February 28, 2019

Split Sex Animals are Not Unusual in Nature and it Should not be For Humans


By Karen Weintraub

All serious butterfly collectors remember their first gynandromorph: a butterfly with color and pattern that are distinctly male on one wing and female on the other.

Seeing one sparks wonder and curiosity. For the biologist Nipam H. Patel, the sighting offered a possible answer to a question he had been pondering for years: During embryonic and larval development, how do cells know where to stop and where to go?

He was sure that the delicate black outlines between male and female regions appearing on one wing — but not the other — identified a key facet of animal development.

“It immediately struck me that this was telling me something interesting about how the wing was being made,” said Dr. Patel, a biologist who now heads the Marine Biological Laboratory, a research institute in Woods Hole, Mass., affiliated with the University of Chicago. 

The patterning on the gynandromorph’s wing shows that the body uses signaling centers to control where cells go during development and what tissues they become in creatures as diverse as butterflies and people, Dr. Patel said.

Gynandromorph butterflies and other half-male, half-female creatures, particularly birds, have fascinated both scientists and amateurs for centuries. The latest sensation was a half-red, half-taupe cardinal that became a regular visitor in the backyard of Shirley and Jeffrey Caldwell in Erie, Pa. Although the bird would have to be tested to confirm that it is a gynandromorph, its color division strongly suggests that it is, scientists say.

Split-sex creatures are not as unusual as they may seem when one discovery goes viral, as the Cardinals did. It extends beyond birds and butterflies to other insects and crustaceans, like lobsters and crabs.

Scientists say these instances of split-sex animals and insects could offer clues to why some human diseases strike one sex more than the other.

Researchers thought they had figured out the genetics of birds and bees, but gynandromorphs suggest that there is more to learn, said Jennifer Marshall Graves, a distinguished professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. 

Mammals have X and Y chromosomes, birds and insects have Z and W, and some reptiles can change their sex depending on temperature, or a combination of temperature and sex chromosomes, she said.

It was believed that the sex of a bird was determined by a protein made by the DMRT1 gene, which would reach all the cells of the bird through the bloodstream, Dr. Graves said. But for two sides of the bird to share the same bloodstream but not the same sex, there must be more to the story.

Hormones can’t be the sole drivers of sex either, but they most likely play some role, said Arthur Arnold, a distinguished research professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. In a paper published in 2003 in PNAS, Dr. Arnold showed that in gynandromorphic zebra finches, brain cells on the female side were more masculine than comparable cells in a typical female. 

A chicken with bilateral gynandromorphism.
credit Michael Clinton/Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh

How gynandromorphs are born at all still remains a mystery. For birds, the most likely explanation is that a female makes an unusual double-nucleus egg cell, one with a Z chromosome and one with a W chromosome, and each is fertilized by a Z sperm, making some cells ZZ and others ZW in the same individual, Dr. Arnold said.

“Although this happens regularly, it’s very rare,” he added. Gene editing is tricky in birds, so it has not been possible to experimentally induce this phenomenon in birds, and it’s not well understood, he said.

The same process is very unlikely to happen in mammals, he said. Female mammals naturally have two of the same sex chromosomes, and the instant a mammalian egg and sperm fuse, “dramatic changes prevent the entry of a second sperm.”

Gynandromorphs occur naturally, usually resulting from a random genetic error, Dr. Patel said. The phenomenon can be inherited — with some flies and moths passing unstable sex chromosomes down to their offspring, he said. But it is also possible that stress can cause the unusual sex split.
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It’s impossible to track an entire population to understand what percentage have unusual sex chromosomes, Dr. Patel said. In the lab, scientists have used radiation to create gynandromorph flies, he said, but it is difficult to sort out the potential causes — including environmental harm — in a wild population.

Why cells of opposite sex end up on opposite sides of these gynandromorphs remains unclear, Dr. Arnold said. “I don’t have a good explanation,” he said.

Although many of the birds studied have been roughly 50 percent male on one side and 50 percent female on the other, a 2010 study in chickens showed that the cells weren’t that evenly distributed.

