Israeli Ultra-Orthodox Protesters Flee After Counter-Protesters Strip Down To Bras.
Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews clashed with police in Jerusalem over the weekend in protest of the Eurovision Song Contest final, which was held on Shabbat.
The impassioned crowd blocked Haneviim Street and stopped traffic on Saturday, The Times of Israel reported. Protesters attacked officers responding to the demonstration, and one was arrested.
Scores of police in Jerusalem backed up by officers on horseback trying to break up an ultra-Orthodox street protest Saturday got some help from an unexpected quarter — women who took their tops off, driving away the protesters, who are religiously forbidden from looking at them.
The protestors, shouting “Shabbes” in Yiddish, claimed the scheduling of the international contest was a “desecration” of the Jewish day of rest, the BBC reported. A small group of women held a counter-protest by taking off their shirts, revealing their bras and causing the protesters to go elsewhere. Orthodox Jews live by strict modesty codes and are forbidden from looking on immodestly-dressed women.
Eurovision was held in Tel Aviv this year. The final began after Shabbat ended at sundown, but preparation took place throughout the day.
Militia leader Ammon Bundy, famous for leading an armed standoff in Oregon, had a tender moment in November of last year. He recorded a Facebook post saying that perhaps President Trump’s characterization of the migrant caravan on the U.S.-Mexico border was somewhat broad. Maybe they weren’t all criminals, he said. “What about those who have come here for reasons of need?”
Bundy did not say he was breaking with Trump. He just asked his followers to put themselves in the shoes of “the fathers, the mothers, the children” who came to escape violence. It was a call for a truce grounded in empathy, the kind you might hear in a war zone, say, or an Easter Sunday sermon. Still, it was met with a swift and rageful response from his followers, so overwhelming that within days, Bundy decided to quit Facebook.
In an earlier era, Bundy’s appeal might have resonated. But he failed to tune in to a critical shift in American culture — one that a handful of researchers have been tracking, with some alarm, for the past decade or so. Americans these days seem to be losing their appetite for empathy, especially the walk-a-mile-in-someone’s-shoes Easter Sunday morning kind.
When I was growing up in the ’70s, empathy was all the rage. The term was coined in 1908; then, social scientists and psychologists started more aggressively pushing the concept into the culture after World War II, basically out of fear. The idea was that we were all going to kill each other with nuclear weapons — or learn to see the world through each other’s eyes. In my elementary school in the 1970s, which was not progressive or mushy in any way, we wrote letters to pretend Russian pen pals to teach us to open our hearts to our enemies.
And not just enemies. Civil rights activists had also picked up on the idea. Kenneth Clark, a social scientist and civil rights activist, half-jokingly proposed that people in power all be required to take an “empathy pill” so they could make better decisions. His hope was that people with power and privilege would one day inhabit the realities of people without power, not from the safe, noblesse oblige distance of pity, but from the inside. An evolved person was an empathetic person, choosing understanding over fear.
Then, more than a decade ago, a certain suspicion of empathy started to creep in, particularly among young people. One of the first people to notice was Sara Konrath, an associate professor and researcher at Indiana University. Since the late 1960s, researchers have surveyed young people on their levels of empathy, testing their agreement with statements such as: “It’s not really my problem if others are in trouble and need help” or “Before criticizing somebody I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in their place.”
Konrath collected decades of studies and noticed a very obvious pattern. Starting around 2000, the line starts to slide. More students say it’s not their problem to help people in trouble, not their job to see the world from someone else’s perspective. By 2009, on all the standard measures, Konrath found, young people on average measure 40 percent less empathetic than my own generation — 40 percent!
It’s strange to think of empathy – a natural human impulse — as fluctuating in this way, moving up and down like consumer confidence. But that’s what happened. Young people just started questioning what my elementary school teachers had taught me.
Their feeling was: Why should they put themselves in the shoes of someone who was not them, much less someone they thought was harmful? In fact, cutting someone off from empathy was the positive value, a way to make a stand.
So, for example, when the wife of white nationalist Richard Spencer recently told BuzzFeed he had abused her, the question debated on the lefty Internet was: Why should we care that some woman who chose to ally herself with a nasty racist got herself hurt? Why waste empathy on that? (Spencer, in a court filing, denies all her allegations.)
