Posts by thedailyjournalist:

    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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    Humanoid Robots To Replace Search And Rescue Workers

    April 12th, 2017

    The Daily Journalist.

     

    Italian researchers are developing a humanoid robot to replace humans in search and rescue operations following disasters. Walk-Man is being taught to move and walk at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Genoa, and could one day save your life.

    The robot still needs instructions from humans, but in the near future it should be able to assess dangers and environmental conditions before taking action to get the job done.

    The Walk-Man team is currently working on the robot’s software to improve its ability to support itself while walking over rough surfaces.

    IIT senior researcher Nikolaos Tsagarakis explained to euronews that the robot is kind of anthropomorphic: it has joints and motions similar to a human body.

    Credit: Walk-Man

    “You can see the hand, with five fingers, there is a thumb,” said Tsagarakis. “And it was designed for the purpose to perform very powerful manipulations.”

    Walk-Man is being developed within a European Union research project and is fitted with a stereo vision system and a rotating 3D laser scanner.

    Researchers plan to have a human operator take control remotely for advanced problem solving. The robot has already driven a car and can make many human-like movements.

    The researchers’ big technical challenge has been how to control locomotion, balance and manipulation of this 1.80 metre tall robot.

    The robot’s power is similar to a medium-sized car, explained research engineer Ioannis Sarakoglou.

    “Every joint of the robot, let’s say the knee joint or the hip joint, which needs to provide a lot of effort, are similar to the power of a 50 cc scooter engine,” said Sakoglou.

    In places that are safe for humans, robots that look and behave like humans could have advantages over robots on wheels.
    Inspired by nature

    Researchers from ITT get most of their inspiration directly from nature, as Sarakoglou explained:
    “Many principles that exist in biology have given us inspiration on how could be designed a robot. One thing is energy saving, especially through devising mechanisms that are back drivable to make use of swing phases in our natural motion.”

    The WALK-MAN project aims to develop a humanoid robot that can operate in buildings that were damaged following natural and man-made disasters. The robot will demonstrate new skills:

    -Dextrous, powerful manipulation skills – e.g. turning a heavy valve of lifting collapsed masonry,
    -robust balanced locomotion – walking, crawling over a debris pile, and
    – physical sturdiness – e.g. operating conventional hand tools such as pneumatic drills or cutters.

    Credit: Dimitris Kanoulas

    Many of the robot’s actions use gravity rather than energy to move.

    “We try to integrate this inspiration in our designs,” explained Sarakoglou, “to make robots that are energy efficient and can operate well longer than the robot can do at the moment.”
    Search and rescue

    The next step for Walk-Man will be a major test it is expected to pass under the eyes of the Italian Civil Protection authority.

    During the test, the robot will be sent into a building on fire. Its mission: to search and rescue a human being.

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    Archaeogenetic Findings Unlock Ancestral Origins Of Sardinians

    April 12th, 2017

    The Daily Journalist.

     

    The island of Sardinia is remarkable for the fact that an exceptionally high proportion of the population is seemingly descended from people who have occupied it since the Neolithic and Bronze Age, between 8,000 and 2,000 years ago. For centuries after that, they had little interaction with mainland Europe.

    Now, University of Huddersfield researcher Dr Maria Pala has taken part in a project that has helped to unlock the genetic secrets of her Mediterranean homeland. One of the findings is that some modern Sardinians could have evolved from people who colonised the island at an even earlier period, the Mesolithic.

    Credit: University of Huddersfield

    Dr Pala – whose first degree was from the University of Sassari in her native Sardinia – is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Huddersfield and a member of its Archaeogenetics Research Group. The group is led by Professor Martin Richards and includes Dr Francesca Gandini as Research Fellow. They are all co-authors of a new article, titled Mitogenome Diversity in Sardinians: A Genetic Window onto an Island’s Past, appearing in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

    It states that modern Sardinians are a “unique reservoir of distinct genetic signatures” and it describes how the research team, based at a number of UK, European and American universities and institutes, analysed 3,491 DNA samples from the present day population and compared them with 21 ancient samples taken from skeletal remains found in rock-cut tombs spanning from the Neolithic period to the Final Bronze Age.

    Dr Pala   explained that this new study focused on the mitochondrial genome – the maternal line from mothers to daughters – because it provided an unbroken line of descent, much less complex than the whole genome.

    Credit: University of Huddersfield
    It emerged that 78.4 per cent of the modern mitogenomes actually cluster into “Sardinian-specific haplogroups”.

    “That percentage is extremely high,” said Dr Pala. “If you look at Europeans as a whole, you cannot essentially distinguish an English person from an Italian or a French, because Europeans have mixed together for a long time.”

    Credit: University of Huddersfield
    Sardinia has always been an island, but it is believed that there was a time when a lower sea level meant it retained links with the continent, and through these links the first inhabitants reached the island from continental Europe. Then the sea level rose but, despite this, connections with the continent remained active through the Neolithic and Bronze Age, possibly fuelled by the abundance of natural resources such as obsidian and metals present in the island.

    Then, whether suddenly or gradually, these connections were severed or became sporadic so that for thousands of years Sardinians were isolated, developing their own language, culture, society and sense of identity.

    To this day, Sardinians speak their own tongue and they remain genetically distinctive, as the new article co-authored by Dr Pala demonstrates.

    It concludes that: Contemporary Sardinians harbour a unique genetic heritage as a result of their distinct history and relative isolation from the demographic upheavals of continental Europe. Whilst the major signal appears to be the legacy of the first farmers on the island, our results hint at the possibility that the situation might have been much more complex, both for Sardinia but also, by implication, for Europe as a whole. It now seems plausible that human mobility, inter-communication and gene flow around the Mediterranean from Late Glacial times onwards may well have left signatures that survive to this day.

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    Get Rid Of Depressions By Changing How You Think

    March 29th, 2017

    A thought is a thought. It does not reflect reality. New research shows that learning how to ruminate less on thoughts and feelings has a positive effect for individuals with depression.

    Depressed individuals “don’t need to worry and ruminate,” says Professor Roger Hagen in NTNU’s Department of Psychology. “Just realizing this is liberating for a lot of people.”

    Hagen – along with NTNU researchers Odin Hjemdal, Stian Solem, Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair and Hans M. Nordahl – has recently published a scientific paper on the treatment of depression using metacognitive therapy (MCT).

