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30 April 2015

With Saudi House of Whores Faltering in Yemen, Power in the Region Has Begun To Swing East

BEIRUT - Saudi Arabia has announced the end to its campaign in Yemen, but nevertheless air attacks against Ansar Allah and former President Saleh-allied components of the Yemeni army still continue -- albeit on a lesser scale. A Saudi newspaper (without any trace of irony) has announced "mission accomplished." So what is afoot, here?

We do not know the full story, but already it is plain that a major diplomatic effort has induced Saudi Arabia to cut its immediate losses in Yemen. These immediate losses include the images of civilian bomb casualties widely broadcast in the region and the erosion of any residual support for former President Hadi in Yemen, the failure to put together the much-touted Sunni intervention force and the glaring evidence that while Saudi Arabia may have had an objective (restoration to power of the former President), it had no plan for accomplishing it.

As a consequence, Saudi Arabia has found itself isolated. While Iran, Oman and Russia have been busy working on a political initiative (while also seeking to restrain Ansar Allah on the ground), the U.S. has been quietly discouraging the Saudis from continuing the Saudi aerial campaign. The campaign has had little impact on the Ansar Allah-Saleh military effectiveness but has made life hell for most urban Yemenis, with estimates of 1,000+ dead and thousands more injured.

The U.S. military was deeply skeptical about the Saudi air bombardment from the outset and lent targeting support mostly to reduce collateral damage caused by erratic bombing. U.S. military commanders were more than just doubtful of the merits of a land invasion; on the contrary, they (rightly) viewed Yemen as a muddy quagmire, into which Saudi Arabia was risking to plunge its boots.

One may ask why then, did the U.S. lend Saudi Arabia and its coalition its public support? It seems to have been a decision essentially to "balance" the progress in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, by somehow giving "reassurance" to Sunni allies, rather than being a decision taken with wider strategic consequences in mind. Yemen is largely reported in western commentaries and policy circles as simply a proxy war (which it is not) that risks exploding sectarian tensions if not contained (which is right), but that beyond this, it has little strategic import.

So how did the bombing end? President Putin spoke by telephone with King Salman. There is no public hint as to the call's content but it seems likely that the Russian President -- in tandem with senior Washington officials -- firmly advised the King to end the aerial war and to seek a political solution. Perhaps Putin was able to capitalize on the Russian non-veto of the very one-sided U.N. Security Council resolution on Yemen, to add suasion to his message. In any event, Russia is again acting to help America pull its Middle Eastern chestnuts from the fire, and there can be no doubt that Moscow was acting in close co-ordination with Tehran (who leaked the ceasefire prospect hours in advance of its formal declaration). In short, Riyadh was finding little real support for its action -- beyond a very few regional actors -- despite its public statements.

In short, Yemen portends a major humiliation for Saudi Arabia. Its bold ambition to assemble a new coalition Sunni army that would confront Iranian influence across the region has stumbled badly. It suffered early and unexpected defections by Pakistan and Turkey, and a distinct lack of enthusiasm on the part of Egypt (which demanded a huge fee in order to participate), Iraq (whose PM criticized the venture roundly) and Jordan. Worse, Saudis more recently have come to suspect UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of conspiring with Ali Saleh behind their backs to fix a political solution in the Saleh interest. (Recall that bin Zayed reportedly conspired with Tuwaijri, King Abdullah's closest aide, to have King Salman passed over in the succession to the throne).

More significantly, the kingdom still, in this new phase, seems to lack any effective plan on how to achieve its objectives, set out with such inflated rhetoric.

Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute opined in his article entitled "Saudi Arabia's Inexperienced Youngster" [Mohammed bin Salman]: "In most other countries, a military leader or defense minister who does not achieve a clear outcome would be a political casualty. If that does not happen in Saudi Arabia, then King Salman may find himself under pressure from senior princes seeking more fundamental change."

The key question is what this failure says about the region, beyond Henderson's point. Former vice chair of the U.S. National Intelligence Council, Graham Fuller has written:
Does anybody remember the old Cold War geopolitical concept of the Northern Tier States? They consisted of three countries -- Turkey, Iran and Pakistan (sometimes Afghanistan) that lay along the southern border of the Soviet Union; they were perceived in the West as a potential bulwark against Soviet aggression southwards into the Middle East. Is it just possible that we are witnessing today the possible recrudescence of a "Northern Tier" bloc? But this time it would not be united against Russia at all. On the contrary these three states demonstrate warming geopolitical congeniality with many aspects of Russian, Chinese and "Eurasian" geopolitical views.
Just as the Ukraine conflict galvanized Russia (and China) to lessen their vulnerability to America's military domination of global financial governance, so the Yemen "war" has somehow clarified something in respect to the Middle East. The pendulum of power can be seen to have begun its swing away from the old Gulf pole and is retracing an earlier track.

For very different motives, the key pillars of the region (Iran, Turkey, Egypt) and Pakistan are re-orienting eastwards. It is not fully appreciated in the West how important China's "Belt and Road" initiative is to this move. (And Russia, of course is fully integrated into the project). Regional states can see that China is very serious indeed about creating huge infrastructure projects from Asia to Europe. They can also see what occurred with the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), as the world piled in (to America's very evident dismay). These states intend to be a part of it.

It was not just the "push" of Saudi's mismanagement of the "great Sunni initiative" to confront Iran that found few takers. It was also the knowledge that China is where the money now is (certainly for infrastructure building) and that Iran (possibly freed from sanctions) will emerge as a powerful political element to this new economic and political schema. In short, asked to back the fragile monarchies of the Middle East, states preferred to face the future.

France's pro-White leader: EU is mocking Greece

France's pro-White Front National party leader, Marine Le Pen, has said that the tense talks over the debt deal with Greece has revealed the "real face" of European Union which has "brushed aside" the wishes of the Greek people.

Le Pen, who described herself as a "ferocious" opponent to the EU, described the group as a "Euro dictatorship" and insisted that it was up to the Greek government to take responsibility of its future.

"I think that Greece, by saying that it will not quit the euro, in reality it's making promises that it cannot keep. For the simple reason that the euro and austerity are indissolubly linked," Le Pen told CNBC.

Greece has been in talks with its euro zone creditors for months, as the country is running out of cash and needs a last tranche of bailout aid in order to meet debt repayments and to pay its domestic wages and pension bill this month.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has reshuffled the team which is handling its fraught bailout negotiations, widely seen as a way to push outspoken Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis to the sidelines.

"It (the EU) mocks and brushes aside the popular wish expressed in the Greek elections and it seeks to impose a policy of austerity, the continuity of policy of austerity which the Greek people no longer want. And confronted with the choice, who will win? Democracy or Euro-Dictatorship? It's up to the Greek government to take up its responsibilities," she said.

Le Pen is widely expected to run for president of France in 2017. The anti-immigration FN won the European elections in France last year with around 25 percent of the vote, and surveys suggest that Ms Le Pen could reach the second round in the "two-round system" used in France.

Chased by pro-White Jobbik in the polls, Hungary's ruling Fidesz party seeks debate on death penalty

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary's ruling Fidesz party, losing ground to a pro-White Jobbik, said Wednesday it wants to debate the possibility of restoring the death penalty, abolished after the fall of communism in 1990 and banned in the European Union.

