Posts by thedailyjournalist:

    Marijuana Associated with Three-Fold Risk of Death from Hypertension

    August 16th, 2017

    The Daily Journalist.

     

    Marijuana use is associated with a three-fold risk of death from hypertension, according to research published today in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

    “Steps are being taken towards legalisation and decriminalisation of marijuana in the United States, and rates of recreational marijuana use may increase substantially as a result,” said lead author Barbara A Yankey, a PhD student in the School of Public Health, Georgia State University, Atlanta, US. “However, there is little research on the impact of marijuana use on cardiovascular and cerebrovascular mortality.”

    In the absence of longitudinal data on marijuana use, the researchers designed a retrospective follow-up study of NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) participants aged 20 years and above. In 2005–2006, participants were asked if they had ever used marijuana. Those who answered “yes” were considered marijuana users. Participants reported the age when they first tried marijuana and this was subtracted from their current age to calculate the duration of use.

    Information on marijuana use was merged with mortality data in 2011 from the National Centre for Health Statistics. The researchers estimated the associations of marijuana use, and duration of use, with death from hypertension, heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease, controlling for cigarette use and demographic variables including sex, age, and ethnicity. Death from hypertension included multiple causes such as primary hypertension and hypertensive renal disease.

    Among a total of 1 213 participants, 34% used neither marijuana nor cigarettes, 21% used only marijuana, 20% used marijuana and smoked cigarettes, 16% used marijuana and were past-smokers, 5% were past-smokers and 4% only smoked cigarettes. The average duration of marijuana use was 11.5 years.Marijuana users had a higher risk of dying from hypertension. Compared to non-users, marijuana users had a 3.42-times higher risk of death from hypertension and a 1.04 greater risk for each year of use. There was no association between marijuana use and death from heart disease or cerebrovascular disease.

    Ms Yankey said: “We found that marijuana users had a greater than three-fold risk of death from hypertension and the risk increased with each additional year of use.”

    Ms Yankey pointed out that there were limitations to the way marijuana use was estimated. For example, it cannot be certain that participants used marijuana continuously since they first tried it.

    She said: “Our results suggest a possible risk of hypertension mortality from marijuana use. This is not surprising since marijuana is known to have a number of effects on the cardiovascular system. Marijuana stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, leading to increases in heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen demand. Emergency rooms have reported cases of angina and heart attacks after marijuana use.”

    The authors stated that the cardiovascular risk associated with marijuana use may be greater than the cardiovascular risk already established for cigarette smoking.

    “We found higher estimated cardiovascular risks associated with marijuana use than cigarette smoking,” said Ms Yankey. “This indicates that marijuana use may carry even heavier consequences on the cardiovascular system than that already established for cigarette smoking. However, the number of smokers in our study was small and this needs to be examined in a larger study.”

    “Needless to say, the detrimental effects of marijuana on brain function far exceed that of cigarette smoking,” she added.

    Ms Yankey said it was crucial to understand the effects of marijuana on health so that policy makers and individuals could make informed decisions.

    She said: “Support for liberal marijuana use is partly due to claims that it is beneficial and possibly not harmful to health. With the impending increase in recreational marijuana use it is important to establish whether any health benefits outweigh the potential health, social and economic risks. If marijuana use is implicated in cardiovascular diseases and deaths, then it rests on the health community and policy makers to protect the public.”

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    Nanotech Cooling Curtain Offers Alternative to Air Conditioners

    August 16th, 2017

     The Daily Journalist.

    Climate change is leading to ever higher temperatures and aridity in many areas, making efficient room cooling increasingly important. An ETH doctoral student at the Functional Materials Laboratory has developed an alternative to electrically powered air conditioning: a cooling curtain made of a porous triple-layer membrane.

    It all began with a vague idea: “We thought it would be interesting to combine opposing functions in one material,” says Mario Stucki, a doctoral student at ETH Zurich’s Functional Materials Laboratory. He combined two layers of hydrophobic (water-repellent) polyurethane with a middle layer of hydrophilic (water-attracting) polymer. The resulting membrane feels dry, although it is saturated with water, and since the outer layers are covered with holes of about one micrometer in diameter, water can escape from the middle layer into the environment.
    An alternative for heat-afflicted areas

    Electricity savings at summer heat: Mario Stucki developed a new type of membrane that cools rooms.

    Photograph: Peter Rüegg / ETH Zurich

    When Stucki realized how well the water transport works across the various layers, he came up with the idea of the cooling curtain. “Water evaporation requires a lot of energy,” he says. “Heat is extracted from the air, it cools and at the same time humidifies the surrounding area.” Conventional humidifiers work in the same way – but they need a lot of power, whereas Stucki’s system is passive. “The sunlight that falls through a window on to the curtain provides enough energy for this type of air conditioning.”

    Such curtains could be a real blessing in hot and arid regions. In 2015, people in the Arabian Peninsula endured a heatwave with temperatures of more than 50°C. Climate scientists forecast even higher temperatures and severe aridity for desert regions, which could lead to certain climate zones becoming uninhabitable. Cooling buildings and rooms is thus becoming increasingly essential, but it devours vast amounts of electricity. In the US, for example, about 15 percent of energy consumption can be attributed to air-conditioning equipment, and a huge amount of this energy comes from fossil fuels. The passive cooling curtain would be an environmentally and climate-friendly alternative.

    Further development of an earlier innovation

    Stucki attracted attention back in 2013 with his Master’s thesis at ETH Zurich, when he developed a new material for outdoor use in no time. In contrast to conventional functional textiles, it does not contain fluorine compounds, which are harmful to the environment and human health.

    His current research makes use of that invention: he functionalized his textile using placeholders, for which he mixed tiny lime stone particles into the liquid polymer, which is later processed into the textile. The lime stone particles are then removed from the solid material with hydrochloric or acetic acid, so that tiny holes are formed at the sites of the nano particles. These are necessary for the material to function and to “breathe”. The outer walls of the cooling curtain are made of this porous material in order that the middle hydrophilic layer can deliver water to the surrounding area.

    Stucki used a method developed in 2012 by ETH professor Wendelin Stark and his group to combine the different layers into one material. These layers are not glued together, as is customary in industrial processes; instead, they are placed on top of each other in a suitable solvent, whereby the outer layers dissolve slightly and connect to the middle layer. This is the only way that the researchers can ensure that the outer material of the membrane remains porous.

    Amazingly thin: the membrane is hardly thicker than a sheet of paper.

    Photograph: Peter Rüegg / ETH Zurich

    A successful proof of concept

    Stucki was able to prove the cooling curtain’s basic functionality by experiment. He put the triple-layer membrane in a water bath and measured the water loss into the surrounding area at 30°C and 50 percent humidity (between 1.2kg and 1.7kg water per day and square meter). The researchers calculated the results based on a cubic house with a 10m wall length. At an outside temperature of 40°C and an inside temperature of 30°C, the curtain surface of 80m2 was sufficient to dissipate more heat than supplied by the sunlight, meaning the house was passively cooled.

    “We were able to show that our system fundamentally works,” says Stucki, “but to commercialize it, we still have a lot of questions to resolve.” For example, they need to determine how the material behaves microbiologically, since high temperatures and humidity form the ideal breeding ground for the growth of bacteria and fungi. Stucki says, however, that the synthetic material used for the outer layer could be replaced relatively easily with antiseptic materials; this is one of the advantages of functionalization using lime stone nano particles.

    A further challenge is to ensure that the curtain is able to evaporate water over the entire surface, which will require improvements to the water transport in the membrane. It is also still unclear how long the membrane can function stably.

    After completing his doctorate in the summer, Stuck will concentrate on commercializing fluorine-free outdoor textiles. He is currently looking for financing partners. However, he has not ruled out the possibility that the new membrane also has potential in the outdoor sector, as it is ideally suited to the regulation and removal of sweat – one of the most important properties of functional textiles.

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    Where Did Minoans and Mycenaeans Originate?

    August 16th, 2017

    The Daily Journalist.

    For the first time, scientists have obtained and analyzed genome sequences from the ancient Minoans and Mycenaeans, who lived three to five thousand years ago and were Europe’s first civilized people.

    The new analysis suggests that the Minoans and Mycenaeans share a great deal of their genetic heritage, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator David Reich and colleagues report August 2 in the journal Nature. The research adds richness to our understanding of these cultures, which are mostly known from archeology and ancient literature, Reich says.

    “Who these Bronze Age peoples were — the people who lived in a world dimly remembered in the poetry of Homer — has been a great mystery,” explains Reich, an evolutionary geneticist at Harvard Medical School. “We set out to investigate the origins of these ancient civilizations.”

    The Minoans were a literate Bronze Age civilization that flourished thousands of years ago (one woman shown dancing, in a fresco fragment that dates from 1600-1450 BCE).

    Credit: Photo by Wolfgang Sauber is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

    Their origins have been intensely debated. Theories include migrations from various locations, including Europe and Asia Minor, and at various times before and during the Bronze Age. Both cultures were literate and had writing, but the Minoan language hasn’t been deciphered. The Mycenaean language, an early form of Greek, is part of the Indo-European language family, whose languages have been spoken across Europe and central and southern Asia since the beginning of recorded history. The identity of the Minoan language is unknown. But despite extensive archeological and linguistic research, the origins of both cultures and their relationship to each other and to other Bronze Age peoples have remained a puzzle.Reich and his colleagues’ work suggests that about three-quarters of the ancestry of both peoples derives from the first farmers of the Aegean Sea, including western Anatolia (a region that lies within modern day Turkey), Greece, and the Greek islands. But, quite different from the rest of contemporary Europe and from the first farmers of Greece, the Bronze Age Greek civilizations also derived a small part of their ancestry from populations from the Caucasus and Iran.

    The Minoans, based on the island of Crete from roughly 3100 to 1050 BCE, were a maritime people with sophisticated palaces, one of which was so large and complex that it may have been the historical basis of the myth of the Labyrinth, home of the beast called the Minotaur. The Mycenaeans of mainland Greece, 1700 to 1100 BCE, who eventually conquered the Minoans, were skilled engineers and fierce warriors. Their culture is named for Mycenae, a site with a fortified palace that was the seat of the celebrated King Agamemnon, who led the Greeks in the Trojan War.

    Reich and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Jena, Germany and the University of Washington teamed up with Greek and Turkish archeologists and anthropologists to obtain samples from 19 Bronze Age individuals excavated from tombs and other sites throughout the Aegean. The ancient DNA, carefully extracted from bones and teeth, included 10 Minoans, four Mycenaeans, three individuals from southwest Anatolia (Turkey), an individual from Crete that dates from after the arrival of the Mycenaeans on the island, and one Neolithic sample (5,400 BCE) from the mainland that predated the emergence of the Greek civilizations. The researchers then compared and contrasted the new DNA samples with previously reported data from 332 other ancient individuals, 2,614 present-day humans, and two present-day Cretans.

    The new study also shows that the Mycenaeans have additional ancestry that is distinct from the Minoans, says Iosif Lazaridis, a postdoctoral researcher in Reich’s lab and lead author of the study. This genetic contribution may be from people of the steppes north of the Black and Caspian seas.

    Scholars have debated whether the Indo-European language, which gave rise to Italic, Germanic, Slavic and Hindi languages, among others, spread with migrations from Anatolia or from the steppe. Previous work by Reich and colleagues supports the “steppe hypothesis.” Their latest data suggest that the speakers of this early Greek language may have formed the southern portion of the same migrations that contributed to the dispersal of other Indo-European languages, Reich says.

    “This increases the weight of evidence that Greek was derived from the same expansion of peoples,” he says.

