A non-profit news blog, focused on providing independent journalism.

Friday, 5 December 2014

People power: Nationwide uprising gains strength in Haiti

A nationwide uprising against the regime of business partners President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe continued to gain steam this week with massive demonstrations in several major cities, including Port-au-Prince, Léogane, Petit Goâve, Cap-Haïtien, Fort-Liberté, Ouanaminthe, and Aux Cayes.

Feeling the protests' heat, Martelly made a short televised national address on Nov. 28 to announce his formation of an "advisory commission" made up of 11 people whom he called "credible, honest, and trusted by society" to provide him "in eight days" with "a recommendation" on what path to take out of Haiti's political imbroglio, saying that "the nation is divided, the problems are many, the problems are complicated."

Martelly outlined five categories of recommendation which he had gleaned from "two months" of "consultations" with Haiti's political actors: 1) remove Lamothe as Prime Minister; 2) dissolve Parliament on Jan. 12, 2015 when the terms of most senators and deputies expire; 3) change the composition of the Electoral Council; 4) form a Constituent Assembly to overhaul Haiti's 1987 Constitution; and 5) extend Parliament's life or put in place a council to function in place of Parliament.

Tellingly, Martelly did not include, or even mention in his address, the principal demand of the nationwide protests: that he and his prime minister immediately resign, ceding power to a State Council and Supreme Court judge, as happened when demonstration-beset-dictator Gen. Prosper Avril resigned in March 1990. The ensuing Dec. 16, 1990 election, carried out without the supervision of any occupying force like the current UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH), was among the fairest in Haitian history.

Many demonstrators are also calling for the remaining 6,600 soldiers of MINUSTAH to immediately leave Haiti.

Ironically, the "trusted" commission is made up of disgraced and discredited political figures, including Gérard Gourgue, the former "president" of a "parallel government" the opposition to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide concocted in 2001; Evans Paul, the archetypal scheming Haitian politician who was a leader in the 2004 coup; and Réginald Boulos, a leading political strongman championing the interests of Haiti's tiny bourgeoisie.

With typical humor, the Haitian people immediately dubbed Martelly's proposal the "Baygon Commission," referring to a popular insecticide in Haiti for killing cockroaches. In early November, Martelly's Communications Minister, Rudy Hériveaux, a former leader in Aristide's Lavalas Family party (FL), issued an editorial in which he wrote: "Carried away in a kind of destructive frenzy, these cockroaches are agitated into a disgusting folkloric display in the streets to try to attack the government." He was referring to the tens of thousands now demonstrating and to the Haitian opposition generally.

Such venomous comments and meaningless maneuvers by government officials have only stoked the flames of "Operation Burkina Faso," as the movement is called, inspired by the October uprising that unseated President Blaise Compaoré in Ouagadougou. "Here are the cockroaches," thousands of demonstrators now chant.

Following the giant demonstration on Nov. 25, equally large demonstrations swept the capital on Nov. 28 and Nov. 29, two dates with historic symbolism.

On Nov. 28, 1980, the Duvalier dictatorship brutally cracked down on its political opponents and the press following the election in the U.S. of right-wing President Ronald Reagan. In the reign of terror that followed, many anti-Duvalierist journalists, politicians, and activists were murdered, imprisoned, tortured, or exiled. Then on Nov. 28,1985 in Gonaïves, Duvalier's soldiers and Tonton Macoutes gunned down three students: Mackenson Michel, Daniel Israel, and Jean Robert Cius. Outrage at these killings sparked the nationwide uprising that led to the fall of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier on Feb. 7, 1986.

On Nov. 29, 1987, a neo-Duvalierist military junta, composed of Gens. Henry Namphy, and Williams Régala, backed by paramilitary chieftains like Claude Raymond, carried out an election day massacre, killing dozens of would-be voters, most bloodily and infamously at the Argentine School on Ruelle Vaillant in the capital.

Nov. 29, 1803 is also the day at Fort Dauphin in Haiti's North that Haiti's founding fathers first proclaimed independence, declaring at the time that "we have secured our rights, and we swear to yield to no power on earth."

Inspired by their ancestors, on Nov. 29, 2013, thousands of demonstrators had tried to march on the U.S. Embassy in Tabarre, an action which was characterized as "Dessalines visits Uncle Sam." But Haitian police brutally dispersed the protest with tear-gas before it reached the embassy.

The same thing happened this year. Haitian police met the chanting multitude with tear-gas, batons, and gunfire at the Fleuriot intersection, just a stone's throw from the home were Aristide remains under virtual house arrest.

Nonetheless, a few hundred protestors managed to break through police lines and get to the embassy where Sen. Moïse Jean-Charles, the principal leader of the anti-Martelly and anti-occupation demonstrations, delivered a scathing speech.

"We were determined to demonstrate outside the embassy, and here we are," he said. "We must fight, and through our determination, we have shown our ability to save our country from its current terrible situation." Sen. Moïse was joined by other uprising leaders such as outspoken lawyer André Michel.

Meanwhile, in the northeastern cities of Fort Liberté and Ouanaminthe near the border with the Dominican Republic, police wounded about 15 people with tear-gas and gunfire during a week of demonstrations. There were four deaths reported, including a three-month old infant and a 16-year-old boy. The people of the Northeast department are protesting against blackouts, while they claim that more than 12 megawatts of electricity remains unused at the Caracol Industrial Park, home to assembly factories. The residents of Fort-Liberté and Ouanaminthe want their electrical grids connected to Caracol's power plant.

In Ouanaminthe, demonstrations are demanding the dismissal of customs officials who harass with overcharges and blockages small merchants crossing over the border's Massacre River into Dajabon. The demonstrations prevented 10 containers from getting to the Caracol Industrial Park. A contingent of 30 heavily armed policemen from the Brigade of Motorized Intervention (BIM) was dispatched to shepherd the containers in.

Beginning at 9 a.m. on Dec. 1, the townspeople of Cabaret, about 20 miles north of Port-au-Prince, blocked National Highway # 1 to demand electricity, drinking water, and a police outpost. Schools, banks, and markets were closed by the protest.

An official vehicle, determined to pass through the blockade, apparently fired on the crowd, reportedly killing two: a man known only as "Macintosh" and a woman who sold soda known as "Mabi.

As mayhem ensued, the police anti-riot unit, the Company for Intervention and Maintenance of Order (CIMO) arrived to suppress the crowd with tear-gas and water cannons.

"Water is life, electricity is development," the crowd chanted. "We don't want to continue to drink dirty water. If the police fire on us, the situation will deteriorate. Down with Martelly!"

Christel Thélusma, spokesman for the local organization MADIBA, condemned the government's repression of peaceful demonstrations for basic needs.

"We do not want street lights, we want electricity in our homes so that our children can study their lessons," he said. "We will not yield to the pressures of the police. Our demands are fair and justified. Martelly and Lamothe steal funds intended for development of the country, while we have no electricity, we have no drinking water. MINUSTAH's cholera is killing us. This is our third demonstration, yet the authorities have never come to talk with the people."

Similar demonstrations demanding electricity, drinking water, and Martelly's resignation blocked National Highway #2 in Léogâne and Petit Goâve.

Opposition leaders have called for "Operation Burkina Faso" to continue with mass mobilizations on Dec. 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 16, and 18.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is slated to visit Haiti on Dec. 12. In preparation for that meeting, U.S. Embassy officials invited six opposition leaders to a meeting on Dec. 2 at the headquarters of Fusion, Haiti's principal social-democratic party.

According to highly placed sources in the opposition, the plan of the U.S. Embassy and the Martelly regime is to have Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe resign. This would kill two birds with one stone. First, it would make Martelly appear to have bowed to one of the opposition's demands (although it is only the Lavalas Family which officially limits its demand to Lamothe's resignation). Secondly, it would distance Lamothe, the U.S. Embassy's darling, from Martelly, who is the focus of popular ire and has skeletons possibly about to spill out of his closet, including corruption, drug-trafficking, passport fraud, and maybe even murder.

Lamothe would then be free to concentrate on his presidential campaign for the end of 2015. According to the sources, former Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive, or possibly his predecessor Michèle Pierre-Louis, would be brought in to "sell" a political deal to some opposition parties and most of the six senators resisting ratification of Martelly's electoral law and electoral council, thereby isolating Sen. Moïse Jean-Charles.