The issue was raised by Prime Minister Viktor Orban and leading Fidesz politicians after last week's murder of a 22-year-old tobacco shop attendant in the southern city of Kaposvar.

Orban said the death penalty needed to be "kept on the agenda." Antal Rogan, head of Fidesz's parliamentary faction, said on state radio that Hungary could propose a debate on the topic in the EU.

Fidesz lawmaker Lajos Kosa said he was opposed to the death penalty but the issue was worthy of discussion.

"Times and circumstances change, raising the issue in a democracy is surely not banned," Kosa said on broadcaster TV2. "We should talk about it."

The pro-White Jobbik party, currently seen as Fidesz's strongest challenger, has consistently advocated restoring capital punishment.

"Most of us are in favor of the death penalty," Jobbik president Gabor Vona said on news channel Hir TV. "We should examine whether restoring the death penalty can be done in Hungary or the European Union in the 21st century."

Orban's position was criticized both home and abroad.

"I am extremely concerned by the patriotic trend in political discourse in Hungary," said Nils Muiznieks, the human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe. "The idea of reintroducing the death penalty which has been raised by Prime Minister Orban ... runs contrary to the values that Europe stands for."

Martin Schulz, president of the European parliament, said he would discuss the issue by telephone with Orban.

Former Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany's Democratic Coalition said Orban was strengthening Jobbik by raising the issue.

29 April 2015

France’s pro-White Le Pen blames EU for Crimea

Leader of the French pro-White National Front (FN) party, Marine Le Pen, has said Russia's annexation of Crimea last year was a result of "major errors" committed by the European Union (EU), as she defended accepting a loan from a Russian bank last year.

Le Pen, who is widely expected to run for president in France in 2017, said the EU contributed to the crisis in Crimea, by legitimising Putin's takeover of the region.

"I believe that the annexation of Crimea was the result of the major errors committed by the EU. The EU contributed to the crisis in Crimea. The EU participated in legitimising a putsch which allowed the inhabitants of Crimea to in reality rejoin Russia, because Crimea is Russia as everyone knows. One should not see it otherwise," Le Pen told CNBC.

Last March, President Vladimir Putin signed a law formalising Russia's takeover of Crimea from Ukraine, despite protest and sanctions from the EU and the U.S.

Le Pen, who described herself as a "ferocious" opponent to the EU, blamed the union for failing to "assess its mistake" as she warned the 28-country group it was time to "come to terms" with its assessment of the Crimean situation, before making more mistakes.

The pro-White FN won the European elections in France last year with around 25 percent of the vote, and surveys suggest that Ms Le Pen could reach the second round in the "two-round system" used in France, in the 2017 presidential election.

The FN has also been under renewed scrutiny this month after reports suggested that the party had been given a multi-million euro loan from a Russian bank last year, in return for Le Pen's support for Russia's annexation of Crimea.

The sizeable loan from the First Czech Russian Bank was reportedly connected with Le Pen's recognition of the annexation of Crimea in March last year, a connection which she denies, instead suggesting that the party was unable to obtain a loan from a French bank.

"The fact is, we're forced to make a loan to those who accepted to give us this loan, because no French bank wanted to give us a loan and no European bank either wanted to do so. If you know of a bank that would be ready to give us this loan, we would be happy to sign it tomorrow morning," she said.

Did NASA Mistakenly Create a Warp Field?

Space geeks are freaking out because NASA may have accidentally discovered a warp field, an avenue down which spaceships can travel faster than the speed of light – something that, to date, has only existed in science fiction.

Warp drive was long the stuff of Star Trek fantasy – “Warp speed, Mr. Sulu,” is the command often given by James Kirk, captain of the fictional Starship Enterprise.

But in the 1990s, physicist Miguel Alcubierre proposed the idea of a wave that would cause the space ahead of a spacecraft to contract, while the space behind it expands. This distortion would create a warp bubble, in which a ship would travel while itself remaining stationary.

The tremendous amount of energy required made it impossible to translate Alcubierre’s vision into reality, however.

Building on his predecessor’s theories, Harold “Sonny” White of NASA’s Johnson Space Center made alterations that would significantly reduce the energy needs.

Meanwhile, in the lab, NASA and other space programs were experimenting with the EmDrive, a thrust engine that would be able to move in space without the need for fuel.

According to posts on NASASpaceFlight.com, a website devoted to the engineering side of space news, when lasers were fired through the EmDrive’s resonance chamber, some of the beams appeared to travel faster than the speed of light. 

If that’s true, it would mean that the EmDrive is producing a warp field or bubble.

Mysterious Universe pulled the following comment from a space forum after the tests: “That’s the big surprise. This signature (the interference pattern) on the EmDrive looks just like what a warp bubble looks like. And the math behind the warp bubble apparently matches the interference pattern found in the EmDrive.”

What’s more, the discovery was accidental, as this comment points out:
“Seems to have been an accidental connection. They were wondering where this ‘thrust’ might be coming from. One scientist proposed that maybe it’s a warp of the spacetime foam, which is causing the thrust.”

To prove that the warp effect was not caused by atmospheric heating, scientists will have to replicate the test in a vacuum. If the same results are achieved, it could mean that the EmDrive is producing a warp field, which could ultimately lead to the development of a warp drive.

New spectroscopic images of Mercury are a rainbow of colour

New images of Mercury show the planet as we've never seen it before: in a psychedelic profusion of colours. The images don't show how Mercury looks in the visible light spectrum. Rather, they are composites, composed of years of data collated by the Mercury Atmosphere and Surface Composition Spectrometer instrument aboard NASA's Messenger spacecraft and have provided researches with new insights about Mercury.

The spacecraft, which has been in orbit around the planet for four years, is due to be retired on Thursday -- by crashing into Mercury's surface at a speed of more than 8,750 miles per hour (3.91 kilometres per second). This will be done on the side closest to Earth so that NASA researchers can observe the impact in real time and receive data from the probe as it descends.

Key findings include compelling support for the hypothesis that ice is abundant on Mercury in its permanently shadowed polar craters in found 2012, with data indicating that the ice would be two miles thick and spread over an area the size of Washington.

Another discovery was a dark layer over those ice deposits, thought to be rich in organic compounds. Researchers hypothesise that the ice and the organic compounds came to Mercury from the outer solar system.

"The water now stored in ice deposits in the permanently shadowed floors of impact craters at Mercury's poles most likely was delivered...by the impacts of comets and volatile-rich asteroids," said Messenger principal investigator Sean Solomon, director of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y. "Those same impacts also likely delivered the dark organic material."

Ever since the probe entered Mercury's orbit in 2011, it has been diligently collecting measurements of the surface of the planet, in hundreds of different wavelengths of light, from ultraviolet through to near-infrared. These wavelengths and combinations of wavelengths were then mapped into red, green and blue colours.

You can probably make out a little bit of what they show, which was the purpose of colour-coding the wavelengths in the first place. Some show the mineral composition of the surface; while others show the age of craters, or volcanic vents. This allows these relatively small features to be studied much more easily.

Other contributions made by the Messenger mission include technological firsts such as the development of a heat-resistant and highly reflective ceramic cloth sunshade to protect the probe's instruments from solar radiation and temperatures in excess of 300 degrees Celsius (570 degrees Fahrenheit).