    While the research sheds light on the origins of these ancient Greek civilizations, questions remain, notes Reich. For example, it’s still unknown when the common “eastern” ancestors of both Minoans and Mycenaeans arrived in the Aegean. And details regarding the “northern” ancestry found only in the Mycenaeans remain to be worked out, like whether that contribution came in a single rapid migration, or sporadic waves over a long period.

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    Nanotech Cooling Curtain Offers Alternative to Air Conditioners

    July 31st, 2017

    Climate change is leading to ever higher temperatures and aridity in many areas, making efficient room cooling increasingly important. An ETH doctoral student at the Functional Materials Laboratory has developed an alternative to electrically powered air conditioning: a cooling curtain made of a porous triple-layer membrane.

    It all began with a vague idea: “We thought it would be interesting to combine opposing functions in one material,” says Mario Stucki, a doctoral student at ETH Zurich’s Functional Materials Laboratory. He combined two layers of hydrophobic (water-repellent) polyurethane with a middle layer of hydrophilic (water-attracting) polymer. The resulting membrane feels dry, although it is saturated with water, and since the outer layers are covered with holes of about one micrometer in diameter, water can escape from the middle layer into the environment.
    An alternative for heat-afflicted areas

    Electricity savings at summer heat: Mario Stucki developed a new type of membrane that cools rooms.

    Photograph: Peter Rüegg / ETH Zurich

    When Stucki realized how well the water transport works across the various layers, he came up with the idea of the cooling curtain. “Water evaporation requires a lot of energy,” he says. “Heat is extracted from the air, it cools and at the same time humidifies the surrounding area.” Conventional humidifiers work in the same way – but they need a lot of power, whereas Stucki’s system is passive. “The sunlight that falls through a window on to the curtain provides enough energy for this type of air conditioning.”

    Such curtains could be a real blessing in hot and arid regions. In 2015, people in the Arabian Peninsula endured a heatwave with temperatures of more than 50°C. Climate scientists forecast even higher temperatures and severe aridity for desert regions, which could lead to certain climate zones becoming uninhabitable. Cooling buildings and rooms is thus becoming increasingly essential, but it devours vast amounts of electricity. In the US, for example, about 15 percent of energy consumption can be attributed to air-conditioning equipment, and a huge amount of this energy comes from fossil fuels. The passive cooling curtain would be an environmentally and climate-friendly alternative.

    Further development of an earlier innovation

    Stucki attracted attention back in 2013 with his Master’s thesis at ETH Zurich, when he developed a new material for outdoor use in no time. In contrast to conventional functional textiles, it does not contain fluorine compounds, which are harmful to the environment and human health.

    His current research makes use of that invention: he functionalized his textile using placeholders, for which he mixed tiny lime stone particles into the liquid polymer, which is later processed into the textile. The lime stone particles are then removed from the solid material with hydrochloric or acetic acid, so that tiny holes are formed at the sites of the nano particles. These are necessary for the material to function and to “breathe”. The outer walls of the cooling curtain are made of this porous material in order that the middle hydrophilic layer can deliver water to the surrounding area.

    Stucki used a method developed in 2012 by ETH professor Wendelin Stark and his group to combine the different layers into one material. These layers are not glued together, as is customary in industrial processes; instead, they are placed on top of each other in a suitable solvent, whereby the outer layers dissolve slightly and connect to the middle layer. This is the only way that the researchers can ensure that the outer material of the membrane remains porous.

    Amazingly thin: the membrane is hardly thicker than a sheet of paper.

    Photograph: Peter Rüegg / ETH Zurich

    A successful proof of concept

    Stucki was able to prove the cooling curtain’s basic functionality by experiment. He put the triple-layer membrane in a water bath and measured the water loss into the surrounding area at 30°C and 50 percent humidity (between 1.2kg and 1.7kg water per day and square meter). The researchers calculated the results based on a cubic house with a 10m wall length. At an outside temperature of 40°C and an inside temperature of 30°C, the curtain surface of 80m2 was sufficient to dissipate more heat than supplied by the sunlight, meaning the house was passively cooled.

    “We were able to show that our system fundamentally works,” says Stucki, “but to commercialize it, we still have a lot of questions to resolve.” For example, they need to determine how the material behaves microbiologically, since high temperatures and humidity form the ideal breeding ground for the growth of bacteria and fungi. Stucki says, however, that the synthetic material used for the outer layer could be replaced relatively easily with antiseptic materials; this is one of the advantages of functionalization using lime stone nano particles.

    A further challenge is to ensure that the curtain is able to evaporate water over the entire surface, which will require improvements to the water transport in the membrane. It is also still unclear how long the membrane can function stably.

    After completing his doctorate in the summer, Stuck will concentrate on commercializing fluorine-free outdoor textiles. He is currently looking for financing partners. However, he has not ruled out the possibility that the new membrane also has potential in the outdoor sector, as it is ideally suited to the regulation and removal of sweat – one of the most important properties of functional textiles.

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    Closing Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Increases Crime, Says New Study

    July 31st, 2017

    A new study published in the July issue of the Journal of Urban Economics finds that contrary to popular belief, medical marijuana dispensaries (MMDs) reduce crime in their immediate areas.

    In the study, titled, “Going to pot? The impact of dispensary closures on crime,” researchers Tom Y. Chang from the USC Marshall School of Business, and Mireille Jacobson from The Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine, examined the short-term mass closing of hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles that took place in 2010.

    “Contrary to popular wisdom, we found an immediate increase in crime around dispensaries ordered to close relative to those allowed to remain open,” said Jacobson.

    Mireille Jacobson is an associate professor of Economics and Public Policy, and director of the Center for Health Care Management and Policy at the UCI Paul Merage School of Business.

    Credit: UC Irvine
    The two researchers found similar results when they examined restaurant closures.

    “The connection between restaurants and MMDs is that they both contribute to the ‘walkability score’ of a given area. Areas with higher scores have more ‘eyes upon the street’ a factor that is proven to deter some types of crime,” said Jacobson.

    The types of crime most impacted by MMD and restaurant closures were property crime and theft from vehicles. The researchers attributed this result to the fact that these types of crimes are most plausibly deterred by bystanders.

    “Our results demonstrate that the dispensaries were not the crime magnets that they were often described as, but instead reduced crime in their immediate vicinity,” said Jacobson.


    Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Laurie Avocado
    When Chang and Jacobson examined the impact of temporary restaurant closures in Los Angeles County, they found an increase in crime similar to what they found with MMDs. They also found that once a restaurant reopened, crime immediately disappeared.

    Jacobson added, “We can conclude from our research that retail businesses are effective in lowering crime, even when the retail business is a medical marijuana dispensary.”

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    Unique Wheat Discovery in Bronze Age Lunch Box

    July 31st, 2017

    Container found in the Swiss Alps leads researchers to new analysis method

    In a wooden container found in the Bernese Alps in 2012, a researcher from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, together with an international research team, has discovered the remains of ancient wheat dating back to the Bronze Age. The find is significant for two reasons: Firstly, there have been very few clues to indicate how cereals were used and spread during this period. Secondly, the scientists discovered a new way for molecular identification of cereal grains in archaeological artefacts. This opens up new possibilities for research.

    At the bottom of a Bronze Age wooden vessel, researchers discovered residues of cereal grains (central dark spot). Additionally, parts of a bent rim were found, indicating that the container must have been about 10 centimetres high. More fragments, perhaps parts of the top, still need to be examined.


    © Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern, Badri Redha

    Melting glaciers are increasingly revealing finds from the past. They are not always as spectacular as “Ötzi”, the glacier mummy who lived during the late-Neolithic Age, and was discovered by hikers in the Ötztal Alps in 1991. However, even less sensational discoveries of perishable materials such as fabrics, leather, wood and other plant-based remains that survive for hundreds or even thousands of years in ice, open up new perspectives on the past for archaeologists.

    A Bronze Age box

    In 2012, the ice near the Lötschenpass, at 2,690 metres in the Bernese Alps, revealed an extraordinary wooden vessel. The round container measures approx. 20 cm in diameter. The base consists of Swiss pine, the bent rim is made of willow; both sections were sewn together with splint twigs of European larch. Radiocarbon dating showed that the vessel is around 4,000 years old and thus dates back to the early Bronze Age.

    Traces found on the upper surface of the container were of particular interest to the research team, which included Jessica Hendy from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History: a microscopic examination revealed a residue of barley, spelt and emmer, including pericarp and glumes. Cereal grains are frequently found at Bronze Age cave sites. However, vessels containing grains or their residues were have never been reported before. These are of particular interest to researchers, as they provide clues as to how the cereal was used at that time.
    Traders, herders or hunters?

    The scientists can only guess the story behind the box found at the Lötschenpass. They know that some alpine valleys in the area were settled during the Bronze Age. A large number of Early Bronze age graves in neighbouring Valais show that the valley was not only settled but people imported goods from north and south of the Alps. The vessel could be linked with either trading connections or seasonal movements from lowland areas to upland pastures as part of the pastoral economy. Hunting could also explain the requirement to access such rocky and glaciated areas of the high Alps.

    Francesco Carrer from Newcastle University said: “This evidence sheds new light on life in prehistoric alpine communities, and on their relationship with the extreme high altitudes. People travelling across the alpine passes were carrying food for their journey, like current hikers do. This new research contributed to understanding which food they considered the most suitable for their trips across the Alps.”

    Substances similar to modern-day whole grain products

    The scientists actually expected to find milk residues in the vessel, for example a porridge type meal. They therefore performed a molecular analysis on the discovery. They did not find any evidence of milk but instead discovered alkylresorcinols, which are found in modern-day whole grain products.

    André Colonese of the University of York, lead author of the study, states, “These phenolic lipids have never been reported before in an archaeological artefact, but are abundant in the bran of wheat and rye cereals. One of the greatest challenges of lipid analysis in archaeology has been finding biomarkers for plants. There are only a few and they do not preserve very well in ancient artefacts. You can imagine the relevance of this study. It really is very exciting.”

    The new method opens up possibilities for discovering how Bronze Age people actually used cereals. As a next step, the scientists plan to look for these biomarkers in ancient ceramic artefacts.

    “Detecting a molecular marker for cereals also has widespread implications for studying early farming. It enables us to piece together when and where this important food crop spread through Europe,” adds Jessica Hendy, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

    The study conducted on the Bronze Age box involved collaboration between the University of York, the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, the Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern, the University of Basel, the University of Copenhagen, Newcastle University and the University of Oxford.

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    Ancient Skulls Shed Light On Migration Into The Roman Empire

    July 10th, 2017

    Skeletal evidence shows that, hundreds of years after the Roman Republic conquered most of the Mediterranean world, coastal communities in what is now south and central Italy still bore distinct physical differences to one another – though the same could not be said of the area around Rome itself.

    Using state-of-the-art forensic techniques, anthropologists from North Carolina State University and California State University, Sacramento examined skulls from three imperial Roman cemeteries: 27 skulls from Isola Sacra, on the coast of central Italy; 26 from Velia, on the coast of southern Italy; and 20 from Castel Malnome, on the outskirts of the city of Rome. The remains at the cemeteries in both Isola Sacra and Velia belonged to middle-class merchants and tradesmen, while those from Castel Malnome belonged to manual laborers. All of the remains date from between the first and third centuries A.D.”

    This is a map showing the locations of the three imperial Roman cemeteries in relation to modern day Rome and Naples.

    Credit: Samantha Hens, California State University, Sacramento

    The researchers took measurements of 25 specific points on each skull using a “digitizer,” which is basically an electronic stylus that records the coordinates of each point. This data allowed them to perform shape analysis on the skulls, relying on “geometric morphometrics” — a field of study that characterizes and assesses biological forms.