However, Haiti is slippery ground, as the Kreyòl proverb says, and already things have not gone as planned. The Lavalas Family, perhaps the most important opposition party that needs to be part of any U.S. Embassy solution, did not attend the Dec. 2 meeting, outside of which several dozen demonstrators protested with signs like "USA=Bluff, Long live a Haiti without bluff!" (Kontra Pèp La also shunned sitting down with U.S. Ambassador Pamela White.)

In the days ahead, the U.S. and Haitian governments will keep trying to co-opt, divide, undermine, and threaten the Haitian opposition, as well as the larger social movement behind it, in an effort to keep Martelly and MINUSTAH in place. The challenge is for Martelly's opposition to remain united and for the mass movement to sustain its mobilization until it has the same momentum as those which drove dictators from power in 1986 and 1990.

Navy engineer tried to steal schematics for new carrier class

© U.S. Navy

The USS Gerald R. Ford is christened during a ceremony Nov. 9, 2013, at Huntington-Ingalls Industries' Newport News shipyard in Virginia. The Gerald Ford is the 1st of a new class of aircraft carrier intended to replace Nimitz-class carriers.

A Navy civilian engineer has been indicted on charges he tried to steal schematics of an aircraft carrier under construction and have them sent to Egypt.

Federal prosecutors said Mostafa Ahmed Awwad, 35, of Yorktown, Va., was arrested Friday on two counts of attempted exportation of defense articles and technical data.

Prosecutors said Awwad tried to steal technical data in the designs of the USS Gerald R. Ford in late October. Awwad provided computer drawings downloaded from the Navy to an undercover FBI agent posing as an Egyptian intelligence officer.

The Ford is the lead ship in a new class of carriers. It is scheduled for delivery to the Navy in 2016.

According to an FBI affidavit, Awwad began working for Navy last February in the Norfolk Naval Shipyard's nuclear engineering and planning department.

An undercover agent speaking in Arabic contacted Awwad in September and the pair met the next day at a park in Hampton. At the meeting, Awwad asserted that was his intention to use his position of trust with the Navy to obtain military technology for use by the Egyptian government.

The pair also met in October at a hotel where Awwad described a plan to circumvent Navy computer security by installing software enabling him to copy documents without tripping a security alert, the affidavit said.

The undercover agent was given aircraft carrier drawings marked with warnings that foreign distribution could result in criminal prosecution. Awwad indicated he understood the computer drawings would be used in Egypt. He agreed to provide the agent with passport photos to produce a fake Egyptian passport so Awwad could travel without alerting U.S. government officials.

Awwad also asked for $1,500 to buy a tiny camera to enable him to photograph restricted material around the shipyard, the affidavit said.

On Oct. 23, Awwad retrieved $3,000 in cash from a pre-arranged drop site along a secluded hiking trail and left behind a container with an external hard drive and two passport photos. The FBI later collected the container.

Awwad was observed at his Navy office on Nov. 28 holding what appeared to be aircraft carrier design schematics, which he placed on the floor and photographed, the affidavit said.

Awwad is scheduled for a detention hearing on Dec. 10 in federal court in Norfolk.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each count upon conviction.

World's fattest man Keith Martin dies at age 44

© Jenny Goodall/Daily Mail/REX

The world's fattest man Keith Martin

A Londoner who was officially the fattest man in the world has died.

Keith Martin, 44, died from pneumonia following a lengthy battle with his weight.

It happened just eight months after Mr Martin - who weighed 70 stone [980 pounds] at his heaviest - had undergone a successful gastric sleeve which removed three-quarters of his stomach.

Now the surgeon who tried to save him with life-changing weight-loss surgery is calling for the government to swiftly impose a fast-food tax as he backed NHS plans to offer more gastric surgeries to high-risk patients.

If he had lived he would have lost hundreds of pounds and regained his ability to walk and live a normal life, according to head surgeon Kesava Mannur who operated on Mr Martin at Homerton Hospital last year.

Mr Mannur supports new NHS guidelines which encourage doctors to suggest weight-loss surgery for anyone with a BMI higher than 30 and type 2 diabetes.

That means up to two million people could be eligible - and if they all agreed to surgery it would cost the NHS £12billion.

In the wake of Chancellor George Osborne's tax reform revelations in this week's autumn statement, Mr Mannur said: "The government needs to make unhealthy fast food more expensive.

"Otherwise we'll continue to see more and more people like Keith. In the past few years I have treated several people who weighed between 45 to 60 stone.

"In Keith's case, it's a shame because he'd had successful surgery despite being high-risk because of his size. It was unlucky he then caught pneumonia.

"Bariatric surgery can be a very good thing for the people who need it.

"We can't ignore they are here and they need help. Once a patient hits a BMI of 30-35 it is extremely difficult for them to lose weight on their own. If they are not treated they can require a lot of medical help which can be very costly.

"If they can get the weight off they can improve their health and mobility and maybe contribute to society rather than being a burden.

"But the thing that does need to change quickly is how easy it is for people to access very cheap, unhealthy fast food.

"Society needs to do more to encourage children to be healthy from a young age. They need to learn early about physical activity and a healthy diet.

"People need access to gyms and outdoor spaces where they can walk and play while feeling safe. It will be much better for everyone in the long run."

Before he died in March, unemployed Mr Martin admitted much of the weight had come from eating huge amounts of super-cheap fast food.

He would gorge on 20,000 calories a day - almost 10 times the recommended amount - having six-egg fry-ups for breakfast then pizzas, kebabs, Chinese takeaways and Big Macs for lunch and dinner all washed down with six pints of coffee and two litres of fizzy drinks.

He'd also snack on sandwiches, chocolate, crisps, sweets and biscuits.

Mr Mannur added: "Keith, like many people, had some emotional issues and he turned to food for comfort.

"That type of behaviour is nothing new, but what is new is how easy it is for people in that situation to buy a lot of cheap junk food."

Mr Martin left behind his two sisters - Sharon and Tina - who cared for him for many years leading up to his death.

Speaking from the home they shared in west London, Tina Martin said: "We're still grieving. We miss him very much."

Mr Martin's surgery was filmed for Channel 5 documentary 70 Stone & Almost Dead.

A hopeful Mr Martin said beforehand: "I'd resigned myself that either I was going to die in my bed or I was going to kill myself. But now I think 'you stupid person'.

"I'm a lot more confident than I used to be. I feel a lot happier.

"In a few months' time I want to be up and walking

"I know the only person to blame is me. All those years wasted. I'm not going to waste anymore of it. "

Having been stuck in his house for ten years and bedridden for several years due to his size, Mr Martin was able to drop 25 stone in order to qualify for the surgery after switching to a 2,000 calorie a day diet.

But just a week after the procedure he discharged himself from the hospital, against doctors' orders, because he was homesick.

By October 2013 he was back in hospital with septic shock and dehydration. Two weeks later he contracted pneumonia.

Mr Martin spent four months in hospital before he was released in February 2014, having been deemed medically fit. His weight had dropped to 39 stone [546 ponds].

After being transported home he said: "I feel great about surviving the operation.

"It gives me a chance now to go do some of the things I wanted to do - to get myself up and walking, take my dog Benji out for a walk.

"This is the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new chapter. Where it takes me I don't know, but it's going to be fun finding out."

But just a month later he was dead.

Prior to the weight-loss surgery, Mr Martin recorded a video message to his family in case he didn't survive.

He said: "Hi guys, I just wanted to let you know that I love you guys and thanks for being there for me. You can tell the rest of the family I love them and thanks for the support. Take care of each other."

Mr Martin's weight ballooned after he became seriously depressed in his twenties.

He blamed the binging on depression and anxiety which he developed after his mother died - also of pneumonia - when he was 16.

Mr Martin, who used to spend his days playing video games and watching TV, explained in 2012: "I started eating to ease the pain and before I knew it, I was binging every time something upset me.

"I've always been depressed. I am an agoraphobic - I'm afraid of public places - but it was never treated.

"I just want to be happy, without needing food to make me happy."

New Physics theory of life formation?

Jeremy England, a 31-year-old physicist at MIT, thinks he has found the underlying physics driving the origin and evolution of life.

© Katherine Taylor for Quanta Magazine

Why does life exist?

Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and "should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill."

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

© Kristian Peters

Cells from the moss Plagiomnium affine with visible chloroplasts, organelles that conduct photosynthesis by capturing sunlight.

"You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant," England said.

England's theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations. "I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong," he explained. "On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon."