"For the first time in history we now have real knowledge about the planet Mercury that shows it to be a fascinating world," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

"While spacecraft operations will end, we are celebrating Messenger as more than a successful mission. It's the beginning of a longer journey to analyse the data that reveals all the scientific mysteries of Mercury."

28 April 2015

Robotic telescope discovers three super-Earth planetary neighbors

Using a robotic telescope at Lick Observatory that scans the sky night after night, astronomers have discovered three planets – supersized Earths ‑ around a nearby star. 

“The three planets are unlike anything in our solar system, with masses seven to eight times the mass of Earth and orbits very close to their host star,” said UC Berkeley graduate student Lauren Weiss.

She is the leader of the UC Berkeley component of the team that discovered the planets with the help of the Automated Planet Finder, a relatively new telescope atop Mt. Hamilton near San Jose dedicated to finding super-Earths and Earth-size planets.

To date, most of the planets discovered outside our solar system have been the size of Neptune — 17 times the mass of Earth — or larger, with the majority gas giants like Jupiter, which are several hundred times the mass of Earth. The goal of the APF is to find small planets around the nearest stars, some of which might have temperatures and surface conditions suitable for life.

“The discovery demonstrates the APF’s ability to find low-mass planets around nearby stars,” Weiss said. “Robotic telescopes are going to be the way we find planets in the future.”

Wobbling stars

The planets, invisible to the naked eye, betrayed their existence by the slight wobble they created in their host star, detected by the Doppler technique pioneered by Weiss’s adviser, Berkeley professor of astronomy Geoff Marcy. The new APF facility offers a way to speed up the search for exoplanets, Weiss said.

“We initially used the APF like a regular telescope, staying up all night searching star to star. But the idea of letting a computer take the graveyard shift was more appealing after months of little sleep. So we wrote software to replace ourselves with a robot,” said University of Hawaii at Manoa graduate student Benjamin “BJ” Fulton.

The W.M Keck Observatory in Hawaii found the first evidence of planets orbiting HD 7924 in 2009. It took five years of additional observations at Keck Observatory and the year-and-a-half campaign by the APF Telescope to find the two additional planets orbiting HD 7924. The planets pinpointed by the APF were confirmed via the Keck Observatory and the Automatic Photometric Telescope at Fairborn Observatory in Arizona.

“This level of automation is a game-changer in astronomy,” said Andrew Howard, a professor of astronomy at the University of Hawaii. “It’s a bit like owning a driverless car that goes planet-shopping.”

All three planets orbit their star at a distance closer than Mercury orbits the sun, completing their orbits in just five, 15 and 24 days. The star is 54 light-years distant, close enough to be considered part of Earth’s neighborhood.

The robotic observations of HD 7924 are the start of a systematic survey for super-Earth planets orbiting nearby stars. Fulton will lead this two-year search with the APF as part of his research for his doctoral dissertation.

“When the survey is complete we will have a census of small planets orbiting sun-like stars within approximately 100 light-years of Earth,” says Fulton.

Astrophysicists come up with most complete 3D map of universe

A slice through the 3-D map of the nearby universe is shown. Our Milky Way galaxy is in the center, marked by a cross. The map spans nearly two billion light years from side to side. Regions with many galaxies are shown in white or red, whereas regions with fewer galaxies are dark blue.

Astrophysicists have created a 3D map of the universe that spans nearly two billion light years and is the most complete picture of our cosmic neighbourhood to date.

The spherical map of galaxy superclusters will lead to a greater understanding of how matter is distributed in the universe and provide key insights into dark matter, one of physics' greatest mysteries.

Professor Mike Hudson, Jonathan Carrick and Stephen Turnbull, of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo, and Guilhem Lavaux the Institute d'Astrophysique de Paris of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique of France, created the map. Professor Hudson is also an affiliate member of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

"The galaxy distribution isn't uniform and has no pattern. It has peaks and valleys much like a mountain range. This is what we expect if the large-scale structure originates from quantum fluctuations in the early universe," said Hudson, also associate dean of science, computing.

The map appears online in the peer-review journal, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, one of the world's leading primary research journals for astronomy and astrophysics.

The lighter blue and white areas on the map represent greater concentrations of galaxies. The red area is the supercluster called the Shapley Concentration, the largest collection of galaxies in the nearby universe. Unexplored areas appear in medium blue.

Knowing the location and motion of matter in the universe will help astrophysicists predict the universe's expansion and identify where and how much dark matter exists.

Scientists have observed that galaxies move differently because the universe's expansion is not even. These differences are called peculiar velocities. Our own Milky Way galaxy and its neighbour Andromeda are moving with a speed of 2 million kilometres per hour.

Previous models haven't fully accounted for this observed motion. Hudson and his team are interested in discovering what structures are responsible for the peculiar velocities.

These deviations in the motion of galaxies are a valuable tool to determine the distribution of matter and dark matter on the largest scales.

Dark matter accounts for a large majority of the mass content in the universe. It is a hypothesized form of matter particle that does not reflect or emit light and as a result it can't be seen or measured directly. The existence and properties of dark matter can only be inferred indirectly through its gravitational effects on visible matter and light.

"A better understanding of dark matter is central to understanding the formation of galaxies and the structures they live in, such as galaxy clusters, superclusters and voids," said Hudson.

The next step will involve getting more detailed samples of peculiar velocities to enhance the map, in collaboration with researchers in Australia.

Water could have been abundant in first billion years after the Big Seed

How soon after the Big Seed could water have existed? Not right away, because water molecules contain oxygen and oxygen had to be formed in the first stars. Then that oxygen had to disperse and unite with hydrogen in significant amounts. New theoretical work finds that despite these complications, water vapor could have been just as abundant in pockets of space a billion years after the Big Seed as it is today.

"We looked at the chemistry within young molecular clouds containing a thousand times less oxygen than our Sun. To our surprise, we found we can get as much water vapor as we see in our own galaxy," says astrophysicist Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

The early universe lacked elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. The first generation of stars are believed to have been massive and short-lived. Those stars generated elements like oxygen, which then spread outward via stellar winds and supernova explosions. This resulted in "islands" of gas enriched in heavy elements. Even these islands, however, were much poorer in oxygen than gas within the Milky Way today.

The team examined the chemical reactions that could lead to the formation of water within the oxygen-poor environment of early molecular clouds. They found that at temperatures around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (300 Kelvin), abundant water could form in the gas phase despite the relative lack of raw materials.

"These temperatures are likely because the universe then was warmer than today and the gas was unable to cool effectively," explains lead author and PhD student Shmuel Bialy of Tel Aviv University.

"The glow of the cosmic microwave background was hotter, and gas densities were higher," adds Amiel Sternberg, a co-author from Tel Aviv University.

Although ultraviolet light from stars would break apart water molecules, after hundreds of millions of years an equilibrium could be reached between water formation and destruction. The team found that equilibrium to be similar to levels of water vapor seen in the local universe.

"You can build up significant quantities of water in the gas phase even without much enrichment in heavy elements," adds Bialy.

This current work calculates how much water could exist in the gas phase within molecular clouds that will form later generations of stars and planets. It doesn't address how much water would exist in ice form (which dominates within our galaxy) or what fraction of all the water might actually be incorporated into newly forming planetary systems.

27 April 2015

Universe is a hologram? Tool to test holographic principle edges closer

The idea that we are living inside a hologram universe could soon be tested, with scientists saying they have found a way to test the validity of the holographic principle.