Animals can also develop as mosaics, with some cells genetically different from others. Some of Dr. Patel’s butterflies, for instance, show male coloration and patterns on parts of a wing, rather than the entire side.
From left, a male Pamela butterfly, a mosaic gynandromorph and a female.
Nipam H. Patel 

From left, a male Pamela butterfly, a mosaic gynandromorph and a female.CreditNipam H. Patel

Dr. Arnold said his own research on sex genes has implications for treating a variety of human diseases that seem to vary by gender. His U.C.L.A. collaborator, Rhonda Voskuhl, has found, for instance, that in multiple sclerosis, a genetically female mouse with two X chromosomes fares worse than a mouse with an X and a Y, even if they have the same hormones. Understanding why females fare worse could help explain and treat M.S. in people, where there is also a gender difference, with women accounting for three times as many cases as men.

Obesity, metabolic syndrome, autoimmune disease, Alzheimer’s, even aging differs by sex, Dr. Arnold noted. Twenty years ago, he said, scientists didn’t think that sex chromosomes played any role at all in causing sex differences in these diseases. “But now we know it makes a difference in mice so we can say: Where does it make a difference in humans?” he said.

A better understanding of the role of sex in disease would eventually enable better treatments, he said. “That’s kind of the hope — that sex differences are not only important to understanding diseases in men and women, but also to developing a more fundamental understanding of the disease processes so that you can manipulate them,” Dr. Arnold said. 

In most cases, losing a chromosome or having an extra one is lethal, said Jeannie Lee, a geneticist, and expert on the X chromosome at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

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Most people have 46 chromosomes, with 23 inherited from each parent. A few chromosomes can come with an extra copy, including chromosomes 13, 18 and 21 — which is commonly called Down syndrome. Losing any chromosome other than a second sex chromosome is always lethal to a fetus.

But the sex chromosome is the only one that people can survive with just one copy, Dr. Graves said. “Girls with a single X and no Y suffer few anomalies because the second X is largely inactive anyway. After all, males have only one X,” she said.

People with anomalous numbers of sex chromosomes, such as those with Turner Syndrome, have a range of problems from virtually no issues to infertility, heart problems, and cognitive impairment. About one in 2,500 girls is born with Turner Syndrome. It is also possible for people to be intersex, born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of female or male, which may but doesn't have to involve sex chromosomes, according to the Intersex Society of North America, an advocacy group.

It is not clear what mechanisms the body has to ensure that most men get only one Y and most women get two X chromosomes, said Karissa Sanbonmatsu, a structural biologist and principal investigator at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. In typical females, one X is usually — but not always — turned off, she said, and some research suggests that there is a mechanism that counts how many X chromosomes are present and generally turns off all but one of them.

The interplay between genetics and hormones is complicated, she said. “Genetics produce hormones, but then the hormones can reprogram DNA,” she said, which might explain why there is a mismatch in some people between their sex chromosomes and their sex hormones. “That’s very speculative,” Dr. Sanbonmatsu said, adding, “It’s hard to get funding to do this kind of research.”

People with androgen insensitivity syndrome, for instance, are born with XY chromosomes, but develop as female, because their cells cannot process male hormones. “So, it’s as if the testosterone doesn’t exist,” she said. They are infertile. 
The more science learns about sex, “the more we find anomalies,” said Alice Dreger, a historian of sexuality.

“Nature’s dealing with conformity all the time in brutal ways and loving ways and all the rest of it,” Dr. Dreger said. “It doesn’t follow the human fantasy of everybody having to be normal. And humans don’t follow that ridiculous idea either.”

A version of this article appears in print on Feb. 26, 2019, on Page D1 of the New York edition with the headline: Split-Sex Decisions

Thousand of Sexual Abuse Allegations Against Unaccompanied Minors in US Custody

                                Related image

Thousands of allegations of sexual abuse against unaccompanied minors (UAC) in the custody of the U.S. government have been reported over the past 4 years, according to Department of Health and Human Services documents given to Axios by Rep. Ted Deutch's office.

