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USA Fertility Rate Hits Historic Low

The United States is in the midst of what some worry is a baby crisis. The number of women giving birth has been declining for years and just hit a historic low. If the trend continues — and experts disagree on whether it will — the country could face economic and cultural turmoil.

According to provisional 2016 population data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, the number of births fell 1 percent from a year earlier, bringing the general fertility rate to 62.0 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. The trend is being driven by a decline in birthrates for teens and 20-somethings. The birthrate for women in their 30s and 40s increased — but not enough to make up for the lower numbers in their younger peers.

A country’s birthrate is among the most important measures of demographic health. The number needs to be within a certain range, called the “replacement level,” to keep a population stable so that it neither grows nor shrinks. If too low, there’s a danger that we wouldn’t be able to replace the aging workforce and have enough tax revenue to keep the economy stable. Countries such as France and Japan that have low birthrates have put pro-family policies into place to try to encourage couples to have babies. The flip side can also be a problem. Birthrates that are too high can strain resources such as clean water, food, shelter and social services, problems faced by India, where the fertility rate has fallen over the past few decades but still remains high.

The debate now is about whether the United States is headed toward a “national emergency,” as some have feared, or whether this is a blip and the birthrate will level off soon.

“It’s about millennials,” says Donna M. Strobino, a professor of population, family and reproductive health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Those supposedly entitled young adults with fragile egos born in the 2000s who live in their parents’ basements and hop from job-to-job — it turns out they’re also much less likely to have babies, at least so far. Some experts think millennials are just postponing parenthood while others fear they’re choosing not to have children at all.

Strobino is among those who is optimistic and sees hope in the data. She points out that the fall in birthrates in teens — an age when many pregnancies tend to be unplanned — is something we want and that the highest birthrates are now among women 25 to 34 years of age.

“What this is is a trend of women becoming more educated and more mature. I’m not sure that’s bad,” she explained. Indeed, as fertility treatments have extended the age of childbearing, the birthrates among women who are age 40 to 44 are also rising.

William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, points out that despite the recent decline, the U.S. fertility rate still remains relatively high compared to many other developed countries like Germany and Italy. The United States also still has more births than deaths. And we still have a growing labor force. All these things mean, he said, “I don’t think that’s cause for alarm.”

Frey attributed the decline in birthrates to a women’s “lifestyle” choice as well as the fact the economy has been in a funk. Times of economic downturn or uncertainty tend to cause a drop in birthrates, but when things turn around they tend to bounce back in a kind of catch-up period.

“Every year I say when the economy is getting better then we’ll start having more children,” he said, “and I’m still expecting that to happen.”

Troubles Atop Everest

Tragedy and a troubling mystery have enveloped Mount Everest as the mountain’s climbing season reaches its peak. The bodies of three Indian climbers were retrieved Sunday amid reports that climbers were being jeopardized by the disappearance of oxygen bottles. The two situations have not been linked at this time.

The bodies of Ravi Kumar, who died last weekend, and Paresh Chandra Nath and Gautam Ghosh, who died last year on the mountain, were brought down after being recovered by Sherpa guides near the summit. They were taken by a helicopter from a camp at a lower elevation to Kathmandu for autopsy.

“I can finally take my brother’s body home for cremation to bring peace to all our family,” said Debashish Ghosh, Gautam Ghosh’s brother.

The window for reaching the summit closes as May ends and conditions deteriorate. With the possibility of a successful climb becoming slimmer, there are reports that oxygen is disappearing. Mountain Guide Nima Tenji Sherpa has been quoted saying “It is becoming a serious issue up there. I kept on hearing from expedition groups that their oxygen bottles had disappeared and that could be life-threatening–particularly when they have used up what they are carrying on their way up and they are still not on the summit yet, or they plan to use the stocked bottles on their way back down.”

While it’s possible to summit Everest without oxygen, it’s not recommended for most climbers because of the mountain’s extreme elevation. Soaring some 5.5 miles above sea level, Everest’s air at its peak can’t sustain life for more than a few hours. Without extensive training, lack of oxygen can bring on serious frostbite, as well as a condition called hypoxia that affects the brain, causing headaches, hallucinations and eventually death.

The first group of climbers summited the mountain on May 15 and it didn’t take long for reports of the suspected thefts to come in.

Everest Expedition leader Tim Mosedale expressed his experience on social media, saying: “Another seven bottles of Oxygen have gone missing from our supply–this time from The South Col.” South Col is the location of one of Everest’s final camps before the summit.

Mosedale referenced the high number of “failed summit bids,” as well as the five fatalities happening on the mountain so far this year, noting he wouldn’t be surprised if the oxygen was taken to help those out in immediate need, but that he wished “people would let us know.”

“No one in their right mind would withhold previous oxygen from any team/climber having difficulties. But if those difficulties are as a result of their own oversight or lack of sufficient supply, it’s a difficult situation to reconcile — especially when it potentially affects the success or otherwise of our own team,” he continued. “Indeed, as I’ve mentioned before, lack of sufficient oxygen can easily develop into a life-threatening situation.”

