ackerman, 57, founder of the Spirit University, on the grounds of the Ringling Museum along Sarasota Bay. CreditMichael Adno for The New York Times
After devouring it and others, she began practicing Reiki. With clients, she said, visions would come to her as if she were sitting in front of a movie screen. At first, she shrugged them off but as the visions returned, she began to poke around online about psychic development.

Piece by piece, she assembled a curriculum.

In 2011, Ms. Ackerman began holding classes in a vacant storefront in the Gulf Gate neighborhood  — the soft opening of the Spirit University. Devoted to the teaching of mediumship, the school offers classes including Tarot and telepathy. According to Ms. Ackerman, more than 10,000 students have enrolled in classes according to records she keeps since the Spirit University was founded.

A large classroom is filled with chairs at The Spirit University, an institution founded in
2011, devoted to the teaching of mediumship and the development of psychic ability.
Michael Adno for The New York Times

A palm reader sign along US 41 in Bradenton, Fla.
Michael Adno for The New York Times
“I felt safe in that environment,” said Elodie Tarantino, 45, a practicing medium. She said the university provided a space where no one  was ridiculed or felt abnormal.
Ms. Ackerman often encounters skeptics who suggest that mediums are nothing but roadside frauds. She said that the program’s key is its focus on providing evidence, details and validation —  specific information like names of those who have died or details from their past — in order to gain a client’s trust. The sweet spot is for a medium to offer six pieces of evidence for a reading of three to six minutes, and 30 pieces for an hourlong private reading. “That’s my litmus test to whether I’m myself connected, and for the client to know that you’re truly connected.”

Ms. Tarantino said of Ms. Ackerman’s ability: “She shows me she is connected.” She added that when it comes to communicating with those  outside the physical world, “that connection needs to be proved.” 

A psychic shop along Route 41 in Bradenton, Fla.CreditMichael Adno for The New York Times
“I don’t go with the intent of proving life after death,” Ms. Ackerman explained. “I’m not here to do battle with anyone’s belief system.”

For her,  sustained engagement with questions of love, death, mortality and identity imbue her life with meaning. “It teaches me to be much more understanding and empathetic to others, as well as myself.”

Ms. Ackerman notes that clients lean toward bigger questions like how to find peace or love. “How can I best improve my life?” is the main question. While many  come for personal or professional validation,  the vast majority come for closure.

Salt crystal lamps line the edge of a room used for Yoga classes at the Power of One,
a shop in Venice, Fla., that offers a variety of spiritual outlets such as readings.
Michael Adno for The New York Times

Sherry Lord, 57, a psychic, moved to the Sarasota area following a divorce when
she began to practice mediumship full-time.
Michael Adno for The New York Times
Barbara Leighton, 68, did. After her husband died, she looked for ways to keep the thread between them intact. “It’s just a connection I miss having with him,” she said. By using mediums like Ms. Ackerman as a conduit, “I feel like I’m having a conversation with him,” she adds.

Ms. Ackerman said she believes that most people cannot see energy or spirits because modern culture is saturated with scientific pragmatism. But for those willing to consider what lies beyond the physical perception of the world, “it’s there,” she says.

Palm readers and psychics punctuate the litany of car dealers, auto parts stores, gas stations and restaurants that line Route 41. Credit Michael Adno for The New York Times
(Source: NYT)