The hologram universe theory has been around for decades. It says the universe looks three dimensional to us but, just like a hologram is a 2D object that appears 3D, the same could be happening with the perception of our world.

The holographic principle says a mathematical description of the universe needs one fewer dimension than it appears to.

Until now, though, the principle has just been studied in exotic spaces with negative curvature – spaces far different from those found in our universe.

However, scientists from the TU Wien in Vienna now say the theory could work even in a flat spacetime.

Gravitational phenomenon are described in 3D. The behaviour of quantum particles is calculated in a theory with 2D. The results from both can be mapped on to one another. Surprisingly, this method has been found to be very successful and thousands of papers about Juan Maldacena's theory have been published.

Theory v reality

While the holographic principle is important to theoretical physics, it does not seem to have much to do with our own universe. The spaces imagined are negatively curved – any object thrown out would eventually return. In comparison, our universe is quite flat and has a positive curvature.

However, Daniel Grumiller, who published the findings in the journal Physical Review Letters, said this correspondence could be attributed to our own universe.

To test the theory, scientists spent three years constructing gravitational theories that do not require exotic spaces and, instead, live in a flat space. In the paper, they confirm the validity of the correspondence principle in a flat universe.

"If quantum gravity in a flat space allows for a holographic description by a standard quantum theory, then there must by physical quantities, which can be calculated in both theories – and the results must agree," Grumiller said.

Quantum entanglement

One key feature must appear in the gravitational theory – quantum entanglement – which says when quantum particles are tangled they cannot be described individually and form a single object. Grumiller and colleagues note there is a measure from the amount of enganglement in a quantum system – the entropy of enganglement.

The researchers were able to show this entropy of entanglement takes the same value in flat quantum gravity as it does in a low dimension quantum field theory.

"This calculation affirms our assumption that the holographic principle can also be realised in flat spaces. It is evidence for the validity of this correspondence in our universe," said researcher Max Riegler.

Grumiller added: "The fact that we can even talk about quantum information and entropy of entanglement in a theory of gravity is astounding in itself, and would hardly have been imaginable only a few years back. That we are now able to use this as a tool to test the validity of the holographic principle, and that this test works out, is quite remarkable."

Embryo Turns Itself Inside Out In Stunning New Video

Researchers have captured the first 3D video of a living algal embryo turning itself inside out, from a sphere to a mushroom shape and back again. The results could help unravel the mechanical processes at work during a similar process in animals, which has been called the "most important time in your life." The images, of embryos of a green alga called Volvox, make an ideal test case to understand how a remarkably similar process works in early animal development.

Using fluorescence microscopy to observe the Volvox embryos, the researchers were able to test a mathematical model of morphogenesis -- the origin and development of an organism's structure and form -- and understand how the shape of cells drives the process of inversion, when the embryo turns itself from a sphere to a mushroom shape and back again. Their findings are published today (27 April) in the journal Physical Review Letters.

The processes observed in the Volvox embryo are similar to the process of gastrulation in animal embryos -- which biologist Lewis Wolpert called "the most important event in your life." During gastrulation, the embryo folds inwards into a cup-like shape, forming the primary germ layers which give rise to all the organs in the body. Volvox embryos undergo a similar process, but with an additional twist: the embryos literally turn themselves right-side out during the process.

Gastrulation in animals results from a complex interplay of cell shape changes, cell division and migration, making it difficult to develop a quantitative understanding of the process. However, Volvox embryos complete their shape change only by changing cell shapes and the location of the connections between cells, and this simplicity makes them an ideal model for understanding cell sheet folding.

In Volvox embryos, the process of inversion begins when the embryos start to fold inward, or invaginate, around their middle, forming two hemispheres. Next, one hemisphere moves inside the other, an opening at the top widens, and the outer hemisphere glides over the inner hemisphere, until the embryo regains its spherical shape. This remarkable process takes place over approximately one hour.

Previous work by biologists established that a specific series of cell shape changes is associated with various stages of the process. "Until now there was no quantitative mechanical understanding of whether those changes were sufficient to account for the observed embryo shapes, and existing studies by conventional microscopy were limited to two-dimensional sections and analyses of chemically fixed embryos, rendering comparisons with theory on the dynamics difficult," said Professor Raymond E. Goldstein of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, who led the research.

The interdisciplinary group of Cambridge scientists obtained the first three-dimensional visualisations of Volvox inversion and developed a first mathematical model that explains how cell shape changes drive the process of inversion.

Their time-lapse recordings show that during inversion one hemisphere of the embryos shrinks while the other hemisphere stretches out. While previous studies on fixed embryos have also observed this phenomenon, the question was if these changes are caused by forces produced within the invaginating region, or from elsewhere in the embryo.

Through mathematical modelling, the researchers found that only if there is active contraction of one hemisphere and active expansion of the other does the model yield the observed 'mushroom' shape of an inverting Volvox globator embryo.

"It's exciting to be able to finally visualise this intriguing process in 3D," said Dr Stephanie Höhn, the paper's lead author. "This simple organism may provide ground-breaking information to help us understand similar processes in many different types of animals."

25 April 2015

Giant cosmic tsunami wakes up comatose galaxies

Galaxies are often found in clusters, which contain many 'red and dead' members that stopped forming stars in the distant past. Now an international team of astronomers, led by Andra Stroe of Leiden Observatory and David Sobral of Leiden and the University of Lisbon, have discovered that these comatose galaxies can sometimes come back to life. If clusters of galaxies merge, a huge shock wave can drive the birth of a new generation of stars -- the sleeping galaxies get a new lease of life. The scientists publish their work on 24 April in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Galaxy clusters are like cities, where thousands of galaxies can be packed together, at least in comparison to the sparsely-populated space around them. Over billions of years, they build up structure in the universe -- merging with adjacent clusters, like growing cities absorb nearby towns. When this happens, there is a huge release of energy as the clusters collide. The resulting shock wave travels through the cluster like a tsunami, but until now there was no evidence that the galaxies themselves were affected very much.

Stroe and Sobral observed the merging galaxy cluster CIZA J2242.8+5301, nicknamed the 'Sausage', located 2.3 billion light years away in the direction of the constellation of Lacerta in the northern hemisphere of the sky. They used the Isaac Newton and William Herschel Telescopes on La Palma, and the Subaru, CFHT and Keck Telescopes on Hawaii, and found that far from 'watching from the back' the cluster galaxies were transformed by the shock wave, triggering a new wave of star formation.

Stroe comments: "We assumed that the galaxies would be on the sidelines for this act, but it turns out they have a leading role. The comatose galaxies in the Sausage cluster are coming back to life, with stars forming at a tremendous rate. When we first saw this in the data, we simply couldn't believe what it was telling us."

The new work implies that the merger of galaxy clusters has a major impact on the formation of stars. "Much like a teaspoon stirring a mug of coffee, the shocks lead to turbulence in the galactic gas. These then trigger an avalanche-like collapse, which eventually leads to the formation of very dense, cold gas clouds, which are vital for the formation of new stars," says Stroe.

Sobral adds: "But star formation at this rate leads to a lot of massive, short-lived stars coming into being, which explode as supernovae a few million years later. The explosions drive huge amounts of gas out of the galaxies and with most of the rest consumed in star formation, the galaxies soon run out of fuel. If you wait long enough, the cluster mergers make the galaxies even more red and dead -- they slip back into a coma and have little prospect of a second resurrection."