Data: Dept. of Health and Human Services; Note: The type of perpetrator is only known for cases ORR reported to DOJ; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios
Allegations against staff members reported to the DOJ included everything from rumors of relationships with UACs to showing pornographic videos to minors to forcibly touching minors’ genitals.

By the numbers: From October 2014 to July 2018, the HHS' Office of Refugee Resettlement received 4,556 complaints, and the Department of Justice received 1,303 complaints. This includes 178 allegations of sexual abuse by adult staff.

What they're saying: Deutch said these documents were included in HHS' response to a House Judiciary Committee request for information made in January.

"This behavior — it's despicable, it's disgusting, and this is just the start of questions that HHS is going to have to answer about how they handle these and what's happening in these facilities," Deutch told Axios.
HHS' response, per spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley:

“The safety of minors is our top concern when administering our unaccompanied alien children program. Each of our grantees running standard shelters is licensed by the respective state for child care services. In addition to other rigorous standards put in place by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at HHS' Administration for Children and Families, background checks of all facility employees are mandatory."
“These are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and ORR fully understands its responsibility to ensure that each child is treated with the utmost care. When any allegations of abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect are made, they are taken seriously and ORR acts swiftly to investigate and respond."
Details: One of the documents given to Axios, embedded below, gives some detail about the allegations, although it only includes descriptions of the incidences for fiscal years 2015 and 2016. We also don't know what happened to the accused staffers in fiscal years 2017 and 2018.

Based on the information provided in the documents, it's unclear whether there's overlap between allegations reported to ORR and those made to DOJ. Axios assumed that some ORR allegations are referred to DOJ, so the numbers included in our chart are conservative.

All allegations referred to DOJ are also referred to HHS, according to the documents.
In many cases, the staff members were removed from duty and ultimately fired.

The Library in Anchorage was Holding a Pride-Fest When a Pastor Decided to Interrupt

  Anchorage Activists Form 'Queen's Guard' To Protect LGBT Events

This library in Alaska was holding a Pridefest

This pastor crashed a library's drag queen story time - then got booed out
A drag queen doing story time at the library | Photo: Facebook/NowThis Politics


Brendan Joel Kelley

The man dressed as the Grim Reaper and holding a sign reading “THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH” had been to Drag Storytime (formerly Drag Queen Storytime) before. On a Saturday earlier this month, he was vocally disparaging LGBT people outside the Z.J. Loussac Public Library in Anchorage, Alaska.

David Grisham, an evangelical street preacher and leader of the hate group Last Frontier Evangelism-Repent Alaska known for disparaging Jews, Muslims and Catholics crashed the second installment of Drag Storytime last June, during Anchorage’s PrideFest. Grisham was booed then, and swiftly escorted out.

At the fourth Drag Storytime event – which features performers in drag reading stories about tolerance, diversity and families to children – on Saturday, Feb. 9, Grisham stood outside the library wearing his bleak costume alongside a couple of fellow protesters, shouting: “You’re sick, you’re perverted, you need to get right with God today… You hate children. Stop hating children. Stop brainwashing them.”

But this time Grisham faced about 30 counterprotesters lined up on either side of the library’s entrance who responded with coordinated chants like “2-4-6-8/We are tired of the hate/2-4-6-8/Love is here, it’s just fate,” and “Don’t be a drag/Just be a queen.”

The scene marked the debut of the Queen’s Guard of Alaska, whose stated mission is “to counteract negative and hostile protests with positive, peaceful, non-engaging rebuttals.”

The Queen’s Guard is a grassroots collective of activists who plan “to be at events where we know or suspect anti-LGBT organizations or people are planning to be at,” said founder Vincent Feuilles, the 46-year-old transgender man who organized the group. “Our purpose is to respond to their hate with accuracy, and love and support for LGBT people going to or performing at the event at that time.”

The idea Feuilles and his fellow activists are pursuing is emerging in other locales as well, particularly as Drag Queen Storytime events, endorsed by the American Library Association, increase in popularity. A similar scene played out in a Detroit suburb in January, and in Anchorage, the Queen’s Guard plans on being at all future Drag Storytime events as well as other LGBT happenings around the state.

