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28 July 2016

Hungary’s prime minister says migrants are a “poison” and his country doesn’t need any


Hungary’s pro-White prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said on Tuesday (July 26) that the influx of invaders in Europe is a poison,” and his country doesn’t need them, AFP reports.

“Hungary does not need a single migrant for the economy to work, or the population to sustain itself, or for the country to have a future,” he said during a joint press conference in Budapest with Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern. (His stance is belied by numbers showing a dearth of skilled labor (link in Hungarian): 350,000 Hungarians under 40 with a high level education left the country in last 25 years or so.)

Orbán has been making anti-migrant comments, verbally and on giant billboards, since the invader crisis peaked last summer.

At an event in Baile Tusnad, Romania, an area with a large Hungarian population, Orbáan said (link in Hungarian) “migration is killing us,” and he expressed his admiration for the American Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s rhetoric. “I listened to [Trump] and I have to tell you that he made three proposals to stop terrorism,” he said. “And as a European, I myself could not have drawn up better what Europe needs.”

Orbán also made the argument that Europe is for Europeans in religious terms. “Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian?” he asked. “There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.”

Hungarians will vote in a referendum on Oct. 2 on whether to accept quotas for resettling invaders currently held in camps, which the EU plans to impose on most member states. If it refuses the quotas, Hungary could face EU-imposed financial charges—€250,000 ($278,000) per invader—for refusing to accept its share of invaders, and could also end up forgoing additional aid from the EU to support invaders.

As Orbán continues to make anti-invasion statements, the fate of the estimated 1,294 invaders in camps whose future will be determined by the vote remains far from certain.

Welcome to the White nationalist Republican party

AND TO THE CUCKS WHO DON'T LIKE IT: THE EXITS ARE CLEARLY MARKED.


The death of one party, the birth of another

After Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last week, Nicolle Wallace, a longtime GOP strategist, had a memorable exchange with NBC’s Chuck Todd.
WALLACE: [T]he Republican Party that I worked for for two decades died in this room tonight. We are now represented as a Party by a man who believes in protectionism, isolationism, and nativism. And those were the forces that George W. Bush, and I believe John McCain too, were most worried about during their times as the leaders of the Republican Party.

CHUCK TODD: Striking comment. You believe the party died tonight?

WALLACE: Well, the voters picked this guy. This is where the Republican Party is now. They now are attracted to those forces of isolationism and protectionism. But the party I was part of for two decades is dead.
If you feel as if you’ve run into that sentiment and that phrasing quite a bit lately, it’s not your imagination. The headline of David Brooks’ New York Times column last week read, “The Death of the Republican Party.” Max Boot recently published an L.A. Times piece with the headline, “The Republican Party is dead.” The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson, George W. Bush’s former chief speechwriter, wrote last month that the Party of Lincoln “is dying.”

After the GOP’s presidential nominating process wrapped up in May, the New York Daily News ran a cover with a cartoon elephant in a casket. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to mourn the GOP, a once-great political party, killed by epidemic of Trump,” the cover told readers.


It’s important to define our terms a bit, because it’s easy to misunderstand what these observers mean by “dead.” The Republican Party will, of course, continue to exist no matter what happens in the 2016 elections. When commentators refer to the GOP’s “death,” they’re not talking about its disappearance from the political landscape.

Rather, this is about the passing of a major party as we understand it, giving way to something new. The Republican Party, as an institutional entity, isn’t going anywhere, but it’s nevertheless transforming into something different from what Americans have been accustomed to.

Avik Roy, a Republican health care wonk with whom I’ve disagreed many, many times, has been deeply involved in GOP politics for many years. He spoke to Vox yesterday about the state of his party and the degree to which, as Vox put it, Republicans are “driven by white nationalism rather than a true commitment to equality for all Americans.”
“I think the conservative movement is fundamentally broken,” Roy tells me. “Trump is not a random act. This election is not a random act.” […]

“Conservative intellectuals, and conservative politicians, have been in kind of a bubble,” Roy says. “We’ve had this view that the voters were with us on conservatism – philosophical, economic conservatism. In reality, the gravitational center of the Republican Party is white nationalism.”
In the same interview, he added, “It’s a common observation on the left, but it’s an observation that a lot of us on the right genuinely believed wasn’t true – which is that conservatism has become, and has been for some time, much more about white identity politics than it has been about conservative political philosophy. I think today, even now, a lot of conservatives have not come to terms with that problem.”

New York’s Jon Chait made a related point last week, reflecting on the GOP convention, explaining Trump’s rise as part of the Republican Party’s transition from a conservative party into an explicitly ethno-nationalistic, “white-identity-politics” party.

Clare Malone recently argued something similar at FiveThirtyEight, explaining the degree to which the GOP’s small-government ethos has been completely replaced by the politics of “racial and cultural resentment.”

When Republicans talk about the death of their party, I think this is ultimately what they’re referring to. Sure, some of these trends and ideas have been part of the GOP’s diaspora for years, but what’s new – what marks the death of one party and the birth of another – is the way in which Republicans in 2016 have come to define themselves, not by principles of equal opportunity and the free market, but by the ethno-nationalistic tenets the party has traditionally tried to suppress.

Those efforts have failed. It’s a new Republican Party now.

27 July 2016

Milky Way's spinning 'halo' helps reveal how galaxy formed


A team of astronomers led by researchers at the University of Michigan have uncovered a new feature about our galaxy.

The Milky Way galaxy is ensconced within “a halo of diffuse, star-forming material called plasma” that reaches temperatures of a million degrees, reported Gizmodo.

