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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Margaret Thatcher Deserves 250-Foot Tall Statue, Backers Say

LONDON — An improbable plan to build a 250-foot statue of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has been launched by college students.
If it ever gets constructed, the "iron colossus" at the University of Kent in Southeast England would be twice the height of the Statue of Liberty (from base to torch) and almost as tall as the U.S. Capitol.
Image: Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher. Terry O'Neill / Hulton Archive-Getty Images
It would be rendered in iron — mirroring Thatcher's nickname "The Iron Lady" — and placed on a 50-foot high marble pedestal.
The estimated cost? A mere £300 million (around $425 million), according to backers.
The plans were submitted by the Kent University Conservative Association to student leaders in the form of an online petition.
The apparent issues with the project's size and cost will be subjected to a series of administrative hurdles, including votes and debates inside the university before potentially being presented to town officials in Canterbury.
"This is not us having a joke — it is a serious proposal," 20-year-old Emilio Kyprianou, chairman of the Conservative association and the project's driving force, told NBC News on Tuesday. "This challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."
Kyprianou concedes that he may have to tone down the statue's specifics — "a 90-foot statue would still be great" — and hopes to raise the money via a crowdfunding campaign.
According to Guinness World Records, the most money ever raised in a crowdfunding campaign was by the video game Star Citizen, which had raked in almost $40 million as of March 2014.
As the U.K.'s only female prime minister to date, Thatcher governed between 1979 and 1990. She formed a legendary partnership with President Ronald Reagan and died in 2013.
However, Thatcher remains one of Britain's most divisive political figures.
Beloved by many on the political right for what became known as "Thatcherism," a unwavering belief in economic freedom and personal responsibility, she was equally hated by others for her harsh spending cuts and ruthless shutting down of Britain's coal mines.

Bill Gates Sides With FBI in iPhone Hack Request

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has said tech companies should be forced to cooperate with law enforcement authorities, entering a fractious debate between Apple and the U.S. government.
U.S. law enforcement teams want to access an iPhone that belonged to one of the terrorists involved in the San Bernardino shootings in December 2015 in which 14 people died. A U.S. magistrate ordered Apple to write software that would enable FBI investigators to break open the phone but Apple has so far refused.
Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said that the order was "chilling" and "dangerous" and was essentially asking the U.S. tech giant to "hack" its own users.
Speaking to the Financial Times newspaper on Tuesday, the founder of Apple rival Microsoft denied that the Cupertino company assisting authorities would set a precedent.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates has said tech companies should be forced to cooperate with law enforcement authorities, entering a fractious debate between Apple and the U.S. government.U.S. law enforcement teams want to access an iPhone that belonged to one of the terrorists involved in the San Bernardino shootings in December 2015 in which 14 people died. A U.S. magistrate ordered Apple to write software that would enable FBI investigators to break open the phone but Apple has so far refused.
Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said that the order was "chilling" and "dangerous" and was essentially asking the U.S. tech giant to "hack" its own users.Speaking to the Financial Times newspaper on Tuesday, the founder of Apple rival Microsoft denied that the Cupertino company assisting authorities would set a precedent.
"This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information. They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case," Bill Gates told the Financial Times. "It is no different than [the question of] should anybody ever have been able to tell the phone company to get information, should anybody be able to get at bank records. Let's say the bank had tied a ribbon round the disk drive and said 'don't make me cut this ribbon because you'll make me cut it many times'."

HPV Sharply Reduced in Teenage Girls Following Vaccine, Study Says

A vaccine introduced a decade ago to combat the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer has already reduced the virus’s prevalence in teenage girls by almost two-thirds, federal researchers said Monday.
Even for women in their early 20s, a group with lower vaccination rates, the most dangerous strains of human papillomavirus, or HPV, have still been reduced by more than a third.
“We’re seeing the impact of the vaccine as it marches down the line for age groups, and that’s incredibly exciting,” said Dr. Amy B. Middleman, the chief of adolescent medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, who was not involved in the study. “A minority of females in this country have been immunized, but we’re seeing a public health impact that is quite expansive.”
 The news is likely to serve as a welcome energizer in the tumultuous struggle to encourage HPV vaccination in the United States. Despite the vaccine’s proven effectiveness, immunization rates remain low — about 40 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys between the ages of 13 and 17. That is partly because of the implicit association of the vaccine with adolescent sexual activity, rather than with its explicit purpose: cancer prevention. Only Virginia, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia require the HPV vaccine.

