Your Brain Has A “Delete” Button—Here’s How To Use It.

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Your Brain Has A “Delete” Button—Here’s How To Use It.

There’s an old saying in neuroscience: neurons that fire together wire together. This means the more you run a neuro-circuit in your brain, the stronger that circuit becomes. This is why, to quote another old saw, practice makes perfect. The more you practice piano, or speaking a language, or juggling, the stronger those circuits get.

For years this has been the focus for learning new things. But as it turns out, the ability to learn is about more than building and strengthening neural connections. Even more important is our ability to break down the old ones. It’s called “synaptic pruning.” Here’s how it works.

Your Brain Is Like A Garden

Imagine your brain is a garden, except instead of growing flowers, fruits, and vegetables, you grow synaptic connections between neurons. These are the connections that neurotransmitters like dopamine, seratonin, and others travel across.

“Glial cells” are the gardeners of your brain—they act to speed up signals between certain neurons. But other glial cells are the waste removers, pulling up weeds, killing pests, raking up dead leaves. Your brain’s pruning gardeners are called “microglial cells.” They prune your synaptic connections. The question is, how do they know which ones to prune?

Researchers are just starting to unravel this mystery, but what they do know is the synaptic connections that get used less get marked by a protein, C1q (as well as others). When the microglial cells detect that mark, they bond to the protein and destroy—or prune—the synapse.

This is how your brain makes the physical space for you to build new and stronger connections so you can learn more.

Why Sleep Matters

Have you ever felt like your brain is full? Maybe when starting a new job, or deep in a project. You’re not sleeping enough, even though you’re constantly taking in new information. Well, in a way, your brain actually is full.

When you learn lots of new things, your brain builds connections, but they’re inefficient, ad hoc connections. Your brain needs to prune a lot of those connections away and build more streamlined, efficient pathways. It does that when we sleep.

Your brain cleans itself out when you sleep—your brain cells shrinking by up to 60% to create space for your glial gardeners to come in take away the waste and prune the synapses.

Have you ever woken up from a good night’s rest and been able to think clearly and quickly? That’s because all the pruning and pathway-efficiency that took place overnight has left you with lots of room to take in and synthesize new information—in other words, to learn.

This is the same reason naps are so beneficial to your cognitive abilities. A 10- or 20-minute nap gives your microglial gardeners the chance to come in, clear away some unused connections, and leave space to grow new ones.

Thinking with a sleep-deprived brain is like hacking your way through a dense jungle with a machete. It’s overgrown, slow-going, exhausting. The paths overlap, and light can’t get through. Thinking on a well-rested brain is like wandering happily through Central Park; the paths are clear and connect to one another at distinct spots, the trees are in place, you can see far ahead of you. It’s invigorating.

Be Mindful Of What You’re Mindful Of

And in fact, you actually have some control over what your brain decides to delete while you sleep. It’s the synaptic connections you don’t use that get marked for recycling. The ones you do use are the ones that get watered and oxygenated. So be mindful of what you’re thinking about.

If you spend too much time reading theories about the end of Game of Thrones and very little on your job, guess which synapses are going to get marked for recycling?

If you’re in a fight with someone at work and devote your time to thinking about how to get even with them, and not about that big project, you’re going to wind up a synaptic superstar at revenge plots but a poor innovator.

To take advantage of your brain’s natural gardening system, simply think about the things that are important to you. Your gardeners will strengthen those connections and prune the ones that you care about less. It’s how you help the garden of your brain flower.


Pastor arrested at church after admitting he impregnated 15-year-old parishioner.

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Pastor arrested at church after admitting he impregnated 15-year-old parishioner.

A youth pastor at a rural Pennsylvania church has been fired and arrested on statutory sexual assault charges after police said he admitted to impregnating a 15-year-old girl, according to the Associated Press.

Police said the youth pastor, 35-year-old Wesley Blackburn, told his wife he was having an affair with the girl and that he wanted a divorce, the AP reported.

Distraught, Blackburn’s wife reportedly turned to Jim Espenshade, the senior pastor of Faith Brethren Bible Church in New Paris, Pa., about 100 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

“I was shocked. Absolutely shocked,” Espenshade told WJAC News. “You work with him and you’re there and you’re thinking, how could this happen? How could he do this?”