Previous research indicated that this plasma remained stationary, but this new study indicates the halo is spinning around the Milky Way at a staggering 400,000 miles per hour.

This research project, funded by NASA, examined archival data obtained by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton Telescope. The idea was to understand how light from the halo becomes bent and distorted after traveling millions of light years to reach our eyes, according to Gizmodo.

Changes in hot oxygen atoms were used to measure this light distortion where results revealed the halo was spinning at a tremendous velocity.

Understanding the direction and speed of the spinning halo could help astronomers learn how different forms of matter arrived and transformed into stars, planets, and other celestial bodies along with analyzing how our galaxy could evolve.

Sen. Lindsey Graham: ‘No time to nickel and dime Israel’

‘No time to nickel and dime Israel’

The authoress, Jennifer Rubin, complains Israel is not getting enough from its "best friend" the United States

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) sounded irate in a brief phone interview Monday afternoon with Right Turn. His subcommittee, with strong bipartisan support, has already passed legislation to hike military aid to Israel from $3.1 billion to $3.4 billion for 2017. But as has been reported in Israeli papers, the administration — with one more kick in Israel’s shins before President Obama leaves office — has told Israel there will be no increase this year or in a new 10-year memorandum of understanding (MOU). Moreover, the long-standing offshore procurement (OSP) agreement that allows Israel to purchase a significant percentage of its defense equipment from Israeli companies may get nixed or squeezed.

Haaretz reports that Israel is “giving up” many requests, which is a polite way of saying the administration is refusing to bolster aid to Israel despite a vast increase in weaponry acquired by Hezbollah and new aid flowing into Sunni neighbors:

[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is leaning towards giving up most of his demands and plans to acquiesce to the majority of American conditions for the new aid package. These include a gradual phasing out of Israel’s spending of up to 40 percent of American aid on purchases from Israeli defense contractors and for fuel.

But Judeo-plutocratic Whore Lindsey Graham is fine with the nickel and diming of the American people

“Israel places great importance on its ability to plan and to have certainty regarding the military aid it receives from the U.S., as well as respecting bilateral agreements,” the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.

This comes in the context of a 10-year funding agreement set to expire in 2018. Haaretz explains, “After a few rounds the talks ran aground in May. The Americans made clear that their offer was final and it was up to Israel whether to sign while President Barack Obama is still in office or wait for the next president to take office in January 2017.” The administration also wants to include missile defense spending within the next 10-year deal, thereby curtailing another avenue for funding.

According to Graham, Israel is not voluntarily “giving up” its request but is being strong-armed by the administration to back away. Now is not the time to nickel and dime Israel,” Graham says tersely. “This is totally out of sync with what is happening in the region.” He notes the huge buildup in Hezbollah forces after the Iran deal and the presence of Russian and Iranian forces in Syria.

As important as the dollar amount in aid to Israel is the provision that allows Israel to buy from its own defense industry. Those familiar with the issue tell Right Turn this allows Israel to keep its defense industry robust and to innovate on its own. Since we share defense intelligence and know-how with Israel, this ultimately redounds to our benefit as well.

Graham notes that Jordan, for example, has enjoyed increases in aid in two of the past three years. “I wish Obama would have been as tough on Iran as he is on Israel,” he says in reference to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Graham underscores that Congress is not party to any MOU and can appropriate whatever amount it sees fit. Congress therefore may still insist on the higher spending number in the next omnibus spending bill (or continuing resolution). And the next president of course can renegotiate all of this.


Graham nevertheless vows to take new steps. He plans on working with other lawmakers including Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) to reverse sanctions relief and/or impose new sanctions on Iran in light of its illegal missile tests. He also says he plans on pushing through a supplemental funding bill. “Shouldn’t Israel get 1 percent of what Iran got?” he asks, arguing that $150 billion was released to Iran in the context of the JCPOA. He therefore plans on putting in another $1.5 billion for Israel in light of the increased dangers he thinks the JCPOA helped create.

If nothing else, this latest fight should remind voters that this administration has gone out of its way to complicate Netanyahu’s and Israel’s security needs. As has so often been the case when the administration has slighted allies, Russia takes advantage. A separate news report tells us: “Netanyahu persisted in complaining again about the Russian arms reaching the Lebanese terrorist group in his latest phone conversation with Putin on Saturday, July 23. He made the call . . . primarily to raise another topic at issue, the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) flights from Syria into Israeli airspace on July 17.”

In short, as Russia and its allies tip the balance of power in the Middle East, the United States retreats and undercuts its closest ally Israel. Perhaps the next administration will understand the mutually beneficial alliances we enjoy with individual countries and with multilateral organizations.

Democrats to Federal Reserve: You're too White


The Federal Reserve has a diversity problem, and Democrats want something done soon.

The Democratic Party's platform for its convention calls out the lack of diversity at the Fed, a sore issue for the central bank.

About 82% of the Fed's most senior employees -- there are 231 of them -- are white, according to Fed data. Not a single Fed leader on its policy committee is black or Latino. And 10 of the current 12 Fed regional presidents are white men.

Democrats want to crackdown. They want to "reform the Federal Reserve to make it more representative of America as a whole," according to the party's official platform released in the runup to this week's Democratic National Convention.

That sharp lack of diversity at the top is in the spotlight as the Fed begins a two-day meeting on Tuesday. Among the many things on the agenda are discussions on the economy and interest rates. The Fed is not expected to raise rates at this meeting.

Republicans routinely trash the Fed's leadership. But now, Democrats aren't going easy on Fed Chair Janet Yellen either. In her testimony to a Senate committee in June, Yellen was asked about the Fed's lack of diversity three times.



