May 20, 2013
Ice is melting away at a record-breaking rate in the Arctic, exposing valuable natural resources and opening up new shipping routes. Measurements taken last August found levels of Arctic sea ice were at their lowest levels since satellites began measuring the ice in 1979.
China doesn’t own any Arctic territory – in fact, its northernmost point is more than 1,400km south of the Arctic Circle. But it’s nevertheless taking a strong interest in the region, building a physical presence there and using diplomacy and trade ties to gain a foothold.
China’s actions in the region have paid off as it, along with five other non-Arctic states, have been granted permanent observer status to the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum of eight countries with Arctic territory.
Gaining observer status does not allow China any voting rights on the Arctic Council. But it does give it sway in an increasingly important region. Not only does the shrinking ice have climate implications; warming temperatures at the poles have raised the possibility of access to as much as 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
May 19, 2013
Just about everyone wishes they were better at math. But studying and practicing is so difficult and boring that very few people do it. If only there were an easier way.
Now there may be, suggests a new study in which scientists stimulated volunteers’ brains with mild electric current while they learned new arithmetic operations based on made-up symbols. People who received brain stimulation during training sessions on five consecutive days learned two to five times faster than those who received sham stimulation, and they retained a 30 to 40 percent performance edge six months later.
The study is not the first to show improvement in mathematical cognition with brain stimulation. In 2010, scientists reported that people can learn a new set of numbers based on arbitrary symbols more quickly when a mild current is applied to the right parietal lobe of the brain, a region implicated in previous number-comprehension studies.
The new research goes a step farther by showing that electrical stimulation can also improve the ability to perform calculations, says cognitive neuroscientist Roi Cohen Kadosh of the University of Oxford, who led both studies.
May 18, 2013
One of Guatemala’s most brutal dictators has been found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. On Friday, Jose Efraín Ríos Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison in a decision that marks the first time a ruler has been convicted of genocide in his own country. Rios Montt oversaw an extralegal regime in the early 1980s, ordering the killing of 1,771 Ixil Mayans in the name of eradicating a guerilla movement.
Incredibly, Montt’s co-defendant, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, who served as director of intelligence during the same time period, was acquitted of the same charges. The current president of the nation, President Otto Pérez Molina, has also been implicated in the atrocities, though not charged.
Throughout the duration of the Ríos Montt dictatorship, his regime was the bloodiest on the American continent. Why did the world permit his brutality, and why did it take more than 30 years to successfully prosecute him? His genocidal campaigns, in full view to the world, were committed in real time.
May 16, 2013
When the Iran-Contra scandal broke out, President Reagan went on national television and played dumb. He claimed he had no knowledge that high-level members of his administration were illegally selling arms to the Iranian regime and using the proceeds to fund the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, despite legislation prohibiting such aid. It was dubious at best, but he decided that being an incompetent president who doesn’t even know what’s going on in his own administration was better than being blamed for willfully breaking the law.
I can’t help but wonder if that scenario is playing itself out again. According to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, President Obama didn’t know anything about the Justice Department’s nefarious snooping on Associated Press journalists. I find that extremely hard to believe.
According to the AP, the Justice Department monitored the work and personal phone records of more than 20 reporters and editors for months. From the very beginning of the Obama reign, there has been a war on whistleblowers, an effort to strike fear into those who might leak information to the press, a fight to make the Imperial Presidency more secret than it has ever been. Until now, the administration seemed to brazenly parade its achievement of prosecuting more people under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations. But with this latest fiasco, the administration seems to have crossed the line: now, they are too embarrassed to admit it.
May 15, 2013
Earth’s solid-metal inner core is a key component of the planet, helping to give rise to the magnetic field that protects us from harmful space radiation, but its remoteness from the planet’s surface means that there is much we don’t know about what goes on down there. But some secrets of the inner core are being revealed by acoustic waves passing through the planet’s heart and iron squeezed to enormous pressures in the lab.
Two new studies, both detailed online May 12 in the journal Nature Geoscience, reveal that Earth’s inner core may actually be softer than previously thought, and that the speed at which it spins can fluctuate over time.
Under the liquid-metal outer layer of the Earth’s core is a solid ball of superhot iron and nickel alloy about 760 miles (1,220 kilometers) in diameter. Scientists recently discovered the inner core is, at 10,800 degrees Fahrenheit (6,000 degrees Celsius), as hot as the surface of the sun.
Churning in the liquid outer core results in the dynamo that generates Earth’s magnetic field. Geoscientists think interactions between the inner and outer cores may help explain the nature of the planet’s dynamo, the details of which remain largely unknown.
“The Earth’s inner core is the most remote part of our planet, and so there is a lot we don’t know about it because we can’t go down and collect samples,” said Arianna Gleason, a geoscientist at Stanford University in California.
@ LIVE SCIENCE
May 14, 2013
Murder is our national sport. We murder tens of thousands with our industrial killing machines in Afghanistan and Iraq. We murder thousands more from the skies over Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen with our pilotless drones. We murder each other with reckless abandon. And, as if we were not drenched in enough human blood, we murder prisoners—most of them poor people of color who have been locked up for more than a decade. The United States believes in regeneration through violence. We have carried out blood baths on foreign soil and on our own land for generations in the vain quest of a better world. And the worse it gets, the deeper our empire sinks under the weight of its own decay and depravity, the more we kill.
Chris Hedges @ TRUTHDIG