    By becoming aware of what happens when they start to ruminate, patients learn to take control of their own thoughts.

     Photo: Thinkstock
    The study shows that learning to reduce rumination is very helpful for patients with depressive symptoms.

    Some people experience their persistent ruminative thinking as completely uncontrollable, but individuals with depression can gain control over it,” says Hagen.

    The patients involved in the study were treated over a ten-week period. After six months, 80 per cent of the participants had achieved full recovery from their depression diagnosis.

    “The follow-up after six months showed the same tendency,” says Hagen.

    Separating thoughts and reality

    Professionals in the field call it “depressive rumination.” Using metacognitive therapy, you can rid yourself of depression by gaining control of your thoughts.
    Illustration photo: Thinkstock
    Today, medications and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) are the recommended treatments for depression and anxiety. In CBT, patients engage in analysing the content of their thoughts to challenge their validity and reality test them.

    Metacognitive therapy, by contrast, focuses on lessening the ruminative process.

    “Anxiety and depression give rise to difficult and painful negative thoughts. Many patients have thoughts of mistakes, past failures or other negative thoughts. Metacognitive therapy addresses thinking processes,” Hagen says, rather than the thought content. Patients with depression “think too much, which MCT refers to as ‘depressive rumination.’ Rather than ruminating so much on negative thoughts, MCT helps patients to reduce negative thought processes and get them under control,” he says.

    By becoming aware of what happens when they start to ruminate, patients learn to take control of their own thoughts.

    As Hagen explains, “Instead of reacting by repeatedly ruminating and thinking ‘how do I feel now?’ you can try to encounter your thoughts with what we call ‘detached mindfulness.’ You can see your thoughts as just thoughts, and not as a reflection of reality. Most people think that when they think a thought, it must be true. For example, if I think that I’m stupid, this means I must be stupid. People strongly believe that their thoughts reflect reality.”

    Fewer relapses

    Patients who participated in the study have been pleasantly surprised by this form of treatment.

    “The patients come in thinking they’re going to talk about all the problems they have and get to the bottom of it,” says Hagen, “but instead we try to find out how their mind and thinking processes work. You can’t control what you think, but you can control how you respond to what you think.”

    Today depression and anxiety are treated using medications or so-called cognitive behavioral therapy. This last involves teaching patients to examines their thoughts and analyse them to find evidence to debunk the negative thoughts. Metacognitive therapy is all about helping patients find ways to reduce the amount of time they spend ruminating.

    Photo illustration: Thinkstock

    The problem with several previous depression studies is that many of them did not use any control groups. Since depression often resolves itself over time, the lack of a control group makes it difficult to know whether a treatment was successful, or if the depression just naturally resolved itself.

    NTNU’s study compared the MCT group against one that did not receive treatment, which strengthened the results of their study.

    According to Hagen, a lot of mainstream depression treatment shows a high recurrence rate. Out of 100 patients, fully half relapse after a year, and after two years, 75 of the 100 have relapsed.

    “The relapse rate in our study is much lower. Only a few per cent experienced a depressive relapse,” he says.

    Could become the standard treatment

    The University of Manchester in England has developed the metacognitive therapy approach over the past 20 years, as a form of cognitive therapy. Smaller studies at this university have shown that MCT treatment has had great efficacy in treating depression. A similar, soon-to-be-published study in Denmark has shown the same positive results.

    Hagen hopes that metacognitive therapy will become the most common way to treat depression in Norway.

    “When the national guidelines for the treatment of depression were changed five or six years ago,” Hagen says, “MCT had not been empirically tested.” Given the results of the NTNU and Danish studies, he recommends that professionals in the field consider whether this form of therapy should become the first choice for treating depression in people suffering from this mental disorder. “Many professionals in Norway have expertise in metacognitive therapy,” says Hagen.

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    Can Robots Write Meaningful News?

    March 29th, 2017

    Robots and computers are replacing people everywhere; doctors, pilots, even journalists. Is this leading to a dystopian society, or could it be something positive?

    With this in mind, researchers from the Media Management and Transformation Centre (MMTC) at Jönköping International Business School, Jönköping University have launched the project DPer News (Digital Personalization of the News), with support from the Knowledge Foundation.

    Digitalization is the integration of digital technologies into everyday life, but it is also the process of moving to a digital business. The media industry, and news in particular, is the starting point for the Dper News project, but virtually all industries are facing digitalization.

    Credit: Max Pixel

    “The angle of digitalization is very much in demand today, and companies are eager to get help to transform”, says project director Mart Ots. “The general question is how can algorithms replace humans in repetitive professions? Journalism may not seem like a repetitive job, but when it comes to writing about finance and sports, it very well can be.”

    In some areas, robots can be used to assist journalists by finding and analyzing data, but the journalist still writes the story. In other cases, robots could do the actual writing. The DPer News project wants to find creative methods for robotization that can help the news industry create more interesting news.

    “DPer News is about how we can make news stories that are not just cheap and convenient, but more meaningful and personal. It worries me that just because we can get robots to mine and condense data, that’s all we’ll do”, says Professor Daved Barry. “Robots can target you and quickly give you the content you want, like the latest sports scores. But what about giving you content that would surprise you, that would help you think in out-of-the-box ways?”

    Journalism, at its heart, is a very human enterprise. Can it be done by robots? Representing different views on this, the project involves experts on data mining, innovation and creativity, the news company Hallpressen, and computer consultants Infomaker and PDB. It connects with two other research projects at MMTC: DATAMINE which has received Regional funding, and the Digital Business Innovation Studio has received a grant from Vinnova.

    The project team consists of Daved Barry, Karl Hammar, Anette Johansson, Ulf Johansson, Tuwe Löfström, Henry Lopez Vega, Mart Ots, Andrea Resmini, Ulf Seigerroth, and Håkan Sundell.

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    History of Mokele Mbembe And Expeditions To Africa

    March 29th, 2017

    The Daily Journalist.

    Numerous expeditions have been undertaken to Africa in search of Mokèlé-mbèmbé. During these, there were some sightings that have been argued by cryptozoologists to involve some unidentified dinosaur-like creature. Additionally, there have been several specific Mokèlé-mbèmbé-hunting expeditions. Although several of the expeditions have reported close encounters, none have been able to provide incontrovertible proof that the creature exists. The sole evidence that has been found is the presence of widespread folklore and anecdotal accounts covering a considerable period of time.