The new rule for empathy seems to be: reserve it, not for your “enemies,” but for the people you believe are hurt, or you have decided need it the most. Empathy, but just for your own team. And empathizing with the other team? That’s practically a taboo.
And it turns out that this brand of selective empathy is a powerful force.
In the past 20 years, psychologists and neurologists have started to look at how empathy actually works, in our brains and our hearts, when we’re not thinking about it. And one thing they’ve found is that “one of the strongest triggers for human empathy is observing some kind of conflict between two other parties,” says Fritz Breithaupt, a professor at Indiana University who studies empathy. “Once they take the side, they’re drawn into that perspective. And that can lead to very strong empathy and too strong polarization with something you only see this one side and not the other side any longer.”
A classic example is the Super Bowl, or any Auburn, Alabama game.
But these days in the news, examples come up every day: the Kavanaugh hearings, emergency funding for a wall, Spike Lee walking out of the Oscars, the Barr report, Kirstjen Nielsen, every third thing on Twitter.
Researchers who study empathy have noticed that it’s actually really hard to do what we were striving for in my generation: empathize with people who are different than you are, much less people you don’t like. But if researchers set up a conflict, people get into automatic empathy overdrive, with their own team. This new research has scrambled notions of how empathy works as a force in the world. For example, we often think of terrorists as shockingly blind to the suffering of innocents. But Breithaupt and other researchers think of them as classic examples of people afflicted with an “excess of empathy. They feel the suffering of their people.”
Breithaupt called his new book The Dark Sides of Empathy, because there’s a point at which empathy doesn’t even look like the kind of universal empathy I was taught in school. There is a natural way that empathy gets triggered in the brain — your pain centers light up when you see another person suffering. But out in the world it starts to look more like tribalism, a way to keep reinforcing your own point of view and blocking out any others.
Breithaupt is alarmed at the apparent new virus of selective empathy and how it’s deepening divisions. If we embrace it, he says, then “basically you give up on civil society at that point. You give up on democracy. Because if you feed into this division more and you let it happen, it will become so strong that it becomes dangerous.”
We can’t return to my generation’s era of empathy innocence, because we now know too much about how the force actually works. But we can’t give up on empathy either, because empathy is “90 percent what our life is all about,” Breithaupt says. “Without it, we would be just alone.”
In his book Breithaupt proposes an ingenious solution: give up on the idea that when we are “empathizing” we are being altruistic, or helping the less fortunate, or in any way doing good. What we can do when we do empathy, proposes Fritz, is help ourselves. We can learn to see the world through the eyes of a migrant child and a militia leader and a Russian pen pal purely so we can expand our own imaginations, and make our own minds richer. It’s selfish empathy. Not saintly, but better than being alone.
Investigation reveals troll factory with hundreds working in rotating shifts.
Slaying online trolls can be a lonely business. Just ask Russia’s Lyudmila Savchuk, who first exposed the story of Russia’s disinformation campaign back in 2014.
The journalist and 33-year-old mother of two, Savchuk started noticing websites and social media accounts attacking local opposition activists in her hometown of Saint Petersburg with a frequency she hadn’t seen before.
The posts were all too similar. The verbal assaults too coordinated. So, when Savchuk later heard that an organization rumored to be behind the campaign — the Internet Research Agency or IRA — was hiring writers, she went for it.
“I wanted to get in there to see how it works, of course,” says Savchuk. “But the most important thing was to see if there was some way to stop it.”
She was hired as a blogger and told to report to Savushkina 55, a nondescript four-story office building on the outskirts of town.
There was a group dedicated to producing visual memes known as “demotivators.”
Once on the inside, Savchuk was stunned to see hundreds of mostly younger Russians working as paid trolls in rotating shifts.
Roaming the halls when she could — cameras were everywhere — Savchuk discovered the IRA was full of different “departments.” There was the “news division,” the “social media seeders”, and a group dedicated to producing visual memes known as “ demotivators.”
Each worker had a quota to fill every day and every night.