Blackburn’s wife told him she didn’t know what to do, Espenshade told the news station. “And I said, ‘I do.’ ”

Espenshade told the station that he rounded up the church’s other leaders in the parking lot, along with Blackburn, and they fired the youth pastor immediately, then called police.

“We didn’t even care what he had to say — we don’t tolerate this kind of stuff,” Espenshade told the station. “It’s inappropriate. It’s reprehensible.”

Blackburn is a father of five who met with seventh- and eighth-grade students weekly, according to WJAC.

Blackburn was arrested at the church on the afternoon of Oct. 6 and was still packing up his belongings when a Pennsylvania State police officer arrived, according to the Tribune-Democrat.

A probable cause affidavit detailed how long Blackburn had allegedly known and had a sexual relationship with the girl, the paper reported:

Blackburn told the trooper that he had met the girl in 2009, when he first came to Faith Brethren Bible Church, and that they grew closer after she joined his youth group in 2014, according to the affidavit. Blackburn said he and the girl developed a physical relationship in March, the affidavit said.

When the trooper informed Blackburn that the girl was pregnant, Blackburn acknowledged that he was the child’s father, according to the affidavit. The trooper then took Blackburn into custody.

As of Friday, Blackburn remained in the Bedford County jail unable to post bond on one count of corruption of minors and 84 counts each of statutory sexual assault and indecent assault, the AP reported.

Bedford County District Attorney Bill Higgins told WTAJ News the investigation is ongoing and that the church leaders did the right thing in contacting police.

“Everybody acted appropriately as soon as the information was found out,” Higgins told the news station. “The church acted appropriately and has been cooperative with the investigation. There is no indication that anybody knew about it other than the two people involved. As soon as it was discovered, it was immediately reported to the authorities, who took prompt action.”


Japanese Robot Farming Company Going Global.

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Japanese Robot Farming Company Going Global.

Companies like Spread are giving Japan’s agriculture industry a serious upgrade for the 21st century. Spread shot to fame for its highly automated, vertical farming units. The company is now looking at possibilities for widening its business, as well as possibly expanding into new kinds of produce.

Vertical farming is undergoing a revolution with companies emerging across the world. They are in once case even moving straight into the supermarket’s vegetable section.

What sets Spread apart from almost all other companies in the space is its level of automation. Its concept has been hailed as one of the world’s first true robot farms.

The company is busy creating a new, large-scale vertical farm that will deliver cleaner, more efficient production of vegetables. It is set to open in 2017. Next on the menu is opening further farms across Japan, each capable of producing up to 30.000 thousand heads of lettuce a day – making for a grand total of up to 219 million heads of lettuce a year.

The future dress code of farms could look like the one in use today at Spread's Kameoka plant. Credit: Spread.

Construction machines are being drafted in and Spread plan to begin building the new vertical farm, which has taken almost two and a half years to plan and design, later this year. Once completed, it will also house an integrated research and development centre.

The total cost will be between 1.6 and 2.0 billion yen ($14 million to $18 million). Spread expects to produce between 20 thousand and 30 thousand heads of lettuce a day. With projected prices, the plant will reach ROI in 7-9 years.

The plant’s profitability is based around economy of scale and the use of technology. The plant will grow lettuce in a soil-less and sunless environment. Robots take care of much of the handling, LEDs deliver the necessary lighting and hydroponic technology delivers water.

Spread's environemnt for growing vegetables is high-tech and highly automated. Credit: Spread.

“A farming plant like this requires about half the amount of human workers our existing facility for lettuce production without automation does. We grow in a highly controlled environment, and the plants themselves are mostly handled by machines and robots. This is in part done to increase efficiency. Apart from automation, we also use water saving technology and pesticide-free cultivation,” J.J. Price, Global Marketing Manager at Spread, explains.

Spread says that their factory concept is easily scalable and applicable in other settings. However, large scale production is a requisite for reaching profitability. The exact size needed would vary from country to country and depend on factors like access to – and price of – electricity and clean water.

While Spread has focused on producing leafy lettuce because of its high productivity, their method can also be used with other kinds of vegetables.

“Generally speaking, leafy greens are often cultivated in vertical farms since it is relatively easy to grow,” Price explains.