    1776: Bonaventure

    The earliest reference that might be relevant to Mokèlé-mbèmbé stories (though the term is not used in the source) comes from the 1776 book History of Loango, Kakonga, and Other Kingdoms in Africa by Liévin-Bonaventure Proyart, a French missionary to the Congo River region. Among many other observations about flora, fauna, and native inhabitants related in his book, Bonaventure claimed to have seen enormous footprints in the region. The creature that left the prints was not witnessed, but Bonaventure wrote that it “must have been monstrous: the marks of the claws were noted on the ground, and these formed a print about three feet in circumference.”

    1909: Gratz

    According to Lt. Paul Gratz’s account from 1909, indigenous legends of the Congo River Basin in modern day Zambia spoke of a creature known by native people as the “Nsanga”, which was said to inhabit the Lake Bangweulu region. Gratz described the creature as resembling a sauropod. This is one of the earliest references linking an area legend with dinosaurs, and has been argued to describe a Mokèlé-mbèmbé-like creature. In addition to hearing stories of the “Nsanga” Gratz was shown a hide which he was told belonged to the creature, while visiting Mbawala Island.

    1909: Hagenbeck

    1909 saw another mention of a Mokèlé-mbèmbé-like creature, in Beasts and Men, the autobiography of famed big-game hunter Carl Hagenbeck. He claimed to have heard from multiple independent sources about a creature living in the Congo region which was described as “half elephant, half dragon.” Naturalist Joseph Menges had also told Hagenbeck about an animal alleged to live in Africa, described as “some kind of dinosaur, seemingly akin to the brontosaurs.” Another of Hagenbeck’s sources, Hans Schomburgk, asserted that while at Lake Bangweulu, he noted a lack of hippopotami; his native guides informed him of a large hippo-killing creature that lived in Lake Bangweulu; however, as noted below, Schomburgk thought that native testimony was sometimes unreliable.

    Reports of dinosaur-like creatures in Africa caused a minor sensation in the mass media, and newspapers in Europe and North America carried many articles on the subject in 1910–1911; some took the reports at face value, others were more skeptical.

    1913: von Stein

    Another report comes from the writings of German Captain Ludwig Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz, who was ordered to conduct a survey of German colonies in what is now Cameroon in 1913. He heard stories of an enormous reptile alleged to live in the jungles, and included a description of the beast in his official report. According to Willy Ley, “von Stein worded his report with utmost caution,” knowing it might be seen as unbelievable. Nonetheless, von Stein thought the tales were credible: trusted native guides had related the tales to him, and the stories were related to him by independent sources, yet featured many of the same details. Though von Stein’s report was never formally published, portions were included in later works, including a 1959 book by Ley. Von Stein wrote:

    The animal is said to be of a brownish-gray color with a smooth skin, its size is approximately that of an elephant; at least that of a hippopotamus. It is said to have a long and very flexible neck and only one tooth but a very long one; some say it is a horn. A few spoke about a long, muscular tail like that of an alligator. Canoes coming near it are said to be doomed; the animal is said to attack the vessels at once and to kill the crews but without eating the bodies. The creature is said to live in the caves that have been washed out by the river in the clay of its shores at sharp bends. It is said to climb the shores even at daytime in search of food; its diet is said to be entirely vegetable. This feature disagrees with a possible explanation as a myth. The preferred plant was shown to me, it is a kind of liana with large white blossoms, with a milky sap and applelike fruits. At the Ssombo River I was shown a path said to have been made by this animal in order to get at its food. The path was fresh and there were plants of the described type nearby. But since there were too many tracks of elephants, hippos, and other large mammals it was impossible to make out a particular spoor with any amount of certainty.

    1919-1920: Smithsonian Institution

    A 32-man expedition was sent to Africa from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. between 1919 and 1920. The objective of this expedition was to secure additional specimens of plants and animals. Moving picture photographers from the Universal Film Manufacturing Company accompanied the expedition, in order to document the life of interior Africa. According to cryptozoologists Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe, authors of the Field Guide to Lake Monsters, “African guides found large, unexplained tracks along the bank of a river and later in a swamp the team heard mysterious roars, which had no resemblance with any known animal”. However, the expedition was to end in tragedy. During a train-ride through a flooded area where an entire tribe was said to have seen the dinosaur, the locomotive suddenly derailed and turned over. Four team members were crushed to death under the cars and another half dozen seriously injured. The expedition was documented in the Homer L. Shantz papers.

    1927: Smith

    1927 saw the publication of Trader Horn, the memoir of Alfred Aloysius Smith, who had worked for a British trading company in what is now Gabon in the late 1800s. In the book, Smith related tales told him by natives and explorers about a creature given two different names: “jago-nini” and “amali”. The creature was said to be very large, according to Smith, and to leave large, round, three-clawed footprints.

    1932: Sanderson

    Cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson claimed that, while in Cameroon in 1932, he witnessed an enormous creature in the Mainyu River. The creature, seemingly badly wounded, was only briefly visible as it lurched into the water. Darkly colored, the animal’s head alone was nearly the size of a hippo, according to Sanderson. His native guides termed the creature “m’koo m’bemboo”, in Sanderson’s phonetic spelling.

    1938: von Boxberger

    In 1938, explorer Leo von Boxberger mounted an expedition in part to investigate Mokèlé-mbèmbé reports. He collected much information from natives, but his notes and sketches had to be abandoned during a conflagration with local tribesmen.

    1939: von Nolde

    In 1939, the German Colonial Gazette (of Angola) published a letter by Frau Ilse von Nolde, who asserted that she had heard of the animal called “coye ya menia” (“water lion”) from many claimed eyewitnesses, both natives and settlers. She described the long necked creature as living in the rivers, and being about the size of a hippo, if not somewhat larger. It was known especially for attacking hippos – even coming on to land to do so – though it never ate them.

    1966: Ridel

    In August or September 1966, Yvan Ridel took a picture of a large footprint with three toes, north-east of Loubomo, notable as hippopotami have four toes.