His idea, detailed in a recent paper and further elaborated in a talk he is delivering at universities around the world, has sparked controversy among his colleagues, who see it as either tenuous or a potential breakthrough, or both.

England has taken "a very brave and very important step," said Alexander Grosberg, a professor of physics at New York University who has followed England's work since its early stages. The "big hope" is that he has identified the underlying physical principle driving the origin and evolution of life, Grosberg said.

"Jeremy is just about the brightest young scientist I ever came across," said Attila Szabo, a biophysicist in the Laboratory of Chemical Physics at the National Institutes of Health who corresponded with England about his theory after meeting him at a conference. "I was struck by the originality of the ideas."

Others, such as Eugene Shakhnovich, a professor of chemistry, chemical biology and biophysics at Harvard University, are not convinced. "Jeremy's ideas are interesting and potentially promising, but at this point are extremely speculative, especially as applied to life phenomena," Shakhnovich said.

England's theoretical results are generally considered valid. It is his interpretation - that his formula represents the driving force behind a class of phenomena in nature that includes life - that remains unproven. But already, there are ideas about how to test that interpretation in the lab.

"He's trying something radically different," said Mara Prentiss, a professor of physics at Harvard who is contemplating such an experiment after learning about England's work. "As an organizing lens, I think he has a fabulous idea. Right or wrong, it's going to be very much worth the investigation."

© Courtesy of Jeremy England

A computer simulation by Jeremy England and colleagues shows a system of particles confined inside a viscous fluid in which the turquoise particles are driven by an oscillating force. Over time (top to bottom), the force triggers the formation of more bonds among the particles.

At the heart of England's idea is the second law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of increasing entropy or the "arrow of time." Hot things cool down, gas diffuses through air, eggs scramble but never spontaneously unscramble; in short, energy tends to disperse or spread out as time progresses. Entropy is a measure of this tendency, quantifying how dispersed the energy is among the particles in a system, and how diffuse those particles are throughout space. It increases as a simple matter of probability: There are more ways for energy to be spread out than for it to be concentrated. Thus, as particles in a system move around and interact, they will, through sheer chance, tend to adopt configurations in which the energy is spread out. Eventually, the system arrives at a state of maximum entropy called "thermodynamic equilibrium," in which energy is uniformly distributed. A cup of coffee and the room it sits in become the same temperature, for example. As long as the cup and the room are left alone, this process is irreversible. The coffee never spontaneously heats up again because the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against so much of the room's energy randomly concentrating in its atoms.

Although entropy must increase over time in an isolated or "closed" system, an "open" system can keep its entropy low - that is, divide energy unevenly among its atoms - by greatly increasing the entropy of its surroundings. In his influential 1944 monograph "What Is Life?" the eminent quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger argued that this is what living things must do. A plant, for example, absorbs extremely energetic sunlight, uses it to build sugars, and ejects infrared light, a much less concentrated form of energy. The overall entropy of the universe increases during photosynthesis as the sunlight dissipates, even as the plant prevents itself from decaying by maintaining an orderly internal structure.

Life does not violate the second law of thermodynamics, but until recently, physicists were unable to use thermodynamics to explain why it should arise in the first place. In Schrödinger's day, they could solve the equations of thermodynamics only for closed systems in equilibrium. In the 1960s, the Belgian physicist Ilya Prigogine made progress on predicting the behavior of open systems weakly driven by external energy sources (for which he won the 1977 Nobel Prize in chemistry). But the behavior of systems that are far from equilibrium, which are connected to the outside environment and strongly driven by external sources of energy, could not be predicted.

This situation changed in the late 1990s, due primarily to the work of Chris Jarzynski, now at the University of Maryland, and Gavin Crooks, now at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Jarzynski and Crooks showed that the entropy produced by a thermodynamic process, such as the cooling of a cup of coffee, corresponds to a simple ratio: the probability that the atoms will undergo that process divided by their probability of undergoing the reverse process (that is, spontaneously interacting in such a way that the coffee warms up). As entropy production increases, so does this ratio: A system's behavior becomes more and more "irreversible." The simple yet rigorous formula could in principle be applied to any thermodynamic process, no matter how fast or far from equilibrium. "Our understanding of far-from-equilibrium statistical mechanics greatly improved," Grosberg said. England, who is trained in both biochemistry and physics, started his own lab at MIT two years ago and decided to apply the new knowledge of statistical physics to biology.

Using Jarzynski and Crooks' formulation, he derived a generalization of the second law of thermodynamics that holds for systems of particles with certain characteristics: The systems are strongly driven by an external energy source such as an electromagnetic wave, and they can dump heat into a surrounding bath. This class of systems includes all living things. England then determined how such systems tend to evolve over time as they increase their irreversibility.

"We can show very simply from the formula that the more likely evolutionary outcomes are going to be the ones that absorbed and dissipated more energy from the environment's external drives on the way to getting there,"

he said. The finding makes intuitive sense: Particles tend to dissipate more energy when they resonate with a driving force, or move in the direction it is pushing them, and they are more likely to move in that direction than any other at any given moment.

"This means clumps of atoms surrounded by a bath at some temperature, like the atmosphere or the ocean, should tend over time to arrange themselves to resonate better and better with the sources of mechanical, electromagnetic or chemical work in their environments," England explained.

© Courtesy of Michael Brenner/Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Self-Replicating Sphere Clusters: According to new research at Harvard, coating the surfaces of microspheres can cause them to spontaneously assemble into a chosen structure, such as a polytetrahedron (red), which then triggers nearby spheres into forming an identical structure.

Self-replication (or reproduction, in biological terms), the process that drives the evolution of life on Earth, is one such mechanism by which a system might dissipate an increasing amount of energy over time. As England put it, "A great way of dissipating more is to make more copies of yourself." In a September paper in the Journal of Chemical Physics, he reported the theoretical minimum amount of dissipation that can occur during the self-replication of RNA molecules and bacterial cells, and showed that it is very close to the actual amounts these systems dissipate when replicating. He also showed that RNA, the nucleic acid that many scientists believe served as the precursor to DNA-based life, is a particularly cheap building material. Once RNA arose, he argues, its "Darwinian takeover" was perhaps not surprising.

The chemistry of the primordial soup, random mutations, geography, catastrophic events and countless other factors have contributed to the fine details of Earth's diverse flora and fauna. But according to England's theory, the underlying principle driving the whole process is dissipation-driven adaptation of matter.

This principle would apply to inanimate matter as well. "It is very tempting to speculate about what phenomena in nature we can now fit under this big tent of dissipation-driven adaptive organization," England said. "Many examples could just be right under our nose, but because we haven't been looking for them we haven't noticed them."

Scientists have already observed self-replication in nonliving systems. According to new research led by Philip Marcus of the University of California, Berkeley, and reported in Physical Review Letters in August, vortices in turbulent fluids spontaneously replicate themselves by drawing energy from shear in the surrounding fluid. And in a paper appearing online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Michael Brenner, a professor of applied mathematics and physics at Harvard, and his collaborators present theoretical models and simulations of microstructures that self-replicate. These clusters of specially coated microspheres dissipate energy by roping nearby spheres into forming identical clusters. "This connects very much to what Jeremy is saying," Brenner said.

Besides self-replication, greater structural organization is another means by which strongly driven systems ramp up their ability to dissipate energy. A plant, for example, is much better at capturing and routing solar energy through itself than an unstructured heap of carbon atoms. Thus, England argues that under certain conditions, matter will spontaneously self-organize. This tendency could account for the internal order of living things and of many inanimate structures as well. "Snowflakes, sand dunes and turbulent vortices all have in common that they are strikingly patterned structures that emerge in many-particle systems driven by some dissipative process," he said. Condensation, wind and viscous drag are the relevant processes in these particular cases.

"He is making me think that the distinction between living and nonliving matter is not sharp," said Carl Franck, a biological physicist at Cornell University, in an email. "I'm particularly impressed by this notion when one considers systems as small as chemical circuits involving a few biomolecules."

© Wilson Bentley

If a new theory is correct, the same physics it identifies as responsible for the origin of living things could explain the formation of many other patterned structures in nature. Snowflakes, sand dunes and self-replicating vortices in the protoplanetary disk may all be examples of dissipation-driven adaptation.

England's bold idea will likely face close scrutiny in the coming years. He is currently running computer simulations to test his theory that systems of particles adapt their structures to become better at dissipating energy. The next step will be to run experiments on living systems.