"The leadership across the Federal Reserve System remains overwhelmingly and disproportionately white and male," Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressmen John Conyers, both Democrats, wrote in a letter in May to Yellen.


Warren continued to grill Yellen at the hearing in June, asking whether the lack of minorities concerned Yellen and what she would do about it. Yellen's response didn't satisfy Warren.


"It's unfortunate," Yellen said. "I believe it's important to have a diverse group of policy makers who can bring different perspective to bear."


Fed Presidents are chosen by directors of the regional Fed banks. Then the Fed's Board of Governors approves the appointment. Some critics cry foul that Fed leaders conduct a matter of utmost importance -- U.S. monetary policy -- yet go through no public vetting process.


"The selection process for regional Fed presidents is broken," Warren told Yellen in June. "The current process has not allowed you and the rest of the board to address the persistent lack of diversity among the regional Fed presidents."


Democrats also want to weed out Wall Street from the regional Fed banks. The last three regional Fed president appointments have been former Goldman Sachs employees. Currently four Fed presidents hail from Goldman and two worked at Citigroup.


"We will fight to enhance its independence by ensuring that executives of financial institutions are not allowed to serve on the boards of regional Federal Reserve banks or to select members of those boards," according to the Democrats' platform.

26 July 2016

Poetic Justice: Palestinians to sue Britain over 1917 Balfour act

Palestinian officials have said they are planning to sue Britain over the 1917 Balfour Declaration that laid out a vision for a Jewish homeland in Palestine


Palestinian FM Riad Malki said the document led to mass Jewish immigration to British Mandate Palestine "at the expense of our Palestinian people".

Mr Malki said the lawsuit would be filed in an international court.

Israel declared its independence in 1948 after the UK mandate expired.

Speaking at an Arab League summit in Mauritania on Monday, Mr Malki said the UK was responsible for all "Israeli crimes" since the end of the mandate in 1948.

"Nearly a century has passed since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917," he was quoted as saying by the Palestinian Wafa news agency.

"And based on this ill-omened promise hundreds of thousands of Jews were moved from Europe and elsewhere to Palestine at the expense of our Palestinian people whose parents and grandparents had lived for thousands of years on the soil of their homeland."

The minister did not provide any further details about the planned lawsuit.

Mr Malki made the announcement on behalf of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was not at the summit because of his brother's recent death.


The Balfour Declaration, named after then UK Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour, pledged Britain's support for the establishment "in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people".

The document formed the basis of the British Mandate for Palestine, which was formally approved by the League of Nations in 1922.

Britain has not publicly commented on the issue.

Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the announcement "sounded strange, but the direction is not accidental".

International Judeo-plutocratic ethno-stratagem: divide-and-conquer + environmental devastation = chaos

Climate 'calamities' boost risk of armed conflicts in ethnically divided countries

Somalis displaced from their home villages by famine and drought pass an African Union armored vehicle at a feeding center in Mogadishu

Drought, heat waves and other climate-related disasters may be fueling armed conflicts in countries where ethnic groups are sharply divided, scientists in Germany said.

In North and Central Africa, Central Asia and other ethnically fractionalized regions, nearly a quarter of recent conflicts coincided with devastating climate events, according to a study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

While persistent droughts and colossal floods didn’t directly cause groups to start fighting, “climatic calamities” did dramatically boost the risk of such conflicts breaking out over the last three decades, said scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Humboldt University in Berlin.

“The very disruptive nature of a natural disaster may actually contribute to fueling the smoldering social tensions that exist already,” Carl Schleussner, the study’s lead author, told Mashable.

The report is the latest scientific attempt to draw links between environmental and climate stresses — from water shortages to damaging storms and crop-killing diseases — and political instability and bloodshed, said Francesco Femia, president of the Center for Climate and Security in Washington.

Reds and oranges highlight lands around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters in 1971-2010 than 1902-2010.

“It adds to the growing evidence that countries that have existing fragilities and [weak governments] are not only more prone to conflict but also more likely to experience conflict in the wake of… natural disasters driven by climate change,” Femia, who is unaffiliated with the study, told Mashable in an interview.

A March 2015 study, for instance, found that a prolonged drought in the Fertile Crescent played a key role in triggering Syria’s ongoing civil war, a brutal event that has cost at least 470,000 lives since 2011. 

That same drought was made two to three times more likely to occur because of human-caused global warming, the researchers from Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Observatory in New York determined.

Even more worrying for the defense and security communities: Climate projections almost unanimously show that conflict-prone countries in the Middle East, northern Africa and southern Europe will become increasingly drier and hotter in coming decades due to the warming planet.

Many of those nations are already suffering from extreme weather, including a rash of heat

Many of those nations are already suffering from extreme weather, including a rash of heat waves last week throughout the Arabian Gulf and North Africa. 

The Iraqi city of Basra experienced a record temperature of 128 degrees Fahrenheit (53.9 degrees Celsius) on July 22. The city of Mitrabah in Kuwait saw a temperature of 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit (54 degrees Celsius) on July 21 — which may be the hottest temperature on record for the Eastern Hemisphere and Asia, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported.

"ethnropy"

Heat waves and hotter days and nights have become more frequent in the past 50 years, and such scorching events are likely to last longer, burn hotter and strike more often further into this century, the WMO said.

That’s a major risk factor for all countries, but especially those split by fierce rivalries among ethnic groups, according to the new study by Schleussner and his co-author Jonathan Donges.

For their research, the scientists looked at two key sets of data for the 30-year period from 1980 to 2010. 

The first set included information on 241 conflict outbreaks, aggregated from security research firms. The second included data on the economic damages caused by 18,000 climate-related disasters, gathered by the German reinsurance giant Munich Re. 