    1976: Powell

    In 1960, an expedition to Zaire was planned by herpetologist James H. Powell, Jr., scheduled for 1972, but was canceled by legal complications. By 1976, however, he had sorted out the international travel problems, and went to Gabon instead, inspired by the book Trader Horn. He secured finances from the Explorer’s Club. Although Powell’s ostensible research aim was to study crocodiles, he also planned to study Mokèlé-mbèmbé.

    On this journey, Powell located a claimed eyewitness to an animal called “n’yamala”, or “jago-nini”, which Powell thought was the same as the “amali” of Smith’s 1920’s books. Natives also stated – without Powell’s asking – that “n’yamala” ate the flowering liana, just as von Stein had been told half a century earlier. When Powell showed illustrations of various animals, both alive and extinct, to natives, they generally suggested that the Diplodocus was the closest match to “n’yamala”.

    1979: Powell

    Powell returned to the same region in 1979, and claimed to receive further stories about “n’yamala” from additional natives. He also made an especially valuable contact in American missionary Eugene Thomas, who was able to introduce Powell to several claimed eyewitnesses. He decided that the n’yamala was probably identical to the Mokèlé-mbèmbé. Though seemingly herbivores, witnesses reported that the creatures were fearsome, and were known to attack canoes that were steered too close.

    1979: Thomas

    Reverend Eugene Thomas from Ohio, USA, told James Powell and Roy P. Mackal in 1979 a story that involved the purported killing of a Mokèlé-mbèmbé near Lake Tele in 1959. Thomas was a missionary who had served in the Congo since 1955, gathering much of the earliest evidence and reports, and claiming to have had two close-encounters himself.[12] Natives of the Bangombe tribe who lived near Lake Tele were said to have constructed a large spiked fence in a tributary of Tele to keep Mokèlé-mbèmbé from interfering with their fishing. A Mokele-mbembe managed to break through, though it was wounded on the spikes, and the natives then killed the creature. As William Gibbons writes, “Pastor Thomas also mentioned that the two pygmies mimicked the cry of the animal as it was being attacked and speared… Later, a victory feast was held, during which parts of the animal were cooked and eaten. However, those who participated in the feast eventually died, either from food poisoning or from natural causes. I also believe that the mythification (magical powers, etc) surrounding Mokèlé-mbèmbés [sic] began with this incident.” Furthermore, Mackal heard from witnesses that the stakes were in the same location in the tributary as of the early 1980s.

    1980: Mackal-Powell

    For his third expedition in February 1980, Powell was joined by Roy P. Mackal. Based on the testimony of claimed eyewitnesses, Powell and Mackal decided to focus their efforts on visiting the northern Congo regions, near the Likouala aux Herbes River and isolated Lake Tele. As of 1980, this region was little explored and largely unmapped, and the expedition was unable to reach Lake Tele. Powell and Mackal interviewed several people who claimed to have seen Mokèlé-mbèmbé, and Clark writes that the descriptions of the creature were “strikingly similar … animals 15 to 30 feet (5 to 9 m) long (most of that a snakelike head and neck, plus long thin tail). The body was reminiscent of a hippo’s, only more bulbous … again, informants invariably pointed to a picture of a sauropod when shown pictures of various animals to which mokele-mbembe might be compared.” Mackal and Powell were interviewed before and after this expedition for the TV program Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World.

    1981: Mackal-Bryan

    Mackal and Jack Bryan mounted an expedition to the same area in late 1981. He was supposed to be joined by Herman Regusters, but they came in conflict in terms of finance, equipment and leadership and decided to split and make separate expeditions. Although, once again, Mackal was unable to reach Lake Tele, he gathered details on other cryptids and possible living dinosaurs, like the Emela-ntouka, Mbielu-Mbielu-Mbielu, Nguma-monene, Ndendeki (giant turtle), Mahamba (a giant crocodile of 15 meters), and Ngoima (a giant monkey-eating Eagle). Among his company were J. Richard Greenwell, M. Justin Wilkinson, and Congolese zoologist Marcellin Agnagna.

    The 1981 expedition would feature the only “close encounters” of the Mackal expeditions. It occurred when, while on a river, they heard a loud splash and saw what Greenwell described as “[a] large wake (about 5″) … originating from the east bank”. Greenwell asserted that the wake must have been caused by an “animate object” that was unlike a crocodile or hippo. Additionally, Greenwell noted that the encounter occurred at a sharp river bend where, according to natives, Mokèlé-mbèmbé frequently lived due to deep waters at those points.

    1987 saw the publication of Mackal’s book, A Living Dinosaur?, in which Mackal detailed his expedition and his conclusions about the Mokèlé-mbèmbé. Mackal tried, unsuccessfully, to raise funds for additional trips to Africa.

    1981: Regusters

    In 1981, American engineer Herman Regusters led his own Mokèlé-mbèmbé expedition, after having a conflict with the Mackal-Bryan expedition that he intended to join. Regusters and his wife Kai reached Lake Tele, staying there for about two weeks. Of the 30 expedition members (28 were men from the Boha village), only Herman Regusters and his wife claim to have observed a “long-necked member” traveling across Lake Tele. They also claim to have tried filming the being, but said their motion picture film was ruined by the heat and humidity. Only one picture was released showing a large, but unidentifiable, object in the lake. The Regusters expedition returned with droppings and footprint casts, which Regusters believed were from the mokele-mbembe.

    It also returned with sound recordings of “low windy roar [that] increased to a deep throated trumpeting growl”, which Regusters believed to be the Mokèlé-mbèmbé’s call. This recording was submitted for technical evaluation with a noted zoological source, but were inconclusive, except to note that the sounds were not attributable to any known wildlife. Despite this result, Regusters’ conclusions about this tape were later challenged by Mackal, who asserted that the Mokèlé-mbèmbé did not have a vocal call. Mackal asserts that vocalizations are more correctly associated with the Emela-ntouka, a similarly described creature found in the Central African legends.

    Herman Alphanso Regusters died on 19 December 2005, aged 72.

    1983: Agnagna

    Congolese biologist Marcellin Agnagna led the 1983 expedition of Congolese to Lake Tele. According to his own account, Agnagna claimed to have seen a Mokèlé-mbèmbé at close distance for about 20 minutes. He tried to film it, but said that in his excitement, he forgot to remove the motion picture camera’s lens cap. In a 1984 interview, Agnagna claimed, contradictorily, that the film was ruined not because of the lens cap, but because he had the Super 8 camera on the wrong setting: macro instead of telephoto.