Drag Queen Storytimes around the country have also drawn protests from anti-LGBT hate groups. At the Drag Queen Storytime in Huntington Woods, a suburb of Detroit, the Michigan chapter of anti-LGBT hate group MassResistance joined with other anti-LGBT activists, including a Tennessee-based anti-LGBT hate group called Warriors for Christ (formerly of West Virginia), which travels to protest drag queen events at libraries, and the extreme-right Catholic online media outlet Church Militant, an anti-LGBT hate group. MassResistance has also protested similar events at libraries in Windsor, Colorado, and Riverside, California.

Now a nationwide phenomenon, Drag Queen Story Hour was established in San Francisco in 2015. The national Drag Queen Story Hour organization lists two dozen cities with events, but independent permutations like the one in Anchorage are widespread in locales large and small.

The first Drag Storytime in Anchorage “went swimmingly,” organizer Brooks Banker said, but the second, held in June during the annual PrideFest celebration, attracted Grisham, who interrupted the performance before being escorted out.

But it was after the third event, which took place in October, that anti-LGBT forces really took note. On Oct. 26, Arthur Schaper, organization director of hate group MassResistance, sent an email and flyer to library director Mary Jo Torgeson and all of the members of the Anchorage Assembly, decrying the “subversive introduction of an agenda which promotes homosexuality, transgenderism, transvestism, and other paraphilias.”

MassResistance is known for fighting bans against the discredited practice of so-called conversion therapy and rallying against “the homosexual agenda” in public schools. MassResistance paints transgender people as predators, and links homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia.

A few days later, Jim Minnery, the head of the Alaska Family Council and its lobbying group Alaska Family Action, which leads anti-LGBT efforts in the state, contacted Torgeson and asked about the event “before I send an alert out to our constituents.” She told Minnery the events would continue, replying in part: “The story time is not meant to endorse a lifestyle, it is about accepting differences in one another. … As a public entity, what we strive for is equal access, tolerance and respect for everyone.”

On Nov. 2, Minnery posted an alert on Alaska Family Action’s Facebook page, stating: “There is a reason to believe that with organized opposition, some of these attacks on kids, families and faith can be stopped. Libraries in some communities have been reticent to host these events – forcing organizers to look for other sites.”

“I follow [Minnery’s] page on Facebook and he was putting out the call for all the good people to come and cast aside this sin,” said Queen’s Guard founder Feuilles. “I was looking at all the misinformation and everything that was incorrect about it, how he was riling people up, and I thought, it’s almost like we need a Queen’s Guard to go guard the drag queens. That was the start.”

In January 2019, a transgender woman in Anchorage, Andrea “Drea” Redeker, committed suicide, further spurring Feuilles to action. “It was very much a result of all of the aggression she faced everyday,” he said. “I thought if maybe there was more support at things like Drag Storytime, where people saw not just the bad side, which is what Dave Grisham and his group do, and they got there and there was a group of people who were there drowning out that message of hate with love and acceptance, maybe it would stop somebody else.”

The idea of countering anti-LGBT protesters goes as far back as the 1998 murder in Laramie, Wyoming, of Matthew Shepard, who was killed for being gay. After Westboro Baptist Church members had picketed Shepard’s memorial service, LGBT activists, fearing Westboro would also appear at the trial of his killers, showed up wearing angel wings seven feet tall and 10 feet across and surrounded the protesters, effectively hiding them. The operation was called Angel Action.

“The thing I remember most about [Angel Action] is they were there kind of just to quiet and hide [the anti-LGBT protesters],” said Feuilles. “We do not want to hide the opposition. I want people to see and hear what they are saying too, because there are some people who don’t realize that there are groups like this out there.”

Feuilles rallied LGBT activists and the Queen’s Guard of Alaska made its debut at Drag Storytime on Saturday, Feb. 9. They numbered about 30, compared to Grisham’s handful of protesters across the plaza. As Grisham arrived in his Grim Reaper outfit, the Queen’s Guard amassed on each side of the library’s entrance, forcing Grisham to stand away from the doors. “He had to stand across from us – you can’t block the doors,” explained Feuilles.