Every cluster of galaxies in the nearby Universe has experienced a series of mergers during its lifetime, so they should all have passed through a period of extremely vigorous production of stars. Given that the shocks will only however lead to a brief (in astronomical terms) increase in star formation, astronomers have to be very lucky to catch the cluster at a time in its evolution when the galaxies are still being `lit up' by the shock.

The next step is to see if the Sausage cluster is unique and that these bursts of star formation need very particular conditions. By studying a much bigger sample of galaxies, the team hope to find out exactly how they happen.

Galactic spores released into cosmos

Like stars that can be ejected from galaxies, resigned to an eternity floating through the darkness of intergalactic space, astronomers have discovered entire galaxies — 11 in total — that underwent some unpleasant gravitational turbulence and flung from their home clusters, marooned in intercluster space.

“These galaxies are facing a lonely future, exiled from the galaxy clusters they used to live in,” said Igor Chilingarian, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Moscow State University.

Runaway stars can be ejected from their host galaxies if they are travelling at a greater speed than that galaxy’s “escape velocity.” Like a rocket leaving Earth’s gravitational well, escape velocity can only be achieved if the rocket is supplied with enough energy to exceed 11.2 kilometers per second (25,000 miles per hour). In the case of a star being ejected from our galaxy, it would need to be traveling a speed of 537 km/s (over 1.2 million miles per hour!).

So you can probably imagine the astronomical speed an entire galaxy would need to travel to leave the gravitational heft of an entire galaxy cluster — a velocity of up to 3,000 km/s (6 million miles per hour), depending on the mass of the cluster.

The 11 runaway galaxies were found by chance while Chilingarian and co-investigator Ivan Zolotukhin, of the L’Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie and Moscow State University, were scouring publicly-available data (via the Virtual Observatory) from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the GALEX satellite for compact elliptical galaxies.

These tiny galaxies are rare, but the researchers were able to uncover 200 previously unknown compact ellipticals, 11 of which were found to be alone and separated from any galactic cluster. And they are moving really, really fast.

“The first compact ellipticals were all found in clusters because that’s where people were looking. We broadened our search, and found the unexpected,” said Zolotukhin. Elliptical galaxies are thought to originate from larger galaxies that go through gravitational interactions with neighboring galaxies; ellipticals are therefore expected to be clustered near larger ‘parent’ galaxies.

So how did these tiny galaxies, which are approximately 1,000 times smaller than our galaxy, end up so far away from home?

The researchers think that a similar gravitational mechanism that produces runaway stars may be also slingshotting these ellipticals.

“We asked ourselves, what else could explain them? The answer was a classic three-body interaction,” said Chilingarian.

One way a hypervelocity star can be produced is if one star in a binary pair strays too close to a black hole. When the star gets swallowed, its binary partner is flung away. In the case of a hypervelocity compact elliptical galaxy, should a massive galaxy collide with the elliptical’s parent galaxy, the elliptical could be flung away as the two larger galaxies merge.

For the compact elliptical galaxy, this galactic merger is the start of its long and, potentially, infinite journey into the cosmic abyss.


"Genius is the activity which repairs the decays of things, whether wholly or partly of a material and finite kind. Nature, through all her kingdoms, insures herself. Nobody cares for planting the poor fungus: so she shakes down from the gills of one agaric countless spores, any one of which, being preserved, transmits new billions of spores to-morrow or next day. The new agaric of this hour has a chance which the old one had not. This atom of seed is thrown into a new place, not subject to the accidents which destroyed its parent two rods off."  Ralph Walso Emerson

24 April 2015

Unforgettable Hubble Space Telescope Photos

"This is a really new birthplace of stars," Jennifer Wiseman, senior project scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope, said of the new image, which shows a cluster of 3,000 stars known as Westerlund 2 in the constellation Carina. "The cluster is only about two million years old, which in stellar terms is very young. And it contains some of the galaxy’s hottest, brightest and most massive stars that we know of."

23 April 2015

Billionaire prince to give one Bentley to each Saudi pilot for striking Yemen

A wealthy Saudi royal attracted criticism on social media after he apparently offered luxury cars to fighter pilots participating in a bombing campaign in Yemen.

Earlier this week Saudi Arabia announced the end of the first phase of its military campaign in Yemen. And in a celebratory gesture Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, one of the country's richest men and a member of the Saudi royal family, tweeted to his 3m followers on Twitter: "In appreciation of their role in this operation, I'm honoured to offer 100 Bentley cars to the 100 Saudi [fighter] pilots".

The offer immediately split opinion. More than 28,000 people shared his post and over 5,000 liked it. The prince was hailed for his "generosity" and several Saudis commented that the pilots deserved luxury automobiles - and much more - for their military service.

But many outside Saudi Arabia, particularly in Yemen, found his offer outright offensive - and so an online backlash began. "100 Bentley cars to 100 pilots who bombed Yemen. Not single ambulance to its hospitals they devastated" remarked one Yemeni on Twitter.

Another Yemeni who had previously shared photos showing the destruction of his home following a Saudi air strike tweeted: "Prince Al Waleed gave 100 Bentleys to Saudi pilots. I got my apartment blown up. Yet I bet my spirits are higher than all those pilots."

Others pointed to the disparity between people's lives in Yemen, one of the world's poorest countries, and those who live in relatively rich Saudi Arabia. "So that's what it's all about, what was it 100 or 200 lives for a Bentley, that's how cheap human life is," a Jordanian tweeted.

The original tweet offering the gifts has now been deleted, although screen grabs of it are still circulating online. Some Saudi media are now reporting that the prince's Twitter account was hacked. But there was no mention of any hacking on his Twitter feed - and he did not respond to Trending's request for comment.

Last year the prince, who's renowned for his lavish lifestyle and ostentatious gift-giving, offered a local football team 25 cars after they won the Saudi championship, a move that touched off a debate in Saudi about who should be offered gifts and who shouldn't.

Russian Far-Right Nationalists Love Texan Separatists

Of all the strange political relationships, one of the strangest has to be the one between Texan secessionists and right-wing Russian nationalists.

On March 23, the pro-Kremlin newspaper Vzglyad interviewed Nathan Smith, the third-in-command and chief of staff of the Texas Nationalist Movement. According to the paper, Smith is in Moscow to meet with the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia — which supports separatist movements in eastern Ukraine.

Since last spring, Kremlin-backed separatists and Russian troops have fought a war with a pro-European government in Kiev. Smith didn’t take sides in the conflict.

Instead, he told the newspaper that Texas should secede from the United States to preserve its “cowboy” culture and to halt the state’s contributions to an “astronomical military budget.”

“I’m going to meet with a number of public organizations that are close to us in spirit and have common values ​​with us,” Smith told Vzglyad.

What’s weirder is that the TNM has tried to take a savvier approach than other nationalist groups in the state. But partnering up with the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia is … not very savvy.

The Anti-Globalization Movement lists several partners on its Website. These include the Russian nationalist group IA Rex, the Website Infodessa — which urges for the city of Odessa to secede from Ukraine — and the Veche organization, which seeks the “restoration of Russia as a cultural, civilizational and geopolitical unifying force in the former Soviet republics.”

Another partner is a social media group called FTU — for “Fuck the U.S.A.”