Prentiss, who runs an experimental biophysics lab at Harvard, says England's theory could be tested by comparing cells with different mutations and looking for a correlation between the amount of energy the cells dissipate and their replication rates. "One has to be careful because any mutation might do many things," she said. "But if one kept doing many of these experiments on different systems and if [dissipation and replication success] are indeed correlated, that would suggest this is the correct organizing principle."

Brenner said he hopes to connect England's theory to his own microsphere constructions and determine whether the theory correctly predicts which self-replication and self-assembly processes can occur - "a fundamental question in science," he said.

Having an overarching principle of life and evolution would give researchers a broader perspective on the emergence of structure and function in living things, many of the researchers said. "Natural selection doesn't explain certain characteristics," said Ard Louis, a biophysicist at Oxford University, in an email. These characteristics include a heritable change to gene expression called methylation, increases in complexity in the absence of natural selection, and certain molecular changes Louis has recently studied.

If England's approach stands up to more testing, it could further liberate biologists from seeking a Darwinian explanation for every adaptation and allow them to think more generally in terms of dissipation-driven organization. They might find, for example, that "the reason that an organism shows characteristic X rather than Y may not be because X is more fit than Y, but because physical constraints make it easier for X to evolve than for Y to evolve," Louis said.

"People often get stuck in thinking about individual problems," Prentiss said. Whether or not England's ideas turn out to be exactly right, she said, "thinking more broadly is where many scientific breakthroughs are made."

This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service - if this is your content and you're reading it on someone else's site, please read the FAQ at http://ift.tt/jcXqJW.

Detroit restaurant: It's possible to pay $15/hr wages and still make money

© Facebook

CEO Brian Parker, center, with employees at Moo Cluck Moo

A Detroit eatery is proving that it's possible to turn a profit while paying fast-food workers nearly double the minimum wage.

Moo Cluck Moo pays its workers $15 an hour - the same rate fast-food workers demanded at rallies held Thursday across the country.

Co-founder Brian Parker told NPR that revenue was up, despite paying employees substantially more than Michigan's $8.15-an-hour minimum wage.

Workers made $12 an hour when Moo Cluck Moo opened last year, but Parker said revenues have increased enough to afford pay hikes for all his employees.

"I'm not altruistic," Parker said. "But I'm also not trying to extract as much money as possible out of the restaurant."

The higher wages encourage workers to stick around - which saves the business money on training - and take on additional responsibilities, Parker said.

Four workers are needed for the average shift, Parker told Crain's, and each restaurant is open 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

That works out to $60 an hour on labor, or $600 a day and $18,000 a month, the owner said.

Labor makes up about 40 percent of the restaurants budget, with food costs at about 30 percent.

"I'm taking less money personally," Parker said. "My question is, how much do we have to make? How big of a pile of money do CEOs have to sit on?"

All employees are expected to bake buns from scratch every day, make sauces for the sandwiches, and prepare burgers and chicken sandwiches.

But employees say they like the variety - not just the higher pay.

"It's more fun than I've had at other jobs, because we get to do everything ourselves," said manager Dan Chavez. "It feels good just to be able to pay my bills and enjoy a little of life."

Two other employees, who've been with the restaurant since it opened, said they were able to pay for college tuition without taking out loans and send children to Boy Scout and cheerleading camps.

"I love what I do every day and this is very important for me," said Jennifer Aguilar, a mother of two. "I can do things for my children that I couldn't do as a kid."

Customers pay more for food at Moo Cluck Moo, but the restaurants also use high-quality ingredients without hormones and preservatives.

Grass-fed Moo Burgers cost $6 and up - just over a dollar more than a McDonald's Big Mac, which typically sells for about $4.80.

Economists say smaller chains like Moo Cluck Moo are unlikely to pressure companies like McDonald's or Burger King to change their labor practices or food options.

Michael Strain, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told NPR that Moo Cluck Moo appeals to customers who are willing to pay more for higher-quality food, while the larger chains appeal to customers looking for cheap options.

He said companies would likely turn to automation - eliminating many fast-food jobs - if all restaurants were required to pay the sort of wages Moo Cluck Moo offers.

Parker said his restaurant had turned a profit this quarter, and he plans to open two more locations in the Detroit area.

Obama's defense nominee: Here comes trouble

© Alex Wong/Getty Images


Ashton Carter is the typical Beltway apparatchik - profiting from the revolving door between the military, heavy industry and academia.

He advised Goldman Sachs on military technology.

He was an actor in the dismantling of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, signed by Bill Clinton, which allowed a collection of Dr. Strangeloves to go rampant on computer simulated lab tests of nuclear weapons coupled with underground tests in the Nevada desert (plutonium blown up with explosives, for instance).

He was and remains a key actor in the ever evolving "policy" of demonization of Russia.

He advised Bubba Clinton on missile technology - and how the Empire of Chaos could deploy a missile shield in Alaska while claiming it was not violating the 1972 ABM treaty with Russia.

Clinton violated the ABM treaty; Dubya Bush went one up and LEFT the ABM treaty. A new missile race started - which, by the way, Russia is winning.

Way back in 1996, he was totally paranoid about both Iraq and Iran non-existent WMDs.

Then, in 2006, he even upstaged the Cheney regime calling for a strike on axis of evil member North Korea if they did a ballistic missile test (they did; no strike).

And here's the icing on the weaponized cake: he advised Obama on the "pivoting to Asia".

Run for cover, everybody.

Obama's defense nominee: here comes trouble

© Alex Wong/Getty Images


Ashton Carter is the typical Beltway apparatchik - profiting from the revolving door between the military, heavy industry and academia.

He advised Goldman Sachs on military technology.

He was an actor in the dismantling of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, signed by Bill Clinton, which allowed a collection of Dr. Strangeloves to go rampant on computer simulated lab tests of nuclear weapons coupled with underground tests in the Nevada desert (plutonium blown up with explosives, for instance).

He was and remains a key actor in the ever evolving "policy" of demonization of Russia.

He advised Bubba Clinton on missile technology - and how the Empire of Chaos could deploy a missile shield in Alaska while claiming it was not violating the 1972 ABM treaty with Russia.

Clinton violated the ABM treaty; Dubya Bush went one up and LEFT the ABM treaty. A new missile race started - which, by the way, Russia is winning.

Way back in 1996, he was totally paranoid about both Iraq and Iran non-existent WMDs.

Then, in 2006, he even upstaged the Cheney regime calling for a strike on axis of evil member North Korea if they did a ballistic missile test (they did; no strike).

And here's the icing on the weaponized cake: he advised Obama on the "pivoting to Asia".

Run for cover, everybody.

The World according to Putin


© Sputnik. Alexey Druzhinin

For years Putin has made it abundantly clear in his speeches Russia is not happy with the global status quo. His address to the Federation Council this week is evidence of this. As far as Putin is concerned, the entire international system is rigged to Washington's advantage. The very existence of the U.S. dollar ensures Washington and its closest allies will never allow a fair playing field. That said, Putin is not eager to see the current global system collapse. He wants more political equality, but he also knows Russia and other emerging powers face punishment for challenging and breaking with the Washington designed global consensus.

Thus, broadly speaking Russia sees itself preparing for conflicts ahead, a war by other means if you like. The military should always be prepared for contingency plans, but the conflicts Putin has in mind focus on finance, trade, and economic warfare. And, preparing for war, the Kremlin is taking a long view Western sanctions on the back of the Ukraine crisis have been a renewed wake-up call. Sanctioning an individual or individuals and their wealth rarely changes a country's domestic or foreign policy choices. But sanctioning the energy sector's ability to go to international markets, for example, exposed dangerous weaknesses. Since then Kremlin has been conducting "stress tests" across numerous sectors searching for other weaknesses. Putin is hoping for the best, but expecting real challenges. Going on a war footing is never easy.


© Sputnik. Sergey Guneev

Russian President Vladimir Putin before delivering State of the Nation address, 2014.

Sanction are Pinching, but What Really Hurts is Price of Oil

To-date food import bans have been met with very little negative blowback. Consumers are not worried about food; they have something else on their minds. The real concern is growing inflation and the painful drop in the ruble's value on international exchanges since early 2014. Sustained lower oil prices have crimped fiscal appetites and forced Russia to consider its own form of budget austerity. Many individuals have had to consider personal austerity, as well. Soon we will know how many Russians decided to stay home during the upcoming winter break. This in itself will be an interesting economic and political indicator.