    “We found that there were significant cranial differences between the coastal communities, even though they had comparable populations in terms of class and employment,” says Ann Ross, a professor of anthropology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work.”We think this is likely due to the fact that the area around Velia had a large Greek population, rather than an indigenous one,” says Samantha Hens, a professor of biological anthropology at Sacramento State and lead author of the paper.

    A student uses a digitizer to record geometric morphometric sites on a skull.

    Credit: NC State University

    In addition, the skulls from Castel Malnome had more in common with both coastal sites than the coastal sites had with each other.

    “This likely highlights the heterogeneity of the population near Rome, and the influx of freed slaves and low-paid workers needed for manual labor in that area,” Hens says.

    “Researchers have used many techniques — from linguistics to dental remains – to shed light on how various peoples moved through the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire,” Ross says. “But this is the first study we know of in which anyone has used geometric morphometrics to evaluate imperial Roman remains.

    “That’s important because geometric morphometrics offers several advantages,” Ross says. “It includes all geometric information in three-dimensional space rather than statistical space, it provides more biological information, and it allows for pictorial visualization rather than just lists of measurements.”

    “The patterns of similarities and differences that we see help us to reconstruct past population relationships,” Hens says. “Additionally, these methods allow us to identify where the shape change is occurring on the skull, for example, in the face, or braincase, which gives us a view into what these people actually looked like.”

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    Boomers Having More Extramarital Sex Than Gen-X Or Millennials

    July 10th, 2017

    America’s generation gap is surfacing in a surprising statistic: rates of extramarital sex.

    Older Americans are cheating on their spouses more than their younger counterparts, with 20 percent of married Americans over age 55 reporting they’ve engaged in extramarital sex. Just 14 percent of those under age 55 say they’ve cheated, according to Nicholas H. Wolfinger, a professor in the University of Utah’s Department of Family and Consumer Studies.

    Credit: Pixabay

    The Institute for Family Studies on July 5, 2017, published Wolfinger’s research brief “America’s New Generation Gap in Extramarital Sex,” which is based on analysis of data from the General Social Survey.

    Wolfinger found that while the overall number of Americans who report having sex outside of marriage has held relatively steady at approximately 16 percent over the past 30 years, that trend has obscured a startling age-related difference

    Nicholas H. Wolfinger is a professor in the University of Utah’s Department of Family and Consumer Studies. .

    Credit:  University of Utah

    Rates of extramarital sex by age have diverged since 2000, with increased cheating reported by people in their 50s and 60s, Wolfinger said. Most of these respondents were married between 20 years and 30 years.

    But there may be more going on than lengthy marriages and midlife crises, he added. These older Americans also came of age in the wake of the sexual revolution and, over the course of their lifetimes, have had more sex partners compared to younger Americans.

    Also, while a majority of Americans continue to disapprove of extramarital sex, attitudes have softened, particularly among older survey respondents.

    Wolfinger observes that the General Social Survey asks respondents about extramarital sex, not explicitly adultery. This raises the possibility that the data reflect rising participation in polyamory or “ethical nonmonogamy,” extramarital relationships conducted with the active permission of one’s spouse.

    “No matter how many polyamorists there are today, old-fashioned adultery seems to have risen among older Americans,” Wolfinger said. And the consequences are plain.

    “Even as overall divorce rates have fallen in recent decades, there has been a startling surge in ‘grey divorce’ among the middle-aged,” he said. “Part of that story seems to be a corresponding increase in midlife adultery, which seems to be both the cause and the consequence of a failing marriage. The declining rates of extramarital sex among younger Americans seemingly portends a future of monogamous marriage. But the seeds sown by the sexual revolution continue to bear unanticipated fruit among older Americans.”

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    Veterans Receive DARPA’s Revolutionary Prosthetic Luke Arm

    July 10th, 2017

    A coordinated effort between DARPA and the Department of Veterans Affairs delivered a revolutionary prosthetic arm system to veterans living with amputation.

    Credit: DARPAAt a ceremony in New York on June 30th, two veterans living with arm amputations became the first recipients of a new generation of prosthetic limb that promises them unprecedented, near-natural arm and hand motion. The modular, battery-powered arms, designed and developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), represent the most significant advance in upper extremity prosthetics in more than a century.

    The prosthetic “LUKE” arm system—which stands for “Life Under Kinetic Evolution” but is also a passing reference to Luke Skywalker of Star Wars fame, who was endowed with a futuristic bionic arm—enables dexterous arm and hand movement through a simple, intuitive control system. The system allows users to control multiple joints simultaneously and a variety of grips and grip forces by means of wireless signals generated by sensors worn on the feet or via other easy-to-use controllers.

    Years of testing and optimization in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) led to clearance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and creation of a commercial-scale manufacturer, Mobius Bionics of Manchester, N.H. More than 100 people living with amputation were involved in initial studies, which led to a product whose natural size, weight, and shape provides unparalleled comfort and ease of use.

    At today’s ceremony, held at the VA’s New York Harbor Health Care System Manhattan campus, VA Secretary David Shulkin presented LUKE arms to Fred Downs and Artie McAuley. Downs is a prosthetics consultant for the Paralyzed Veterans of America and retired Chief Procurement and Logistics Officer for the Veterans Health Administration who lost his left arm above the elbow during the Vietnam War. McAuley is an Army veteran whose arm was amputated as the result of an accident while stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y. He went without a prosthesis for years because earlier-generation devices did not work well for individuals whose loss extended all the way up to the shoulder.

    “DARPA’s mission within the Defense Department is to make seminal investments in advanced technologies that can have outsized impacts on national security and help those who have stepped up to serve our nation,” said Justin Sanchez, Director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, who manages the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program that developed the LUKE system.

    “It has been an honor to work side by side with the VA to bring this life-changing technology from concept to capability.” Compared to other commercially available prosthetic arms, the LUKE system has a fully functional, articulated shoulder joint, which offers unprecedented mobility and quality of life even for individuals with total arm loss.

    DARPA’s work on prosthetic arms continues today through a range of programs, including one that is providing users a natural sense of touch by means of signals transmitted from mechanical hands directly to the brain, and another that is using signals from the brain’s motor cortex to directly control a robotic limb.

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    Meet The Most Nimble Fingered Robot Ever Built, Dexner 2

    June 14th, 2017

    Grabbing the awkwardly shaped items that people pick up in their day-to-day lives is a slippery task for robots. Irregularly shaped items such as shoes, spray bottles, open boxes, even rubber duckies are easy for people to grab and pick up, but robots struggle with knowing where to apply a grip.

    dexnet 2.0 robot grabbing a rubber duck

    Credit:
    In a significant step toward overcoming this problem, roboticists at UC Berkeley have a built a robot that can pick up and move unfamiliar, real-world objects with a 99 percent success rate.
    Watch Dexner 2, in Action

    Berkeley professor Ken Goldberg, postdoctoral researcher Jeff Mahler and the Laboratory for Automation Science and Engineering (AUTOLAB) created the robot, called DexNet 2.0. DexNet 2.0’s high grasping success rate means that this technology could soon be applied in industry, with the potential to revolutionize manufacturing and the supply chain.

    DexNet 2.0 gained its highly accurate dexterity through a process called deep learning. The researchers built a vast database of three-dimensional shapes — 6.7 million data points in total — that a neural network uses to learn grasps that will pick up and move objects with irregular shapes. The neural network was then connected to a 3D sensor and a robotic arm. When an object is placed in front of DexNet 2.0, it quickly studies the shape and selects a grasp that will successfully pick up and move the object 99 percent of the time. DexNet 2.0 is also three times faster than its previous version.

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    Cultural Shifts Of An Ancient Society Examined Through The Subtleties Of Its Everyday People

    June 14th, 2017

    Who are you? A parent? An artist? A veteran? There are lots of different aspects of identity, and it takes more than just one to make you you. Ancient people were just as complex, but until recently, archaeologists didn’t have a clear way to capture all the nuances of human identities from the past outside of broader labels like gender and social status.

    Individual people are an important part of the bigger human puzzle, because their unique actions accumulate to power cultural changes. Understanding them in detail gives researchers better insight into shifts that take place over generations, says Kelly Knudson.

    Snuffing paraphernalia found in the tomb of a spiritual leader.

    Credit: Constantino Torres

    Knudson is a professor with Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change and director of its Center for Bioarchaeological Research.

    Together with Christina Torres-Rouff of the University of California Merced, Knudson has created a new model that brings together multiple lines of investigation to understand ancient lives on a microscale through the clues left behind in the grave.

    A forum paper outlining the model and its application, “Integrating Identities: An Innovative Bioarchaeological and Biogeochemical Approach to Analyzing the Multiplicity of Identities in the Mortuary Record,” will be published in the June edition of Current Anthropology.

    “One of the things I’m excited about is our ability to simultaneously study large populations over many generations and the very intimate details of individual lives in the past,” Knudson says.

    If tombs could talk

    Termed a “contextualized multiscalar bioarchaeological approach,” this model explores individual identity using a mix of biological and cultural data from grave sites. The authors used it to investigate northern Chilean society during an environmental and political shift from the Middle Horizon (AD 500 – 1100) to the Late Intermediate Period (AD 1100 – 1400). Details examined included:

    Cranial characteristics, which helped determine genetic relatedness at the population level.

    Modified head shapes, which demonstrated community identities, as skull shape was culturally dictated in the Andes.

    Isotopic analyses, which revealed individuals’ geographic origins and whether they moved during their lifetimes.

    Grave goods and construction, which shed light on how people were perceived and remembered by others.

    The relationships these features had to an individual’s sex, which expanded on understandings of social identity.

    In a comparison of two Middle Horizon-era cemeteries, the researchers found that even though the burial populations were related, they identified differently; one was much more cosmopolitan than the other, with the grave goods from distant regions like Bolivia and Argentina.

    Similarly, even individual graves from the same cemetery advertised unique identities. A detailed look at three neighboring tombs revealed three very different, though nearly contemporary, lives. Using their innovative blend of methods, Knudson and Torres-Rouff were able to piece together the identities of a wealthy young tradesman, a middle-aged spiritual leader and a young woman who spun colorful textiles.

    This is a photo of San Pedro de Atacama, the region where the archaeological sites are located.

    Credit: Christina Torres-Rouff

    These graves stood in sharp contrast to graves from the Late Intermediate Period. Analysis of a burial from this time revealed a herdsman who, although honored by his community with a rare circular stone arrangement over his tomb, was buried with only a few, locally made items.

    Knudson and Torres-Rouff argue that as Andean society transitioned from the Middle Horizon to the Late Intermediate Period, they moved the emphasis from individual identity to community identity and from foreign connections to local isolation, likely as a response to the time’s characteristic uncertainty due to widespread drought.

    “I was surprised to find that people hunkered down and stayed put rather than moving to better regions where it wasn’t so dry,” Knudson says. “I expected to see environmental refugees, but we didn’t see that at all.”

    Knowing how people were impacted by a changing climate 1,000 years ago informs not only our understanding of ancient people, but of ourselves as well. Society’s response to today’s challenges happens one person at a time; with this new model, we have the tools to see how that process works and how everyday lives shape history.

    “I think this long-term perspective is one of bioarchaeologists’ very valuable contributions to the past and present,” Knudson adds.

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    Professor Refutes Groupthink, Proving That Wisdom of Crowds Can Prevail

    June 14th, 2017

    Anyone following forecasting polls leading up to the 2016 election likely believed Hillary Clinton would become the 45th president of the United States. Although this opinion was the consensus among most political-opinion leaders and media, something clearly went wrong with these prediction tools.

    Though it may never be known for certain the reasons for the discrepancy between public perception and the electoral reality, new findings from the University of Pennsylvania’s Damon Centola may offer a clue: the wisdom of a crowd is in the network.

    Groups in which everyone has equal influence made better predictions than groups in which a single individual was deemed an opinion leader.