 “We are now looking at cultivating other kinds of produce, especially Mizuna and spinach. There is an increased demand for tomatoes and peppers, and it could also be possible to produce those kinds of vegetables in vertical, automated farms like the one we are building.”

“We plan to build and run about 20 facilities with productivity of 20-30 thousand heads of lettuce per day across Japan in five years.”

Artist rendition of what the plant will look like once completed. Credit: Spread.


Study funded by Anti-Vaxxers shows that vaccines do not cause autism. And they’re furious.

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Study funded by Anti-Vaxxers shows that vaccines do not cause autism. And they’re furious.

There are two things that non-profit group Safe Minds—committed to “ending the autism epidemic”—doesn’t understand: First, that there is absolutely no link between vaccines and autism. Second, how research works.

The group just put out a statement discrediting a recent study they funded that, once again, shows that there’s no link between autism and vaccination. The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is the result of six years of research focusing on whether giving baby monkeys vaccines results in the development of “autism-like behavior or neuropathology.”

The study…involved 79 infant monkeys in six groups. Two groups were given thimerosal-containing vaccines. Thimerosal is an antiseptic and antifungal agent that was frequently used in vaccinations until it was removed in the U.S from vaccines given to children in the 90s, and is frequently cited by anti-vaxxers as a cause for autism. The next two groups were given the MMR vaccine (also claimed to cause autism) without thimerosal, and the final two were given saline injections as a control.

And here’s what the study found:

No behavioral changes were observed in the vaccinated animals, nor were there neuropathological changes in the cerebellum, hippocampus, or amygdala. This study does not support the hypothesis that thimerosal-containing vaccines and/or the MMR vaccine play a role in the etiology of autism.

Now, this is great news for parents who were considering not vaccinating their kids because it’s even more data that shows that foregoing necessary vaccinations is dumb as fuck and puts both the non-vaccinated kid and the people around them in danger. But if you’re running a group predicated on the notion that vaccines are bad, you’re probably not going to be as pleased with the results. And Safe Minds isn’t. In fact, they want to know exactly what happened and why the study they funded didn’t give them the results that they wanted.

This is the statement that Safe Minds put out when asked about how much they paid to help fund the study:

“The epidemic of autism is expected to cost the country $1 trillion by 2025 if prevalence trends continue. In a recent study, over 40 percent of parents agree or strongly agree that vaccines played a part in the development of their children’s autism. The vaccine primate study in question consisted of multiple phases. The initial phase found a series of negative effects in infant reflexes and brain growth among those exposed to vaccines. The second, recent phase purported to find no effect. SafeMinds has concerns about changes in the study design protocol and analysis that may have led to these contradictory results. We are in the process of collecting and reviewing additional information regarding this study.”

Some other things people who have opinions but no expertise agree on: leaving kids unattended in cars is fine, spanking is gr8, and single moms suck. (That last one wasn’t limited to parents, but it’s a good reminder that just asking people what they think is a useless exercise which reminds us that nothing in the world is good.)

Safe minds is upset about two things. They claim that the final results of the study are contradictory to what they initially believed them to be—which is a thing that happens fairly often in research and is why we do research in the first place — even though they claim they had no “preconceived notions” going into the research. They also claim that the part of the research they funded never actually happened. Now they want a reanalysis of the data, even though the authors of the study assert that all the information had been given to an independent statistical consultant. (But, like, not the right one or something, according to Safe Minds.) It’s also important to note that while Safe Minds was in no way duped, the data they initially received was preliminary and resulted from a “much smaller trial” which was then expanded and held to more rigorous scientific standards.

What does this mean for the general public while Safe Minds gets all its information together and then tries to present a case against the study? Vaccines still don’t and never have caused autism. Sorry.


Flyer calling for death of those who insult Islam handed out at London mosque.

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Flyer calling for death of those who insult Islam handed out at London mosque.

The Metropolitan Police have launched a hate-crime investigation after literature stating that those who insult Islam “must be killed” was reportedly handed out at a London mosque.

 The leaflets, said to be distributed at a holy gathering by the Dar-ul-Uloom Qadria Jilania mosque in Walthamstow, state that apostates “deserve to be assassinated” and point to a classic manual of Islamic law to justify such killings.