Anchorage Assemblyman Christopher Constant was in attendance and estimated the crowd for the early performance, aimed at younger children, at nearly 300, with about 150 at the later performance for older children. “What I hear from library staff is that it’s the single most popular event in the calendar year for the library,” he said.

Besides countering Grisham’s hate speech with chants, the Queen’s Guard escorted the performers into the auditorium to cheers from the audience. “I thought it was remarkable,” said Banker, the Drag Storytime organizer. “It was really inspiring and actually very necessary for the emotional, mental and even physical safety of our volunteer drag storytellers, as well as all attendees. You can attend Drag Storytime and show support that way, but to have a whole other side of support is really important too. We’re covered, we feel protected.”

The Queen’s Guard of Alaska also plans to be at the next Drag Storytime, yet to be scheduled, and will be out in force supporting attendees of the Trans Alaska Summit, to be held March 8 – 10.

Photo credit Lillian Lennon

Comments, suggestions or tips? Send them to HWeditor@splcenter.org and follow us on Twitter @Hatewatch.

Matt Bomer Says He Loves Playing Doom Patrol A Gay Character Not Define by Just Being Gay

Matt Bomer has explained why he ‘loves’ his character on Doom Patrol.

by Sam Damshenas

Gay Times UK

On the DC series, the Golden Globe-winning actor stars as gay superhero Larry Trainor/Negative Man, a former pilot who is able to fly and generate minor explosions after an accident involving “negative energy”.
Because Trainor is wrapped head-to-toe in bandages, he is physically portrayed by Matthew Zuk with the voice of Bomer, who also physically appears as the character in flashbacks.
When asked why he took on the role, Bomer said he was intrigued to play a character who is embodied by two different actors.
“It’s not like voicing animation, it’s a true collaboration in that I just throw spaghetti at the wall,” he explained. “Matthew does his stuff, and we go back and polish it at the end.”
He continued: “I’d never really seen a gay male superhero and what I love most about the character is that even though it’s a huge struggle internally for him.
“It’s not the sole thing that defines who he is, he’s such a multifaceted character, if it was just one stereotypical aspect of him I would have had reservations about it.”
Doom Patrol is the third scripted television series in the DC Extended Universe, after Titans – which stars Brendon Thwaites as Robin – and the animated drama Young Justice.
The series premiered 15 February on the DC Extended Universe Network. It also stars Diane Guerrero (Orange is the New Black), April Bowlby (Drop Dead Diva), Joivan Wade (Eastenders), Alan Tudyk (Firefly) and Brendan Fraser (Bedazzled).
Watch the trailer below.

February 27, 2019

Chinese Broadcaster Faces Criticism After Changing Reference to Homosexuality During Malek’s Speech


Chinese broadcaster Mango TV is facing criticism after its online transmission of the Oscars amended a reference to homosexuality in best actor winner Rami Malek's speech.
Accepting the award for his performance in Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic of British rock act Queen and lead singer Freddie Mercury, Rami Malek said the film could help those struggling with their identity.
"We made a film about a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life unapologetically himself," the actor said.
But Mango TV, one of China's most popular channels, avoided using the words "gay man", instead of translating them as "special group".
The broadcaster has previously come under fire for censoring LGBT references in the Eurovision Song ContestThe mistranslation has generated significant reaction online. Tens of thousands of users of Sina Weibo, a Chinese micro-blogging platform, shared screenshots of the broadcaster's coverage.
Prominent music blogger Linglei Guodu was among those to note the mistranslation.
"Mango TV translated 'gay man' as 'special group'", the blogger wrote on Weibo, alongside a screenshot of Mango TV's broadcast, in a post that has more than 14,000 shares.
"There are still so many people in today's society who show prejudice or discriminate by referring to so-called 'special people'," another user wrote.
"Even the word 'gay' can't appear on our screens, this is so sad."
"What on earth are they afraid of?" one asked.
Others noted previous incidents of censorship involving Mango TV.
Screenshot of Switzerland's Eurovision performance with a rainbow flag in the audience blurred out and circledImage copyrightMANGO TV
Image captionA screenshot from Mango TV shows a blurred rainbow flag in the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest
In 2018, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) barred the Chinese broadcaster from airing the Eurovision Song Contest after it censored LGBT elements of the competition, including blurring audience members' rainbow flags.
The EBU said the censorship was "not in line with its values of universality and inclusivity and our proud tradition of celebrating diversity through music".
Mango TV has not responded to the criticism online.
Chinese authorities have embarked on a campaign in recent years aimed at purging content that it deems inappropriate.
In April, Weibo announced a move to ban gay content on its platform. But that decision was reversed following a massive outcry.