    Centola network
    Credit: University of Pennsylvania
    The classic “wisdom of crowds” theory goes like this: If we ask a group of people to guess an outcome, the group’s guess will be better than any individual expert. Thus, when a group tries to make a decision, in this case, predicting the outcome of an election, the group does a better job than experts. For market predictions, geopolitical forecasting and crowdsourcing product ideas, the wisdom of crowds has been shown to even outperform industry experts.

    That is true — as long as people don’t talk to each other. When people start sharing their opinions, their conversations can lead to social influences that produce “groupthink” and destroy the wisdom of the crowd. So says the classic theory.

    But Centola, an associate professor in Penn’s Annenberg School for Communicationand School of Engineering and Applied Science and director of the Network Dynamics Group, discovered the opposite. When people talk to each other, the crowd can get smarter. Centola, along with Ph.D. candidate Joshua Becker and recent Ph.D. graduate Devon Brackbill, published the findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    “The classic theory says that if you let people talk to each other groups go astray. But,” said Centola, “we find that even if people are not particularly accurate, when they talk to each other, they help to make each other smarter. Whether things get better or worse depends on the networks.

    Damon Centola

    Credit: University of Pennsylvania

    “In egalitarian networks,” he said, “where everyone has equal influence, we find a strong social-learning effect, which improves the quality of everyone’s judgements. When people exchange ideas, everyone gets smarter. But this can all go haywire if there are opinion leaders in the group.”

    An influential opinion leader can hijack the process, leading the entire group astray. While opinion leaders may be knowledgeable on some topics, Centola found that, when the conversation moved away from their expertise, they still remained just as influential. As a result, they ruined the group’s judgment.

    “On average,” he said, “opinion leaders were more likely to lead the group astray than to improve it.”

    The online study included more than 1,300 participants, who were placed into one of three experimental conditions. Some were placed into one of the “egalitarian” networks, where everyone had an equal number of contacts and everyone had equal influence. Others were placed into one of the “centralized” networks, in which a single opinion leader was connected to everyone, giving that person much more influence in the group. Each of the networks contained 40 participants. Finally, Centola had several hundred subjects participate in a “control” group, without any social networks.

    In the study, all of the participants were given a series of estimation challenges, such as guessing the number of calories in a plate of food. They were given three tries to get the right answer. Everyone first gave a gut response.

    Then, participants who were in social networks could see the guesses made by their social contacts and could use that information to revise an answer. They could then see their contacts’ revisions and revise their answers again. But this time it was their final answer. Participants were awarded as much as $10 based on the accuracy of their final guess. In the control group, participants did the same thing, but they were not given any social information between each revision.

    “Everyone’s goal was to make a good guess. They weren’t paid for showing up,” Centola said, “only for being accurate.”

    Patterns began to emerge. The control groups initially showed the classic wisdom of the crowd but did not improve as people revised their answers. Indeed, if anything, they got slightly worse. By contrast, the egalitarian networks also showed the classic wisdom of the crowd but then saw a dramatic increase in accuracy. Across the board, in network after network, the final answers in these groups were consistently far more accurate than the initial “wisdom of the crowd.”

    “In a situation where everyone is equally influential,” Centola said, “people can help to correct each other’s mistakes. This makes each person a little more accurate than they were initially. Overall, this creates a striking improvement in the intelligence of the group. The result is even better than the traditional wisdom of the crowd! But, as soon as you have opinion leaders, social influence becomes really dangerous.”

    In the centralized networks, Centola found that, when the opinion leaders were very accurate, they could improve the performance of the group. But even the most accurate opinion leaders were consistently wrong some of the time.

    “Thus,” Centola said, “while opinion leaders can sometimes improve things, they were statistically more likely to make the group worse off than to help it.

    “The egalitarian network was reliable because the people who were more accurate tended to make smaller revisions, while people who were less accurate revised their answers more. The result is that the entire crowd moved toward the more accurate people, while, at the same time, the more accurate people also made small adjustments that improved their score.”

    These findings on the wisdom of crowds have startling real-world implications in areas such as climate-change science, financial forecasting, medical decision-making and organizational design.

    For example, while engineers have been trying to design ways to keep people from talking to each other when making important decisions in an attempt to avoid groupthink, Centola’s findings suggest that what matters most is the network. A group of equally influential scientists talking to one another will likely lead to smarter judgments than might arise from keeping them independent.

    He is currently working on implementing these findings to improve physicians’ decision-making. By designing a social network technology for use in hospital settings, it may be possible to reduce implicit bias in physicians’ clinical judgments and to improve the quality of care that they can offer.

    Whether new technologies are needed to improve the way the groups talk to each other, or whether we just need to be cautious about the danger of opinion leaders, Centola said it’s time to rethink the idea of the wisdom of crowds.

    “It’s much better to have people talk to each other and argue for their points of view than to have opinion leaders rule the crowd,” he said. “By designing informational systems where everyone’s voices can be heard, we can improve the judgment of the entire group. It’s as important for science as it is for democracy.”

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    Fau Archaeologist Involved In Groundbreaking Discovery Of Early Human Life In Ancient Peru

    May 26th, 2017

    A-tisket, A-tasket. You can tell a lot from a basket. Especially if it comes from the ruins of an ancient civilization inhabited by humans nearly 15,000 years ago during the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene ages.

    An archaeologist from Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute is among a team of scientists who made a groundbreaking discovery in Huaca Prieta in coastal Peru – home to one of the earliest and largest pyramids in South America.

     Hundreds of thousands of artifacts, including intricate and elaborate hand-woven baskets excavated between 2007 and 2013 in Huaca Prieta, reveal that early humans in that region were a lot more advanced than originally thought and had very complex social networks.

    James M. Adovasio, Ph.D., D.Sc., is co-author of the study and a world acclaimed archaeologist at FAU’s Harbor Branch, who is the foremost authority on ancient textiles and materials such as those used in basketry.

    Credit: Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute

    For decades, archaeologists exploring Peru have argued about the origins and emergence of complex society in Peru. Did it first happen in the highlands with groups who were dependent on agriculture or did it happen along the coast with groups who were dependent on seafood? Evidence from the site indicates a more rapid development of cultural complexity along the Pacific coast than previously thought as published in Science Advances.

    “The mounds of artifacts retrieved from Huaca Prieta include food remains, stone tools and other cultural features such as ornate baskets and textiles, which really raise questions about the pace of the development of early humans in that region and their level of knowledge and the technology they used to exploit resources from both the land and the sea,” said James M. Adovasio, Ph.D., D.Sc., co-author of the study and a world acclaimed archaeologist at FAU’s Harbor Branch, who is the foremost authority on ancient textiles and materials such as those used in basketry.Among the artifacts excavated are tools used to capture deep-sea fish-like herring.

    The variety of hooks they used indicate the diversity of fishing that took place at that time and almost certainly the use of boats that could withstand rough waters. These ancient peoples managed to develop a very efficient means of extracting seaside resources and devised complex techniques to collect those resources. They also combined their exploitation of maritime economy with growing crops like chili pepper, squash, avocado and some form of a medicinal plant on land in a way that produced a large economic surplus.

    James M. Adovasio, Ph.D., D.Sc., co-author of the study and a world acclaimed archaeologist at FAU’s Harbor Branch, is the foremost authority on ancient textiles and materials such as those used in basketry.

    Credit: FAU

    “These strings of events that we have uncovered demonstrate that these people had a remarkable capacity to utilize different types of food resources, which led to a larger society size and everything that goes along with it such as the emergence of bureaucracy and highly organized religion,” said Adovasio.

    Advosasio’s focus of the excavation was on the extensive collection of basket remnants retrieved from the site, which were made from diverse materials including a local reed that is still used today by modern basket makers. Some of the utilitarian baskets discovered may date back as far as 11,000 years, while the more elaborate baskets made from domesticated cotton using some of the oldest dyes known in the New World are approximately 4,000 years old.

    “To make these complicated textiles and baskets indicates that there was a standardized or organized manufacturing process in place and that all of these artifacts were much fancier than they needed to be for that time period,” said Adovasio. “Like so many of the materials that were excavated, even the baskets reflect a level of complexity that signals a more sophisticated society as well as the desire for and a means for showing social stature. All of these things together tell us that these early humans were engaged in very complicated social relationships with each other and that these fancy objects all bespeak that kind of social messaging.”

    The late archaeologist Junius B. Bird was the first to excavate Huaca Prieta in the late 1940s after World War II and his original collection is housed in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This latest excavation is only the second one to take place at this site, but this time using state-of-the-art archaeological technology. This recent excavation took approximately six years to complete and included a total of 32 excavation units and trenches, 32 test pits, and 80 geological cores that were placed on, around and between the Huaca Prieta and Paredones mounds as well as other sites. These artifacts are now housed in a museum in Lima, Peru.

    Leading the team of scientists is Tom D. Dillehay, Ph.D., principal investigator and an anthropologist from Vanderbilt University. The final report of this excavation will be published in a book by the University of Texas Press later this summer. Adovasio and Dillehay plan to go back to Peru within a year to further examine some of the, as yet, still unstudied basket specimens, especially the very earliest ones which are among the oldest in the New World.

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    Detecting Never Agents With Finger Touch From A Lab-On-A-Glove

    May 11th, 2017

    There’s a reason why farmers wear protective gear when applying organophosphate pesticides. The substances are very effective at getting rid of unwanted bugs, but they can also make people sick. Related compounds — organophosphate nerve agents — can be used as deadly weapons.

    Now researchers have developed a fast way to detect the presence of such compounds in the field using a disposable “lab-on-a-glove.” The report on the glove appears in the journal ACS Sensors.

    Credit: ACS
    Organophosphate nerve agents, including sarin and VX, are highly toxic and can prevent the nervous system from working properly. Organophosphate pesticides are far less potent but work in a similar way and can cause illness in people who are exposed to them, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Detecting either type of these sets of compounds accurately and quickly could help improve both defense and food security measures. So, Joseph Wang and colleagues set out to develop a wearable sensor that could meet the requirements of field detection.The new wearable, flexible glove biosensor carries out the sampling and electrochemical biosensing steps on different fingers, with the thumb finger used for collecting the nerve-agent residues and an enzyme immobilized on the index finger. The researchers created stretchable inks to print the collection and sensing elements on these fingers.

    Detection of the collected residues is performed when the thumb touches the printed enzyme-based organophosphate biosensor on the glove index finger. So, a user would swipe the thumb of the glove on a surface for testing, then touch the thumb and index fingers together for the electrochemical analysis. For real-time results, the voltammetric data are sent via a reusable Bluetooth device on the back of the glove to a user’s mobile device. Testing showed that the glove could detect organophosphate pesticides methyl parathion and methyl paraoxon on various surfaces — including glass, wood and plastic — and on produce.
    The researchers say the sensor could be used in both security and food safety settings.

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    Mystery Cracked: Why Infections Don’t Spread Uncontrollably From Wounds

    May 8th, 2017

    Alton Parrish.

     

    Researchers in dermatology at Lund University in Sweden believe they have cracked the mystery of why we are able to quickly prevent an infection from spreading uncontrollably in the body during wounding. They believe this knowledge may be of clinical significance for developing new ways to counteract bacteria.

    “Perhaps we don’t need to kill them with antibiotics but simply gather them so that the body can better take care of the infection”, say researchers Jitka Petrlova (lead author of the article) and Artur Schmidtchen, Professor in Dermatology and Venereology, Lund University. The study was conducted in close collaboration with their colleagues in Lund, Copenhagen and Singapore, and has been published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

    The authors of the article at the Department of Dermatology and Venereology, Lund University: (from the left) Finja Hansen, Mariena van der Plas, Artur Schmidtchen and Jitka Petrlova (lead author). 