Schleussner and Donges looked at a range of risk factors — low literacy rates, social inequality, high poverty levels, dependence on agriculture, etc. — to help explain any coincidences between the outbreak of conflicts and the outbreak of droughts, floods and other extreme climate events.

But only ethnic division fractionalization stood out as a leading risk factor. It was something that surprised us as well,” Schleussner said.


“It may be that particularly in the ethnically fractionalized countries, where the ethnic borders may serve as predetermined conflict lines, there is an easy and fast mobilization potential [for conflict],” he added. 

“But to really understand that, much more research is needed.”

Femia of the Center for Climate and Security said the study highlights the need for policymakers and organizations to be sensitive to ethnic tensions and inclusive of all groups as countries adapt to the effects of climate change or respond after natural disasters.

“We should be thinking about how actions to deal with these issues can actually help bring conflicting parties together, including those who are at odds along ethnic lines,” he said.

Judeo-plutocratic miscalculations could drive Europe into the arms of the pro-White resistance


Marine Le Pen argues terror attacks represent a failure of the French establishment


Of the all the places Islamist terrorists have chosen to ply their wicked trade in Europe these past few weeks, the sleepy French town of Saint-Etienne-du Rouvray is one of the more unlikely settings for committing acts of extreme violence.

Unlike the high-profile, Isil-inspired attacks France has suffered in Paris and Nice, yesterday’s ordeal in this small town in Normandy, situated four miles south of the great French cathedral city of Rouen, began with an attack on a group of worshippers attending morning Mass.

After entering the town’s Norman church and taking several worshippers hostage, the two knifemen were heard to shout “Daesh” – the Arabic acronym for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil) – before slitting the throat of an 84-year-old Catholic priest, Fr Jacques Hamel.

By targeting this quiet French town, the killers, who were subsequently shot dead by French police marksmen, have shown that nowhere is safe from the malign designs of Islamist fanatics. Nor is the growing threat posed by Isil militants confined to France.

As the seemingly relentless wave of terror attacks Europe has suffered in recent weeks demonstrates, Isil extremists now appear capable of striking at will at any point on the continent that they choose.

Intelligence officials have issued several stark warnings that Isil has actively sought to exploit the migrant crisis to set up a network of terror cells in Europe, specifically targeting key European countries like Britain, France, Italy and Germany.

Now it seems all of these warnings are being borne out, with all the implications that could have not only for European security, but for the continent’s future political stability.

It has long been a central tenet of Islamist ideology that, if the extremists were able to destroy liberal, Western democracies, they would then be able to establish a regime based on Islamist principles in their place.

It might seem far-fetched that a bunch of ill-disciplined barbarians living in their self-styled Caliphate in northern Syria could actually destroy the civilised world. But they are deadly serious about achieving their aims.

Western Europe has been here before, of course. Just like today, terrorist atrocities became a feature of everyday life in the 1970s and 1980s when far-left activists, such as Germany’s Baader-Meinhof gang and Italy’s Red Brigades, undertook a series of high-profile terrorist attacks aimed at destroying Western democracies in the hope that they would be replaced by communist rule.

Ultimately, these ideologically-driven groups failed because they were active at the height of the Cold War, when few Europeans were keen to sacrifice their personal freedom for dedication to the Soviet cause.

Now, as Europe faces disruption on a similar scale generated by a new generation of Islamist-inspired terrorists, its leaders must show similar resolve if they are not to fall into Isil’s trap of allowing the current wave of terror attacks to bring about a true European political crisis.

The political reverberations from this new wave of atrocities, which began with the Bastille Day attacks in Nice that claimed 84 lives, are certainly starting to be felt throughout Europe. And with elections due in Germany and France next year, they could have worrying implications for the continent’s future.

In Germany, the government’s failure to grasp the public’s mounting resentment towards Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open door policy in handling the migrant crisis has caused the remarkable rise of the Alternative for Germany party, which won almost 25 per cent of the vote in a state election in Saxony-Anhalt in March, almost beating Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

In France, meanwhile, Front National leader Marine Le Pen has been quick to exploit the wave of anger directed towards President Francois Hollande over his handling of the terror threat. Yesterday, commenting on the attack at Saint-Etienne-du Rouvray, she accused the entire French establishment, both Left and Right, of sharing “immense responsibility” for creating the circumstances in which Islamist terrorists can operate in France.

24 July 2016

Trying to discover habitable planets isn't just for science fiction anymore


This short documentary shows how astronomers hope to find the next habitable planets


Just a couple of decades ago, the very idea that there were other planets orbiting stars throughout the universe was something that belonged to science fiction. However, recent research has shown not only are there other planets out there, but that they’re extremely common. The short documentary The Search for Earth Proxima outlines the breakthroughs that have led us to these discoveries, and how a group of astronomers plan to look for habitable planets in our neighborhood.

Equipment such as the Kepler spacecraft has helped us find planets that are not only orbiting stars, but that there are planets out there that are the right size and at the right distance away from their host star to potentially harbor Earth-like conditions.

It’s hard to detect these Earth-like planets: they’re extremely faint — one astronomer likened it to trying to spot a firefly in a spotlight from ten miles away. Fortunately, nearby stars make this task a bit easier, and the astronomers want to take a closer look at Alpha Centauri A and B, our closest stellar neighbors.

The group is hoping that technological advances will help them move beyond Kepler and on to other programs that will help them directly study Alpha Centauri.

One idea that they float is Program Centaur, a small space telescope designed to locate any Earth-like planets discovered around the binary star system. The spacecraft is the size of a washing machine, and they pointed to the rise of commercial space providers such as SpaceX as a potential partner to get their equipment into orbit.

