First-grade public school teacher’s ‘daily Bible verse’ angers parents in Texas district

By Brandon Mulder

Parents of students in a Texas public school district have taken issue with an online video a first-grade teacher showing her class repeating Bible verses, apparently in violation of a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down school-sponsored Bible readings and prayer.

The video, which was posted to Facebook on Nov. 1 by Susan Schobel, a teacher at Brown Primary School in the Smithville Independent School District, shows her classroom sitting in a circle repeating Romans 12:9-10.

“Start your day with a good Bible verse and life just seems better!!” Schobel wrote in the video’s caption. “This is our daily Bible verse.”

The video was removed several days later, but not before a copy was saved by at least one parent and shared with the Smithville Times newspaper.

“This is not okay,” wrote Ashley Nicole, who has a child at Brown Primary, in a letter to the school district. “I am truly shocked. I am concerned about how this is getting handled.”

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Activists take aim at anti-LGBTQ ‘hate group,’ Alliance Defending Freedom

By Julie Compton

Surrounded by the skyscrapers that tower over Times Square, a new billboard went up this week that in large black letters reads: “NO GAYS ALLOWED.” Just below, a smaller message states: “STOP Alliance Defending Freedom. Learn more at NoGays.org.”

The billboard is part of a new campaign that aims to draw attention to the conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF, which has been labeled an anti-LGBTQ “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a designation the group disputes. Since its founding nearly 25 years ago, ADF has been linked to efforts seeking to criminalize homosexuality, restrict transgender people’s access to sex-segregated facilities and permit businesses to deny service to LGBTQ people.

Caleb Cade, a spokesman for Citizens for Transparency, the advocacy group behind the campaign, said the powerful nonprofit law group has fought for years to undermine lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights, often behind the scenes.

“We want to remind people that there are still really insidious forces at work against our community,” Cade told NBC News. “ADF has been leading that war for a long time, with tens of millions of dollars to do it.”

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The Catholic Church is embroiled in a hell of its own making

By Elizabeth Bruenig

In ancient Rome, the gates of hell were always open — a wise rendering of the inferno. “The gates of hell are open night and day; smooth the descent, and easy is the way,” the poet Virgil’s oracle tells his hero Aeneas, “But to return, and view the cheerful skies — in this the task and mighty labor lies.” For most, the effort of escape was too extreme — though an exemplary soul, such as Aeneas, could sometimes make it back to the land of the living if they possessed appropriate courage and willpower.

How little the Eternal City changes. Contemporary Rome now finds itself embroiled in a hell much of its own making, and its gates are wide-open — if anyone has the moral fortitude to simply walk out.

The events at this week’s meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore haven’t given much cause for confidence. The main subject of the convention was set to be the sex abuse crisis, which has roiled the church anew since this summer’s revelations concerning Pennsylvania and disgraced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The bishops had planned to vote on “concrete measures to respond to the abuse crisis,” but Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the conference president, was informed the night before the meeting that the Vatican had decreed there would be no such vote.

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Blasphemy Laws: An Excuse for Persecution

By The NYT Editorial Board

It is good news that Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted and freed a Pakistani Christian woman who had already spent eight years on death row for blasphemy. In a 56-page ruling, the three justices said Asia Bibi, a farmworker in her early 50s, was the victim of mob justice aroused by unsubstantiated claims of what she said about the Prophet Muhammad in an exchange with women angry that she had sipped water from a cup used by Muslims.

Though the trial was a farce, overturning it took courage. In 2011, the governor of Punjab Province, Salman Taseer, who had campaigned for Ms. Bibi’s release and for changes in the blasphemy laws, was shot and killed by his bodyguard. Two months later, the minister of minorities, the sole Christian in the Pakistani government, who had also called for the changes, was killed. The announcement of the Supreme Court ruling on Oct. 31 set off protests across Pakistan and a warning from Islamist firebrands that the justices were risking death. Ms. Bibi has been in hiding since her release and may have to flee Pakistan.

But this is not a story about the triumph of tolerance over antiquated law. Ms. Bibi was freed not because the court found that the blasphemy law violated her rights or was in any other way inherently wrong, but because the trial was flawed. Blasphemy, broadly defined as speaking insultingly about God or religion, remains a capital crime in Pakistan and illegal in many other lands, in the East and the West.