The TNM is the most visible Texan secessionist group, and holds occasional rallies outside the state capitol building in Austin. It functions more like a conventional political lobby — it has a PAC — and grew its numbers through social media following the success of the Tea Party movement.

Its politics broadly hew along the same lines as the Tea Party. The TNM wants limited government, low taxes and border security. That, and getting the Hell out of America.

The TNM emerged from the wreckage of the Republic of Texas — another secessionist group that imploded into three factions after a violent siege.

In 1997, several Republic of Texas militants took hostages and engaged in a standoff with state police at a compound in rural West Texas. One militant died in a shootout.

The Republic of Texas still exists — although it has renounced violence and has a different leadership. The group’s ex-leader, Richard McLaren, remains in prison for his role in the standoff.

But the current Republic of Texas does have two strange quirks.

For one, the group’s symbol includes a map of Texas with its claimed territory prior to 1845 — that includes half of New Mexico, a big chunk of Colorado and a long, narrow stretch of land extending into lower Wyoming. Plus the Oklahoma panhandle and bite-sized piece of Kansas.

The group also doesn’t believe Texas ever legally became part of the U.S., and that many contemporary laws do not apply to its members. For the same reason, the group doesn’t spend much time lobbying or petitioning, unlike the TNM.

As far as the Republic of Texas sees it, there are no legitimate authorities to petition.

In February, FBI agents raided a Republic of Texas meeting after the group demanded a judge appear at the group’s court — yes, the Republic of Texas has its own quasi-court. The judge had a “role in the pending foreclosure of a member’s home,” the New York Times reported.

Then there’s the weird connection between Russian nationalists and the TNM. We can take several guesses why it exists. For one, the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia supports separatist movements in the West generally.

So there’s a common foe. But don’t tell the TNM.

For the TNM, the group wants to rebrand Texan separatism as a credible force — and eschewing hostage-taking domestic extremism. At the same time, building support abroad might help the group bolster its credibility.

But there’s a contradiction in espousing American-style patriotism and building ties with an organization that itself partners with groups that hate the U.S. with a passion. Another one of the Anti-Globalization Movement’s listed partners is simply called Anti-U.S.A. News.

The relationship with Russian nationalists could also come from a misunderstanding of American and Texan political culture.

Vzglyad uncritically wrote that the TNM is “hardly a marginal group,” and stated it consists of more than 250,000 people. The TNM claims similar numbers, but it’s impossible to verify and seems largely based on Facebook likes.

A 2009 Rasmussen Reports poll, which was the last survey we could find on the subject, found that 18 percent of Texans support secession. That might sound like a lot, but the number corresponds with similar polls in other U.S. states.

Which is a bit of a problem for both Texan separatists and their Russian nationalist friends. One of the main reasons for any country to secede is to protect an independent identity. But as it turns out, Texans are a lot like other Americans.

21 April 2015

NASA Forms Group Dedicated to Finding Alien Life

NASA is enlisting teams of scientists around the nation, including a group from Yale, to collaborate on a new approach for finding life on planets outside our solar system.

The joint effort is called Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS), and it will create a “virtual institute” of scientists from 10 universities, three NASA centers, and two research institutes. NASA selected teams based on proposals from across NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Yale astronomy professor Debra Fischer will lead a team that is building new spectrometers with the stability and precision to detect Earth-like planets orbiting nearby stars. A critical part of the team’s work involves new statistical techniques to distinguish “noise” — velocities in the photospheres of the stars — from the reflex velocities induced by planets.

Fischer’s team also will continue to enlist amateur astronomers to search NASA’s Kepler public archive data for exoplanets, which are planets orbiting around other stars. Fischer has been at the forefront of citizen science efforts to search for exoplanets via the Planet Hunters program. Citizen scientists have found more than 100 transiting exoplanets not previously detected. Many of these planets orbit in the habitable zones of their host stars.

Fischer’s team also is analyzing the planet occurrence rates for different types of stars.

“NExSS is building collaboration and open-sourcing of ideas in ways that have been tried and true in competitive businesses,” Fischer said. “This signals a new era where we spend more time problem-solving and team-building than competing and excluding our colleagues. We have heard from all of the founding partners about their research, and we’ve brainstormed about how our related skills and expertise might enrich their science. It’s a win-win for science and humanity.”

Since the launch of NASA’s Kepler space telescope six years ago, more than 1,800 exoplanets have been confirmed. There are thousands more exoplanet candidates waiting for confirmation.

In order to determine the habitability of these planets and look for signs of life on them, NExSS will coordinate scientific research into the various components of exoplanets. It’s a “system science” approach to understanding how biology interacts with the atmosphere, geology, oceans, and interior of a planet, and how the host star affects these interactions.

NExSS will draw from the scientific expertise in each division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Earth scientists will develop a systems science approach by studying our home planet; planetary scientists will look at other planets in our solar system; heliophysicists will study how the Sun interacts with orbiting planets; and astrophysicists will provide data on exoplanets and host stars.

“This interdisciplinary endeavor connects top research teams and provides a synthesized approach in the search for planets with the greatest potential for signs of life,” said Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science. “The hunt for exoplanets is not only a priority for astronomers, it’s of keen interest to planetary and climate scientists as well.”

NExSS will be led by scientists from the NASA Ames Research Center, the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology, and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Hyper-precise atomic clock detects tiny changes in the fabric of time

Scientists have created an atomic clock that is so precise that it can detect tiny changes in the speed of its ticks depending on whether it is 2 centimeters closer or farther from the center of Earth.

"Time can be intricately connected to gravity," said Jun Ye, a physicist at JILA, a joint institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Colorado, Boulder. "It sounds like science fiction, but these measurements are a reality."

The ability of a hyper-sensitive clock to determine small differences in altitude is based on Einstein's prediction that the farther one gets from the center of an attractor (like Earth), the faster time moves.

Researchers have long ago proved this theory by comparing the speed of clocks separated by vast differences, either on board satellites in orbits a few dozen miles apart, or by comparing the ticks of clocks telling time at sea level and those placed on a mountain top.

Five years ago researchers at NIST created a clock so sensitive that it could detect the difference in time between two elevations just a foot from each other.

But the new clock is even better.

"Now when we measure this very weird property of time fabric in the laboratory, even a 2-centimeter change will result in a detectable time change in the clock," Ye said.

The clock is described Tuesday in Nature Communications. It is a tweaked version of an optical lattice clock that measures the oscillations of strontium atoms that have been trapped in a network of lasers.

A clock with this extreme level of precision may seem like overkill, but it could be used to improve our understanding of the shape of Earth, help to conduct tests of the fundamental laws that govern space and time, and provide a new pathway for investigating dark matter.

And the possibilities grow as the clocks grow more precise.

"If we can make a clock 1,000 times more accurate, we could hear the symphony of the universe."

19 April 2015

Populist, pro-White Finns Party places second, beats the conservatives and Social Democrats

HELSINKI (AP) — The opposition Center Party has won Finland's parliamentary election but its new leader faces tough talks on forming a government following the success of the populist, anti-establishment Finns Party that placed ahead of the main government partners, the conservatives and Social Democrats.

Center Party leader Juha Sipila declared victory in Sunday's election and will take on the role of forming the new ruling coalition, saying he would approach the leaders of the three parties on Monday.

