Amid a sweeping crackdown on dissent in Egypt, security forces have forcibly disappeared hundreds of people since the beginning of 2015, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

It's an "unprecedented spike," the group says, with an average of three or four people disappeared every day.

The Republican Party, as it prepares for its convention next week has checked off item No. 1 on its housekeeping list — drafting a party platform. The document reflects the conservative views of its authors, many of whom are party activists. So don't look for any concessions to changing views among the broader public on key social issues.

Many public figures who took to Twitter and Facebook following the murder of five police officers in Dallas have faced public blowback and, in some cases, found their employers less than forgiving about inflammatory and sometimes hateful online comments.

As Venezuela unravels — with shortages of food and medicine, as well as runaway inflation — President Nicolas Maduro is increasingly unpopular. But he's still holding onto power.

"The truth in Venezuela is there is real hunger. We are hungry," says a man who has invited me into his house in the northwestern city of Maracaibo, but doesn't want his name used for fear of reprisals by the government.

The wiry man paces angrily as he speaks. It wasn't always this way, he says, showing how loose his pants are now.

Ask a typical teenage girl about the latest slang and girl crushes and you might get answers like "spilling the tea" and Taylor Swift. But at the Girl Up Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., the answers were "intersectional feminism" — the idea that there's no one-size-fits-all definition of feminism — and U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres.

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Arizona Hispanics Poised To Swing State Blue

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Editor's note: This report contains accounts of rape, violence and other disturbing events.

Sex trafficking wasn't a major concern in the early 1980s, when Beth Jacobs was a teenager. If you were a prostitute, the thinking went, it was your choice.

Jacobs thought that too, right up until she came to, on the lot of a dark truck stop one night. She says she had asked a friendly-seeming man for a ride home that afternoon.

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Does Life Have A Purpose?

Jun 19, 2013

I don't mean our private lives, our personal choices and hopes, the plans we make along the years. I imagine that each and every one of us believes our lives do have a purpose, or many. What I mean is life as a natural phenomenon, this strange assembly of matter endowed with autonomy, capable of absorbing energy from the environment and preserving itself through reproduction.

All life forms have one essential purpose: survival. This is even more important than reproduction. After all, babies and grannies are alive but don't reproduce. To be alive is more than passing genes along. To be alive is to want to remain alive. This is an essential difference between living creatures and other forms of material organization, such as stars or rocks.

These forms simply exist, passively allowing the unfolding of the physical processes that define their interactions with themselves and their surroundings. For rocks, it's a give and take with erosion; for stars, they withstand their gravitational imploding while there is enough fuel in their cores. There is no energy architecture, no planning to prolong what is inevitable.

The essential difference between the living and the non-living is the urge for preservation. Life is a form of material organization that strives to perpetuate itself.

The confusion with respect to the purpose of life shows up when we consider the amazing diversity of life forms. Given such richness and creativity, it's hard to accept that all of this is just the result of a purposeless accident, without any intention of creating ever-more-complex creatures. Things get worse when we learn that the history of life on Earth shows an increasing complexity.

Life has been around planet Earth for at least 3.5 billion years. During the first 2.5 billion years there were only unicellular bacteria. Only some 600 million years ago did diversity take off. After the Cambrian explosion, at about 550 million years ago, we see the multicellular complexity we associate with higher life forms. From there to here life took over the oceans, land and air with amazing speed and resilience.

No wonder so many people think that life has a purpose, that of increasing its complexity. Of course, the apex of this process would be us, intelligent humans.

This conclusion, however, is false. There is no "plan" to make life more complex so that it can finally generate intelligent beings. (The eminent biologist Ernst Mayr makes a powerful argument against this kind of teleology.) Take the dinosaurs, for example: they were here for some 150 million years and were pretty stupid. We don't see velociraptors using radio telescopes or iPads. Life wants to preserve itself. As long as it is well adapted to its environment it will remain as is, with the possibility of the occasional beneficial mutation.

If the environment changes drastically, life will respond. Either by dying or, for those species that survive, through mutations that may drive radical changes in short periods, as in the punctuated equilibrium hypothesis of Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldridge that — even if somewhat controversial — seems to contain a germ of truth.

If we changed one or more dramatic events in Earth's history, say, the fall of the asteroid that helped eliminate the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, life's history would also change. It's quite possible that we wouldn't even be here.

The lesson from life is simple: in Nature, creation and destruction dance together. But in this choreography there is no choreographer.

You can keep up with more of what Marcelo is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: @mgleiser

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