Despite the division of labor, the content was remarkably uniform. The US, the EU, Ukraine’s pro-European government, and Russia’s opposition were regular targets for scorn. And then there was Russian President Vladimir Putin — seemingly no Russian triumph under his rule was too small to warrant a celebratory tweet, meme or post.
“Each worker has a quota to fill every day and every night,” Savchuk says. “Because the factory works around the clock. It never stops. Not for a second.”
At one point she pedaled pro-Kremlin talking points under the guise of a fortune teller.
The work occasionally dipped into the absurd: at one point, Savchuk had to pretend to be a fortune teller named “Cantadora” — mixing blog musings on astrology, crystals, and rare gemstones with pro-Kremlin talking points. (One of Cantadora’s more accurate predictions was Vladimir Putin’s victory in Russia’s then-future 2018 presidential elections.)
This kind of soft-pedal trolling, Savchuk says, seemed to prove that the IRA was bent on reaching even the most marginal and apolitical of Russia’s expanding online audience.
In total, Savchuk spent just two and a half months at the IRA before she went public about the troll factory in a local newspaper.
The operation was run by a local restaurateur who was placed under US sanctions for attempting to interfere with US elections.
Her conclusion: The troll farm was a Kremlin project, run by a shadowy local restaurateur named Evgeny Prigozhin.
While Prigozhin has denied those charges, his name may sound familiar to American audiences. Often called “Putin’s Chef” for his close ties to the Russian President, Prigozhin was placed under US sanctions in 2018 for what American officials say was a coordinated attempt to interfere with the US elections.
But that? That would all come later.
Even before the local troll exposé spread into a full-blown international scandal, Savchuk shifted to activism: lecturing on disinformation and trying to name and shame participants in the troll farm.
“I acted like any journalist would,” she says. “Only, then I went further. I realized an article wasn’t enough.”
She even sued the IRA in a Russian court in 2015 — winning a symbolic 1 ruble victory over the troll farm for labor code violations.
The court ruling brought the work of the Internet Research Agency “out of the shadows,” says Ivan Pavlov, a human rights lawyer who represented Savchuk in the case.
“I can make comparisons to Al Capone. The US government couldn’t get him for being a gangster but they could get him for tax evasion,” he tells The World.
Meanwhile, Savchuk continued to publish her thoughts on countering disinformation to her main online outlet: her Facebook feed. And this is where Savchuk’s weird troll-slaying story takes an even weirder turn.
After returning home from a disinformation conference in Washington, DC, in November, Savchuk found her Facebook account inexplicably blocked.
Repeated attempts to restore her account and verify her identity with her passport went nowhere. Finally, in mid-February — boom. With no explanation, her profile was back.
Why this happened at all is still a mystery. Facebook did not respond to questions from The World about Savchuk’s access.
But Savchuk posits that IRA trolls may have flooded the platform with complaints about her account. Her problems with Facebook, she notes, started only after she talked openly about threats she’d received from people affiliated with Evgeny Prigozhin.
The possibility is not far-fetched. Last October, the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta published an investigation claiming that people affiliated with Progizhin were behind attacks on opposition figures and bloggers.
Another possibility: Savchuk was swept up by a Facebook campaign to weed out fake Russian troll accounts. Company executives have touted those efforts amid increased congressional scrutiny after the 2016 election. And some western media outlets have mistakenly identified Savchuk as a “former troll.”
Either way, Savchuk feels burned by the experience. She says she thought her work against the IRA was helping Facebook understand how its platform could be gamed.
“When Facebook blocked me,” she says. “I couldn’t do that anymore.”
This “troll slayer” doesn’t regret the fight but is no longer convinced she could win.
Meanwhile, the stress and online isolation have taken a toll. Savchuk doesn’t hide that she had a breakdown since blowing the whistle on the IRA.
And while she doesn’t regret taking on the fight, this troll slayer — now 37 — is no longer convinced she can win.
Even though he was indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team last year, “Putin’s Chef” is doing just fine, Savchuk notes.
A recent investigation into Prigozhin suggests his media empire and government contracts have grown exponentially since the IRA was cast out of the shadows.
Despite — or maybe because of — attention from the US, good things keep coming Prigozhin’s way.
End to Aids in sight as huge study finds drugs stop HIV transmission.