    1985: Nugent

    In December 1985 Rory Nugent spotted an anomaly moving through the middle of Lake Tele, approximately 1 kilometer from his position on the shore. In his account published as a book, Nugent claimed that it was shaped like a “slender french curve” and moving through the water with little wake. When he went to launch a boat to investigate he was ordered at gunpoint by the natives not to approach it. Nugent wrote that they view the creature as a god “that you can not approach, but if he chooses, this god can approach you.” He also provided some pictures, which are too blurry to be identifiable.

    1985-1986: Operation Congo

    Operation Congo took place between December 1985 and early 1986 by “four enthusiastic but naïve young Englishmen,” led by Young Earth Creationist William Gibbons, They hired Agnagna to take them to Lake Tele, but did not report any Mokèlé-mbèmbé sightings. The British men did, however, assert that Agnagna did “little more than lie, cheat and steal (our film and supplies) and turn the porters against us.” After criminal charges were filed against him, a Congolese court ordered Agnagna to return the items he had taken from the expedition.

    Although the party found no evidence of the Mokèlé-mbèmbé, they discovered a new subspecies of monkey, which was later classified as the Crested mangabey monkey (Cerocebus galeritus), as well as fish and insect specimens.

    1986: Botterweg

    In 1986 another expedition was mounted, consisting of four Dutchmen, organized and led by Dutch biologist Ronald Botterweg, who already had experience with tropical rainforest research in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and who later visited, lived, and worked in several African countries. This expedition entered the Congo down the Ubangi River from Bangui in the Central African Republic, and managed, with considerable organizational challenges, to reach Lake Tele, with a group of guides from the village of Boha, some of which had also accompanied Regusters. Since they had only managed to obtain permission from the local authorities (not having passed by Brazzaville) for a very limited period in the area, they only spent about three days at the lake before returning to Boha. During their stay at the lake they spent as much time as possible observing the lake and its surroundings through from their provisional camp on the north-eastern shore, and navigating part of it by dug-out canoe. No signs of any large unknown animal were found.

    On the way back, arriving at the town of Impfondo, they were detained by Congolese biologist Agnagna and his team, who had just arrived there for an expedition with the British team of Operation Congo, allegedly for not possessing the proper documents. They were detained for a short while, and the largest part of their film and color slides were confiscated, before being released and leaving the country (again by the Ubangui river and Bangui).

    No signs, tracks or anything tangible or visible of the alleged animals was seen or shown whatsoever. Tracks, droppings, and other signs of forest elephants and gorillas were commonly seen, as well as crocodiles in the lake. Despite the fact that the African guides were extremely capable and experienced hunters, guides and experts of the African rainforest, they were not able to show any track or sign of the Mokèlé-mbèmbé and none of the several interviewed guides even claimed ever to have seen one personally, nor its tracks. Remarkable is the fact that the guides that were interviewed by the Dutch expedition and that also accompanied Regusters, stated that they never saw a Mokèlé-mbèmbé during that expedition, although Regusters himself claims to have seen one.

    This expedition received some attention in the Dutch media (radio, TV, and newspapers) from 1985 to 1987, and again in a nostalgic radio show by Dutch radio station KRO on channel Radio 2, on 7 March 2011. Furthermore, this expedition features in a slightly romanticized form as a short story by Dutch novelist author Margriet de Moor (‘Hij Bestaat’, meaning It exists, in the novel ‘Op de Rug Gezien’, meaning Seen from behind).

    1988 Japanese expedition

    In 1988 a Japanese expedition went to the area, led by the Congolese wildlife official Jose Bourges. In 1992, members of a Japanese film crew allegedly filmed video Mokele-mbembe. As they were filming aerial footage from a small plane over the area of Lake Tele, intending to obtain some shots for a documentary, the cameraman noticed a disturbance in the water. He struggled to maintain focus on the object, which was creating a noticeable wake. About 15 seconds of footage was captured, which skeptics have identified as either two men in a canoe or swimming elephants.

    1989 O’Hanlon

    British writer Redmond O’Hanlon traveled to the region in 1989 and not only failed to discover any evidence of Mokèlé-mbèmbé but found out that many local people believe the creature to be a spirit rather than a physical being, and that claims for its authentic existence have been fabricated. His experience is chronicled in Granta no. 39 (1992) and in his book Congo Journey (UK, 1996), published as No Mercy in the USA (1997).

    1992 Operation Congo 2

    William Gibbons launched a second expedition in 1992 which he dubbed “Operation Congo 2”. Along with Rory Nugent, Gibbons searched almost two thirds of the Bai River along with two poorly charted lakes: Lake Fouloukuo and Lake Tibeke, both of which local folklore held to be sites of Mokèlé-mbèmbé activity. The expedition failed to provide any conclusive evidence of the Mokèlé-mbèmbé, though they did further document local legends and Nugent took two photographs of unidentified objects in the water, one of which he claimed was the creature’s head.

    2000: Extreme Expeditions

    In January 2000, the Congo Millennium Expedition (aka. DINO2000) took place, the second one by Extreme Expeditions, consisting of Andrew Sanderson, Adam Davies, Keith Townley, Swedish explorer Jan-Ove Sundberg, and five others. (Adam Davies has spoken of the Mokèlé-mbèmbé on a 2011 BBC video)

    2000: Gibbons

    In November 2000, William Gibbons did some preliminary research in Cameroon for a future expedition. He was accompanied by David Wetzel, and videographer Elena Dugan. While visiting with a group of pygmies, they were informed about an animal called Ngoubou, a horned creature. The pygmies asserted it was not a regular rhinoceros, as it had more than one horn (six horns on the frill in one eyewitness account), and that the father of one of the senior members of the community had killed one with a spear a number of years ago. The locals have noted a firm dwindle in the population of these animals lately, and that they are hard to find. Gibbons identified the animal with a Styracosaurus, but, in addition to being extinct, these are only known to have inhabited North America.