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Using the Telephone Game to Teach Natural Selection

 

[VIDEO] The Classic Phone Tree Game demonstrates Change over Time

 

The Classic Phone Tree Game demonstrates Change over Time (Activity Doc) (DOCX)

‘Reprogrammed’ stem cells implanted into patient with Parkinson’s disease

By David Cyranoski

Japanese neurosurgeons have implanted ‘reprogrammed’ stem cells into the brain of a patient with Parkinson’s disease for the first time.

The condition is only the second for which a therapy has been trialled using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which are developed by reprogramming the cells of body tissues such as skin so that they revert to an embryonic-like state, from which they can morph into other cell types.

Scientists at Kyoto University use the technique to transform iPS cells into precursors to the neurons that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. A shortage of neurons producing dopamine in people with Parkinson’s disease can lead to tremors and difficulty walking.

In October, neurosurgeon Takayuki Kikuchi at Kyoto University Hospital implanted 2.4 million dopamine precursor cells into the brain of a patient in his 50s. In the three-hour procedure, Kikuchi’s team deposited the cells into 12 sites, known to be centres of dopamine activity. Dopamine precursor cells have been shown to improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in monkeys.

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Gravitational waves from a merged hyper-massive neutron star

By the Royal Astronomical Society

For the first time astronomers have detected gravitational waves from a merged, hyper-massive neutron star. The scientists, Maurice van Putten of Sejong University in South Korea, and Massimo della Valle of the Osservatorio Astronomico de Capodimonte in Italy, publish their results in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical SocietyLetters.

Gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity in 1915. The waves are disturbances in space time generated by rapidly moving masses, which propagate out from the source. By the time the waves reach the Earth, they are incredibly weak and their detection requires extremely sensitive equipment. It took scientists until 2016 to announce the first observation of  using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) detector.

Since that seminal result, gravitational waves have been detected on a further six occasions. One of these, GW170817, resulted from the merger of two stellar remnants known as . These objects form after  much more massive than the Sun explode as supernovae, leaving behind a core of material packed to extraordinary densities.

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Rubio cites Bible verse amid recount criticisms: ‘You cannot count what is not there’

By Emily Birnbaum

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Wednesday tweeted a Bible verse amid his criticism of the Florida recounts, writing, “You cannot count what is not there.”

“What is crooked cannot be made straight, and you cannot count what is not there. Ecclesiastes 1:15,” Rubio wrote.

Rubio, who frequently posts Bible passages, posted the quote as he continues to accuse Democrats of attempting to “steal” elections in Florida as the races for governor and Senate undergo recounts mandated by law.

Rubio for days has accused election officials and Democrats in Florida’s Broward and Palm Beach Counties of malign activity, sometimes without presenting evidence of these claims.

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The Trump administration’s anti-birth control agenda, explained

By Anna North

One day after the midterm elections, the Trump administration released final rules allowing employers to opt out of providing health insurance that covers birth control.

The administration has been chipping away at the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, which requires most employers to offer insurance that covers birth control, for more than a year. Under President Barack Obama, religious employers could already seek an exemption to the mandate.

But in October 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released interim rules allowing almost any employer, religious or not, to get an exemption. The final rules are essentially identical to the interim versions and are intended to be permanent, though they are likely to be challenged in court.

More broadly, HHS under President Donald Trump has made rollbacks of birth control coverage a core part of its agenda. These rollbacks have been “part of their plan to dismantle ACA from the very beginning,” Mary Alice Carter, executive director of Equity Forward, a reproductive rights watchdog group, told Vox.

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‘Invisible’ mice reveal anatomical secrets

By Sara Reardon

A new technique that makes dead mice transparent and hard like plastic is giving researchers an unprecedented view of how different types of cell interact in the body. The approach lets scientists pinpoint specific tissues within an animal while scanning its entire body.

The technique, called vDISCO, has already revealed surprising structural connections between organs, including hints about the extent to which brain injuries affect the immune system and nerves in other parts of the body. That could lead to better treatments for traumatic brain injury or stroke.

Methods that turn entire organs clear have become popular in the past few years, because they allow scientists to study delicate internal structures without disturbing them. But removing organs from an animal’s body for analysis can make it harder to see the full effect of an injury or disease. And if scientists use older methods to make an entire mouse transparent, it can be difficult to ensure that the fluorescent markers used to label cells reach the deepest parts of an organ.

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