An end to the Aids epidemic could be in sight after a landmark study found men whose HIV infection was fully suppressed by antiretroviral drugs had no chance of infecting their partner.
The success of the medicine means that if everyone with HIV were fully treated, there would be no further infections.
Among nearly 1,000 male couples across Europe where one partner with HIV was receiving treatment to suppress the virus, there were no cases of transmission of the infection to the HIV-negative partner during sex without a condom. Although 15 men were infected with HIV during the eight-year study, DNA testing proved that was through sex with someone other than their partner who was not on treatment.
“It’s brilliant – fantastic. This very much puts this issue to bed,” said Prof Alison Rodger from University College London, the co-leader of the paper published in the Lancet medical journal. Earlier studies have also shown the treatment protects heterosexual couples where one partner has HIV.
She added: “Our findings provide conclusive evidence for gay men that the risk of HIV transmission with suppressive ART [antiretroviral therapy] is zero. Our findings support the message of the international U=U campaign that an undetectable viral load makes HIV untransmittable.
“This powerful message can help end the HIV pandemic by preventing HIV transmission, and tackling the stigma and discrimination that many people with HIV face.
“Increased efforts must now focus on wider dissemination of this powerful message and ensuring that all HIV-positive people have access to testing, effective treatment, adherence support and linkage to care to help maintain an undetectable viral load.”
In 2017, there were almost 40 million people worldwide living with HIV, of whom 21.7 million were on antiretroviral treatment. An estimated 101,600 people are living with HIV in the UK, and of these, about 7,800 are undiagnosed, so do not know they are HIV positive.
Myron S Cohen of the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases at Chapel Hill in North Carolina, said in a commentary in the Lancet on the study that it should push the world forward on a strategy to test and treat everyone who has HIV. But, he added, maximising the benefits of treatment, particularly for men who have sex with men, has proved difficult.
“It is not always easy for people to get tested for HIV or find access to care; in addition, fear, stigma, homophobia and other adverse social forces continue to compromise HIV treatment,” he said.
“Diagnosis of HIV infection is difficult in the early stages of infection when transmission is very efficient, and this limitation also compromises the treatment as prevention strategy.”
According to the National Aids Trust, 97% of people on HIV treatment in the UK have an undetectable level of the virus, meaning they cannot pass it on. “Hearing this can be enormously empowering and reassuring to people living with HIV,” said Deborah Gold, the trust’s chief executive.
The latest findings reinforce the importance of people taking HIV tests frequently, which could ultimately end the transmission of the virus altogether in the future. New diagnoses have been declining since their peak in 2005, with figures from 2017 showing a 17% drop on 2016 and a 28% fall compared with 2015.
Late diagnosis remains a major challenge, still accounting for about 43% of new HIV diagnoses. This disproportionately affects certain groups, including black African heterosexual men and people aged 65 and older.
“If we don’t reduce late diagnosis, there will always be those who are not aware of their HIV status and who therefore cannot access treatment,” said Gold. “We think that the findings from this study could be incredibly powerful in breaking down some of the barriers to testing in communities where there is still a lot of stigma around HIV.”
However, she added that government funding cuts to specialist health services would make it more difficult to achieve a goal of eliminating transmission by 2030.
Jens Lundgren, a professor of infectious diseases at Rigshospitalet, University of Copenhagen, and joint-lead for the study, called Partner, said: “We have now provided the conclusive scientific evidence for how treatment effectively prevents further sexual transmission of HIV.”
Dr Michael Brady, the medical director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “It is impossible to overstate the importance of these findings.
“The Partner study has given us the confidence to say, without doubt, that people living with HIV who are on effective treatment cannot pass the virus on to their sexual partners. This has incredible impact on the lives of people living with HIV and is a powerful message to address HIV-related stigma.”
Bruce Richman, the founding executive director of the Prevention Access Campaign, which launched U=U, said Pac was tremendously grateful to the researchers and participants. He said the study “has for ever changed what it means to live and love with HIV around the world”.
In a linked comment in the journal, Cohen expressed optimism for future treatment of Aids. “During the course of these studies, antiretroviral drugs have become more effective, reliable, durable, easier to take, well tolerated and much less expensive,” he said.