Kansas Republican Withdraws Support From Anti Gay Bill After Reading Daughter’s Letter on Face Book

Image result for Kansas Republican Ron Highland daughter

By Gwen Aviles
NBC News 
                                     Related image

Kansas Republican Ron Highland is removing his name from an anti-gay bill he co-sponsored after his daughter — who describes herself as a “proud member of Kansas city’s LGBTQ+ community” — shamed him in an open letter posted to Facebook.
“Further isolating the marginalized among the population you serve is far from your duty. Hate has no place in public policy,” Christel Highland wrote in the letter addressed to her father. “I respectfully request an apology on behalf of my family and beloved friends that this cruel attempt at legislation impacts.”
Christel Highland told NBC News on Monday that she and her father have a “long history of writing letters to each other about things we might not be comfortable discussing in person.” She ended her Feb. 20 letter by saying that she loves her father “in spite” of his “flaws,” adding “I cannot, however, condone your cruel actions. Shame on you.”

Ron Highland, a member of the Kansas House of Representatives, was one of seven Republican lawmakers to co-sponsor the Marriage and Constitution Restoration Act, which LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Kansas called the “most vile” legislation in the state’s history.
The bill, introduced Feb. 14, refers to same-sex marriages as “parody marriages” and classifies legal protections for members of the LGBTQ community as “the greatest sham since the inception of American jurisprudence.”
The bill seeks to prove that same-sex marriage is unconstitutional by equating LGBTQ identity with a sect of “secular humanism,” and it argues that such marriages violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause — which prohibits the government from establishing a religion.
The Marriage and Constitution Restoration Act, along with its sister bill, the Optional Elevated Marriage Act, were modeled after draft measures written by Chris Sevier, an anti-gay activist best known for filing a series of lawsuits in different states seeking to marry his laptop. 
Following his daughter’s public Facebook post about the controversial marriage bill, Ron Highland told local news outlets that he made a “mistake.”
“The bill that I should not have signed on to co-sponsor contained some hateful language, which I do not condone,” he said in a statement shared with The Wamego Times. “I have asked for my name to be removed from the bill. The process for doing so is in motion.” 
Drag queens protest at border wall to raise money for LGBTQ asylum-seekers
Kansas Rep. Brandon Woodard, an openly gay Democrat, said that other co-sponsors of the bill have also begun to backtrack on their support for the measure. 
While Ron Highland did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Christel Highland applauded her father’s change of heart on the marriage bill, writing on Facebook, “Now I have to write another letter.” 
“I felt proud of him for stating what feels overwhelmingly overlooked right now — that we are here to love and support one another,” she said. “We are better than this.”

February 26, 2019

With The Help of Trump Venezuela Has a Good Chance of Becoming Libya in The Caribbean