The Russia-West Standoff: Both Determined, Russia Well Prepared

Since the advent of the "sanction season" both sides are sticking to their proverbial guns. Aches and pains, yes, but so far no broken bones or a trip to the emergency room. Russia's balance sheet is very robust. The country can easily and comfortably cover all foreign debt obligations and expected a small budget deficit to the end of 2015 without going to international markets for refinancing or new borrowings. This includes the condition of Russia being in recession for most of the year. Also, a weak ruble adds security to the budget. And additionally, import substitution will continue apace, such as of military spare parts once sourced from Ukraine. All in, Russia is prepared while the West scrambles to fight off divisions among themselves.

What is next from the West? US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel keep saying they are committed to maintaining a tough line against Russia, but they are vague about what further sanctions could entail. Indeed, there is not a whole lot more the West can do against Russia without inflicting massive assaults on their own economies. Threatening Russia like Iran or North Korea is simply not tenable. Europe would freeze in winter and oil prices would skyrocket. Such conditions would create the truly unthinkable - a hot war that would later be called WWIII.

Russian World Order?

Since the Great Recession of 2008 Russia has been acutely aware of its vulnerabilities. Being too closely integrated into western financial institutions was one of them. The Ukraine crisis was just a reminder that Russia must develop safeguards against weaknesses and dangers generated in the West, particularly those found on Wall Street. But it would be a mistake to believe that Putin wants to pull Russia out of the current global economic system. Putin is hardly looking to design a "Russian world order." Russia merely wants fair access to international markets; it wants its companies to be truly international, and fair trade for all. And if you have been listening for the past 14 years, Putin wants institutions like the BRICS and the G20 to do the heavy lifting when it comes to global policy making.

But make no mistake, Russia is resolved to protect its sovereign rights in ways European countries have learned to deny themselves. The West's media claim that Putin's language is bellicose and threatening is a gross exaggeration. In fact, he simply wants it recognised that Russia should not be denied a respected position in the world. In the meantime, Russia and Russians are doing much to make this happen even if Washington continues down the path of confrontation.

Woman in Spain charged with killing her babies because they 'were possessed by spirits'

© Reuters/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

A 27-year-old Moroccan woman has been accused of asphyxiating two of her young daughters and attempting to kill a third baby because she was convinced the children were "possessed by evil spirits."

The woman, identified only as Ikram B., has lived in Spain for six years. On Wednesday she pleaded not guilty to charges including two counts of murder, and one of attempted murder.

In a police statement written with the help of an interpreter, Ikram explains that she believed her children were possessed by Djinn, an evil spirit described in the Koran as attacking children under three months old, according to . The woman also noted that she believed her house was haunted.

In November, Ikram, accompanied by her mother, arrived at the Fuentes Norte health center in Zaragoza with the body of her youngest daughter, who was less than three months old at the time. The child had died of asphyxiation, it was found out.

© sectorzaragozados.salud.aragon.es

Three years earlier a similar incident occurred. In July 2011, another of Ikram's daughters was pronounced dead after suffering the same type of symptoms. The baby's parents objected to an autopsy on religious grounds, and cause of the death was ruled an accident.

However, when the Moroccan immigrant returned to the hospital in the spring of 2013 with a two-year-old who was also exhibiting signs of asphyxiation, including vomiting blood and unusual coloring, doctors grew suspicious. The child survived and was held in the hospital for a month.

Meanwhile, pediatricians, suspecting foul play notified the local police force. The Aragon Violent Crimes Unit and the Child Protection Unit set up 24-hour surveillance of both the child and her parents but could find nothing incriminating.

The father of the murdered girls, who has also been detained, worked as a cobbler.

After the child's release, authorities requested a psychological evaluation of Ikram but it is unclear if it was ever carried out. Neighbors have described the woman as reclusive and say they do not recall the last time they saw her out.

The mother is currently being held at the Zuera prison in Zaragoza. The woman's lawyer Pedro Pascual has told reporters that his client does not know what happened, according to El Mundo.

Now that's 'progress! 'Only' 6000 sexual assaults on military employees in last year

© Reuters / Omar Sobhani

Nearly 6,000 military employees reported sexual assaults this year, marking an eight percent increase compared to 2013. The Pentagon called the increase in reporting "progress" for its handling of sexual assault, but critics call the numbers "appalling."

Specifically, the Pentagon said 5,983 military personal reported to law enforcement and commanders they were sexually assaulted in 2014. Just 359 of those reports resulted in conviction, and 175 of those had to register as sex offenders.

The Pentagon also conducted an anonymous survey in which nearly 19,000 troops claimed they were sexually assaulted. About 10,500 of these claims were reported by men, and 8,500 were women - a drop of 6,000 compared to the last anonymous survey done in 2012, which led to a national outcry about what was described as a sexual assault epidemic in the military and created a clamor for reform.

The Department of Defense believes the results show "substantive, comprehensive progress" in combating the crime.

There is always a significant gap between the number of sexual assaults estimated to have occurred and the number reported. In 2012, when 26,000 troops were estimated to have been sexually assaulted based on the anonymous survey results, just 3,374 had reported.

Critics of the military justice system called the numbers "appalling."

"The Pentagon has misled President Obama and the American public with cherry picked information from its new sexual assault survey. When reports of sexual assault go up, the military congratulate themselves, and they go down, they congratulate themselves," said Don Christensen, a retired Colonel (ret.) of the US Air Force, in a released statement.

"The facts that have not changed are that the overwhelming majority of victims do not have enough confidence to report their assault at all, and that for those very few who do come forward, 62 percent continue to state they were retaliated against," said Christensen.

The military conducts an anonymous workplace survey every two years of thousands of active and reserve troops, asking about sexual assaults in the previous year. The percentage of respondents who say they have experienced unwanted sexual contact is then applied to the total number of troops in the military, creating the estimate of how many troops have been affected. There are 1.4 million military personnel, according to estimated figures from 2013, with an additional 800,000 in reserve.

The number of sexual assaults galvanized the support of several lawmakers in the past two years to make recommendations for dealing with the crimes and prevent them in the future. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has pressed for legislation that would remove authority to prosecute sexual assault and other serious crime from the chain of command.

"For a year now we have heard how the reforms in the previous defense bill were going to protect victims and make retaliation a crime," Gillibrand told Stars and Stripes this week. "Instead, 62 percent of people who said they reported a sexual assault also said they were retaliated against for speaking up, the same number as last year."

"There is no other mission in the world for our military where this much failure would be allowed," she said. "Enough is enough. Last December the president said he would give the military and previous reforms a year to work and it is clear they have failed in their mission."

Out of the mouths of babes: Extensive research indicates that reincarnation is real

Multiple researchers have thoroughly investigated cases of children who report past-life memories. In many cases, the details given by a child have been verified to correspond (sometimes with startling accuracy) to a deceased person. In other cases, the details have been more difficult to verify.

Even in the most convincing cases, some will find a grain of doubt. Could the parents have influenced their suggestible children with a certain line of questioning? Could the children have overheard information and repeated it without their parents' knowledge? Could an overactive imagination or desire for attention have fueled the talk of a past life? Maybe probability can explain how the "memories" match up with real people or events, maybe they're just lucky guesses.

The Psychology

Psychologist Dr. Erlendur Haraldsson, professor emeritus at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, studied 30 children in Lebanon who had persistently spoken of past-life memories, comparing these children to a test group of 30 other children. Dr. Haraldsson wondered whether children who associate so strongly with being another person (their past-life incarnation) are psychologically similar to people with multiple personalities.

He tested the children to see whether they were more likely than their peers to have dissociative tendencies, for example. Dr. Haraldsson explained in his paper "Children Who Speak of Past-Life Experiences: Is There a Psychological Explanation?" published by The British Psychological Society in 2003: "The concept of dissociation has been used to describe a variety of psychological processes ranging from those that are perfectly normal, such as divided attention and daydreaming, to the appearance of multiple personalities in the same person with limited or no awareness of each other."

He found that the children with purported past-life memories "obtained higher scores for daydreaming, attention-seeking, and dissociation, but not for social isolation and suggestibility." However, he found "that the level of dissociation was much lower than in cases of multiple personality and not clinically relevant."