    2001: CryptoSafari/BCSCC

    In February 2001, in a joint venture between CryptoSafari and the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club (BCSCC), a research team traveled to Cameroon consisting of William Gibbons, Scott T. Norman, John Kirk and writer Robert A. Mullin. Their local guide was Pierre Sima Noutchegeni. They were also accompanied by a BBC film crew. No evidence of Mokèlé-mbèmbé was found.

    2001: BBC Congo

    In 2001, BBC broadcast in the TV series Congo a collective interview with a group of BiAka pygmies, who identified the mokele mbembe as the rhino while looking at an illustrated manual of local wildlife.

    2006: Marcy

    In January 2006, the Milt Marcy Expedition traveled to the Dja river in Cameroon, near the Congolese border. It consisted of Milt Marcy, Peter Beach, Rob Mullin and Pierre Sima. They spoke to witnesses that claimed to have observed a Mokèlé-mbèmbé only two days before, but they did not discover the animal themselves. However, they did return with what they believe to be a plaster cast of a Mokèlé-mbèmbé footprint.

    2006: National Geographic

    A May 2006 episode called “Super Snake” of the National Geographic series Dangerous Encounters included an expedition headed by Brady Barr to Lake Tele. No unknown animals were found.

    2006: Vice Guide to Travel

    In 2006, David Choe travelled to the Republic of Congo in search of the creature for Vice in the segment The Last Dinosaur of the Congo. Choe and his companions failed to find the animal and the focus of the documentary turned to the rituals of their Pygmy guides.

    2008: Destination Truth

    In March 2008, an episode of the SyFy (formerly the SciFi Channel) series Destination Truth involved investigator Joshua Gates and crew searching for the creature. They did not visit the Likouala Region, which includes Lake Tele, but they visited Lake Bangweulu in Zambia instead, which had reports of a similar creature in the early 20th century, called the “‘nsanga”. The crew of Destination Truth kept calling the animal “Mokèlé-mbèmbé” to the locals, when that name is only used in the Republic of the Congo. The name used in that particular spot is “chipekwe”. Their episode featured a videotaped encounter filmed from a great distance. On applying digital video enhancement techniques, the encounter proved to be nothing more than two submerged hippopotami.

    2009: MonsterQuest

    In March 2009 an episode of the History Channel series MonsterQuest involved William Gibbons, Rob Mullin, local guide Pierre Sima and a two-man film crew from White Wolf Productions. It took place in Cameroon, in the region of Dja River, Boumba River, and Nkogo River, near the border with the Republic of the Congo. The episode aired in the summer of 2009, and also featured an interview with Roy P. Mackal and Peter Beach of the Milt Marcy Expedition, 2006. While no sightings were reported on the expedition, the team found evidence of a large underground cave with air vents. The team also received sonar readings of very long, serpentine shapes underwater.

    2011: Beast Hunter

    A March 2011 episode of Beast Hunter on the National Geographic Channel featured a search for Mokele-mbembe in the Congo Basin.

    2012: The Newmac Expedition

    In April 2012 Stephen McCullah & Sam Newton launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund an expedition to the Congo region to search for Mokele-mbembe. Despite raising some $29,000 the expedition suffered financial difficulties and is believed to have been abandoned shortly after the party reached the Congo in July 2012.

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    Surprising Discovery Of Mayan Precious Jewel: “Like Finding The Hope Diamond In Peoria”

    March 14th, 2017

    The Daily Journalist.

    To say that UC San Diego archaeologist Geoffrey Braswell was surprised to discover a precious jewel in Nim Li Punit in southern Belize is something of an understatement.

    “It was like finding the Hope Diamond in Peoria instead of New York,” said Braswell, who led the dig that uncovered a large piece of carved jade once belonging to an ancient Maya king. “We would expect something like it in one of the big cities of the Maya world. Instead, here it was, far from the center,” he said.

    The jewel — a jade pendant worn on a king’s chest during key religious ceremonies — was first unearthed in 2015. It is now housed at the Central Bank of Belize, along with other national treasures.

    The jade once belonging to an ancient Maya king is inscribed with 30 hieroglyphs. It was used during important religious ceremonies.

    Courtesy G. Braswell/UC San Diego

    Braswell recently published a paper in the Cambridge University journal Ancient Mesoamerica detailing the jewel’s significance. A second paper, in the Journal of Field Archaeology, describes the excavations.

    The pendant is remarkable for being the second largest Maya jade found in Belize to date, said Braswell, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at UC San Diego. The pendant measures 7.4 inches wide, 4.1 inches high and just 0.3 inches thick. Sawing it into this thin, flat form with string, fat and jade dust would have been a technical feat. But what makes the pendant even more remarkable, Braswell said, is that it’s the only one known to be inscribed with a historical text. Carved into the pendant’s back are 30 hieroglyphs about its first owner.

    “It literally speaks to us,” Braswell said. “The story it tells is a short but important one.” He believes it may even change what we know about the Maya.

    Also important: The pendant was “not torn out of history by looters,” said Braswell. “To find it on a legal expedition, in context, gives us information about the site and the jewel that we couldn’t have otherwise had or maybe even imagined.”

    Where the jewel was found

    Nim Li Punit is a small site in the Toledo District of Belize. It sits on a ridge in the Maya Mountains, near the contemporary village of Indian Creek. Eight different types of parrot fly overhead. It rains nine months of the year.

    The pendant was pictured on a carved image of a king at the site where it was unearthed.

    Courtesy G. Braswell/UC San Diego

    On the southeastern edge of the ancient Maya zone (more than 250 miles south of Chichen Itza in Mexico, where similar but smaller breast pieces have been found), Nim Li Punit is estimated to have been inhabited between A.D. 150 and 850. The site’s name means “big hat.” It was dubbed that, after its rediscovery in 1976, for the elaborate headdress sported by one of its stone figures. Its ancient name might be Wakam or Kawam, but this is not certain.

    Braswell, UC San Diego graduate students Maya Azarova and Mario Borrero, along with a crew of local people, were excavating a palace built around the year 400 when they found a collapsed, but intact, tomb. Inside the tomb, which dates to about A.D. 800, were 25 pottery vessels, a large stone that had been flaked into the shape of a deity and the precious jade pectoral. Except for a couple of teeth, there were no human remains.

    What was it doing there?