"Tomorrow the phones will be ringing, and we'll work out how to take it from there," Sipila said. "Finding trust between the future government parties is the most important factor."

The self-effacing millionaire businessman, who entered politics four years ago, said the main problem in conservative Prime Minister Alexander Stubb's current coalition had been a lack of trust among the ruling parties.

He warned that Finland, in the midst of a three-year recession, was in a "difficult" situation. "It will take 10 years to get Finland back into shape," Sipila told reporters.

Stubb had campaigned on economic issues and acknowledged his government had not made sufficient reforms. He has also advocated spending cuts of 6 billion euros ($6.5 billion) over the next four years, a proposal strongly opposed by Sipila who says half the amount in cuts would suffice.

Stubb conceded defeat.

"It's a fact that the Center Party has won the election," he said. "Now we have to focus ... on how to get Finland back on track to growth."

Finns Party leader, Timo Soini, who vehemently opposes bailouts for ailing eurozone members and advocates kicking Greece out of the euro, dropped out of government formation talks in 2011 because the other parties supported bailouts.

He described his party's performance on Sunday as a "repeat rumble" of 2011 when they rose from being a tiny political force to become the country's third largest political party, causing a political storm and headache for European countries preparing bailouts for eurozone partners.

Soini declined to discuss whether his party would take part in future government talks.

"We're here in Finland to stay because we are needed," he told shouting and clapping supporters in Helsinki. "Our work has been rewarded; let's reap the benefits."

The entire article is here.

Putin warns Israel: Selling arms to Ukraine would provoke Russian S-300 sales to Syria too

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning to Israel against selling arms to Kiev – in retaliation for the S-300 air-defense missiles Russia has released for Iran – adds a European dimension to the dispute by planting Israel squarely in the middle of Moscow’s Ukraine dispute with the United States. The Russian leader’s implied threat to hit back by sending the same missile system to Syria as well as Iran, touches on another dispute between Russia on the one side and the US and Israel on the other, namely the Syria conflict.

Whereas critics of the Netanyahu government highlight its falling-out with the Obama administration over the Iranian nuclear issue, they disregard the intense US-Israeli military cooperation in two vital regions of conflict – Syria and Ukraine.

This working relationship is not lost on Putin.

The intelligence updates placed on his Kremlin desk reveal that, just as the US and Israel (and Jordan) have been arming rebel forces fighting in southern Syria, they are also working together to give the Ukrainian army the weapons for breaking its incendiary standoff with the pro-Russian separatists.

In the last fortnight, thousands of military advisers from the United States, Canada, France, the UK and Germany were shipped into Ukraine to train the national army. Due in the coming days are 290 officers and troops of the American 173 Airborne Brigade.

DEBKAfile’s military sources disclose that the arrivals are gathering at the Ukrainian Army’s training center in Yavoriv, near Lvov, chosen as assembly point and launching pad for Western and NATO intervention forces in the Ukraine conflict because of its proximity to Poland.

The US and British air squadrons stationed there for some months are close enough to give the Yavoriv center air cover. Also at hand as reinforcements for the Ukrainian military effort are the US and British military personnel, who were posted to Poland after Russia’s annexation of Crimea last March, to allay the fears of the Baltic states.

Putin has repeatedly cautioned Washington that arming Kiev with US offensive weapons would bring forth matching Russian steps that would hurt US interests in Europe and other parts of the world.

He tried sending this warning through German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, as well as addressing it to Secretary of State John Kerry at his meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Moscow, said the warning message, would not spare US interests after what Putin sees as the Obama administration’s assaults on Russia’s national security, by means of NATO’s creeping absorption of Ukraine and offensive arms if provided by the US for Kiev’s campaign against pro-Russian separatists.

Lifting the embargo on S-300 air defense missiles for Iran was the Russian leader’s first step toward making good on his warning, but his reprisals are not likely to stop there.

The anti-air missiles have not yet been shipped to Iran, but if President Barack Obama forges ahead with expanded military assistance to the Ukraine government, Putin intends sending S-300s not just to Iran,but to Syria as well.

Saturday, April 18, the Russian president declined to say in answer to a question whether Moscow had refrained from sending S-300 missiles to Syria at Israel’s request. But he tellingly mentioned Syria in the same breath as his warning to Israel not to supply weapons to the Ukrainian government, saying that the move would be “counterproductive” to efforts to reach peace in east Ukraine.

In Washington earlier on Friday, Obama said he was surprised that Russia’s suspension of missile sales to Iran had “held this long.” The US president noted that Putin had previously suspended the sale “at our request. I am frankly surprised that it held this long, given that they were not prohibited by sanctions from selling these defensive weapons.”

The US president has chosen Ukraine as his arena for a showdown with the Russian president. Putin however, prefers to mount his challenge in Iran and Syria.

18 April 2015

Putin's pro-White base takes aim at the Judeo-West

A National Liberation Movement protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, March 7, 2015. Some of the signs read, “The bloody U.S. democracy kills,” “Murder Nemtsov — U.S. provocation,” “[U.S. Ambassador to Russia John F.] Tefft is a bloody ambassador.”

Pro-White National Liberation Movement builds following based on brash patriotism, nurtured by Kremlin

MOSCOW — On the second-floor landing of a 19th century apartment building in the heart of Moscow’s historic district, steps away from the Kremlin, stands an unassuming wooden door. In front of it lies a Stars and Stripes doormat, and above it, a sign in red and black letters proclaims, “America’s Constitution is Russia’s shackles. The key to victory is in unity!!! For a referendum!”

In a hallway inside the apartment, an enormous map roughly corresponding to the territory of the former Soviet Union runs the length of one wall. Small red flags are pinned to major cities, from Vladivostok in Russia’s far east to Tiraspol in the disputed region of Transnistria, which declared independence from Moldova. Donetsk and Luhansk, the capitals of Ukraine’s separatist republics, and Simferopol in newly annexed Crimea are also marked.

On the opposite side of the hallway is an enormous poster. On one side is a flying eagle with its wings spread over the American flag, on the other a bear in midstep against a backdrop of the Russian flag. “Forgotten where the border is?” the caption reads. “We’ll help you touch down!”

Behind a large conference table sits Yevgeny Fyodorov, one of the longest-serving deputies in the Russian parliament and the leader of the National Liberation Movement (NOD in Russian), for which the apartment serves as a base. The large map shows other cities in which the NOD has chapters.
‘National liberation is a global process, a fight that 99 percent of the world’s population depends on. Russia, with Putin at its head, is a vanguard in the war against the American colonial system. Either we win or the US wins and eliminates Russia.’ - Yevgeny Fyodorov, leader of National Liberation Movement
“How do states come to be occupied? They suffer defeat in a war. Our goal is to reclaim the sovereignty Russia lost in 1991 — the right to determine how we live and operate. We are fighting to free the nation from foreign occupation,” he said.

With the bespectacled features of a middle-aged academic, Fyodorov outlines his ideas with the confidence of a man working for a holy cause. As the head of a militantly anti-Western movement claiming over 200,000 members throughout Russia and beyond, his ideas carry weight in Russia. Since its founding in 2011, the NOD has organized some 7,000 rallies and pickets across the country. Over the past three years, it has opened chapters in every major Russian city, with each local division maintaining an active online presence to publicize events.