In the same paper, he referred to his field study in Sri Lanka. He found that children there who spoke of past lives would daydream more than their peers, but there was no indication that they were more likely to fabricate imaginary experiences. Nor were they found to be more suggestible. In one of his studies in Sri Lanka, he found these children to have larger vocabularies, to obtain higher scores on a brief intelligence test, and to have better school performance than their peers.

Haraldsson cited Dr. Ian Stevenson, known for his systematic study, starting in the 1960s, of thousands of cases in which children have reported past-life memories. Stevenson followed up with many of the children and found that they almost all grew up to take their appropriate places in society and they had no outstanding psychological differences from their peers. Only one of the children Stevenson followed up with became schizophrenic in adult life.

The Truth?

Psychologists such as Haraldsson and Stevenson have made efforts to detect any psychological influence that may call into question the purported memories they investigate.

In 1975, , wrote of Stevenson: "In regard to reincarnation he has painstakingly and unemotionally collected a detailed series of cases from India, cases in which the evidence is difficult to explain on any other grounds. ... He has placed on record a large amount of data that cannot be ignored."

In 1994, Haraldsson published a paper titled "Replication Studies of Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation by Three Independent Investigators," in the , outlining studies that have replicated Stevenson's work.

He summarized that: "To date Jűrgen Keil has studied 60 cases in Burma, Thailand, and Turkey; Erlendur Haraldsson 25 cases in Sri Lanka; and Antonia Mills 38 cases in northern India. ... In 80 percent of the 123 cases, a deceased person has been identified who apparently corresponded to some or all of the child's statements. ... Of the 99 solved cases, the person the child claimed to be was unknown to the child's family in 51 percent, acquainted in 33 percent, and related in 16 percent. Of the combined sample of 123 cases, only one of the cases [one studied by Mills] appeared to be on the borderline between a consciously perpetrated hoax and self-deception."

The paper included a few examples of cases in which the details of the memories were verified. One of those cases was that of Engin Sungur, born in December 1980 in Antakya Hospital, Hatay, Turkey.

A Boy in Turkey

When Sungur was a young boy, he made a trip with his family away from his native village of Tavla. While traveling, he pointed at a passing village named Hancagiz and said he used to live there. He said his name was Naif Cicek. He said he'd gone to Ankara before he had died.

There was indeed a Naif Cicek who had died in that village a year before Sungur was born, but Sungur's family wouldn't find that out for some time yet. Sungur's family did not immediately comply with his requests to visit the village of his past life.

At a later date, when Cicek's daughter was in Sungur's village of Tavla, before Sungur and Cicek's family had any contact, Sungur approached her and said, "I am your father."

Sungur's mother eventually took him to Hancagiz to meet Cicek's family. The boy correctly identified several family members, including Cicek's widow. He indicated an oil lamp in Cicek's home and said he'd made it himself. He said his son had once hit him with his own truck while backing it up.

All of the statements Sungur made were correct, they all matched the details of Cicek's life. Some other statements he made could not be verified, but he did not make any incorrect statements.

Dr. Jim Tucker, Stevenson's successor in reincarnation studies at the University of Virginia, recounted similar cases in which the details of a child's past-life memories could be verified, in his book . But, he noted, as for in cases that can't be verified, "At the very least, they raise the question of what could possibly lead young children to believe they remember the events some of these children report."

A Girl in Canada

Dr. Tucker gave a few examples, one of which involved a little girl from Canada who seemed to remember being an elderly lady. The girl's father had no interest in hockey. He actually avoided watching it or talking about it, because he had bad associations with the game; his own father was passionate about hockey and his own lack of interest in it had adversely affected their relationship.

The little girl, Hannah, when she was 3 years old, asked her father why her son didn't come around to take her to hockey games anymore. When her father asked when her son had done this, Hannah replied, "You know, Daddy, when I was an old lady."

She talked more about her son later, giving details such as the white car with rust on it that her son had driven and his leather jacket.

Dr. Tucker wrote: "Even though the child's statements can't be verified in this case, I find it quite striking. What would possess a 3-year-old, especially one whose family didn't even like hockey, to imagine she had been an elderly woman wanting her son to take her to hockey games?"

Bothersome intrusive thoughts won't go away? Get more sleep!

intrusive thoughts

© Shifteye

Going to bed too late and sleeping too little is associated with experiencing persistent negative thoughts, according to new research.

Even amongst 'evening types' who prefer to sleep later anyway, the study found they had had more repetitive anxious thoughts than those who kept regular hours.

The research, published in the journal asked 100 adults about their sleeping patterns and gave them tests of persistent negative thoughts (Nota & Coles, 2014).

The tests assessed how much people:

  • worried,

  • obsessed,

  • and ruminated.

The results found a link between persistent negative thoughts and going to bed late.

Persistent negative thoughts are often associated with mental health problems.

People experiencing anxiety, depression, stress, OCD and social anxiety can find they have little control over negative thoughts continually popping into their minds.

While this study cannot tell us that better sleep causes improvements in persistent negative thoughts, clinicians frequently find that sleep helps.

Dr Meredith Coles, who co-authored the study, said:

"If further findings support the relation between sleep timing and repetitive negative thinking, this could one day lead to a new avenue for treatment of individuals with internalizing disorders.

Studying the relation between reductions in sleep duration and psychopathology has already demonstrated that focusing on sleep in the clinic also leads to reductions in symptoms of psychopathology."

Jacob A. Nota, the study's lead author, said:

"Making sure that sleep is obtained during the right time of day may be an inexpensive and easily disseminable intervention for individuals who are bothered by intrusive thoughts."

Archeologists discover first century farm and artifacts in center of Rome during subway construction

amphoras subway rome

© AP Photo/Cooperativa Archeologia

Lined up amphoras were discovered during a subway construction in Rome. Archaeologists have unearthed an ancient commercial farm in the heart of modern Rome.

Archaeologists have unearthed an ancient commercial farm in the heart of modern Rome, taking advantage of subway construction to explore deeply in urban settings.

They worked some 20 meters down (some six stories deep) near St. John in Lateran Basilica. Today's Rome rests upon medieval layers and, under those, more ancient strata of life.

Rossella Rea, the dig's leader and a culture ministry official, said Wednesday that archaeologists discovered a first-century agricultural business, the closest to Rome's ancient center ever found, an irrigation basin measuring 35 by 70 meters (115 feet by 230 feet), and an extensive drainage system near the ancient Aqua Crabra water source.

Notable finds included a three-pronged iron pitchfork, storage baskets, leather fragments possibly from a farmhand's glove or shoe, and traces carved into stone by a waterwheel's repeated turning. Also extraordinary are well-preserved vestiges of willow and other tree roots and stumps.

Peach pits, presumably from the farm's orchard, also were found. Peaches were still a novelty, first imported from the Middle East.

rome pitchfork

© Cooperativa Archeologia

A three-pronged pitchfork found during a subway construction in Rome.

"They were almost luxury items," Rea told The Associated Press at the American Academy in Rome, where a conference discussed the findings.

Ancient Romans recycled. Amphorae, the jars they favored to transport and store food, were lined up with their ends cut open to double as water conduits.

Other older signs of life were carriage ruts from as long ago as the 6th century B.C.

Rea said some discoveries will eventually be integrated into the St. John's subway station so the public can see them, while other artifacts will go on display in Rome museums.

Visitors will have a long wait for that subway station. Metro C line construction is running years behind schedule.

Archeologists work next to unearthed amphoras in Rome.

Paul Craig Roberts: Goon thug cops murder at will - and get away with it

eric garner

Another goon thug gratuitous murderer has been let off by a grand jury and a prosecutor. Read the condolences offered by NY mayor Bill de Blasio, officer Pantaleo and the Obama Puppet. They are so sorry about the collateral damage of protecting the public from criminals and terrorists. But our society would collapse if people are allowed to sell on the street untaxed individual cigarettes out of a pack. Without the death of innocents, none of us would be safe. Our safety depended on the NYPD murder of Eric Garner, a father of six who was a threat to no one.

Another police murder of a US citizen who was no threat to anyone - just more collateral damage - as the US military calls it when US forces blow up kids' soccer games, weddings, funerals, and birthday parties. Any concentration of people, regardless of what they are doing, is considered to be an enemy force and legitimate target. This includes people picking their crops in fields.

Unfortunate perhaps, but soldiers and police and US presidents have the right to make mistakes. Only a dangerous "domestic extremist" would think that a goon thug should be held accountable for a murder. I mean, after all, the 21st century American courts have established that those in the executive branch are above the law. American judges are sworn to uphold the US Constitution, but this has not stopped them from subverting it in the interest of executive power in order to make us "safe."