    Photo: Manoj Puthia

    The researchers have discovered that fragments of thrombin – a common blood protein which can be found in wounds – can aggregate both bacteria and their toxins; something they did not see in normal blood plasma. The aggregation takes place quickly in the wound and causes bacteria and endotoxins not only to gather but also to be “eaten” by the body’s inflammatory cells.

    “This way, the body avoids a spread of the infection. We believe this to be a fundamental mechanism for taking care of both bacteria and their toxins during wound healing”, says Jitka Petrlova and continues;

    “Our discovery links aggregation and amyloid formation to our primary defence against infections – our innate immunity. It is well known that various aggregating proteins can cause amyloid disease, in skin or internal organs, such as the brain. Therefore, a mechanism that is supposed to protect us from infections, can sometimes be over-activated and lead to degenerative diseases.”

    Artur Schmidtchen, who has conducted research in the field of innate immunity for over 20 years, is pleased with the results of the study.

    “I have always been fascinated by how nature has effectively created different defence mechanisms, and wound healing provides a rich source of new discoveries. The ability to effectively heal wounds is of evolutionary significance to our survival. Compared to antibiotics, innate immunity has been around for millions of years – and I think we should consider the application of these concepts in an era of increasing antibiotic resistance.”

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    Soldiers See Battlefield Clearly With Advanced Imaging Systems

    May 8th, 2017

    The Daily Journalist.

     

    On the military battlefield, atmospheric turbulence significantly deteriorates the performance of tactical and long-range imaging systems used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations. In addition, it creates difficulties for target acquisition, identification and recognition.

    Traditionally, turbulence mitigation methods are applied to imagery in post-detection to improve image quality. However, such approaches are unable to process live data and images in real-time.

    To advance capabilities for modern warfare and support decision-making, it is critical that commanders receive clear imagery and video data in real-time.
    The scenario of real-time long-range imaging and processing through atmosphere for battlefield ISR and target tracking.
    To meet this challenge, scientists and engineers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory have developed an intelligent adaptive optics imaging system that uses deformable mirrors in conjunction with post-detection processing to remove turbulence-induced wavefront distortion while imagery is collected.

    Over recent years, ARL researchers have developed technologies to fabricate DMs with different geometries including large aperture, multi-section (pocket) and obscuration-free.

    These different geometries are necessary to satisfy specific imaging requirements, for example, range, field of view and resolution. They have been successfully applied to real-time imaging through atmospheric turbulence and mitigating turbulence effects in terrestrial free-space communication systems.

    The Army Research Laboratory (ARL) can currently fabricate DMs with actuators with a response bandwidth up to 25 KHz and mechanical stroke movement up to +/- 15?m, or the equivalent of several tens of wavelengths potential correction.

    The Block diagram for the LRF hardware acceleration and image fusion sequence at the full frame rate.
    The Block diagram for the LRF hardware acceleration and image fusion sequence at the full frame rate.
    These actuator parameters are two to three times faster in response speed and three to five times more in stroke range than previous devices and commercial products.

    The scenario of real-time long-range imaging and processing through atmosphere for battlefield ISR and target tracking.

    The improved response bandwidth enables a wavefront compensation rate that is over 100 times faster than the atmospheric turbulence variation (~200Hz) and the increased stroke range provides compensation for more wavefront distortion and optical aberration than previously possible. Further, for present applications, the DMs provide three to five pixels/cm2 resolution.

    For the AO system control software, ARL researchers developed a delayed-stochastic parallel gradient decent control algorithm and tested it on an experimental testbed with a 2.3-km nearly-horizontal path.

    Researchers used a far-field laser beacon as the metric signal for the SPGD control program.

    The D-SPGD algorithm takes the travel time of the light from that distance into account and runs two DMs asynchronously to compensate the wavefronts of received images.

    To further enhance the quality of the images, an advanced digital synthetic processing technique called lucky-region fusion was used.

    The LRF algorithm, developed previously by ARL, enhances image resolution over a large field-of-view by extracting only those regions from each intake image frame that present high resolution and fusing the individual regions into a single image.

    The AO compensated and LRF hardware processed real-time video image captured from 2.3 km distance with an output speed of 100 frame per second.

    Like other computational imaging systems, which combine pre-detection compensation with post-detection processing to generate imagery with enhanced information, system performance is improved when the LRF algorithm operates on a high-performance computer.

    Conventional processors, and even graphics processing unit, are incapable of providing real-time extraction, processing and reconstruction of information.

    To accelerate processing speed, ARL researchers collaborated with the University of Delaware to exploit the parallel processing capability of field programmable gate arrays.

    Together, ARL and university researchers integrated the lucky region extraction element of the LRF algorithm into a VIRTEX-7 FPGA processor. Image fusion was performed on a GPU processor.

    With this hardware acceleration, ARL demonstrated 100 frames/sec of real-time imaging and processing with a latency of less than 10 millisecond, or only one frame, as compared to processing speed of only one frame/sec a few years ago.

    As compared to conventional ISR systems, wherein data and imagery are first collected and then processed off-line in data or command centers, ARL’s real-time system significantly reduces delays in providing useful imagery to commanders.

    It provides them with a new capability in real-time long-range atmospheric imaging for situational awareness, target identification and tracking, and allows them to capitalize on opportunities that they would not have previously had.

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    Fake News And Biased Filters Aren’t Fooling Internet Users

    May 8th, 2017

    The Daily Journalist.

     

    Despite what some politicians argue, fake news and biased search algorithms aren’t swaying public opinion, finds a Michigan State University researcher.
    Commissioned and funded by Google, William Dutton, director of MSU’s James and Mary Quello Center in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, and researchers from Oxford University and the University of Ottawa,
    conducted a survey of 14,000 internet users in seven nations: United States, Britain, France, Poland, Germany, Italy and Spain.

    William Dutton, director of MSU’s James and Mary Quello Center in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences


    Credit: MSU

    “The role of search in the political arena is of particular significance as it holds the potential to support or undermine democratic processes,” Dutton said. “For example, does online search enable citizens to obtain better information about candidates for political office and issues in elections and public affairs, or do the processes underlying search bias what citizens know in ways that could distort democratic choice?”

    While there are country-specific findings, universally, concerns about internet searches undermining the quality and diversity of information accessed by citizens are unwarranted, the study found.
    Indeed, search plays a role in how internet users obtain information about politics, but there are several factors that come into play, Dutton said.
    “The results from our study show that internet users interested in politics tend to be exposed to multiple media sources, to discover new information, to be skeptical of political information and to check information, such as that seen on social media, by using search,” he said. “These findings should caution governments, business and the public from over-reacting to alarmist panics.”
    Key findings:
    • The argument that search creates “filter bubbles,” in which an algorithm guesses what information a user wants based on their information (location, search history), is overstated. In fact, internet users encounter diverse information across multiple media, which challenges their viewpoints.
    • Most users aren’t silenced by contrasting views; nor do they silence those with whom they disagree.
    • News about fake news has created unjustified levels of concern; people use search to check facts and the validity of information found on social media or the internet.
    • Cross-nationally, there are consistent patterns of media use, but people in France and Germany use search engines less and rely more on traditional media. In Italy, residents use search more frequently. Out of the seven countries in the study, internet users in Poland trust search the most to keep them informed and in Spain, users are particularly prone to use the internet to check facts. In the United Kingdom, people use search less, placing more trust in broadcast media.
    Image result for fake news

    Most research on internet searches has focused on one platform, such as Twitter or Facebook, Dutton said. The MSU study is one of the first to concentrate on the wider context of a person’s informational and social networks and the wide range of media people consume.

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    Something ODD Happened Around 50,000 Years Ago

    May 8th, 2017

    The Daily Journalist.

    Something odd happened in the transition from the Middle to the Upper Paleolithic, around 50,000 years ago. Modern humans and their immediate ancestors had been using tools for a few million years prior, but the repertoire was limited. Then, all of sudden, there was an explosion of new tools, art and other cultural artifacts.

    What caused that change has been the subject of much debate. Maybe brainpower reached a critical threshold. Maybe climate change forced our prehistoric kin to innovate or die. Maybe it was aliens.

    Or maybe it was the result of populations growing and spreading throughout the land, Stanford researchers write in Royal Society Interface. That certainly could explain some other curious features of Paleolithic culture – and it could mean that a number of paleontologists’ inferences about our genetic and environmental past are, if not wrong, not as well supported as they had thought.
    Cultural bursts

    “One captivating observation is if you look at the archaeological record, it seems to be highly punctuated” leading up to the Upper Paleolithic, said Oren Kolodny, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Marcus Feldman, a professor of biology. In other words, Kolodny said, the Paleolithic was a time marked by periods of slow change separated by bursts of cultural innovation.

    Nicole Creanza, Oren Kolodny, and Marcus Feldman developed a new computer model of culture that may help scientists understand bursts in the evolution of art, ideas, and tools, such as the flint spearhead shown here.

    Image credit: Getty Images)
    “Those cultural bursts have been taken as evidence of an external change,” such as genetic or environmental shifts, said Nicole Creanza, who led the study with Kolodny while a postdoctoral fellow in Feldman’s lab. “But to some extent, Oren, Marc and I felt that the simplest explanation could be that culture itself is capable of behaving in a punctuated fashion,” said Creanza, who is now an assistant professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University.
    A search for something simplerThe researchers wondered, how could culture create these bursts of innovation?

    In a 2015 paper, Kolodny, Creanza and Feldman, who is also co-director of Stanford’s Center for Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genomics, argued that human culture could have evolved through several distinct kinds of advance. First, some ideas emerge as “lucky leaps,” Kolodny said – perhaps an early human witnessed a mouse get trapped in a tangle of grass, and the hunting net was born. Other ideas could emerge either as extensions of those leaps or as combinations of other ideas or technologies. Finally, groups can also lose ideas, as prehistoric Tasmanians did when they lost, incredibly, the knowledge of how to fish, Kolodny said.

    Aided by computer simulations, the team showed that combining the three kinds of advance could have led directly to bursts of innovation, as seen in the archaeological record. They also found that at the point where new ideas balance out with lost ones, the number of ideas a population can support increases dramatically with population size. A population twice the size, Kolodny, Creanza and Feldman’s model predicted, could support much more than twice the number of ideas.

    Migration and other game changers

    In their latest paper, Creanza, Kolodny and Feldman, who is also the Burnet C. and Mildred Finley Wohlford Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, combined those conclusions with two new components. First, they considered migrations between otherwise distinct populations and assumed that such travel is more likely in larger populations. Second, they studied what would happen if certain major innovations, such as domesticating plants or developing hunting knives, helped grow the population.

    The updated model made a number of predictions that at least qualitatively resemble what archaeologists know about cultural evolution in the Paleolithic.

    First, when population sizes are small and migration is relatively rare, a pattern of cultural booms and busts is likely. Essentially, the occasional travel may bring a new idea, setting off a boom. Then, without a steady stream of new ideas or population growth – that is, a steady stream of new brains to contain all those new ideas – some ideas will be lost to time.

    Innovations that encouraged population growth, however, can have lasting effects, since even slight increases in population size can support a disproportionate increase in innovation.

    Migration can do something similar. As travel increases, it bridges societies, allowing for an exchange of ideas that creates a complex of interrelated cultures. And as travel becomes common, smaller groups effectively merge into one large population, with vastly more capacity for innovation. In fact, that can create a feedback loop: populations grow, contact with others increases, innovation results and populations grow even more.
    Were Neanderthals less fit, or just fewer in number?