This isn’t the first year that climbers have seen their oxygen go missing. Last year, at least two climbers complained of thefts. The problem has now become so commonplace this year that the Nepal National Mountain Guides Association called it “a trend”.

“Because of such incidents, climbers have had to return without reaching the summit, because when you learn that you no more have the life-saving bottles, the first thing you want to do is get back to the base camp,” said the group’s general secretary, Phurba Namgyal Sherpa.

No one has been caught stealing the bottles, nor do there appear to be any suspects, according to authorities.

Old Mastadon Bones Hold New Clues About Human Activity

WHEN did the first human beings arrive in the Americas? Though there are arguments about the details, the consensus is that it was around 15,000 years ago, when retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age permitted travelers from Asia to cross what is now the Bering strait but was then dry land. This makes sense. The evidence suggests that, recent migrants from Africa and their progeny aside, people now alive in Asia, Australia, Europe and the Americas are descended from a handful of Africans who left the continent of their birth about 70,000 years ago. This fits nicely with the conventional date for America’s colonization, by giving time for the heirs of these African émigrés to make it to eastern Asia, ready for the hop to the New World when conditions permitted.

The remains of a 130,000-year-old mastodon found in southern California show signs of being bashed by humans around the time of its demise. The discovery is amazing because, until now, it was believed that the first humans to migrate over an ancient land bridge from Asia to North America showed up only about 15,000 years ago.

The fossil site was discovered in San Diego County during a freeway construction project all the way back in 1992. The ancient animal’s bones, tusks and teeth had been broken and buried along with large stones that appear to have been used by someone as hammers and anvils to do the breaking.

“This poses quite a puzzle,” says Dr. Tom Deméré from the San Diego Natural History Museum. “The remains of this mastodon were found in a silt layer and geological processes that would deposit silt are not going to be depositing or carrying rocks of this size… what makes sense to us, although it’s out there, is the hypothesis suggesting that humans brought these rocks to the site.”

“This discovery is rewriting our understanding of when humans reached the New World. The evidence we found at this site indicates that some hominin species was living in North America 115,000 years earlier than previously thought,” said Judy Gradwohl, president and CEO of the San Diego Natural History Museum, in a release.

But the conclusion that some broken mastodon bones are a clear indication of human activity in North America millennia ahead of the more generally understood migration schedule is being met with some skepticism.

“Until we actually find a skeleton at this site or at the site of a comparable age in the Americas, it’s all open to speculation and we just don’t know,” says John McNabb of the University of Southampton.

In a conference call with reporters, lead author Dr. Steve Holen from the Center for American Paleolithic Research, said he’s confident that the surrounding geology of the site, the placement of the apparent tools and the way the bones were broken all point to a human presence. His team went so far as to use similar rock tools on comparable elephant bones to see if they broke in the same way.

“It is understandable that it may be difficult to get your head around the nature of this evidence,” added co-author Richard Fullagar from the University of Wollongong. “But Steve is absolutely right…the evidence is incontrovertible.”

If there were human ancestors in North America ten times earlier than previously thought, it brings up many more questions. Exactly who were they? Where did they come from? Why is there a 100,000 year gap in the evidence we’ve found for their existence? And of course, where the heck did they go?

The scientists behind the discovery concede that they have no solid answers for these big questions just yet. But if the findings hold up, we may need to revise the accepted answer to the question of just how long we’ve been wandering around the “New World,” which suddenly seems a little less new.

Mount Etna Suddenly Erupts; Injures 10

Mount Etna makes her presence felt once again.

It comes as little surprise as Mount Etna is Europe’s largest and most active volcano. It’s also been weeks since she has been sending up plumes of glowing red lava and ash that could be seen for miles around.

Early Thursday, it let off a monstrous boom. Volcanic rocks and steam from the eruption injured around 10 people who had been on the mountain to presumably capture the event.

The rest of the BBC television crew narrowly escaped serious injury but in effect, captured one of the most dramatic videos of Mount Etna’s eruption.

The crew, along with a number of tourists, were drawn in to Sicily to observe the pending eruption but were caught off guard when the flowing magma hit thick snow–causing a massive explosion that caused rock and other material to rain down upon them. One of which was Rebecca Morelle, a BBC science reporter on the scene, happened to live tweet the event itself.

“Running down a mountain pelted by rocks, dodging burning boulders and boiling steam–not an experience I ever want to repeat.”

“BBC team all ok–some cuts/bruises and burns. Very shaken though–it was extremely scary.”

Morelle had mentioned a medical team had logged around eight injuries, all minor, and that the majority of the BBC crew was relatively unharmed. Emergency authorities had reported the additional injuries at a later time. Morelle also expressed how the explosion and the event of having to run was “a reminder of how dangerous [and] unpredictable volcanoes can be.”

Later, in the safety of her hotel, Morelle even went to to post a photo of a camera operator showing her coat which had a big hole burned through by “a lump of rock”.