Imam Syed Abdul Qadir Jilani, whose named appears on the front cover of the booklets, is believed to be linked to their distribution, the London Evening Standard reported, although he has strongly denied the claims.

The booklet cites the case of Mumtaz Qadri, a fundamentalist who murdered Pakistani governor Salmaan Taseer in 2011 after he spoke in support for liberal reforms to the country’s strict Islamic laws. It says “all Muslims should support” Qadri and that being a “big shot” does not prevent someone from being an apostate who deserves to be killed.

One worshipper who received the leaflet said: “Two or three people delivered the leaflet. I am shocked. I think it gives a bad impression. Islam teaches when you live here you obey the law and the rule of law, but this is not doing that.”

Scotland Yard responded to the reports that action was being taken to establish whether a criminal offence has taken place.

Sadiq Khan: Donald Trump’s negative rhetoric about Muslims is helping Isis

A spokesman said: “We are committed to tackling hate crime in all its forms and have long since recognised the impact of hate crime on communities.”

Mr Jilani said that he had no knowledge of the booklet being distributed. He said that he had not given permission for his face to be used on the front, that it had been “falsely attributed” to him, and that he does not agree with its message.

He said: “I am not aware of if, why or how, the booklet was distributed in Dar-ul-Uloom Qadria Jilania.”


What the List of Most Banned Books Says About Our Society’s Fears.

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What the List of Most Banned Books Says About Our Society’s Fears.

For as long as humans have printed books, censors have argued over their content and tried to limit some books’ distribution. But the reasons for challenging literature change over time, and as Banned Book Week begins on Sept. 25, it’s clear that public discomfort with particular ideas has evolved rapidly even in the last 20 years.

When the American Library Association started keeping a database of challenged books in the early ’90s, the reasons cited were fairly straightforward, according to James LaRue, director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom. “‘Don’t like the language,’ or ‘There’s too much sex’—they’d tend to fall into those two categories,” he says. Some books are still challenged for those reasons—Fifty Shades of Grey is a common example. But there’s been a shift toward seeking to ban books “focused on issues of diversity—things that are by or about people of color, or LGBT, or disabilities, or religious and cultural minorities,” LaRue says. “It seems like that shift is very clear.”

The ALA’s list of the 10 most challenged books in 2015 bears this out: it includes I Am Jazz and Beyond Magenta, about young transgender people; Fun Home and Two Boys Kissing, which deal with homosexuality; Habibi and Nasreen’s Secret School, which feature Muslim characters; and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon, which was cited for “atheism.” In contrast, the top 10 most-challenged books of 2001 were more straightforwardly banned for strong language, sexual content and drugs, like The Chocolate War and Go Ask Alice.

The shift seems to be linked to demographic changes in the country—and the political fear-mongering that can accompany those changes, LaRue says. “There’s a sense that a previous majority of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants are kind of moving into a minority, and there’s this lashing out to say, ‘Can we just please make things the way that they used to be?’” LaRue says. “We don’t get many challenges by diverse people,” he adds. In recent years, book challenges have peaked while religious liberty bills were in the news, he says.

Here’s a look at how things have changed in the past 15 years:

Most-challenged books of 2001:

  1. Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling
    Reasons: anti-family, occult/Satanism, religious viewpoint, violence
  2. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
    Reasons: offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group, violence
  3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
    Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  4. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
    Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit
  5. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Greene
    Reasons: offensive language, racism, sexually explicit
  6. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
    Reasons: offensive language, unsuited to age group
  7. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
    Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  8. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
    Reasons: drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit
  9. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
    Reason: offensive language
  10. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
    Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

Most-challenged books of 2015:

  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
  3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
    Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
    Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
  6. The Holy Bible
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
  7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
    Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
  8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
    Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
  10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
    Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

But the recent backlash challenges have not been limited to conservatives: the Bible is on the top 10 list for 2015, in part because of concerns about why a book that argues for the murder of homosexuals (as in Leviticus) would be in a public library. Opposition like this comes from “people that are just questioning in a larger sense what is the appropriate role of religion in our society,” LaRue says.

Over time, some books lose their opponents—the Harry Potter series, for instance, were the most-challenged books from 2000 to 2009, but have since fallen off the top 10 list. “There was a period there where Harry Potter was [considered] a Satanist and a cult, and people were doing book cuttings and book burnings,” LaRue says. “And now if you read people that are kind of on the right side of the religious spectrum, their kids love theHarry Potter books, so sometimes the things that we’re convinced are signs that the end is nigh are completely normalized in five years.”