With the huge number of planets out there, it feels as though it's just a matter of time before an Earth-like (and potentially habitable) world is discovered. Maybe, that day isn't too far off.

Clinton's campaign manager: Russia helping Trump

Philadelphia (CNN)Hillary Clinton's campaign manager is alleging that Russian hackers are leaking Democratic National Committee emails critical of Bernie Sanders in an effort to help Donald Trump win the election in November.


It comes on the heels of "changes to the Republican platform to make it more pro-Russian," Robby Mook told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union" Sunday.


"I don't think it's coincidental that these emails were released on the eve of our convention here, and I think that's disturbing," he said.

The DNC has previously had its files hacked by an individual named "Guccifer 2.0" that may have had ties to the Russians.

Hackers stole opposition research on Donald Trump from the DNC's servers in mid-June. Two separate Russian intelligence-linked cyberattack groups were both in the DNC's networks.

Mook pointed to Trump's position on NATO -- that he wouldn't necessarily assist allies who haven't contributed enough financially to the organization -- and argued that position would aid Russia in Eastern Europe, as well.

"I think when you put all this together, it's a disturbing picture, and voters need to reflect on that," Mook said.

Donald Trump Jr., the son of the Republican nominee, bashed Mook's comments later on "State of the Union."

"It just goes to show you their exact moral compass. I mean they'll say anything to be able to win this. This is time and time again, lie after lie," Trump Jr. told Tapper. "It's disgusting. It's so phony. I watched him bumble through the interview."

He added "These lies and the perpetuating of nonsense to try to gain some political capital is outrageous and he should be ashamed of himself. If a Republican did that, they'd be calling for people to bring out the electric chair."

Mook downplayed the possibility that the email release will rip open divides between supporters of Clinton and Sanders just before the Democratic National Convention kicks off in Philadelphia.

"The DNC needs to take appropriate steps, and I'm confident that they will," he said.

21 July 2016

Perspectives on the cosmos: Habitable planets, brain maps, photons & the universe


A New Map of the Brain Redraws the Boundaries of Neuroscience

A new brain map, based on multiple scans of more than 400 individuals, has carved the "cortex" into 180 different compartments - 97 of which are new.


This crumpled outer layer of the brain is home to our advanced cognition, perception and movement.

It has been mapped in various ways for centuries, but this new effort is a landmark attempt at a definitive, modern atlas for neuroscientists.

The work is reported in Nature and the data is available to scientists online.

It the most significant result to date from the Human Connectome Project, a US-led collaboration aimed at unravelling the wiring of the human brain and how it affects behaviour.

'Mammoth effort'

Dr Emma Robinson, now at Imperial College London, is a co-author of the Nature paper and was part of the Oxford University team which built software to analyse the project's huge streams of data.

"This is the culmination of the entire HCP project that we've been working towards," she told BBC News.

"This paper is really a mammoth effort by Matthew Glasser and David Van Essen (of Washington University in St Louis, Missouri) - manually labelling brain regions, but also pulling together all the streams that we've been working on, trying to collect incredibly high quality images and state of the art imaging processing techniques."


The team used several different types of information, derived from lengthy scanning sessions of 210 people, to define the boundaries of 180 areas in each brain hemisphere.

To begin with, there were physical properties to consider - such as the amount of myelin, the substance which wraps nerve fibres, detected throughout the cortex; or variations in the folding and the thickness of the cortex.

But the researchers also looked at brain activity. Which regions were activated by particular tasks - reading as opposed to gambling, for example? And to what extent was activity in one area correlated and coordinated with activity elsewhere?

After using automatic computational tools to separate those 180 areas, the team set about testing and confirming the results on a fresh sample of 210 individual brains.

There were, perhaps inevitably, some differences between individuals, but brain researcher have welcomed the map as the most detailed human brain atlas to date.

Prof Tim Behrens, another computational neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, is involved in the HCP but was not an author on the new paper - which he described as "awe inspiring".

"Obviously there are a bunch of people who have done parcellations before. But this one is extraordinary because of the level of precision.

"Every one of those 180 areas in this paper is described in detail - its relation to the previous literature, its functional properties, its anatomical properties... Nobody will do as good a job as this for a long time.

"It will now be the parcellation that is used by all of neuroscience, I would think."

Prof Simon Eickhoff studies brain organisation at the University of Dusseldorf in Germany and was not involved in the research.

He told the BBC the new map was "a really big step forward" and was built on an impressive variety of data.

"It's very useful. It betters the descriptions that have been available up till now," Prof Eickhoff said.

But he cautioned against describing the 97 freshly delineated regions as "new areas".

"If you look at the classical brain maps, even from the 19th century - they were whole-brain maps; they had a label for every spot on the cortex. Any part of the brain has already been looked at.

"[This work] certainly defines something clearly, where knowledge has been imprecise and maybe contradictory. But 'new' is a tricky term."

Prof Behrens, meanwhile, said that beyond the map's utility for neuroscientists and neurosurgeons, it would change the way he thinks about the human brain.

"It conceptually changes things. Brain areas are not coarsely divided with, say, 50 pieces that we need to figure out what they're doing.

"As you get more and better data, you can subdivide it further and further - and we should be thinking about the brain in this much more granular way."

*******************************

2 'Nearby' Exoplanets Confirmed to Be Rocky — and May Be Habitable

On May 2, scientists from MIT, the University of Liège, and elsewhere announced they had discovered a planetary system, a mere 40 light years from Earth, that hosts three potentially habitable, Earth-sized worlds. Judging from the size and temperature of the planets, the researchers determined that regions of each planet may be suitable for life.