Recent efforts have focused on recommending the vaccine for children ages 11 and 12, when their immune response is more robust than that of teenagers and when most states require two other vaccines — one for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, and the other for meningococcal disease. The immunization rates for those vaccines are 80 percent and higher.
About 14 million Americans become infected with HPV each year, and the vast majority will clear the virus. But some strains persist and can cause genital warts, as well as cervical, anal, penile, and mouth and throat cancers. The American Cancer Society estimates that 4,120 women will die of cervical cancer this year.
The latest research, published in Pediatrics, examined HPV immunization and infection rates through 2012, but just in girls. The recommendation to vaccinate boys became widespread only in 2011; they will be included in subsequent studies.
Using data from a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study examined the prevalence of the virus in women and girls of different age groups during the pre-vaccine years of 2003 through 2006. (The vaccine was recommended for girls later in 2006.) Researchers then looked at the prevalence in the same age groups between 2009 and 2012.
By those later years, the prevalence of the four strains of HPV covered by the vaccine had decreased by 64 percent in girls ages 14 to 19. Among women ages 20 to 24, the prevalence of those strains had declined 34 percent. The rates of HPV in women 25 and older had not fallen.
“The vaccine is more effective than we thought,” said Debbie Saslow, a public health expert in HPV vaccination and cervical cancer at the American Cancer Society. As vaccinated teenagers become sexually active, they are not spreading the virus, so “they also protect the people who haven’t been vaccinated,” she said.
There are several obstacles to greater coverage rates in the United States. In other countries, the vaccine is often given in two doses, particularly to girls younger than 15. In the United States, it is given in three doses. An immunization advisory committee to the C.D.C. will convene this week to learn more about the efficacy of the lower dose.
And in some countries, the vaccine is either mandatory or at least offered at school, its cost covered by a national health care system, making administration more streamlined and comprehensive. Such measures helped Rwanda achieve a 93 percent immunization rate in girls. Australia, where the vaccine is offered free to schoolgirls, accomplished a 92 percent reduction in genital warts in women under 21, a study showed.
But in the United States, the vaccine is largely optional.
“Multiple studies have shown the importance of a strong provider recommendation for increasing vaccination coverage,” said Dr. Lauri E. Markowitz, a medical epidemiologist at the National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, a division of the C.D.C., who led the research for the latest study.
But studies show that many primary care providers either do not recommend the vaccine to parents and patients or do so halfheartedly. Some doctors are reluctant to discuss the vaccine because the conversation may dance uncomfortably around sexual activity. They may want to use their limited appointment time for health topics that parents may be more willing to engage.
To try to shift focus to the vaccine’s purpose, last month dozens of cancer centers endorsed the HPV vaccine as a safe, effective prevention strategy against types of cancer that result in 27,000 cases a year. The latest HPV vaccine protects against nine strains of the virus.
Many doctors are pressing for primary care providers to strongly recommend the HPV vaccine in tandem with the other two that preteen children now typically receive.
“The infection is sexually transmitted, but that doesn’t need to be part of the conversation,” said Dr. Joseph A. Bocchini Jr., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.
“If a parent is concerned, physicians should be prepared to talk about it,” said Dr. Bocchini, a former chairman of an HPV vaccine working group for the committee that advises the C.D.C. on immunizations. “But we don’t really discuss how people become infected with every vaccine-preventable disease.”

A version of this article appears in print on February 22, 2016, on page A14 of the New York edition with the headline: Vaccine Has Reduced HPV in Teenage Girls by Almost Two-Thirds, Study Says.