    Those theoretical conclusions could help explain a number of puzzles in human history, such as the disappearance of Neanderthals long ago. “People tend to assume modern humans were better and replaced them,” Kolodny said, but how they were better remains unclear. A simpler explanation may lie in two observations: Neanderthals had roughly a third the population of other early humans, and migration was always out of Africa, not into it.

    In that case, modern humans migrating from Africa might have brought with them a more advanced repertoire of technologies, due in part to their larger population, and Neanderthals just could not keep up.

    “We don’t think that whenever we get a qualitative pattern that looks like the archaeological record, this is what necessarily happened,” Kolodny said. “But it is a proof of concept that it could have happened this way.”

    Just as important, Creanza says, the results show that researchers cannot use cultural bursts as evidence of external changes – that is, just because our culture advanced 50,000 years ago, that does not imply our brains got bigger, the landscape changed or anything else. It might just be the way culture is.

    Comments Off on Something ODD Happened Around 50,000 Years Ago

    Syria: Do you support NATO/Trump or Putin/Assad?

    April 20th, 2017

     

     

    Community Question.

     

    Last week, Donald Trump gave his executive order to bombard military Syrian bases, after Assad’s army allegedly used sarin gas to kill innocent civilians. The response was immediate from Russia and Iran – especially Russia now unwilling to maintain battle tactic communications with the US after the attack.

    How to manage the Middle East without using confrontation has become an issue of epic debates and controversy. The Middle East is the biggest headache known to date of modern day geopolitics. Democracy cannot develop in its full potency on the Middle East, and it might never effectively develop considering its violent history.

    The multilateral cooperation between Russia and the US, is vital for the well-being and stability of the Middle East. Russia is the latest of players to want a piece of the Middle East, but China will likely become another player to dominate the region after their increasing new investments on Iraq, Sudan and Eastern Africa.

    Islamic Terrorism is a cancer to human development, and it must be eradicated one way or another. Dictatorships and autocratic states can either be beneficial according to the eye of the beholder, or reigns of tyranny and national oppression. It is hard to judge whether or not, dictatorships are justified methods of government considering the constant ultra-sectarian fundamentalist movements engulfing the region.

    Russia is likely using Ben-Assad’s regime as an excuse to settle in the region, or simply test its military muscle to preview a future confrontation with the west. Indirectly, the US and NATO want to arbitrarily use western politics in the region to impose their reign democratically or else pay the interventionist price of violating international law. Lastly, the native inhabitants dwell by the culture and costumes of sectarian Islam and quite frankly don’t care about foreign invaders — many would rather join Al-Qaeda or ISIS than truce with westerners.

    The questions

    1)      Do you support the Trump/NATO crusade or the Putin crusade?

    2)      Is Trump’s latest intervention policy justified or unjustified?

    3)      Will the Middle East be split by China, Russia and Iran, if the US ceases to intervene?

    4)      Why should the US protect and serve the interest of Middle Eastern countries who secretly defame and hate US intervention policy? Shouldn’t Europe take the pie considering they’re more dependent on foreign oil exports from the Middle East and have a larger Muslim integration-population?

    5) Anything you want to add?

     

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    Sebastian Sarbu.

    (He is a military analyst and vice-president of National Academy of Security and Defense Planning. Member of American Diplomatic Mission for International Relations)

    “Yes, I support Trump – NATO intervention in Syria. However, I consider more dangerous North Korea and also the Iran.

    I also consider that an intervention  must to be made indifferent of Russia’s reaction.  America is currently the strongest democratic country and must to prove its power. ‘America first’ is not an isolation of America over the rest of the world, but involves American strategic interests and how its defined.

    It is not clear if Russia or China will be involved in the Syria,  but Iran sure will enter and will involve in this conflict.

    Iran will be the next country who will be attacked  by USA; It will be akin the situation of the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The new US administration decided to develop a new strategic target to police Iran and Syria. The serious consequences will be for Israel in this war and how it contains the turmoil from other invading countries to secure its borders. The hidden target of a military intervention in Syria and Iran is the European Union — an underling of European construction in the Middle East.

    Its natural in my opinion this strategic competition has taken place between superpowers with new geographic reforms taking place creating a new post global order.”

     

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    Paul Pillar.

    (He is a Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies of Georgetown University and the Brookings Institution and an Associate Fellow of the Geneva Center for Security Policy. He retired in 2005 from a 28-year career in the U.S. intelligence community)

    “It remains unclear whether the Trump administration has any well-conceived policy backing up the sending of forceful “messages” such as the cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase.  There is no indication that the president himself has any such strategy in mind.  This president’s inclination for making impulsive gestures, including ones involving military force, may well lead to deeper U.S. involvement in the Middle East, even if that is not what policymakers intend or plan today.  Basic questions such as how the Syrian civil war can and should be resolved remain unanswered.

    The United States does not have any more of a stake in many of the rivalries in the Middle East than other powers do, but most other powers have done a better job than the United States of keeping their interests and expenditures of resources in proper perspective.  Russia has a major interest in Syria because Syria is where the Russians have their only significant presence in the Middle East.  Elsewhere in the region, Russia is relying not on positions on the ground, much less on military intervention, and instead seeks good relations with governments on different sides of regional rivalries, as illustrated by its relationships with both Israel and Iran.

    China looks at the Middle East, as it looks at several other regions, in terms of economic relationships from which China will benefit.  As one of the largest regional states, Iran naturally expects to have a major role in Middle Eastern affairs.  The Iranians realize that this cannot consist of forcefully lording over other states in the region, especially as a largely Shia country within a region in which most people are Sunni.”

     

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    Dale Yeager.

    (He is the CEO of SERAPH and F.L.E.T.C trained Forensic Profiler and U.S. DOJ DOD Federal Law Enforcement SME / Instructor)

    “1)  Do you support the Trump/NATO crusade or the Putin crusade?

    A: Yes I support the U.S. action.

    2) Is Trump’s latest intervention policy justified or unjustified?

    A: Justified. You cannot sit ideally by and watch continued systematic violence against civilians and not respond as a Democracy. The previous administration was indecisive and allowed the death of tens of thousands of innocents. That’s isn’t a political statement that’s a factual one.

    3) Will the Middle East be split by China, Russia and Iran, if the US ceases to intervene?

    A: Yes. They all have a stake in the conflict. China, Russia and Iran benefit financial and strategically from siding with these regimes.

    4)  Why should the US protect and serve the interest of Middle Eastern countries who secretly defame and hate US intervention policy? Shouldn’t Europe take the pie considering they’re more dependent on foreign oil exports from the Middle East and have a larger Muslim integration-population?

    A: As Winston Churchill correctly stated “ Countries do not have friends they have interests.” With a few exceptions, Europe (i.e. the EU) is an indecisive, impotent group of countries. They are trying to retain their high ideals of socialistic unity with mankind while ignoring the reality of the dangers in their own backyards.”

     

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    Steven Hansen. 

    (Publisher and Co-founder of Econintersect, is an international business and industrial consultant specializing in turning around troubled business units; consults to governments to optimize process flows; and provides economic indicator analysis based on unadjusted data and process limitations)

    “1)      Do you support the Trump/NATO crusade or the Putin crusade?

    I support neither – but if I must my position is closer to Putin. The Middle East is not America or Europe – and thinking the Middle East should be democratic (when the prevailing social system is tribal) is a failure route. Toppling Assad is guaranteed to increase the turmoil in the Middle East and possibly create another Libya.

    2)      Is Trump’s latest intervention policy justified or unjustified?  

    I hope Trump is not stupid – hopefully what I do not know would alter my perceptions.

    3)      Will the Middle East be split by China, Russia and Iran, if the US ceases to intervene?

    I have lived almost half my life in the Middle East. I repeat, the Middle East is tribal and no country will ever “control” this region. However, if a country acts like a big brother (like Russia) which supports a government – they will gain some “control”.

    4)      Why should the US protect and serve the interest of Middle Eastern countries who secretly defame and hate US intervention policy? Shouldn’t Europe take the pie considering they’re more dependent on foreign oil exports from the Middle East and have a larger Muslim integration-population? 

    Diplomacy requires both idealism and pragmatism. The USA leans to heavy on idealism which is a mistake. Yes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Europe is in no position to do anything in the Middle East as the EU is a zombie in the area of foreign policy. 

    5) Anything you want to add? 

    I am very concerned that the USA intelligence apparatus has an ingrained bias. I believe little of their statements. Show me one example of USA regime change which worked.”

    John Mariotti.

    (He has spoken to thousands of people in the business, professional and university audiences in the US and Europe; he hosted a one-hour talk-radio show on the North American Broadcasting Network, (The Life of Business & the Business of Life); founded & moderated, The Reunion Conference, an annual round table/think-tank for 16 years) 

    1)      Do you support the Trump/NATO crusade or the Putin crusade?

    This is too general a question for such a complex situation. I find it hard to support anything Putin does or wants to do.
    Putin’s motives are all self-serving and not intended to help the US.
    The US must force NATO to step up to its intended role—and NATO countries to spend their fair share (2% of GDP) of the defense bill—especially, above all— Germany.

    2)      Is Trump’s latest intervention policy justified or unjustified?  

    Justified…and long past due…but only as a gesture, not as a long range solution. Obama had neither the guts nor the will to step up to anything where he couldn’t blame the outcome on someone else if it went badly. Trump needs to show the world that when countries’ leaders do bad things, there will be some kind of consequences, short of outright war.

    3)      Will the Middle East be split by China, Russia and Iran, if the US ceases to intervene?

    Probably so, but it is a divided mess no matter who intervene. Nobody can fix the Middle East. All the US can do is intercede to choose who it supports and who it opposes—and that is not always clear.

    4)      Why should the US protect and serve the interest of Middle Eastern countries who secretly defame and hate US intervention policy? Shouldn’t Europe take the pie considering they’re more dependent on foreign oil exports from the Middle East and have a larger Muslim integration-population? 

    Europe should be more involved and the US less involved—but that won’t happen. Nature abhors a vacuum, so if the US doesn’t step in, more evil and bad influences will.”

     

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    Walter Donway.

    (He is a writer on political economy and was a founding trustee of The Atlas Society. He graduated cum laude from Brown University with a degree combining history, political science, philosophy, and literature. He was business/finance reporter for The Worcester Telegram and program officer, program director, and publications director for The Commonwealth Fund and The Dana Foundation. His articles on political economy appeared in the Wall Street Journal among other media networks)

    “Merely to contemplate our policy in Iran since WWII, beginning with our CIA joining British operatives in covert overthrow of the democratically election Mossadegh government in 1953, and return the Shah Pahlavi to the Peacock throne, is to sail to sea with no compass. Libertarians, pointing to contract law, say:  British Petroleum made a 100-year contract for all Iran’s oil; Mossadegh violated the contract. But one shah for personal remuneration sold away Iran’s natural resources for 100 years; is that a “contract” with Iran? And Cold Warriors say, no, no the reason “we” overthrew Iran’s first democratic government is clear. This was 1953. All around the world newly fashioned democratic governments were entering into electoral alliances with their local Soviet-backed communist party. And so, in Iran, the involvement of the Iranian Soviet Tudeh Party with the Mossadegh government.

    Picture it. The Persian Gulf, bordered by Iran, and on Iran’s northern border, the stalinist Soviet Union rapacious for world conquest.  The Tudeh elements take over the Mossadegh government and the one, single most important Middle Eastern strategic goal of the United States–to keep the Soviet Union out of the Middle East–spectacularly collapses with the Red Army streaming down from the north at the “invitation” of the democratically elected government of Iran–as now taken over by the Tudeh element.