    The pendant is in the shape of a T. Its front is carved with a T also. This is the Mayan glyph “ik’,” which stands for “wind and breath.” It was buried, Braswell said, in a curious, T-shaped platform. And one of the pots discovered with it, a vessel with a beaked face, probably depicts a Maya god of wind.

    Wind was seen as vital by the Maya. It brought annual monsoon rains that made the crops grow. And Maya kings — as divine rulers responsible for the weather — performed rituals according to their sacred calendar, burning and scattering incense to bring on the wind and life-giving rains. According to the inscription on its back, Braswell said, the pendant was first used in A.D. 672 in just such a ritual.

    Two relief sculptures on large rock slabs at Nim Li Punit also corroborate that use. In both sculptures, a king is shown wearing the T-shaped pendant while scattering incense, in A.D. 721 and 731, some 50 and 60 years after the pendant was first worn.

    A stela from Nim Li Punit Maya site in what is now Belize

    By the year 800, the pendant was buried, not with its human owner, it seems, but just with other objects. Why? The pendant wasn’t a bauble, Braswell said, “it had immense power and magic.” Could it have been buried as a dedication to the wind god? That’s Braswell’s educated hunch.

    Maya kingdoms were collapsing throughout Belize and Guatemala around A.D. 800, Braswell said. Population levels plummeted. Within a generation of the construction of the tomb, Nim Li Punit itself was abandoned.

    “A recent theory is that climate change caused droughts that led to the widespread failure of agriculture and the collapse of Maya civilization,” Braswell said. “The dedication of this tomb at that time of crisis to the wind god who brings the annual rains lends support to this theory, and should remind us all about the danger of climate change.”

    The jade pendant was buried around A.D. 800 with other objects, including pottery and a large stone that had been flaked into the shape of a deity.

    Courtesy G. Braswell/UC San Diego

    Still and again: What was it doing there?The inscription on the back of the pendant is perhaps the most intriguing thing about it, Braswell said. The text is still being analyzed by Braswell’s coauthor on the Ancient Mesoamerica paper, Christian Prager of the University of Bonn. And Mayan script itself is not yet fully deciphered or agreed upon.

    But Prager and Braswell’s interpretation of the text so far is this: The jewel was made for the king Janaab’ Ohl K’inich. In addition to noting the pendant’s first use in A.D. 672 for an incense-scattering ceremony, the hieroglyphs describe the king’s parentage. His mother, the text implies, was from Cahal Pech, a distant site in western Belize. The king’s father died before aged 20 and may have come from somewhere in Guatemala.

    It also describes the accession rites of the king in A.D. 647, Braswell said, and ends with a passage that possibly links the king to the powerful and immense Maya city of Caracol, located in modern-day Belize.

    “It tells a political story far from Nim Li Punit,” Braswell said. He notes that Cahal Pech, the mother’s birthplace, for example, is 60 miles away. That’s a five-hour bus ride today, and back then would have been many days’ walk — through rainforest and across mountains. How did the pendant come to this outpost?

    While it’s possible it had been stolen from an important place and whisked away to the provinces, Braswell doesn’t think so. He believes the pendant is telling us about the arrival of royalty at Nim Li Punit, the founding of a new dynasty. The writing on the pendant is not particularly old by Maya standards, but it’s the oldest found at Nim Li Punit so far, Braswell said. It’s also only after the pendant’s arrival that other hieroglyphs and images of royalty begin to show up on the site’s stelae, or sculptured stone slabs.

    It could be that king Janaab’ Ohl K’inich himself moved to Nim Li Punit, Braswell said. Or it could be that a great Maya state was trying to ally with the provinces, expand its power or curry favor by presenting a local king with the jewel. Either way, Braswell believes, the writing on the pendant indicates ties that had been previously unknown.

    “We didn’t think we’d find royal, political connections to the north and the west of Nim Li Punit,” said Braswell, who has been excavating in Belize since 2001 and at Nim Li Punit since 2010. “We thought if there were any at all that they’d be to the south and east.”

    Even if you ignore the writing and its apparent royal provenance, the jade stone itself is from the mountains of Guatemala, southwest of Belize. There are few earlier indications of trade in that direction either, Braswell said.

    We may never know exactly why the pendant came to Nim Li Punit or why it was buried as it was, but Braswell’s project to understand the site continues. He plans to return in the spring of 2017. This time, he also wants to see if he might discover a tie to the Caribbean Sea. After all, that’s a mere 12 miles downriver, a four-hour trip by canoe.

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    Why Do Meteors Make Spooky Sounds?

    February 28th, 2017

    When a meteor is about to conk your neighborhood and gives fair warning by emitting sizzling, rustling and hissing sounds as it descends, you might think that the universe is being sporting.

    Sandia National Laboratories researcher Richard Spalding, recently deceased, examines the sky through which meteors travel.

    But these auditory warnings, which do occur, seem contrary to the laws of physics if they are caused by the friction of the fast-moving meteor or asteroid plunging into Earth’s atmosphere. Because sound travels far slower than light, the sounds should arrive several minutes after the meteor hits, rather than accompany or even precede it.

    So maybe atmospheric shock waves from the meteors are not the cause of the spooky noises

    Photo by Randy Montoya
    Another theory is that the sounds are created by radio frequency emissions. That seems unlikely without designated receivers.

    But what if the sounds are caused by the brilliant, pulsating light emitted by the asteroid as it burns up in Earth’s atmosphere?

    In an article published Feb. 1 in the journal Scientific Reports, the late Sandia National Laboratories researcher Richard Spalding reasoned that such intense light could suddenly heat the surface of objects many miles away, which in turn heats the surrounding air. This could create sounds near the observer. Colleagues John Tencer, William Sweatt, Ben Conley, Roy Hogan, Mark Boslough and Gigi Gonzales, along with Pavel Spurny from the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Republic, experimentally demonstrated and analyzed that effect.

    They found that objects with low conductivity, such as leaves, grass, dark paint and even hair, could rapidly warm and transmit heat into nearby air and generate pressure waves by subtle oscillations that create a variety of sounds. The process is called photoacoustic coupling.

    Sounds concurrent with a meteor’s arrival “must be associated with some form of electromagnetic energy generated by the meteor, propagated to the vicinity of the observer and transduced into acoustic waves,” according to the article. “A succession of light-pulse-produced pressure waves can then manifest as sound to a nearby observer.”