The ALA usually learns that a book has been challenged either from librarians at schools or public or academic libraries calling in incidents, or from reports in local newspapers. In recent years there’s actually been a decline in reports—the ALA recorded 311 challenges in 2014 and only 275 in 2015. On the surface, that may seem like a good thing—but it probably indicates that fewer people are speaking up when a book is removed, meaning more banning is going on under the radar, LaRue says. “We have reason to believe that where censorship starts to succeed, there’s less reporting about it,” LaRue says. “So we can say it’s hard for us to know, we know that challenges are underreported, but we don’t know by how much.” It doesn’t help that school librarians are frequently the victims of school layoffs, meaning there are fewer professionals “trained to use this language of intellectual freedom.”

Still, one thing hasn’t changed since the dawn of censorship: having your book banned is very, very good for an author’s sales. “If what you’re trying to do is stop this book from getting into the hands of a minor,” LaRue says, “the surest way to [fail] is to declare it forbidden.”


7 crucial lessons people often learn too late in life.

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1. If you want to “do what you love,” you have to work three times as hard as everyone else.

Most people do not get to spend their lives doing whatever it is they love. Instead, they do what they are told they should do, or what their parents or town or friends or peers suggest that they do.

Or they simply pursue nothing close to their heart at all. But if you want to “do what you love,” you need to see that as a privilege, not an expectation. Those people are not the majority. So if that’s what you truly want, you have to put in the work now.

2. Beneath anger is always fear.

As the wise Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” Whenever we suffer, especially for long periods of time, at first we believe it is because of something outside of us — something we hate. And if we make it past that emotion, we find below that hate is a rumble of anger, and certainly something we have held on to for far too long.

But beneath all of that is always fear. A fear of loss. A fear of vulnerability. A fear of letting go. But if you can get to the point of acknowledging the fear, you will see its lighthearted shadow, compassion. And you will be able to move forward.

3. Our everyday habits form our future selves.

What you do today is one more action toward who you will be tomorrow. When that action is replicated over the course of a week, you begin to scratch the surface of change. When that action is replicated over the course of a month, you begin to notice a slight difference.

When that action replicated over the course of a year, or two years, or five years, you may no longer recognize yourself — you will have changed, in that particular way, completely. Do not underestimate the power of each and every small habit, replicated over time. For good or bad, your habits determine who you will ultimately become.

4. Your emotions take practice.

When we think about practice, we often talk in terms of skill. You practice the piano, or you practice playing hockey. But the thing is, who you are emotionally also takes practice. You can practice humility, you can practice forgiveness.

You can practice self-awareness and humor, just as easily as you can practice anger, resentment, drama, and conflict. Who you are, emotionally, is a reflection of the things you consciously (or unconsciously) practice. You were not “born” upset. You have merely practiced that emotion far more than you have, say, joy.

5. Everyone has his or her own agenda.

This is quite a cliché phrase, and is often said in a negative context. But I am using it differently: It is worth acknowledging that, at the end of the day, we all must provide for ourselves. We all have our own dreams, goals, aspirations, families, close friends, and significant others, and we all want the same fundamental things.

There are those you can trust, of course, but the best way to keep yourself rooted and at ease is to know that each and every person has his or her own agenda. You cannot control others. You cannot expect them to put you before themselves. And trying to do so may work for a period of time, but eventually, the truth will rise to the surface.

Instead, make it a point to address and help others move toward their own dreams, as you request their help in moving toward yours. The relationship will more smoothly move in the right direction this way.

6. Achievement will never be as fulfilling as the journey.

It is one thing to set and goal and enlist the help of others to see its achievement through. It is entirely another to sacrifice your own well-being, and the well-being of those around you, for that goal and its achievement.

The high at the end is never worth the emotional strain that takes place to get there. If you are not able to enjoy the journey with those around you, then the end goal will become meaningless.

7. Working hard and laughter are not mutually exclusive.

Building on the previous point, I never understood why people feel that laughing means not taking the matter at hand seriously. The best ideas come through ease. The best flow happens in moments of joy. The human connection begins with laughter and to laugh while working or solving a problem is to be open to new possibilities.