    And so, the first democratically elected government in the Middle East’s most powerful nation is overthrown and the dictatorship of the Pahlavi’s is returned to power. And from 1953 until 1979, this works rather well.  The Shah remains our man. He works hard to suppress the mullahs, to create a secular society; and so he does. When the Middle East is united against Israel, the Shah, for “us,” is Israel’s friend. He is an authoritarian, yes; his secret police, SAVAK, established with U.S. guidance, seize, torture, kill political opponents. But, if you are in Iran and stay out of politics, you are free to be prosperous and happy. Just don’t interfere in politics and the future of your country.

    Then, leading up to 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter decides that the U.S. must live up to its moral obligations. That means, in the Middle East and elsewhere, to stop supporting authoritarian governments and let the will of the people prevail. The Shah in Iran has gotten into trouble by a grand plan of social engineering to change agricultural policy; the effect is to drive millions of young rural (read: orthodox religious) Iranians off the land and to the cities.  There, a relatively poor, unemployed, restless mass, they turn for guidance, as they were taught, to the mullahs.

    They are the mobs that turn against the Shah, against his “secularized” Iran, to storm Tehran in favor of the the hero of fundamentalist restoration of Islam in Iran, after decades of secularization by the Shah. They are in the streets driving out the Shah and crying for the Ayatollah Komeini.  Carter refused to back the Shah diplomatically and militarily against “the people.” Seeing his great supporter and protector defect, the Shah, too, defects, flying from Iran. The Ayatollah Komeini flies in.  The mobs go wild with delight.

    And, as hard as Jimmy tried, we have not democracy but mob support for the fundamentalist Shiite theocracy of Koeini. We have the resurgence of pure barbarian standards as our diplomats are seized and imprisoned, brutalized, by Iran.  It is a clear, indisputable, classic causa belli.  But nothing can cause the belly of Jimmy Carter to use the military.

    So we had 26 nice years of the Shah, but now have had 38 years of Shiite fundamentalism in Iran, bitterly hostile to the United States, using semi-secret proxies to spread Shiite fundamentalism, often by means of terrorism, through the Middle East.  We have a mighty Middle Eastern country dedicated to the destruction of Israel.  And that country, with a long, long history of Western intervention to get its oil, to shape its politics, is striving for the one sure protection against such intervention: nuclear weapons.

    Our great spiritual ally in the Middle East, Israel, will do anything to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.  And Israel is right.  Its only final security is to be the only nation in the Middle East with nuclear weapons. One U.S. President Barrack Obama, seen by some as a Jimmy Carter figure, declined to initiate any new U.S. military intervention in the Middle East for eight years. There are good arguments, for that, after our experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. And Mr. Obama did bring the world’s powers together to reach an agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons. The United States did not reach an agreement; ALL the world’s great power reached an agreement. It can and will be enforced.  Iran is under an incredibly bright spotlight.  Even Israel may live with that agreement as long as we enforce it.

    But the U.S. has a pattern in the Middle East:  restrain, then lunge, then restrain.

    Carter was a restrainer.  The Bushes was a lungers.  Obama was a restrainer.  Trump seems to be a lunger. Who has done better, the restrainers or the lungers?

    And so we come to the questions.  And my answer is that we should look to the example of Iran.”

     

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    Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi.

    (His research interests focus on the international relations, particularly with reference to the EU’s affairs, the United Nations affairs, the US foreign policy and prevention of conflict-studies. He contributed to the publications to the Daily Dawn (a leading English newspaper) and the Pakistan Observer (an Islamabad-based English daily)

    “A-1: As far as the issue of Trump/Nato or the Putin military adventurism is concerned, one can reasonably argue that the incorporation of the hard power doctrine via Trump’s Nato or via Putin’s forces shall not pave the way for a lasting peace in Syria or Middle east. Instead of supporting the policy of military solution, I would like to advocate a policy of liberal synergy based on a Middle eastern metanoia. There is ample evidence gathered and collected from the US intervention in Iraq in 2003 that an American policy of intervention on the Middle Eastern soiled has upped the ante. “Putin intends to start the post-Obama chapter in Syria on his terms, confronting the new American administration with the fait accompli of [Assad] regime victory in Aleppo,” writes Fabrice Balanche of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “  

    On the diplomatic front, the new Turkey-Russia-Iran alliance threatens to marginalise other outside actors.” Whereas the Trump administration’s current action in Syria shows a hawkish US’s paradigm in the region. The latest incident, which comes at a very odd time – just days after the White House it will no longer pursue the ouster of Assad, cementing the Syrian leader’s resolve not to do anything to infuriate the US administration – means Trump is faced with the same dilemma that faced his predecessor: whether to openly challenge Moscow and risk deep involvement in a Middle East war by seeking to punish Assad for using banned weapons, or compromise and accept the Syrian leader remaining in power at the risk of looking weak.

    A-2: As for Trump’s intervention doctrine, I would like to solicit the point of view that this trump-fostered intervention may not be justifiable since this kind of Monro doctrine sow seeds of hatred and antagonism in the heart and minds of the local inhabitants, the ARABS. To counter- examine this hypothesis, we can go back to the annals of war history and richly get the information that these kinds of western interventions, particularly in the post Cold War era have produced no positive results.

    But it is unfortunate that Hawkish Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are pressing the Trump administration to escalate military efforts to protect the Syrian people against President Bashar Assad. “As part of a broader strategy, we urge the President to take greater military action to achieve our objectives, including grounding the Syrian air force and establishing safe havens inside Syria to protect Syrians,” the senators said in a joint statement on last Tuesday.

    Apparently for the last few decades in the Middle East, the policy of western powers — led by the United States — has been to ensure the flow of oil; maintain stable and secure allies like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf States, Egypt, and Israel; and maintain military and economic influence when needed. But in reality to meet these ends the US administrations have committed some blunders, thereby making the region towards dismemberment. And if the Trump’s administration would not learn from the past mistakes, it would be an irony for both America and the people in the Middle east.

    A-3: it goes without saying that today Middle east is a hot bed of tug between multilateral stake holders. This is not a middle east representing an era of bipolarity once experienced during the years of the Cold War period. Today, Middle east seems to depict a clash between the centripetal and centrifugal forces. The nature of clash is multi-complex. Though presently, Syria is the nucleus of the conflict yet not resolved with prudence and political or diplomatic sagacity, the crisis may entrap the whole middle east. Although Russian-Iranian bilateral are complicated, one thing is clear: Iran has proven to be an asset for Russia in Syria and acts as a hedge against Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and the Middle East region remain key suppliers of natural oil and gas to the People’s Republic.

    But after 2011, when China lost millions in the likes of war-torn Libya and Syria, it began to pen a slew of deals with alternative providersparticularly in North America. China conducted its first joint counterterrorism drills with Saudi Arabia in the southern Chinese city of Chongqing. It’s been doing the same with other Muslim-majority Asian nations — mostly members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — over the past few years. Arab politicos and intellectuals have long decried a precarious U.S.-Arab partnership, premised disproportionately on just two things: Ever-fluctuating oil prices and the ebb-and-flow of counterterrorism.

    China promised more than that. Since 2013, Beijing had championed its “One Belt, One Road” (带一路)policy of promoting trade with historical Silk Road trade partners in faraway West Asia. But the rousing slogan hasn’t been met with much innovation in China’s trade agenda.

    A-4: Yes it is correct to say that US must not indulge into the Middle east via a military war. And of course, the European Union diplomacy must be active to resolve the ongoing crisis. France has got deep influence in the ARAB lands. Despite the fact that Britain has left the EU, the British diplomacy may also be of paramount consideration to use its leverage in the said crisis. Germany may also play an instrumental role in engaging itself with the Arab counterparts. Although Europe and the United States have regularly competed for influence in the Middle East, the EU’s growing weight in the region, instead of fueling a new transatlantic face-off, has in fact contributed to improving relations. The EU needs to adjust to the new geopolitical landscape created by the Syrian conflict by recalibrating its position vis-à-vis other major players, contributing to regional security issues, and standing firm on its values. It needs to use its large foreign policy toolbox in a much better-coordinated manner under the leadership of its foreign policy high representative.

    A-5: Here, I would like to add that US’s unwarranted invasion on Iraq in 2003 has been the root cause of promoting political, economic and democratic instability in the Middle eastern region. The Bush doctrine of exporting democracies via regime change caused great turmoil in the region. These kinds of western policies created insecurities, resentment and provocation. Actually, these policies have fired back. Assad’s adamant hold over Damascus reflects this notion. Let the people be the right judges to exterminate or admit these governments, not otherwise America holds this responsibility of examining whose government is good or worse.”

     

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    Andre Vltchek

     (He is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are revolutionary novels, he also produces documentaries. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Al-Mayadeen. After having lived in Latin America, Africa and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world)

    “1)      Do you support the Trump/NATO crusade or the Putin crusade?

    A: First of all, the “Crusade” is a very sensitive word here in the Middle East, and people would laugh if you’d say publicly “Russian crusade”. Crusade were some of the first expansionist and imperialist expeditions conducted by Western/European powers. They were bigoted in religious and racial terms. They still are. And they are still deadly affairs coming from the West: predominately the US and Europe. I frankly do not support any “crusades”, and I see Russia as a defender of a sovereign Arab country which is under the savage attack from the US/NATO, and by the terrorist groups (called sometimes “opposition” by the Western press) sponsored by the West.

    2)      Is Trump’s latest intervention policy justified or unjustified?

    A: By what could it be justified? Unjustified, of course.  

    3)      Will the Middle East be split by China, Russia and Iran, if the US ceases to intervene?

    A: When was the Middle East split by anybody else, except by the Europeans and the US? China, Russia and Iran would always find a way how to bring prosperity and independence to the Middle East, while respecting the local culture, if the West would miraculously withdraw from here. After the last 100 years of the British and US “involvement”, there is hardly anything left of the Middle East. Anyone who worked intensively in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, or even Lebanon knows perfectly well that the region had been broken, ruined and played with unceremoniously, from Washington and London.  

    4)      Why should the US protect and serve the interest of Middle Eastern countries who secretly defame and hate US intervention policy? Shouldn’t Europe take the pie considering they’re more dependent on foreign oil exports from the Middle East and have a larger Muslim integration-population?

    I don’t understand the question. Is it seriously suggesting that the “US protects and serves the interests of the Middle East?” And, should Europe which tormented and robbed this part of the world take over the plunder again? Perhaps, forgive me but just “perhaps”, shouldn’t the people of the Middle East be asked whether they want to be “protected” by the West?  

     

    Halyna Mokrushyna.

    (Holds a doctorate in linguistics and MA degree in communication. She publishes in Counterpunch, Truthout, and  New Cold War on Ukrainian politics, history, and culture. She is also a contributing editor to the New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond and a founder of the Civic group for democracy in Ukraine)

    “While reading Jaime Ortega’s contextualization of the question, I was struck by the very framing of the question, which expresses the essence of the West’s approach to the rest of the world. This approach is the source of innumerable conflicts and millions of deaths throughout time and space. It consists of many components, coalescing into a complex nod of motives behind the West interventionist policies. One of the components is rationalism, the supreme principle that guides Western reasoning and acting since the Enlightenment. At the basis of rationalism is the conviction that the human being with its ratio, mind, is the Supreme Being and a Master of Universe. The Human Being, through the mind, strives to know the surrounding world, in the process minimizing the danger of unknown. Unknown generates fear, so the mind fights it with the light of knowledge. Not to fear the unknown requires faith, trust into God, which the rationalism rejects. The Western world, or at least, its ruling elite and bureaucratic machinery, have become largely secularized. The science dethroned faith. We do not live in peace with the world; we manage it. And the question that we pose when it comes to countries, which do not fall into the Western model of society, is not ‘what it is” and ‘let it be.’ The question that we pose is “how to manage it.”