Now, in a paper published today in Nature, that same group reports that the two innermost planets in the system are primarily rocky, unlike gas giants such as Jupiter. The findings further strengthen the case that these planets may indeed be habitable. The researchers also determined that the atmospheres of both planets are likely not large and diffuse, like that of the Jupiter, but instead compact, similar to the atmospheres of Earth, Venus, and Mars.

The scientists, led by first author Julien de Wit, a postdoc in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, came to their conclusion after making a preliminary screening of the planets' atmospheres, just days after announcing the discovery of the planetary system.

On May 4, the team commandeered NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and pointed it at the system's star, TRAPPIST-1, to catch a rare event: a double transit, the moment when two planets almost simultaneously pass in front of their star. The researchers realized the planets would transit just two weeks before the event, thanks to refined estimates of the planets' orbital configuration, made by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which had already started to observe the TRAPPIST-1 system.

"We thought, maybe we could see if people at Hubble would give us time to do this observation, so we wrote the proposal in less than 24 hours, sent it out, and it was reviewed immediately," de Wit recalls. "Now for the first time we have spectroscopic observations of a double transit, which allows us to get insight on the atmosphere of both planets at the same time."

Using Hubble, the team recorded a combined transmission spectrum of TRAPPIST-1b and c, meaning that as first one planet then the other crossed in front of the star, they were able to measure the changes in wavelength as the amount of starlight dipped with each transit.

"The data turned out to be pristine, absolutely perfect, and the observations were the best that we could have expected," de Wit says. "The force was certainly with us."

A rocky sign

The dips in starlight were observed over a narrow range of wavelengths that turned out not to vary much over that range. If the dips had varied significantly, de Wit says, such a signal would have demonstrated the planets have light, large, and puffy atmospheres, similar to that of the gas giant Jupiter.


But that's not the case. Instead, the data suggest that both transiting planets have more compact atmospheres, similar to those of rocky planets such as Earth, Venus, and Mars.

"Now we can say that these planets are rocky. Now the question is, what kind of atmosphere do they have?" de Wit says. "The plausible scenarios include something like Venus, where the atmosphere is dominated by carbon dioxide, or an Earth-like atmosphere with heavy clouds, or even something like Mars with a depleted atmosphere. The next step is to try to disentangle all these possible scenarios that exist for these terrestrial planets."


More eyes on the sky


The scientists are now working to establish more telescopes on the ground to probe this planetary system further, as well as to discover other similar systems. The planetary system's star, TRAPPIST-1, is known as an ultracool dwarf star, a type of star that is typically much cooler than the sun, emitting radiation in the infrared rather than the visible spectrum.

De Wit's colleagues from the University of Liège came up with the idea to look for planets around such stars, as they are much fainter than typical stars and their starlight would not overpower the signal from planets themselves.

The researchers discovered the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system using TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope), a new kind of ground telescope designed to survey the sky in infrared. TRAPPIST was built as a 60-centimeter prototype to monitor the 70 brightest dwarf stars in the southern sky. Now, the researchers have formed a consortium, called SPECULOOS (Search for habitable Planets Eclipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars), and are building four larger versions of the telescope in Chile, to focus on the brightest ultracool dwarf stars in the skies over the southern hemisphere. The researchers are also trying to raise money to build telescopes in the northern sky.

"Each telescope is about $400,000—about the price of an apartment in Cambridge," de Wit says.

If the scientists can train more TRAPPIST-like telescopes on the skies, de Wit says, the telescopes may serve as relatively affordable "prescreening tools." That is, scientists may use them to identify candidate planets that just might be habitable, then follow up with more detailed observations using powerful telescopes such as Hubble and NASA's James Webb Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in October 2018.

"With more observations using Hubble, and further down the road with James Webb, we can know not only what kind of atmosphere planets like TRAPPIST-1 have, but also what is within these atmospheres," de Wit says. "And that's very exciting."



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Human Eye Can Detect Even Individual Photons, The Smallest Unit Of Light: Study


Just how dark does it have to be before our eyes stop working? Research by a team from Rockefeller University and the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology in Austria has shown that humans can detect the presence of a single photon, the smallest measurable unit of light. Previous studies had established that human subjects acclimated to the dark were capable only of reporting flashes of five to seven photons.

The work was led by Alipasha Vaziri, associate professor and head of the Laboratory of Neurotechnology and Biophysics at Rockefeller and an adjunct investigator at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology. It is published this week in Nature Communications.


Remarkable precision


"If you imagine this, it is remarkable: a photon, the smallest physical entity with quantum properties of which light consists, is interacting with a biological system consisting of billions of cells, all in a warm and wet environment," says Vaziri. "The response that the photon generates survives all the way to the level of our awareness despite the ubiquitous background noise. Any man-made detector would need to be cooled and isolated from noise to behave the same way."

In addition to recording the ability of the human eye to register a single photon, the researchers found that the probability of doing so was enhanced when a second photon was flashed a few seconds earlier, as if one photon "primes" the system to register the next.


A quantum light source


Previous experiments designed to test the human eye's sensitivity have suffered from a lack of appropriate technology, Vaziri says. "It is not trivial to design states of light that contain exactly one or any other number of photons," he says. "This is because the number of photons in a classical light source such as that from a lamp or a laser follow certain statistical distributions. Although you can attenuate the light to reduce the number of photons, you typically can't determine an exact number."

Vaziri's team built a light setup, often used in quantum optics and quantum information studies, called spontaneous parametric down-conversion, or SPDC, which uses a process in which a high-energy photon decays in a non-linear crystal. The process generates exactly two photons with complementary colors. In the experimental setup, one of the photons was sent to the subject's eye while the other was sent to a detector, allowing the scientists to keep track of when each photon was transmitted to the eye.