Accountability would prevent "our" government from protecting us. Law gets in the way by protecting innocents from fabricated charges and a citizenry from a tyrannical government. How can any American be safe unless the government has total power to protect the citizen by declaring him without any evidence to be a threat and thereby a subject for extermination?

Really, I mean, without the authoritative powerful and unrestrained government in Washington and in the police, how would any of us be safe? Threats would be everywhere, and we would all be murdered in our beds by domestic extremists if not by terrorists.

Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler have shown us the way, and Washington has taken it to heart as long as you understand that killing is what makes us safe.

You might be next, but it will just be collateral damage, an essential element of keeping Americans "safe."

SOTT EXCLUSIVE: U.S. Congress votes overwhelmingly in favor of hysterical anti-Russia bill

House Resolution 758 passed yesterday by an overwhelming 411-10 votes. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the resolution's sponsor, said:

"The US, Europe and our allies must aggressively keep the pressure on Mr. Putin to encourage him to change his behavior."

Right. Putin did change his behavior - much to the glee of the US: he tore up trade deals with the US/NATO/EU and sought out other countries willing to trade. But the shock of Russia closing the Southstream Pipeline project and redirecting resources towards the Bluestream pipeline to Turkey must have really ruffled some feathers.

To counter Russia, the great minds in Washington came up with another plan. Let's take a look:

Introduced in House (11/18/2014)

Supports the efforts by President Poroshenko and the people of Ukraine to establish a lasting peace for Ukraine that includes:

  • full withdrawal of Russian forces from its territory,

  • full control of its international borders,

  • disarming of separatist and paramilitary forces in eastern Ukraine,

  • adoption of policies to reduce the Russian Federation's ability to use energy exports and trade barriers as weapons to apply economic and political pressure, and

  • an end to interference by the Russian Federation in Ukraine's internal affairs.

Five bullet points - and all based on false premises. The first point makes one wonder if they are aware of NATO's reports on the supposed Russian invasion of Ukraine, or if they are upset with Russia's humanitarian missions? The second point seems to be alluding to Crimea's referendum on secession and return to Russia. On the third point, let's review who started arming the "rebels", shall we (hint: Poroshenko)? The fourth point reveals they are upset Russia didn't provide Ukraine with free energy. On the last point, it's okay for the US/NATO/EU to interfere in Ukraine, but apparently forbidden to anyone else.

The resolution then continues with a plan of action:

Affirms the right of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and all countries to exercise their sovereign rights within their internationally recognized borders.

No one, including Russia, would argue with this affirmation.

States that the military intervention by the Russian Federation in Ukraine:

  • is in breach of its obligations under the United Nations Charter and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, and

  • poses a threat to international peace.

Calls on the Russian Federation to:

  • reverse its illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula, end its support of the separatist forces in Crimea, and remove its military forces from that region (other than those operating in strict accordance with its 1997 agreement on the Status and Conditions of the Black Sea Fleet Stationing on the Territory of Ukraine);

  • remove its military forces from Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, and end its political, military, and economic support of separatist forces; and

  • end violations of the September 2014 cease fire.

Calls on the President to provide the government of Ukraine with necessary defense articles, services, and intelligence in order to defend its territory and sovereignty.

We have already covered the subject of Russia's "invasion" of Ukraine and the legal annexation of Crimea above. It's only legal if the EU says it is. But let me get this straight: the House is calling for Russia to stop its political, military, and economic support, but wants the US to provide this same support instead? No equal footing then. The US can't have anybody interfering in 'our playground'.

Condemns the continuing political, economic, and military aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova and the continuing violation of their sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.

Naturally they are furious that Russia won't let the US do what it has always done.

Calls on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies and U.S. partners to suspend military cooperation with Russia.

So, in turn, the non-NATO allies and partners will increase military cooperation with Russia. "If you're not with us, then you are against us". What will happen if NATO allies don't comply?

Calls on the President to cooperate with U.S. allies to:

  • (1) refuse to recognize the Russian Federation's illegal annexation of Crimea; and

  • (2) impose visa bans, asset freezes, and sanctions on the Russian Federation and its leadership to compel it to end its violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Number one isn't working out too well since the annexation wasn't illegal. On number two, the sanctions aren't working too well either since they're causing Russia's influence in the world to , not shrink.

Urges the President, in consultation with Congress, to review the Treaty readiness of U.S. and NATO armed forces.

Urges the President to hold the Russian Federation accountable for violations of its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

The INF Treaty has been an ongoing "finger-pointing" fiasco. The US is making it look like Russia is not cooperating, all the while the US plants missiles and weapons close to Russia's borders.

Calls on Ukraine, the European Union (EU), and other European countries to support energy diversification initiatives to reduce the Russian Federation's ability to use energy supplies as a means of applying political and economic pressure on other countries.

Since Russia's move to cancel the Southstream Pipeline project, the EU must be worried as to where it will find the energy resources Europe needs.

Calls on the President and the Department of State to develop a strategy to produce or otherwise procure and distribute news and information in the Russian language to countries with significant Russian-speaking populations.

Must spread the "American Exceptionalism" propaganda, don't you know!

Calls upon the Russian Federation to seek a mutually beneficial relationship with the United States based on respect for the independence and sovereignty of all countries.

This aim will be most difficult to reach because the US is not interested in mutuality. Especially when the US and EU don't agree on basic values. Russia is not following the US's failed examples. Instead, Russia offers real mutually beneficial relationships with countries who feel the same way. The US dictates while Russia actually listens.

I encourage SOTT readers to read this article: while it may seem at first like a pro-Russia puff piece, in actuality it's an attempt to show how the US, no matter how pure its intentions - historically or presently, has failed to objectively see the world and thereby act in humanity's best interest.


William Barbe (Profile)

William joined the SOTT news team in 2014. A 30-year veteran of the semiconductor industry, in 2007 he began being interested and paying more attention to world events and living a healthier lifestyle. Hobbies and interests include hiking, photography and reading non-fiction books on history, economics, psychology, science, unexplained anomalies and politics.

Oldest engravings to date discovered on 500,000-year-old shells

living in Java, Indonesia, half a million years ago used freshwater shellfish for the production of tools and what appears to be art. These newly discovered engravings, described in this week, are the oldest ever found.
oldest shell carvings

© Henk Caspers, Naturalis, Leiden, The Netherlands

Inside of the fossil Pseudodon shell (DUB7923-bL) showing that the hole made by Homo erectus is exactly at the spot where the adductor muscle is attached to the shell

We used to think that geometric engravings were a sure sign of modern cognitive abilities, and experts have long debated over the origins of these behaviors. "Until this discovery, it was assumed that comparable engravings were only made by modern humans - - in Africa, starting about 100,000 years ago," Josephine Joordens of Leiden University says in a news release. Not so, Asian appears to be fully capable of this "modern" behavior as well.

Analyzing hundreds of samples collected in the 1890s from the main bone layer (called Hauptknochenschicht) of the Trinil site in Java, Joordens, a large international team found evidence for the modification of the shells of a mollusk called Pseudodon. had a clever trick for opening these large freshwater mussels: They drilled a hole through the shell using a hard, pointed object (possibly a shark's tooth) at exactly the spot where the muscle that keeps the shell closed is attached. These are called adductor muscles, and once damaged, the bivalves open right up. After eating the mussels, they used the empty shells to manufacture tools or as a canvas for some prehistoric doodling. The sediment in the shells date to between 430,000 and 540,000 years ago.

One of the shells has a smooth and polished edge, which indicates that it was used as a tool for cutting or scraping. made this shell tool by modifying the ventral margin (or underside) of a Pseudodon shell (DUB5234-DL) pictured below (a). Below that is a detailed look at the sharp edge (b).

oldest shell carvings

© Francesco d’Errico, Bordeaux University

Another shell has a zigzag pattern of grooves on it that's only visible now using light from an angle. The lack of gaps between the turns of the grooves suggests that the maker paid meticulous attention to detail - not to mention, it was very difficult to replicate the pattern on both fresh and fossilized shells (the researchers tried). "We are really certain that this must have been made by an agent who did a very deliberate action with a very sharp implement," Joordens tells . Possibly with something like the shark tooth used to open the mussel. Here's the fossilized Pseudodon shell (DUB1006-fL) with the engraving. A detailed close-up is on the right.
oldest shell carvings

© Wim Lustenhouwer, VU University Amsterdam

So, it was purposeful, but can we actually call it art? "If you don't know the intention of the person who made it, it's impossible to call it art," she adds. "But on the other hand, it is an ancient drawing. It is a way of expressing yourself. What was meant by the person who did this, we simply don't know... It could have been to impress his girlfriend, or to doodle a bit, or to mark the shell as his own property."