As it turns out, Mount Etna’s eruption was an event that could be captured from space. The European Space Agency posted an image of the explosion.

It is to be noted that the snow has been processed into blue in order to distinguish it from the clouds.

Local authorities had expressed that around 35 tourists were in an area where they had permission to be at when the explosion occurred midday. The guides who had accompanied them helped bring them to safety. The president of the Italian Alpine Club chapter in Catania, Umberto Marino, was traveling up the volcano in a snowcat when injured people started running in his direction.

“The material thrown into the air fell back down, striking the heads and bodies of people who were closest,” he was quoted saying to the local media.

Mount Etna was quiet for a few years then burst into life around February with repeated explosive eruptions that sent orange plumes of lava into the air. The more recent eruption was the result of a so-called phreatomagmatic eruption, caused by magma hitting water (in this case, snow).

Officials at Sicily’s Catania airport announced that they would reduce arrivals by half to five flights an hour due to the ash clouds. Meanwhile, departures would continue on as previously scheduled.

Italy’s Volcanology Institute said it is going to continue to monitor the volcano.

A Majority of Germany’s Gold Returns Home

It was about three days ago when Germany’s central bank moved $13 billion worth of gold bars from New York to Frankfurt. This is part of Germany’s plant to return around half of the gold reserves it keeps abroad. This plan was started on 2013.

Germany’s gold route was from New York to Paris, and finally back at Germany. At this time, around 642 tons of gold have been successfully transferred back to Germany. The latest transfer that occurred had transferred about 330 tons of gold. All this was kept in the New York Federal Reserve, a deep subterranean vault which lies on the bedrock of Manhattan Island. Naturally, the bank will not say how it moves the gold.

The current transfer will be completed once the final 100 tons of gold is returned to Germany through Paris. Germany’s central bank has declared that it has been bringing home its gold to help build public “trust and confidence”.

Historically speaking, this is a big indicator of the climate and confidence of the German government. They once moved their gold reserves out of their home territory and into the New York vault out of fear that the Soviets would gain control of the gold. This fear was most flagrant during the Cold war. The central bank also used to keep gold in Paris as a protective measure that would enable them swiftly exchange international currency in states of emergency.

It was shortly after World War II that Germany was actively rebuilding its gold reserves. It was primarily the fear of Soviet invasion that had them keep their reserves abroad even after the price of the dollar was decoupled from the cost of gold.

In the years in which the gold was kept overseas, there were rumors and theories that run amok. It was said that Germany had lost the gold or wherever it was, it was compromised. This issue eventually made its mark upon mainstream politics and the German Federal Court of Auditors demanded for an inspection of foreign gold reserves in 2012.

In light of this, the central bank issued a statement that they were receiving annual updates from foreign central banks where the gold was being stored. It was the year after this that the central bank had announced that they would bring half of their gold reserves home to Frankfurt. In 2015, the Bundesbank released a 2,300-page list of gold bars–an attempt to soothe the publish and ease any other speculation that some of the gold may not even be there. The bank further promised increased transparency.

Germany will store its remaining reserves in London and New York–these are places where they could be swiftly exchanged for pounds or dollars in the event of economic emergency. The repatriation of its gold reserves will continue until half of its gold is stored–it is projected that this will occur by the end of 2017. The original projected completion was 2020.

Once complete, the Bundesbank will keep 1,236 tonnes in New York, 432 tons in London, and the rest in Frankfurt.

Meryl Streep’s 2017 Golden Globes Speech: “Disrespect invites disrespect”

Once more, Meryl Streep catches the attention of the world. In the 2017 Golden Globes Awards Ceremony held in Beverly Hills, California. Streep had won the Cecil B DeMille Award which is given to those with outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment. She made use of her acceptance speech to call out the President-Elect of the United States without having to name him for his impression of a disabled journalist that shocked all the world back in November 2015.

Her speech is as follows:

I love you all. You have to forgive me, I have lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend and I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year so I have to read.

Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said, you and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments of American society right now. Thing about it: Hollywood, foreigners, and the press.  But who are we and, you know, what is Hollywood, anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey, Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Fall, R.I. Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio, Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Veneto, Italy and Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates?

And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ehtiopia, raised in Lon–no, in Ireland, I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a small-town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London and is here playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners and if we kick them all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

They give me three seconds to say this, so. An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many, powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, compassionate work. But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank hooks in my heart, not because it was good, it was–there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth.

It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege and power and the capacity to fight back. It, it kind of broke my heart when I saw it and I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.

Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose. Ok, go on with that thing. Ok, this brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage. That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood foreign press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists, ’cause we’re going to need them going forward and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

One more thing. Once when I was standing around the set one day, whining about something, we were going to work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me: “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is. And we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight. As my, as my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once: “Take your broken heart, make it into art.”

Thank you, Foreign Press.

Her words reached a chord with all those in attendance and gave the actress a standing ovation at the end of her speech.