Image result for civil war in venezuela
The Telegraph

The risk of war in Venezuela is rising dangerously. For Americans who had come to think of President Trump invading Venezuela as something of a punch line, a rude awakening could be in the works.
On Saturday, Venezuela’s serially appalling regime crossed a number of new red lines in its crusade to keep food and medicine from reaching desperately hungry and sick people, setting fire to trucks carrying humanitarian aid and deploying paramilitary gangs to kill Venezuelans who went to the border to try to force the aid in. The regime allowed those gangs to shoot into the territory of both its big neighbors: Colombia and Brazil. The clashes moved military action to dislodge the Venezuelan regime from fringe speculation to serious policy discussion.
Here’s what Americans need to know about this prospect. Venezuela is, in many ways, a failed state. Much of the territory is lightly governed, if at all. The official Venezuelan state devotes the bulk of its time and energy to stealing the nation’s oil resources and repressing its political opponents, leaving little room to worry about the basics of governance.
As a result, vast swaths of Venezuela are controlled not by President Nicolás Maduro’s government but by a baffling proliferation of armed nonstate actors that include powerful prison gangs, Colombian guerrillas from the ELN or from splinter groups of the disbanded FARC, various ideologically infused “colectivos” — in effect, paramilitary groups subscribing to a vaguely Marxist ideology and allied with the government. These groups make a handsome living from any number of illegal activities: trafficking cocaine, illegal gold mining, extortion, human trafficking, smuggling — you name it.
Travel around Venezuela and you soon realize it’s these groups, and not the official Chavista state, who are effectively in charge of much of the territory. In many places, they live in a sort of uneasy, tacit alliance with the military — they buy weapons from them, passing on kickbacks and handling the dirty work the soldiers would rather not do.
The official armed forces, by contrast, are a mess. Obsessed with the specter of military plots, Maduro spends more time spying on his own troops than leading them. Cuban agents oversee the entire military establishment, running a counterintelligence force that systematically listens in on officers’ communications and will arrest and torture you at any sign of dissent. The actual soldiers, for their part, are mostly an afterthought: There’s often not quite enough to eat in mess halls, and conditions certainly impact readiness and morale. Training has been kept below the bare minimum for years, due to budget problems. It’s not much of a fighting force. And yet, if the United States does go on the offensive, it’s clear it’s the Venezuelan military they’ll target first. Dysfunctional as it is, the armed forces have fixed installations — radar positions, air force bases, barracks — that could be targeted by a cruise-missile-guidance system.
The paramilitary gangs who actually control the territory, for their part, operate from civilian quarters. No U.S. military plan would be able to target them, even if it set out to do that.
The best hope for Venezuela’s future is that its dysfunctional military forces manage to break free from the Cuban counterintelligence machine and rebel against the dictatorship. If they were better led, the armed forces would have some chance to subdue the lawless nonstate actors who’ve ended up in control of Venezuela. But cowed by the intensive spying they’re subjected to, Venezuela’s generals are unlikely to rebel against Maduro unless they calculate U.S. military action is genuinely imminent. 
To break the logjam in Caracas, then, the threat of U.S. military action could be enormously helpful. But here’s the tricky part: Actual U.S. military action to destroy the Venezuelan military would be a catastrophe. It would remove the one actor that might eventually be able to regain control over the country and deliver it instead into the hands of a wild variety of criminal gangs. Libya in the Caribbean.
The best solution now, then, is a strategy designed to convince Venezuela’s generals that, unless they topple Maduro in short order, they’ll be bombed out of existence — a message that should be delivered by people who understand actually bombing them out of existence would be a disaster. What the United States needs to do, in other words, is bluff. Credibly. But with sufficient restraint to prevent the unmitigated disaster an actual war would bring.
It’s a delicate, demanding task. And we need to trust the Trump administration to pull it off without a misstep.
God help us all.

Friendly Homes At Dumfries Church For LGBT Will Bring Gay People To Live At The Town Centre