NSA Targets World Leaders for US Geopolitical Interests

Today, 23 February 2016 at 00:00 GMT, WikiLeaks publishes highly classified documents showing that the NSA bugged meetings between UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, between Israel prime minister Netanyahu and Italian prime minister Berlusconi, between key EU and Japanese trade ministers discussing their secret trade red-lines at WTO negotiations, as well as details of a private meeting between then French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Merkel and Berlusconi.
The documents also reveal the content of the meetings from Ban Ki Moon's strategising with Merkel over climate change, to Netanyahu's begging Berlusconi to help him deal with Obama, to Sarkozy telling Berlusconi that the Italian banking system would soon "pop like a cork".
Some documents are classified TOP-SECRET / COMINT-GAMMA and are the most highly classified documents ever published by a media organization.
WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange said "Today we showed that UN Secretary General Ban KiMoon's private meetings over how to save the planet from climate change were bugged by a country intent on protecting its largest oil companies. We previously published Hillary Clinton orders that US diplomats were to steal the Secretary General's DNA. The US government has signed agreements with the UN that it will not engage in such conduct against the UN--let alone its Secretary General. It will be interesting to see the UN's reaction, because if the Secretary General can be targetted without consequence then everyone from world leader to street sweeper is at risk."

Monday, February 01, 2016

UK scientists given permission to genetically modify human embryos for first time

Scientists in the UK will be allowed to genetically modify human embryos for the first time in history, after they received a licence to go ahead with groundbreaking research into the early stages of human life.
Permission has been granted to alter the DNA of embryos in the first seven days after fertilisation, and could provide clues in the short term as to what causes miscarriage in women.
It remains illegal for the scientists to implant the altered embryos into women, but the decision represents a huge landmark in the use of revolutionary gene-editing technology known as Crispr-Cas9.
The licence was granted by the UK's independent Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The committee added a caveat that no gene editing can take place until the research receives separate approval from an ethics panel, which could be achieved by March.
The project is being led by Dr Kathy Niakan at the Francis Crick Institute in London, and colleagues said they were "delighted" her licence application had been approved.
Much of Dr Niakan's application was dedicated to addressing the ethical issues surrounding the editing of human embryos. After the passing of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 2008, the UK has some of the strongest legislation in the world in this field.
The research will see scientists cutting into the genetic code of embryos, isolating individual segments of DNA and assessing how they contribute to the early growth and behaviour of the embryos.
An embryo only has around 250 cells at the seven-day point of development, and a high proportion are simply absorbed into the placenta. Understanding which genes dictate this could dramatically improve IVF success rates in future.
The project will use surplus embryos from IVF treatment which would have been destroyed anyway, and women will be required to give specific consent for them to be used in this way.
Crispr-Cas9 is an immensely powerful technique invented three years ago which allows DNA to be "cut and pasted" using molecular "scissors".
It could lead to huge leaps forward in science and medicine but critics have warned that the pace of change is too fast.
They fear misuse of such technology could lead to potentially dangerous treatments and "designer babies".
One major concern is that making changes to embryonic DNA could have unknown harmful effects throughout an individual's body. There is also the risk of passing genetic "mistakes" on to future generations.
But scientists hailed the decision on Monday as an "encouraging step" in the road to Crispr-Cas9 producing clinical results.
Professor Peter Braude, an expert in obstetrics and gynaecology from King's College London, said: "I am delighted to hear that the HFEA have had the good sense to approve this important project.
"Gene editing tools will allow fresh insights into the basic genetic mechanisms that control cell allocation in the early embryo.
"These mechanisms are crucial in ensuring healthy normal development and implantation, and when they go wrong might result in failure to implant or miscarriage. I await results with interest."
Bruce Whitelaw, professor of animal biotechnology at the Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh, said: "This project, by increasing our understanding of how the early human embryo develops and grows, will add to the basic scientific knowledge needed for devising strategies to assist infertile couples and reduce the anguish of miscarriage.
"More broadly, this approval is another example of the lead position UK scientists are taking in evaluating the exciting new genome editing technology - which ranges from advances in human reproduction, to controlling the spread of insect-borne diseases, to precision breeding in plant and livestock agriculture."
And Dr Sarah Chan, chancellor's fellow at the Usher Institute for Population Health Sciences and Informatics, University of Edinburgh, said: "This is an encouraging step as it demonstrates that good science and effective ethical oversight can go hand in hand.
"Dr Niakan's research into the biology of early human development is valuable both for scientific knowledge and the therapeutic applications it may eventually produce, for example in treating infertility and in stem cell therapies.

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