Some people never learn this — they become grumpy and old. But life is about having fun. And to have fun does not mean, by default, that you are not “getting anything done.” On the contrary. You can have fun and get more done than you ever thought imaginable.


Poland parliament rejects abortion ban after women stage all-out strike.

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Poland parliament rejects abortion ban after women stage all-out strike.

Polish lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to reject draft legislation that would introduce a near-total ban on abortion, following mass protests in over 60 cities across the country.

Some 100,000 women dressed in black staged nationwide demonstrations in Poland on Monday against plans to tighten the country’s already restrictive abortion rules, including banning the procedure even in cases of rape, with prison terms for women ending a pregnancy.

The hastily arranged vote presents the first major domestic setback for the ruling conservatives, of which many members initially backed the proposal.

Two weeks ago a majority of lawmakers voted to consider the proposal, sending it to a commission for further study.

But the party backed away from it under massive social pressure, and lawmakers voted against it 352-58 on Thursday, with 18 absentations.

Leader of the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party Jaroslaw Kaczynski told parliament that the party “would always support protecting the right to life” before the vote took place. But added that supporters of the ban were “not going about it [protecting the right to life] in the best way.”

The mostly Catholic nation already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, with abortion only allowed in rare cases – rape or incest, when the mother’s life is in danger or the foetus is badly damaged.

Fewer than 2,000 legal abortions take place in Poland annually, which has a population of 38 million. However, women’s groups estimate a further 100,000 to 150,000 procedures are performed illegally or abroad.  The proposal for further tightening the law emerged from a citizen’s initiative that garnered some 450,000 signatures and was supported by the Roman Catholic Church but was hugely unpopular with many Poles.

Dubbed “Black Monday”, women boycotted work and dressed in black across Poland for the day. In Warsaw, 30,000 people turned out to protest against the proposed law change. They held signs with messages “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries” and “I wish I could abort my government” as they chanted outside government offices.

Minister Jaroslaw Gowin said the demonstrations by thousands of women had “caused us to think and taught us humility”. The remarks made by the Science and higher education minister on Wednesday hinted that Poland’s right-wing leadership would not proceed with the proposal. Liberal opposition MP and former prime minister Ewa Kopacz said “the PiS backtracked on the ban because it was scared by all the women who hit the streets in protest.”

Former sports minister Joanna Mucha said PiS lawmakers “panicked” after Monday’s protests. “Polish women won’t allow you to drive them to the slaughterhouse like sheep,” she warned during the parliamentary debate.


Polish MEP Barbara Kudrycka claimed PiS lawmakers had “hearts of stone”, adding: “Women aren’t merchandise you can use to pay off your campaign promises.”


Colombian voters reject peace deal with guerrillas.

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Colombian voters reject peace deal with guerrillas.

Colombians have rejected a peace deal to end 52 years of war with Farc guerrillas, throwing the country into confusion about its future.

With counting completed from 98.98% of polling stations, the no vote led by 50.2% to 49.8%, a difference of fewer than 54,000 votes out of almost 13 million cast. Turnout was low, with less than 38% of the electorate casting a vote.

Polls before the vote predicted that the yes camp would win with a comfortable 66% share. Santos had been confident of a yes result and said during the campaign that he did not have a plan B and that Colombia would return to war if the no vote won. His opponents, led by former president Álvaro Uribe, said a win for their side would be a mandate for the government and rebels to negotiate a “better agreement”.

Both government and rebels have repeatedly said that the deal was the best they could achieve and a renegotiation would not be possible.

Santos, who watched the results come in at the presidential palace in Bogotá, said he would send his negotiators back to Havana to meet with Farc leaders on Monday. “I will not give up,” he said in a televised address. “I will continue seeking peace until the last day of my presidency.”

He added that the bilateral ceasefire that has been in place since 29 August would continue.

Santos, who has staked his legacy on achieving peace, said he would meet with all political parties on Monday to find a way forward for the peace process. The vote would not affect Colombia’s stability, he said.

The Farc leader, Rodrigo Londoño, said the insurgent group maintained its desire for peace despite the failure of the plebiscite to approve its recently signed deal with the government.