First evidence


To arrive at their findings, Vaziri and his collaborators combined the light source with, an unprecedented psychophysics protocol called two-alternative forced-choice (2AFC) in which subjects are repeatedly asked to choose between two time intervals, one of which contains a single photon while the other one is a blank. The gathered data from more than 30,000 trials demonstrated that humans can indeed detect a single photon incident on their eye with a probability significantly above chance.

"What we want to know next is how does a biological system achieve such sensitivity? How does it achieve this in the presence of noise? Is the mechanism unique to vision or could it tell us something more general on how other systems could have evolved to detect weak signals in the presence of noise?" says Vaziri.

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There are 1.2 million galaxies in this 3D map of the Universe

It took hundreds of physicists and astronomers five years to construct this image, which is the largest-ever, most precise, three-dimensional map of distant galaxies that charts the dark energy propelling the accelerated expansion of the Universe.


Project co-leader Jeremy Tinker from New York University said: "We have spent five years collecting measurements of 1.2 million galaxies over one quarter of the sky to map out the structure of the Universe over a volume of 650 cubic billion light years."

The results of the project have been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. "This map has allowed us to make the best measurements yet of the effects of dark energy in the expansion of the Universe. We are making our results and map available to the world," Tinker adds.

Consistent with the calculations of general relativity, the galaxies were observed drifting towards areas of the Universe with more matter - thus more gravitational pull.


Shirley Ho, an astrophysicist at Berkeley Lab and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) who co-led two of the companion papers says the data they gathered will pave the way towards more accurate measurements: "We can now measure how much the galaxies and stars cluster together as a function of time to such an accuracy we can test General Relativity at cosmological scales," she said.

On top of the fact that we currently do not know what exactly dark energy and dark matter are, the team also had to decipher between the two in their measurements. Thanks to the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) program of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-III, measurement of the rate at which the Universe expands was made possible, which led them to measure the amount of dark matter and dark energy which our present Universe is made of.

By determining the size of the baryonic acoustic oscillations (BAO) in the three-dimensional distribution of galaxies, BOSS can measure the expansion rate of the Universe. Galaxy distribution was measured starting from 13.7996 billion years ago, 400,000 years from the time the Universe is believed to have started — a time when pressure waves are known to have travelled throughout the cosmos.

From that point on, astronomers were able to observe the competition between dark matter and dark energy in controlling the Universe’s expansion.

"We’ve made the largest map for studying the 95 percent of the Universe that is dark," said David Schlegel, astrophysicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and principal investigator for BOSS.

"In this map, we can see galaxies being gravitationally pulled towards other galaxies by dark matter. And on much larger scales, we see the effect of dark energy ripping the Universe apart."

Rita Tojeiro of the University of St Andrews in Scotland, who co-led the BOSS galaxy clustering working group alongside Tinker outlines how this is a milestone for cosmology:

"We see a dramatic connection between the sound wave imprints seen in the cosmic microwave background 400,000 years after the Big Bang Seed to the clustering of galaxies 7-12 billion years later. The ability to observe a single well-modelled physical effect from recombination until today is a great boon for cosmology."

"The results from BOSS provide a solid foundation for even more precise future BAO measurements, such as those we expect from the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI)," said Natalie Roe, Physics Division director at Berkeley Lab.

"DESI will construct a more detailed three-dimensional map in a volume of space ten times larger to precisely characterise dark energy — and ultimately the future of our Universe."

20 July 2016

'What have White people ever done for us?'


In a week of angry demonstrations and soul-searching following the fatal shootings of two black men by police officers, and five police officers by a black gunman, the issue of race is again centre stage in US national debate.

These tensions have been reflected in several social media trends that express solidarity with the African-American community, notably the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag which has become the rallying cry for an active protest movement.

But in the last couple of days the double-edged use of newer tags such as #WhitePrivilegeMeans and #WhiteInventions has revealed further divisions and nuances when it comes to question of race.

On Monday morning #WhiteInventions was one of the top trends on Twitter in the US and was used more than 30,000 times. An early tweet widely shared using the hashtag came from Whitey McPrivilege, an account, which as its name might suggest, prides itself in annoying liberals. In the tweet Mr McPrivilege called on "caucasiophobes" to pipe down and be grateful for all the wonderful inventions that he credited to white people.


If this was intended to provoke a reaction then it worked. Some people responded in kind by posting that the first pinhole camera was invented by Arab physicist Ibn al-Haytham in 1021 AD. Others suggested that some of the discoveries on the McPrivilege list depended heavily on the pioneering investigation of algebra by the 9th Century Persian mathematician, Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi.

But there were several people who expressed support for the sentiments of Whitey McPrivilege.

  

This sort of hashtag hijacking was not an isolated case. Over the weekend #WhitePrivilegeMeans was used more 340,000 times mostly by people wishing to express the sentiment that non-whites get a significantly worse deal from US society than whites.


Others mentioned Dylann Roof, the man accused of gunning down nine people inside a historic black church in South Carolina in 2015, who was bought a Burger King meal by police while he was in custody.





Perhaps needless to say when views are as polarised as those revealed by the 'white' hashtags then statistics put up by one side are disputed by the other.

The statistical basis for the above tweet, for example, is contested by Sam Sinyangwe, who is a researcher who started the Mapping Police Violence project. He told the BBC:

"Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police in the United States than white people. More unarmed black people were killed by police than unarmed white people in 2014. And that's taking into account the fact that black people are only 14% of the population here."