“The results … provide yet one more catalyst for a universal test-and-treat strategy to provide the full benefits of antiretroviral drugs. This and other strategies continue to push us toward the end of Aids.”
Alex Sparrowhawk, 34, has been living with HIV for almost 10 years. When he was diagnosed in November 2009, he had two major concerns: how being HIV positive would impact his work as a financial analyst, and what it meant for future relationships.
“I was single at the time,” he said. “Just navigating what to do – when to tell people and how to talk to people was really difficult.”
Alex immediately began antiretroviral treatment, initially taking four pills a day, which was reduced to one pill once his viral load came down to undetectable levels several months later. The latest results confirm that for the past nine years, he has not been able to transmit the virus to anyone, although at the time, medical advice was less definitive.
Between his diagnosis and now, Alex spent six-and-a-half years in a relationship, and said the possibility – however tiny – of transmitting HIV to his partner was a source of anxiety. “You’d be told it was very unlikely, or that it was only possible under certain circumstances like having an STI,” he said. “But you’re constantly worried about these caveats and you go through this worry together.
“Now we can say zero risk, which is just so much more empowering for people. It’s a huge weight off your shoulders.”
Alex hopes the findings will help transform public attitudes about HIV, bringing them in line with medical evidence. “A lot of stigma is driven by fear of being exposed to HIV,” he said. “People still think you can get it from kissing and casual contact. If more people knew about this study, this would change.”
Hundreds rally to not to vaccinate children amid measles outbreak.
Olympia, Wash. — With more than 50 cases of measles in Washington state, there’s been a new push to change the law. Washington is one of 17 states that allow parents to refuse vaccines for philosophical reasons.
But on Friday, hundreds rallied to preserve their right not to vaccinate their children. Lawmakers heard arguments on a proposed bill that would ban the measles vaccine exemption for philosophical reasons. Thirty-two other states have similar laws.
Measles is so contagious that an unvaccinated person has a 90 percent chance of catching the disease if they’re near someone who has it. The virus can survive for up to two hours in a room where an infected person sneezed.
Measles vaccination rates here, at the epicenter of the outbreak, are now up by 500 percent.
“I think we’re seeing people rush to the doctor now because it’s real and it’s been growing every week. And so folks actually see a real threat,” said Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman.
But opponents of the bill still think the measles vaccine is a bigger threat than the disease itself.
“I don’t feel I’m putting my child at risk. There’s nothing that’s going to change my mind on this on that specific vaccination,” said mother Monique Murray.
The CDC insists the two-dose measles vaccine is safe and 97 percent effective. Washington lawmakers hope to get the measure passed by April.
Schools in France may replace ‘mother & father’ with ‘parent 1 & 2’ under controversial same sex amendment.
French schools are to replace the words “mother” and “father” with “parent 1” and “parent 2” under an amendment to a law passed this week.
Supporters of the change say it will stop discrimination against same sex parents but critics argue it “dehumanises” parenthood, is “ugly” and could lead to rows over who gets to be “parent 1”.
The amendment was passed by MPs on Tuesday night as part of a wider so-called law to build “a school of trust”, which among other things also makes attendance compulsory for all three-year-olds.
“This amendment aims to root in law children’s family diversity in administrative forms submitted in school,” said Valérie Petit, MP for the majority REM party of President Emmanuel Macron. Ms Petit, from the Nord department, said that the words mother and father, on all school documents such as pertaining to the canteen or authorising children to go on excursions, no longer took into account the recently-passed gay marriage law, nor the existence of same sex parents.
She added: “We have families who find themselves faced with tick boxes stuck in rather old-fashioned social and family models. For us, this article is a measurement of social equality.”
Socialist MP Joaquim Pueyot also praised the reform as “a question of respect and dignity”. “You cannot imagine the consequences when children don’t feel treated like the others,” he said.
FCPE, France’s biggest parent’s federation, called “a very good thing”. “It echos the (recent) law on fighting harassment because often situations of child harassment target kids who don’t fit the current criteria.”
But the move angered the mainstream conservative Republicans, or LR, party and the far-Right.