    This bolide appeared over the Flinders Ranges, in the South Australian desert on the evening of the 24th April 2011.
    Credit: Wikimedia Commons

    The experimenters exposed several materials, including dark cloths and a wig, to intense pulsing light akin to that produced by a fireball. The process produced faint sounds similar to rustling leaves or faint whispers. Computer models bear out the results.

    A less extreme version of the photoacoustic effect had been observed in 1880 by Alexander Graham Bell when, testing the possibilities of light for long-distance phone transmissions, he intermittently interrupted sunlight shining on a variety of materials and noted the sounds produced.

    Sandia National Laboratories is a multimission laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.

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    Cameras Can Steal Data From Blinking Computer Hard Drive Led Lights

    February 28th, 2017

    The Daily Journalist.

    Researchers at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) Cyber Security Research Center have demonstrated that data can be stolen from an isolated “air-gapped” computer’s hard drive reading the pulses of light on the LED drive using various types of cameras and light sensors.

    In the new paper, the researchers demonstrated how data can be received by a Quadcopter drone flight, even outside a window with line-of-sight of the transmitting computer.

    Air-gapped computers are isolated — separated both logically and physically from public networks — ostensibly so that they cannot be hacked over the Internet or within company networks. These computers typically contain an organization’s most sensitive and confidential information.

    Led by Dr. Mordechai Guri, head of R&D at the Cyber Security Research Center, the research team utilized the hard-drive (HDD) activity LED lights that are found on most desktop PCs and laptops. The researchers found that once malware is on a computer, it can indirectly control the HDD LED, turning it on and off rapidly (thousands of flickers per second) — a rate that exceeds the human visual perception capabilities. As a result, highly sensitive information can be encoded and leaked over the fast LED signals, which are received and recorded by remote cameras or light sensors.

    Credit: Pixabay

    “Our method compared to other LED exfiltration is unique, because it is also covert,” Dr. Guri says. “The hard drive LED flickers frequently, and therefore the user won’t be suspicious about changes in its activity.”

    Dr. Guri and the Cyber Security Research Center have conducted a number of studies to demonstrate how malware can infiltrate air-gapped computers and transmit data. Previously, they determined that computer speakers and fans, FM waves and heat are all methods that can be used to obtain data.

    In addition to Dr. Guri, the other BGU researchers include Boris Zadov, who received his M.Sc. degree from the BGU Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Prof. Yuval Elovici, director of the BGU Cyber Security Research Center. Prof. Elovici is also a member of Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering and director of Deutsche Telekom Laboratories at BGU.

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    Old Engravings Confirm Ancient Origins of Pointillist Techniques

    February 28th, 2017

    The Daily Journalist.

     

    A newly discovered trove of 16 engraved and otherwise modified limestone blocks, created 38,000 years ago, confirms the ancient origins of the pointillist techniques later adopted by 19th and 20th century artists such as Georges Seurat, Vincent Van Gogh, Camille Pissarro, and Roy Lichtenstein.

    “We’re quite familiar with the techniques of these modern artists,” observes New York University anthropologist Randall White, who led the excavation in France’s Vézère Valley. “But now we can confirm this form of image-making was already being practiced by Europe’s earliest human culture, the Aurignacian.”

    Pointillism, a painting technique in which small dots are used to create the illusion of a larger image, was developed in the 1880s. However, archaeologists have now found evidence of this technique thousands of years earlier — dating back more than 35,000 years.

    Newly discovered limestone slab from Abri Cellier with pointillist mammoth in profile view formed my dozens of individual punctuations and re-shaping of the natural edge of the block to conform to the animals head and back line.

    Photo and drawing by R. Bourrillon.

    The findings appear in the journal Quaternary International.

    Major discoveries by White and his colleagues–which include images of mammoths and horses–confirm that a form of pointillism was used by the Aurignacian, the earliest modern human culture in Europe. These add weight to previous isolated discoveries, such as a rhinoceros, from the Grotte Chauvet in France, formed by the application of dozens of dots, first painted on the palm of the hand, and then transferred to the cave wall.

    Earlier this year, White’s team reported the uncovering of a 38,000-year-old pointillist image of an aurochs or wild cow–a finding that marks some of the earliest known graphic imagery found in Western Eurasia and offers insights into the nature of modern humans during this period. Now, in short order they have found another pointillist image–this time of a woolly mammoth–in a rock shelter of the same period known as Abri Cellier located near the previous find-site of Abri Blanchard.

    Abri Cellier has long been on archeologists’ short-list of major art-bearing sites attributed to the European Aurignacian. Excavations in 1927 yielded 15 engraved and/or pierced limestone blocks that have served as a key point of reference for the study of Aurignacian art in the region.

    This is a graphic rendering of the recently published Blanchard aurochs illustrating the arrangement of punctuations in relation to the animal.

    Photo and drawing by R. Bourrillon

    In 2014, White and his colleagues returned to Cellier, seeking intact deposits that would allow a better understanding of the archaeological sequence at the site and its relationship to other Aurignacian sites. They had their fingers crossed that the new excavation might yield new engraved images in context, but nothing prepared them for the discovery of the 16 stone blocks detailed in the Quaternary International article. One of these, broken in half prehistorically, was found in place with a radiocarbon date of 38,000 years ago.

    Remarkably, the remaining 15 blocks, including the pointillist mammoth, one of three mammoth figures recognized during the new work at Cellier, had been left on-site by the 1927 excavators. As many of the engraved traces are rudimentary and thus difficult to interpret, the original excavators set them aside just in case they might have something inscribed on them. The new article presents evidence that the 38,000 year date for the newly excavated engraving also applies to the new trove and to the other blocks found in 1927 and now housed in the French National Prehistory Museum.

    Over the past decade, with these and other discoveries, White and his team have increased our known sample of the earliest graphic arts in southwestern France by 40 percent. The team includes researchers from the University of Arizona, the University of Toronto, the University of Toulouse, Paris’ Museum of Natural History, and the University of Oxford.

    The research appearing in Quaternary International was supported by the Partner University Fund and the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Direction régional des affaires culturelles d’Aquitaine (DRAC-Aquitaine), the Institut des Sciences Humaines et Sociales (INSHS) of the CNRS, the Faculty of Arts and Science at NYU, and the Fyssen Foundation.

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