Engineer reimagines solar energy with stick-on panels

The catalyst for Xiaolin Zheng's groundbreaking work in solar energy began with an offhand comment her father made years ago at her parents' apartment, a 13-story complex in the northeast China city of Anshan.

"In China, the rooftops of many buildings are packed with solar energy devices," says Zheng. "One day my father mentioned how great it would be if a building's entire surface could be used for solar power, not just the roof, but also walls and windows."

An invention from Zheng's research team at Stanford University might someday make that possible. They have created a type of solar cell that is thin, flexible, and adhesive - a solar sticker, in effect, that could help power everything from buildings to airplanes.

"By making solar cells extremely thin and flexible, they can be used in all kinds of new ways," says Zheng, an associate professor at Stanford and recipient of the U.S. Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. "I hope our discovery will dramatically expand the affordable, practical, widespread application of solar power."

In 2010, a decade after her father's initial comment, Zheng read a research paper that triggered the idea again. It described an experiment in which the nanomaterial graphene was grown on a layer of nickel atop a silicon wafer. When submerged in water, the nickel separated from the surface, along with the graphene.

"It sounded unbelievable, like a magic trick," she recalls, "But they had achieved very reliable results." What if, she wondered, the same principle could be used to yield a thinner, more flexible solar cell that could peel off, attach to adhesive, and stick to virtually any surface?

Pizza-Like Solar Cells

Because conventional thin-film solar cells are manufactured on glass or silicon wafers, they are rigid, heavy, and quite limited in how and where they can be used. Plastic or paper would be far more flexible, but it cannot withstand the high temperatures and chemicals required for fabrication.

"Our new technique lets us treat the solar cells like a pizza," explains Zheng. "When you bake pizza, you use a metal pan that can tolerate high temperatures. But when it's time to distribute the pizza economically, it's placed in a paper box."

Working with her students, Zheng set out to fabricate solar cells on a silicone or glass surface as usual, but she inserted a metallic layer between the cell and the surface. After some trial and error, the team was finally able to peel away the metallic layer from the surface after soaking the whole structure in water for just a few seconds.

The result was an active solar cell that is only a couple of microns thick - about one-tenth the thickness of plastic wrap, Zheng says. "It's extremely flexible, so it can be attached to any surface - the back of a mobile phone, a skylight, a wall, a curved column."

The skinny, bendable cells can produce the same amount of electricity as rigid ones, and they offer cost benefits as well, according to Zheng. "The silicon wafers come through the process clean and shiny," she says. "So just like a pizza pan, they can be used again and again, which translates to savings." And because the solar stickers are lighter than conventional panels, they will be easier and less expensive to install.

The stickers might be able to reduce manufacturing costs too, Zheng says. In traditional solar-cell production, the foundation materials account for 25 percent of the cost. The new method will enable that base layer to be removed or replaced with a cheaper material. For example, the windows of a building provide a ready-made base layer, so all that's needed is the solar cell itself. A cell that could simply be peeled and applied enables that economical shortcut.

Imagining a Solar-Powered Future

Zheng predicts peel-and-stick solar cells could one day paper the sides of buildings, cover sidewalks to light walkways, energize home security systems, and help power solar cars or planes. Along with industrial uses, she envisions being able to stop at your corner store to pick up a pack of solar cells the way you buy batteries today.

To help realize those large-scale applications, Zheng's team wants to test the technology with more efficient cells than the ones used for the initial breakthrough.

"Our cells will also need to be larger, expanding from their current one-square centimeter size to a square foot or even square meter," Zheng says. New equipment will be needed, too, for the peel-off process that the researchers conducted by hand in the lab.

Her research group is also looking into how solar energy could be used to split water atoms, producing hydrogen and providing a potentially cheaper, more efficient way to fuel everything from transportation to home heating.

"As scientists," she says, "I feel it is profoundly important to use our work to improve the world. For the future of our environment, we need to advance renewable energy rather than heavily relying on fossil fuels to meet growing demand. Solar power has always been my favorite because sunshine is so clean, abundant, and has fewer limitations on where it can be used."

Exactly how her solar-sticker idea will evolve from a nanoscience lab to the real world is not yet known. Now that the technology has been tested and proven, however, it's a testament to value in pursuing a seemingly outlandish notion.

"Everyone has crazy ideas about some discovery that could change the world," Zheng says. "Those 'what if' questions are always in the back of your mind. You also always keep your eye on the latest emerging technologies. When those two worlds happen to connect, it's great."

Nature bites back: Study shows lethal control of wolf populations increase livestock depredations

pack wolves

© Wikipedia

Mollies Pack Wolves Baiting a Bison.

Washington State University researchers have found that it is counter-productive to kill wolves to keep them from preying on livestock. Shooting and trapping lead to more dead sheep and cattle the following year, not fewer.

Writing in the journal , WSU wildlife biologist Rob Wielgus and data analyst Kaylie Peebles say that, for each wolf killed, the odds of more livestock depredations increase significantly.

The trend continues until 25 percent of the wolves in an area are killed. Ranchers and wildlife managers then see a "standing wave of livestock depredations," said Wielgus.

Moreover, he and Peebles write, that rate of wolf mortality "is unsustainable and cannot be carried out indefinitely if federal relisting of wolves is to be avoided."

The gray wolf was federally listed as endangered in 1974. During much of its recovery in the northern Rocky Mountains, government predator control efforts have been used to keep wolves from attacking sheep and livestock. With wolves delisted in 2012, sport hunting has also been used. But until now, the effectiveness of lethal control has been what Wielgus and Peebles call a "widely accepted, but untested, hypothesis."

Their study is the largest of its kind, analyzing 25 years of lethal control data from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Interagency Annual Wolf Reports in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. They found that killing one wolf increases the odds of depredations 4 percent for sheep and 5 to 6 percent for cattle the following year. If 20 wolves are killed, livestock deaths double.

Work reported in last year by Peebles, Wielgus and other WSU colleagues found that lethal controls of cougars also backfire, disrupting their populations so much that younger, less disciplined cougars attack more livestock.

Still, Wielgus did not expect to see the same result with wolves.

"I had no idea what the results were going to be, positive or negative," he said. "I said, 'Let's take a look at it and see what happened.' I was surprised that there was a big effect."

Wielgus said the wolf killings likely disrupt the social cohesion of the pack. While an intact breeding pair will keep young offspring from mating, disruption can set sexually mature wolves free to breed, leading to an increase in breeding pairs. As they have pups, they become bound to one place and can't hunt deer and elk as freely. Occasionally, they turn to livestock.

Under Washington state's wolf management plan, wolves will be a protected species until there are 15 breeding pairs for three years. Depredations and lethal controls, legal and otherwise, are one of the biggest hurdles to that happening.

Wolves from the Huckleberry Pack killed more than 30 sheep in Stevens County, Wash., this summer, prompting state wildlife officials to authorize killing up to four wolves. An aerial gunner ended up killing the pack's alpha female. A second alpha female, from the Teanaway pack near Ellensburg, Wash., was illegally shot and killed in October.

That left three breeding pairs in the state.

"We're one-third of the way towards recovery and now we're way off," said Wielgus. "Recovery is going to take x more years because of what happened. Obviously you can't keep doing that."

As it is, said Wielgus, a small percentage of livestock deaths are from wolves. According to the management plan, they account for between .1 percent and .6 percent of all livestock deaths - a minor threat compared to other predators, disease, accidents and the dangers of calving.

In an ongoing study of non-lethal wolf control, Wielgus's Large Carnivore Lab this summer monitored 300 radio-tagged sheep and cattle in Eastern Washington wolf country. None were killed by wolves.

Still, there will be some depredations, he said. He encourages more non-lethal interventions like guard dogs, "range riders" on horseback, flags, spotlights and "risk maps" that discourage grazing animals in hard-to-protect, wolf-rich areas.

"The only way you're going to completely eliminate livestock depredations is to get rid of all the wolves," Wielgus said, "and society has told us that that's not going to happen."