“The Farc reiterates its disposition to use only words as a weapon to build toward the future,” said Londoño, who is known by his nom de guerre, Timochenko. “To the Colombian people who dream of peace, count on us, peace will triumph.”

Fernando Giraldo, a political analyst, said the fact that both the government and guerrillas reiterated their commitment to peace was a good sign but the future was unclear. “The plebiscite laid everything out in black and white and now we’re stuck in a grey area,” he said.

Under the agreement rejected by voters, the Farc’s 5,800 fighters and a similar number of urban militia members would have disarmed and become a legal political party. Whether or when that will happen now is unknown.

The deal would have allowed rebel leaders to avoid jail if they confessed to their crimes such as killings, kidnappings, indiscriminate attacks and child recruitment, something that many Colombians found hard to swallow.

By promoting a no vote, Uribe argued that he did not support continued war but wanted to fix the agreement. “Colombians, let’s correct the path,” he said after the final results of the vote were announced. “We insist on correctives so that the constitution is respected, not substitutes, [that there be] justice, and not the derogation of institutions, political pluralism without it appearing to be a prize for criminals,” he said.

Both the Farc and the government had believed that the deal that had been reached, which had overwhelming international support, had struck a balance between all those factors.

Supporters of the peace deal watch the results of the referendum in Cali on Sunday.
Supporters of the peace deal watch the results of the referendum in Cali on Sunday. Photograph: Guillermo Legaria/AFP/Getty Images

“Although imperfect, the agreement represented a concrete way forward for peace and justice,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International. “It’s imperative that Colombia does not walk away from this project and that the country continues to move towards the long-awaited peace millions are longing for.”

In a ceremony on 26 September, with the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, US secretary of state, John Kerry, and a dozen Latin American leaders on hand as witnesses, Santos and Timochenko signed the deal their negotiators had reached after four years of talks in Havana.

In the days before the vote, the Farc commanders rushed to make public apologies to their victims in an attempt to boost support for the yes vote. On Thursday, chief rebel negotiator Iván Márquez presented the community of Bojayá, Chocó, where the 2002 bombing of a church killed 119 people, with a new crucifix. At a similar event on Friday in Apartadó, Antioquia, the site of a 1994 Farc massacre of 35 people, Márquez said it “never should have happened”.

On Saturday UN monitors oversaw the Farc’s destruction of more than 620kg of explosives in a remote corner of the country. The group also promised to give an account of their assets, to be used to compensate victims of the war, despite having previously said they had no money.

But the apologies and promises appear to have come too late to sway voters. “The day they are behind bars I will go and give them my hand and forgive them,” said Nohora Tovar, a senator with Uribe’s Centro Democratico, who was kidnapped by the Farc in 2000.


Is there shame in shame?

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Is there shame in shame?

Everyone feels shame somewhat differently. However, new research suggests that the underlying triggers of our shame have much in common.

A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that shame is an emotion that actually helps buffer people from social backlash.

The researchers surveyed 900 people from the United States, India, and Israel. They compared, for a handful of negative behaviors and traits, the intensity of shame that people feel about themselves to “devaluation” (the degree to which others view them in a negative light). They tested 29 scenarios in which a person’s behavior or circumstances might lead them to be looked down upon by others, such as theft and infidelity. The team found that the intensity of shame felt by an individual closely correlated with the level of disapproval expressed by others.

“To say that shame is bad just because those things feel bad is like a case of blaming a messenger of bad news,” says Daniel Sznycer, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at Arizona State University. “The real problem with bad news is the news itself … Shame is a signal that things are going to be ugly.”

The researchers also found that the causes of shame aligned with the cultural norms of the different countries. For instance, eating with the left hand is considered shameful in India, and therefore people there are conditioned—presumably by the sense of shame—to eat only with their right hand.

These conclusions differ from a prominent theory of shame in the field of psychology, in which this emotion is considered maladaptive. In other words, it is considered a trait that is associated mainly with costs, such as being shunned by peers, rather than benefits. The new research suggests that, much like pain, shame keeps people from making poor decisions in the first place.

“It’s really like a key that only makes sense when you compare the key against its own lock—it’s a very close and specific fit,” Sznycer says. Shame, like pain, is “exquisitely well-calibrated to the magnitude of the threat.”