However, a new study, spanning 10 years and looking at more than 1,000 cases, released by Harvard University, stated that while black men and women are more likely to be "touched, handcuffed, pushed to the ground or pepper-sprayed by a police officer", there was no evidence of intended racial bias when it came to shootings by police officers.

But whatever the figures underlying the existence or non-existence of "white privilege" some on social media feel the outbreak of racially-slanted hashtags is not doing anybody any good.

NASA Says It Is Sailing 'Full-Steam Ahead In Solar System Exploration'

NASA said it's moving forward with missions targeted at exploring our solar system.


Many current and future missions will help answer fundamental questions about our existence, NASA says.

As NASA prepares to take Juno's first close-up images of Jupiter on Aug. 27, the space agency announced Friday that it is "sailing full-steam ahead in solar system investigation," and hopes current and future missions will help answer fundamental questions about "how we came to be, where we are going and whether we are alone in the universe."

“Juno is the latest example of the extraordinary science we have to look forward to right in our own solar system,” said NASA Planetary Division Director Jim Green in a NASA press release. “There are many uncharted, promising worlds and objects we are eager to explore with our current and future missions.”

NASA said the James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2018, is a powerful telescope that will allow astrophysicists to not only observe faint objects across the universe but also observe in greater detail all of the planets and their moons within our solar system.

"Webb’s angular and spectral resolution will allow us to observe these targets with unprecedented sensitivity and even follow geologic activity," NASA said in its release. 

Juno and Beyond

With Juno exploring Jupiter, NASA's curiosity has been piqued about its largest moons, including Io.

Io is one of the most volcanically active bodies in the solar system, and NASA believes research may provide some answers to its plethora of unanswered questions. NASA has also designated nine science instruments for a future mission to investigate whether Europa, which is believed to have a liquid ocean beneath its icy surface, is home to habitable environments.

With upgraded instruments on Hubble, the telescope has captured images of Jupiter’s auroras and discovered evidence of saltwater on Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede. The mission will continue another five years.

Saturn continues to be explored by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which began its mission in 2004 and will culminate in 2017, and NASA plans a set of orbits, known as the Grand Finale. The spacecraft will complete 22 dives through the narrow gap between Saturn's outer atmosphere and its rings to offer new views and scientific insights, said NASA.

Cassini will be replaced by Webb in 2017, with plans to continue its exploration of one of Saturn's major satellites, Titan, which has a rich atmosphere and surface chemistry. 

Noting the one-year anniversary of the July 14, 2015, flyby of New Horizon past Pluto and its moon, Charon, NASA said the mission has been extended to "study an object in the Kuiper belt, an icy field of early building blocks of the solar system packed with primordial organics."

Other current and upcoming missions include Juno, the Mars 2020 rover and the Dawn mission to the dwarf planet Ceres will continue and in September, NASA will launch OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer), the first U.S. mission to a near-Earth asteroid (Bennu) to collect a sample for return to Earth in 2023.  NASA said OSIRIS-REx will help "unlock secrets of the history of our solar system, and shed light on how life may have come to be on our planet."

Donald J. Trump Jr.: The Trumps will be the Kennedys of the new American Right

It's official: The Republican party nominates Donald Trump for president

"It's not a campaign anymore, it's a movement, speaking to real Americans, giving them a voice again." -- Donald J. Trump Jr.


The party largely avoided drama during delegates’ roll call vote on convention floor as Trump’s once unthinkable ascension becomes reality.

Donald Trump supporters celebrated their once unthinkable capture of the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday night as state delegates took turns to count up the votes from his remarkable sweep of the party’s 2016 primary election. Crossing the threshold of 1,237 votes, Trump officially became the Republican party’s nominee for president.

The official confirmation of the 2016 nominee was in little doubt after a last-minute procedural rebellion was quickly killed off on Monday, but the ceremonial call of the roll of states served as a powerful reminder of the scale of his victory over 16 competing candidates with the largest ever vote haul in a Republican primary.

“It is my honour to throw Donald Trump over the top with 89 delegates,” said his son Donald Trump Jr as he announced the results from his home state of New York. “Congratulations Dad, we love you.”

Each of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and far-flung Pacific territories took turns to read out their delegate split, inducing huge cheers and the occasional jeers when the turn came to the handful of contests won by rivals Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and John Kasich.

“To paraphrase Buffalo Springfield, there is something happening here and what it is is exactly clear,” said the South Carolina lieutenant governor, Henry McMaster, as he seconded the proposed nomination of Trump. “This is not a dream. This is the real thing. This is deadly serious,” added McMaster, who was the first elected official in the country to endorse Trump in January.

Those closest to the campaign greeted Trump’s vindication by pointing out just how few politicians, pundits and journalists ever thought his national victory – secured in a total of 38 states – was possible.

Earlier in the day, campaign chairman Paul Manafort said the nomination was the “culmination of a one-year campaign by Mr Trump, a campaign that defied expectations of pundits and the political class”.

“He is excited that his quest will finally come to an end and all of you who doubted him will no longer be able to say ‘yes, but it may never happen’,” he told reporters. “So we are excited about that.”

The few figures of the party establishment who have travelled to Cleveland were also paraded on stage on Tuesday to give their blessing to the Trump coronation.

House speaker Paul Ryan, a longtime critic of Trump’s divisive rhetoric on race and immigration, was required to oversee the proceedings in his capacity as convention chair.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who was also slow the endorse the nominee at first, was due to lead a group of 10 freshmen senators on stage to pay their respects.

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who began the lengthy nominating process at 6 PM in Cleveland by formally proposing Trump, explained the once shocking outcome as a product of the troubled mood among American voters.