 It is one of Dumfries' most prominent buildings.
Greyfriars Church - now St Bride's - has stood proudly at one end of the High Street for more than 150 years.
It could now be set to find a role few would have imagined when it was completed back in the 1860s.
A funding package has been put in place to explore the creation of LGBT-friendly housing on the site - particularly aimed at older members of the community.
Presentational white space
Church doors
Image captionThe church hopes the plan could help the building "pay for itself"
Presentational white space
The rationale? It might tackle three key issues in one.
Dumfries and Galloway Council is keen to encourage town centre living, the church is struggling to meet its running costs and it could help what is seen as a vulnerable group.
Leading the project team is Dr Belle Doyle who said the scheme was at a very early stage.
"It is more or less an investigation of whether we can do it," she said.
"The St Bride's Anglican Church - who I have been working for - have been looking at the future of the church.
"One of the problems is it is a massive church and there are not many people using it now." The trustees have been looking at ways to make the "really iconic" building pay for itself.
The church would continue to operate, possibly with a smaller footprint, with the property to rent built at the back.
"The idea was to build something at the back that would pay a bit of ground rent or something to keep the church going," explained Dr Doyle.
However, as a category A listed building, there are quite a few hurdles to be cleared.
"From the front of the building, if you were standing at Burns Statue, you shouldn't be able to see any development that was happening at the back of the building," she said.
"That vista would not be disturbed at all."
Side of church
Image captionDumfries and Galloway Council has provided financial support to exploring the plans
Dr Doyle said that they wanted the housing project to be something a little bit different.
"We wanted to make it kind of special, in a way, that we could invite a group to think about how they could live in the town centre and what would be a vulnerable group we could approach that would actually find that useful," she explained.
"I've been involved with the LGBT group in Dumfries and Galloway even before it was called LGBT.
"I know a lot of people who, even though they love living in the area, people are getting older, they are getting slightly more isolated."
She said she believed the attractions of town centre living might appeal to them.
"Here is a vulnerable group that would definitely seize the chance of living a more urban lifestyle," she said.
Dyfrig HywelImage copyrightDYFRIG HYWEL
Image captionDyfrig Hywel said the homes might allow people to "finally be themselves"
They are working with a housing association on the plans which they believe could become a template for developing redundant churches or ones struggling with their upkeep.
The idea would be to create something "cutting edge" at the back of a historic sandstone structure.
"The most important thing for us is people are very positive about the housing and the fact they are in the middle of Dumfries," said Dr Doyle.
"Obviously you would want people to be open and friendly to their neighbours regardless of who their neighbours were.
"There is not much of a social life which is why LGBT people have always gravitated to cities because there is a kind of 'critical mass' almost.
"If there is a large enough group you become the majority, you are taken seriously at that point.
"It is not just one or two people and they are isolated and you can bully or intimidate them."

'Really vulnerable'

Ian Barber and Dyfrig Hywel, who are members of the project board, said they believed there was a need for the housing.
"One type of people that might be living there is the elderly - people having to go back into the closet when they go into care," said Mr Hywel.
"We have got other people who come out of the closet in their 60s when their parents die.
"Despite the huge progress in society they are still really, really vulnerable people."
"There is also a huge issue with older LGBT people and care," added Mr Barber.
"People coming into their homes to deliver personal care not realising they are LGBT, not realising the other person there is actually their partner.
"Having to move into a care home or nursing home - there are still all sorts of issues. The development at the church is trying to, in some way, answer those needs."
Dumfries town centreImage copyrightBILLY MCCRORIE
Image captionDumfries and Galloway Council is keen to see people live in the town centre
Mr Hywel said peer support was becoming "more and more important" although he accepted the project might not appeal to everyone.
"It is a bit of a Marmite one - some people will like it, some people won't," he said.
"There is no doubt there is a need, however the people that need it are not going to be public about it necessarily because some of them will be vulnerable and isolated."
"It is good for the town because it is bringing more people to live in the town," said Mr Barber.
"There is all this discussion about the future of Dumfries now and we need to bring more people to live in the town centre."

'Long-term future'

"Inter-generational projects are very important - older people have a lot to give to younger ones and vice-versa," added Mr Hywel. "This could be life-changing for some individuals - they could finally be themselves."
The local authority, for its part, said it took great pride in being an "inclusive council".
"We are also keen to get people back living in Dumfries town centre," a spokesman said.
"Rethinking how the church is used may provide it with a long-term sustainable future.
"The trustees are fully aware of the iconic status this listed building has within the town and would like to see a future use that benefits the local LGBT community and supports the regeneration of Dumfries town centre."
The council recently committed a little more than £45,000 to help take the project forward.
If it is delivered, the people behind it hope it might become a template used in other parts of the country.

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