The NOD’s emergence has highlighted the increasing power of conservative and nationalist groups in Russia and their close ties to President Vladimir Putin. With a growing base, the NOD is even pushing to change the country’s 1993 constitution and overturn a ban on state ideology. At rallies throughout the country and regular roundtable discussions with academics in Moscow, the NOD is calling for a referendum on the issue this year. It also wants to purge government and the state of those not loyal to Russia.

“Russia is forbidden to think about its own strategy and its forward movement. Such restrictions are for us like shackles, which stall Russia’s development. A state without an ideology cannot in essence be a state,” Fyodorov argued.

As he spoke, he was surrounded by symbols redolent of Russia’s past. The adjacent offices are decorated with flags of Novorossiya (New Russia), the state envisioned by radical supporters of the pro-Russian insurgency in neighboring Ukraine. Visible throughout the apartment is the blue and orange St. George ribbon, a Soviet World War II victory symbol that the NOD has adopted as its emblem.
‘It all depends on the Kremlin. If it decides that it needs an organization like [the National Liberation Movement] which supports its politics with a more radical platform, then it’ll begin to actively support [the group].’ - Alexander Verkhovsky, director of SOVA think tank
“National liberation is a global process, a fight that 99 percent of the world’s population depends on. Russia, with Putin at its head, is a vanguard in the war against the American colonial system,” Fyodorov continued. “Either we win or the U.S. wins and eliminates Russia. We understand this clearly.”

The NOD’s message is straightforward: Russia is fighting a war of resistance that began in 1991, when the USSR’s collapse left former Soviet republics as colonies of the United States. Russia’s political elite, media and banking sector harbor a fifth column, traitors working on Western instructions to dismantle the state from within. And the war in Ukraine is the active phase of a global struggle against U.S. imperialism — a war of civilizations that Russia is destined to win. NOD activists are present at every major rally held in Russia today. Their black and orange striped flag fluttered alongside Russia’s tricolor last month at rallies held across Russia to mark the first anniversary of Crimea’s annexation.

The NOD’s rhetoric chimes with the public mood in Russia. According to a recent survey, 72 percent of the population sees Western sanctions as a means to weaken and humiliate the country. Moreover, the percentage holding a negative view of the U.S. has risen from 20 to 82 percent within the past year. In the capital, bookshops are filled with new titles warning of an imminent war with the West, questioning Russia’s international role and positively re-examining Joseph Stalin’s actions.

Fyodorov’s relies on a team of younger activists who lead rallies and preside over the movement’s media campaign. One of them is Maria Katasonova, the NOD’s coordinator for youth politics and a columnist for Vzglyad, a pro-Kremlin newspaper.

Katasonova publishes a video blog in which she typifies the NOD’s anti-U.S. rhetoric and refers to members of the Russian opposition as dem-schizzes (short for “democratic schizophrenics”). In one popular clip, she outlines the scenario of a catastrophic confrontation with the U.S.

Her most radical online feat is a video in which she is shown holding a Kalashnikov and threating global nuclear destruction if Russia loses the standoff in Ukraine. Accompanied by an apocalyptic soundtrack, she sweeps her arm across the screen, producing a virtual atomic blast. The clip has gained coverage in the West at a time when the Kremlin is reminding the world of its ability to use the bomb if Russia’s core interests are threatened.

Katasonova joined the NOD when it started, at the height of mass protests against Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012. “I was searching for a movement that not only supports Putin but actually wants to change the system,” she told Al Jazeera in an interview, for which she turned up wearing sunglasses, carrying an iPhone with Putin’s face on the back and wearing a jacket with a Novorossiya flag.

On her Facebook and Twitter pages, Katasonova uploads pictures of herself with replica guns and clothing displaying symbols of Ukraine’s separatist uprising. She admits she has not been to the conflict zone. Nor has she had the chance to meet Putin. “Unfortunately, I don’t know him personally. Perhaps it’s all ahead of me,” she said.

Putin, whom Katasonova credits with guiding Russia’s liberation, is essentially NOD’s spiritual leader. Its activists spread “information” and demand widespread change, seeing themselves as a small part in his war against foreign occupation. In that vein, the he has openly warned against the existence of destabilizing groups planning to sabotage elections in 2016 and 2018. On April 9, Russia’s Interior Ministry staged exercises aimed at suppressing the type of social unrest that led to Ukraine’s Maidan revolution in late 2013, with more planned in the coming months.

Fyodorov points to such opposition rallies as proof that a purge of government organs has begun. On April 9, it staged a picket outside the offices of the federal agency for media development, Rospechat, which the pro-government newspaper Izvestia recently revealed to have funded outlets that, it said, “followed a clearly expressed anti-state position,” such as oppositionist channel Dozhd and radio station Ekho Moskvy. The government’s Investigative Committee has since launched an investigation into Rospechat’s activities.

Fyodorov’s track record in politics shows consistency. He has had an active career since joining Russia’s State Duma in 1993, presenting more than 500 draft laws with a pass rate of over 50 percent, according to a report by Open Democracy. In 2013 he founded For Sovereignty, a parliamentary club that advocates for laws directed at bolstering Russia’s independence. It has sought criminal liability for separatist activities and criminal charges against Mikhail Gorbachev, whom Fyodorov considers a foreign agent responsible for the Soviet Union’s collapse.

While the NOD cooperates with the broad anti-Maidan movement, Fyodorov maintains that his group receives no financial backing from the government and that all its members are volunteers. Unlike the anti-Maidan, with its focus on the masses, he believes that the NOD’s campaign against national traitors within the elite is the key to preventing a repeat of the Ukraine scenario in Russia.

A 2014 report on xenophobia and radical nationalism by Moscow-based think tank SOVA identified violence against “national traitors” and “fifth columnists” as a new form of hate crime in Russia. It named the NOD first in the list of nationalist organizations responsible for its emergence, implicating its activists in several incidents of politically motivated aggression.

According to SOVA’s director, Alexander Verkhovsky, the NOD is only the most active of several pro-Kremlin groups operating under the anti-Maidan banner. Alongside other such groups, it is competing to become the government’s official nationalist party, he said.

“It all depends on the Kremlin. If it decides that it needs an organization like NOD which supports its politics with a more radical platform, then it’ll begin to actively support it,” he said, citing the impudence with which NOD activists have been acting as evidence of tacit support from above.

Pressed on the nationalism issue, Fyodorov insists the NOD is fighting for the freedom of all Russians, without exception. He denies making any distinction along ethnic or racial lines. “The very logic of national liberation is the collective fight of all the peoples of Russia against foreign occupation. What nationalism do you see there? If you want to categorize us, place us with the anti-nationalists,” he said.

While Verkhovsky believes Fyodorov exaggerates the level of NOD support, many fear his radical pronouncements and the often aggressive policies of NOD activists betray a more sinister campaign to accelerate the political retrenchment that Western analysts accuse Putin’s government of undertaking.

Delivering a speech at an NOD rally in central Moscow on April 3, Fyodorov told those gathered that the movement would work to aid underground movements in Odessa, Kiev and other Ukrainian cities. The Ukraine crisis, which began in late 2013, has only accelerated the NOD on its path to victory, he believes.

“If there had been no U.S. aggression against Russia in Ukraine, NOD’s campaign for a referendum may well have taken another two decades. The more the screws against Russia are tightened, the more the Russian resistance will strengthen, and the more support the national liberation movement will gain,” he said.