    The technological superiority of Western civilization endowed Westerners with a dangerous, indeed criminal conviction that the Western rationalism and the Western model of society are the best and should be emulated by others. To me, such approach is arrogant and doomed to fail because it ignores the complexity of concrete historical and geographical circumstances and the richness of civilizational diversity that they produced.

    The same technological superiority allowed Westerners to colonize the world, to impose the colonial administration, and to plunder the land and people of colonies. The richness of the Western world comes to a large extent from the colonialist looting of technologically less developed nations.

    The political and economic configurations of the world we live in today are the product of European colonialism. And although the former colonies are now de jure free and independent, they remain an economic appendage of the former colonial powers, providing natural resources and cheap labor to transnational capital. And the Western complex of superiority still defines the foreign policy of Americans and their loyal Western allies.

    Politics are an expression of economic interests. This essential truth is often masked by sanctimonious moralizing of Western politicians on the violation of human rights in non-Western countries and the outrage over the ‘dictatorship’ of forms of government that do not follow the liberal model of democracy. Economic interests drive political actions. All the wars in the Middle East, which the United States and their allies conducted or sponsored in the past and are conducting at present, is about securing a stable access to oil and gas, the main source of our comfortable living in the West.

    The West’s policy in the Middle East is a complex nod of political, economic, and moral reasons. To understand West’s actions in this region, one has to look into the interplay of these reasons, not just isolating economic interests, for example. Looking at American foreign politics solely through the perspective of energy resources will fail to take into account one of the most powerful motivations – the genuine belief of American politicians in the superiority of the American democracy and the desire to export it to the non-Western world. However, because of the incapacity, inability, or unwillingness to understand the Other, this desire has led to disastrous results in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine.

    Democracy cannot be imposed. It is an oxymoron. Democracy presupposes the free will of people. If democracy is forced upon people through predatory internationals loans which require the destructive economic reforms or through bombings of cities and villages, this is not a democracy. This is a neoliberal imperial interventionism. Democracy can only be developed through education and empowerment of ordinary citizens. But this requires years and years of painstaking work, patience, humility, and love, which hold no market value, whereas loans and weapons bring huge profits.

    It is exactly the interventionist policies of Western powers that stirred the storm in the Middle East. Driven by their arrogant ignorance of the complexity of the region and the economic interests in oil and gas, the US attacked Iraq using a blatant lie as a pretext. I will never forget General Colin Powell with a test tube which allegedly was a proof of Saddam Hussein’s arsenals of chemical weapons. After the invasion, hundreds of thousands of deaths, destroyed infrastructure, the emergence of ISIS, Americans were never able to produce one convincing proof of their claims in the UN Security Council. It turned out to be one big criminal lie.

    I do not think that Russians want a piece of the slice in the Middle East. For one simple reason – they have enough oil and gas. I think Russians had enough of Western arrogance and catastrophic interventionism. They want to prevent the destruction of Syria and an enormous cataclysm which would lead, over again, to millions of refugees, to the emergence of terrorist groups, and to the utterly impotent Western reaction to it. Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov have repeatedly stated that the regime change in Syria should be decided by the Syrian people, through a democratic election, not through the external powers’ handpicking of their favorite as the new president. Russians are interested in maintaining peace in Syria. And they did not invade Syria like Americans did in Iraq. They did not send massive troops on the ground. They came on the invitation of the Syrian President.

    I find Trump’s decision to bomb Syrian army under the false pretext that it launched a chemical attack against civilians impulsive and irresponsible. First of all, the chemical weapons that Assad regime possessed was destroyed in 2013 under the supervision of UN experts. Russians played a key role in convincing Assad to do it. So the version that Syrian army launched that attack in Idlib province of Syria is highly improbable. Americans jumped at that conclusion hours after the attack happened, and without any serious investigation declared that it was the terrible crime committed by the bloody regime. The news about that attack made the headlines of all Western MSM, while a more deadly and terrible crime by Syrian ‘opposition’ suicide bombers, who attacked buses with civilians, women, and children in western Syria villages, did not receive such a full coverage. It is yet another example of the ideologically eschewed bias of Western MSM who readily talk for hours about alleged crimes of the regime and do not mention the gross violations of human rights by the so-called Syrian opposition.

    It is difficult to accept facts that do not inscribe into the well-established framing of the world, in which the all-powerful West dictates the rules of the game, appoints and takes down heads of the states that cannot oppose the West, designates villains and destroys them.

    It is difficult to accept for the American elites that the world is becoming multipolar and that they are losing their grip on it. Americans are going through a deep and fundamental identity crisis, triggered by the realization that they are not anymore the only superpower that decides the destinies of the world. American imperialism as the foundation of American identity has been challenged by emerging alternative centers of power, such as BRICS. It is a very painful process, but Americans have to go through it if we are to live in a safer, more democratic world. After all, democracy is about pluralism, equality, and the respect of differences. It is about a peaceful resolution of conflicts where one genuinely tries to understand the Other, without bullying or aggressing the opponent. We would all benefit from a diversity of various forms of governments and cultures, not just the dictatorship of false neoliberal democracy, imposed on technologically weaker countries through predatory loans or criminal bombings.

    Western colonialism and post-colonial interventionism produced disastrous results, much worse than if the non-Western countries were left to develop themselves without intervention from abroad. It is time for the West to withdraw. I think not a single external power should have a slice of Middle East. Countries of the region should settle their disputes among themselves, with the West acting as a non-partisan, honest broker. Unfortunately, I am fully aware that such scenario is unrealistic.”

     

    Jaime Ortega-Simo.

    (The Daily Journalist president and founder)

    “I don’t support Donald Trump on this particular issue and I think it’s a very unwise move to attack Assad – a starch defender of religious minorities in the region, as he himself is an Alawite. When Trump ran for office a few months ago, one of his noticeable campaign promises was to stay away from bullying Assad’s regime – a promise not shared by his archrival Hillary Clinton who promoted a neo-conservative scheme to straighten the mess she help create.

    There is only one reason why western countries intervene in Middle Eastern affairs, and has nothing to do with friendships or democracy; unlike the past where the Middle East was a schoolyard for religious control, as we approach a post-religious era, it is all about petro-money. Thus the reason why Trump’s first interventionist move sparked in Syria and not Ukraine, which continues under the direct siege of Russian military forces masked on civilian uniforms protected under Putin’s umbrella. I strongly suspect, countries like Taiwan and Israel will not be secured from China, Russia and Iran in the near future, if the United States loses military grip globally as it did during Obama’s administration.

    Dealing with the Middle East is like dealing with an immovable object – if you cannot move something, then you must blow it up (I don’t mean blowing the Middle East, but sectarian violence). No country has ever seeded democracy on the Middle East and succeeded in reforming the region. Only one empire was 100 percent successful in quenching all the havoc on the region; the Mongol Empire on their quest to harvest the region without tare dealt brutally with sectarian violence to try to prove a point to all surrounding nations after suffering Islamic extremism of its own.

    If the west wants to police the Middle East and deal with ISIS once and for all, it must adopt a ‘neo-mongolist’ attitude in the region to weed-out sectarian tare, otherwise it is completely ridiculous and irrational to believe Western Democracy will solve the conflict with its current international model. The reason why Russia is in Syria is because it knows it can control the problem with force and gain territory and political alliance with autocratic leaderships proven to work in the region. The generals fighting the counterinsurgency in Libya and Egypt have his support, and don’t trust neither NATO nor the US.

    I don’t like Putin as he is the epitome of fake news and anti-journalism; however, the ousting of dictators in the Middle East was one of the most stupid and destructive events to engulf the Middle East in many decades, perhaps centuries – and it wasn’t created by Putin’s neo-soviet mentally to expand militarily worldwide, but by US interventionism. The US has completely torn the Middle East from the inside out. The US attacked Afghanistan and Iraq, but not main Islamist donor states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait to name a few? Geopolitical democracy is as joke, and I learned all I needed to learn of democracy after watching how the western world dealt with Rwanda.

    The US is simply ‘jealous’ Russia decided to intervene in the Middle East. The US threw the toy away with its conflictive policy in Syria and now wants it back as soon as the ‘new kid’ in town arrived. The Russian’s despite their imperialistic agenda, did not launch airstrikes against Iraq when US forces were illegally present in the area. The US reaction against Russia and especially against Assad is completely unjustified. The truth is Syria is a complete fiasco and either the Kurdish, the Turks, Assad’s Regime, ISIS or Russia will control the region – the truth might be the same in Libya and possibly in Afghanistan in the near future as China ventures closer to Baluchistan. The US now feels protective of human rights, not because it cares for the Syrians, but to tell Russia not stretch its arm to expand in the area — the chemical weapons in only an excuse to spank Russia.

    Trump is only going to aggravate the problem in Ukraine, as Sergey Shoygu — the Russian minister of defense — will push Putin to not give up the notion of ‘Russian empire’ and its inspirations to counter US interventionism. China watches the situation and would love for the US and Russia to annihilate each-other in the region while it expands. A lot of experts claim the relationship of Russia and China is great based on their latest energy agreement – I beg to differ, just wait till China and Russia’s interest clashes on Euro-Asia or the Middle East, as they both expand outwards to challenge US supremacy.

    Lastly, chemical weapons cause death like any other weapon. Death is death regardless of the situation, how the UN resolution classifies justified interventionism based on death is quite arbitrary. I don’t see how chemical weapons violate international law, but an 1970 AKA 47 with oxidize bullets or a tele-guided drone play by the rules of engagement. I don’t understand, death is death.”

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    Two Billion People Depend On Imported Food

    April 17th, 2017

    The Daily Journalist

     

    Researchers show empirically: when population pressure increases, food is imported

    The Earth’s capacity to feed its growing population is limited – and unevenly distributed. An increase in cultivated land and the use of more efficient production technology are partly buffering the problem, but in many areas it is instead solved by increasing food imports. For the first time, researchers at Aalto University have been able to show a broad connection between resource scarcity, population pressure, and food imports, in a study published in Earth’s Future.

    Earth’s ability to sustain the growing human population has been under debate for centuries. Several scholars, most notably perhaps Malthus [1798] and the Club of Rome with its report The Limits to Growth/
    ‘Although this has been a topic of global discussion for a long time, previous research has not been able to demonstrate a clear connection between resource scarcity and food imports. We performed a global analysis focusing on regions where water availability restricts production, and examined them from 1961 until 2009, evaluating the extent to which the growing population pressure was met by increasing food imports,’ explains Postdoctoral Researcher Miina Porkka.

    The researchers’ work combined modelled data with FAO statistics and also took into consideration increases in production efficiency resulting from technological development. The analysis showed that in 75% of resource scarce regions, food imports began to rise as the region’s own production became insufficient.

    Even less wealthy regions relied on the import strategy – but not always successfully. According to the research, the food security of about 1.4 billion people has become dependent on imports and an additional 460 million people live in areas where increased imports are not enough to compensate for the lack of local production.

    The big issue, says co-author Dr Joseph Guillaume, is that people may not even be aware that they have chosen dependency on imports over further investment in local production or curbing demand.

    ‘It seems obvious to look elsewhere when local production is not sufficient, and our analysis clearly shows that is what happens. Perhaps that is the right choice, but it should not be taken for granted’

    The international food system is sensitive and price and production shocks can spread widely and undermine food security – especially in poorer countries that are dependent on imports. As a result, further investments in raising production capacity could be a viable alternative. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa and India, there are opportunities to sustainably improve food production by, for example, more efficient use of nutrients and better irrigation systems. Miina Porkka emphasises that the solutions will ultimately require more than just increasing food production.

    ‘Keeping food demand in check is the key issue. Controlling population growth plays an essential role in this work, but it would also be important to enhance production chains by reducing food waste and meat consumption. Since one quarter of all the food produced in the world is wasted, reducing this would be really significant on a global level.’

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