Conservative MP Xavier Breton said: “When I hear people say this is an old-fashioned model, I would remind people that today among unions celebrated, civil or marital, some 95 per cent are man-woman couples.”
Conservative MP Fabien Di Filippo denounced a “frightening ideology, which in the name of limitless egalitarianism promotes removing points of reference, including those regarding the family”.
The idea of replacing mother and father by parent 1 and 2 was already mooted during the debate leading to the 2013 law legalising same sex marriage but was not inscribed into legislation at the time. Indeed, Jean-Michel Blanquer, the current education minister, had opposed the amendment on the grounds that this need not be a legislative matter.
Eric Ciotti, another Right-wing MP, said: “They swore this was fantasy, that it would never happen. The negation of gender deconstructs the balance of our society.”
Traditionalists were appalled.
Ludovine de la Rochère, president of the Manif Pour Tous organisation that opposes gay marriage, called it “totally dehumanising”. “Children need bearings,” she said.
Meanwhile Marine Le Pen, head of the far-Right National Rally, said “the mask has fallen” from the Macron camp regarding its view of society. Jordan Bardella, head of RN’s European election list, said the move was part of an attempt to “ideologically condition children”, even claiming that “totalitarianism is not far off”.
The Right wasn’t the only camp to express scepticism.
AFDH, the French association for same sex parents, said that while it welcomed providing a way for such parents to be “included in forms”, it warned it could create a “parental hierarchy”.
“Who is ‘parent number 1’ and who is ‘parent number 2’?,” asked AFDH president Alexandre Urwicz, who called for more “inclusive” forms including the boxes “father, mother and legal representative”.
Jean-Michel Aphatie, editorialist on Europe 1 radio, said that while the change was logical to keep step with “administrative reality”, turning parents into numbers was “very administrative and very ugly”.
The amendment could yet be rejected by the majority-Right Senate but will then return to the National Assembly for a final reading.
Big Bang May Have Created a Mirror Universe Where Time Runs Backwards.
Why does time seem to move forward? It’s a riddle that’s puzzled physicists for well over a century, and they’ve come up with numerous theories to explain time’s arrow. The latest, though, suggests that while time moves forward in our universe, it may run backwards in another, mirror universe that was created on the “other side” of the Big Bang.
Two leading theories propose to explain the direction of time by way of the relatively uniform conditions of the Big Bang. At the very start, what is now the universe was homogeneously hot, so much so that matter didn’t really exist. It was all just a superheated soup. But as the universe expanded and cooled, stars, galaxies, planets, and other celestial bodies formed, birthing the universe’s irregular structure and raising its entropy.
One theory, proposed in 2004 by Sean Carroll, now a professor at Caltech, and Jennifer Chen, then his graduate student, says that time moves forward because of the contrast in entropy between then and now, with an emphasis on the fact that the future universe will so much more disordered than the past. That movement toward high entropy gives time its direction.
The new theory says a low entropy early universe is inevitable because of gravity, and ultimately that’s what gives time its arrow. To test the idea, the theory’s proponents assembled a simple model with nothing more than 1,000 particles and the physics of Newtonian gravity. Here’s Lee Billings, reporting for Scientific American:
The system’s complexity is at its lowest when all the particles come together in a densely packed cloud, a state of minimum size and maximum uniformity roughly analogous to the big bang. The team’s analysis showed that essentially every configuration of particles, regardless of their number and scale, would evolve into this low-complexity state. Thus, the sheer force of gravity sets the stage for the system’s expansion and the origin of time’s arrow, all without any delicate fine-tuning to first establish a low-entropy initial condition.
But here’s the twist: The expansion after the simulated Big Bang didn’t just happen in one direction, but two. The simple Big Bang they modeled produced two universes, one a mirror of the other. In one universe, time appears to run forwards. In the other, time runs backwards, at least from our perspective.
Here’s Billings again, interviewing lead author Julian Barbour from the University of Oxford:
“If they were complicated enough, both sides could sustain observers who would perceive time going in opposite directions. Any intelligent beings there would define their arrow of time as moving away from this central state. They would think we now live in their deepest past.”
From that perspective, maybe George Lucas’s Star Wars didn’t take place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but in the far future—our deepest past—of our mirror universe.