Researchers Find the ‘Holy Grail’ of Soft Robotics

‘One of the newest areas of bio-bot research involves the creation of soft robots, where the idea is to take a cue from animals like the octopus and starfish and make a robot that is only made of soft components. Soft robotics is, in essence, the art and science of designing artificial muscles.

Just in the last five years engineers have seen enormous breakthroughs in soft robotics, but a fundamental problem still remains: these robots are still moving at starfish-like speeds. This is why a new approach to engineering robot muscles pioneered by researchers at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences which allows for flexible, efficient circuitry is being heralded by soft roboticists as “the holy grail” of the field…’

Source: Motherboard

Michael Moore: 5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win

‘Friends:

I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I gave it to you straight last summer when I told you that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for president. And now I have even more awful, depressing news for you: Donald J. Trump is going to win in November. This wretched, ignorant, dangerous part-time clown and full time sociopath is going to be our next president. President Trump. Go ahead and say the words, ‘cause you’ll be saying them for the next four years: “PRESIDENT TRUMP.”

Never in my life have I wanted to be proven wrong more than I do right now.I can see what you’re doing right now. You’re shaking your head wildly – “No, Mike, this won’t happen!” Unfortunately, you are living in a bubble that comes with an adjoining echo chamber where you and your friends are convinced the American people are not going to elect an idiot for president. You alternate between being appalled at him and laughing at him because of his latest crazy comment or his embarrassingly narcissistic stance on everything because everything is about him. And then you listen to Hillary and you behold our very first female president, someone the world respects, someone who is whip-smart and cares about kids, who will continue the Obama legacy because that is what the American people clearly want! Yes! Four more years of this!

You need to exit that bubble right now…’

Source: MICHAEL MOORE

Why Do Humpback Whales Protect Other Species from Killer Whales?

‘There have been instances of humpback whales coming to the aid of seals being attacked by killer whales, and scientists are baffled. Interspecies altruism is adorable when it’s framed as a “cute animal friends” special on Animal Planet, but in the wild, it’s rare. Even so, there have been multiple sightings of humpback whales getting into fights with killer whales when there’s a seal present, making it seem like they’re actually protecting the seal…’

Source: Gizmodo

Donald Trump is a con artist, and his RNC speech is his biggest con yet

‘…In more than an hour of unremitting darkness, Trump wove a narrative with the chief purpose of convincing swing voters that the United States is on the verge of collapse from “crime and violence” — and that the only way to avert that collapse is to elect him president…

But it was a con job: a fraudulent, desperate attempt by a losing candidate to snooker the American public into electing him.Trump’s speech hinges on the idea that crime is surging to terrifying levels. But this simply isn’t borne out by the evidence. So to make his case, Trump uses a combination of cherry-picked and out-of-context statistics, incomplete data, and flat out erroneous information to invent a crisis…’

Source: Vox

Elizabeth Warren: Trump sounded like a “two-bit dictator” in his RNC speech

‘Donald Trump’s speech accepting the nomination for Republican presidential nominee was scary. Really scary. Last night on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Elizabeth Warren said that Trump sounded like “some two-bit dictator of a country you couldn’t find on a map.”

“I wanna defend him for a second here” Colbert responded. “He’s not a two-bit dictator. He sounded like a billionaire dictator.” Warren stressed the stakes while on The Late Show, saying that all jokes aside, Trump should not be underestimated. She called the RNC the “nastiest, most divisive convention that we’ve seen in half a century,” acknowledging that people have a right to be angry over issues (college debt, flat incomes, high rent), but “Donald Trump does not have the answers.” …’

Source: Vox

Clinton’s VP pick Tim Kaine does not make the grade on abortion rights

‘…[T]he biggest drawback in picking Kaine, from a liberal perspective, is his record on abortion. Clinton, so far, has pushed hard on choice, conspicuously dropping the “rare” from “safe, legal, and rare” and calling for restoring federal funding for abortion. But while Kaine hasn’t called for overturning the Roe v. Wade decision, he positioned himself as personally opposed to abortion, and in sympathy with many pro-life causes, during his run for Virginia governor in 2005.

As he wrote on his campaign site back then:

I have a faith-based objection to abortion. As governor, I will work in good faith to reduce abortions by

1. Enforcing the current Virginia restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother;

2. Fighting teen pregnancy through abstinence-focused education;

3. Ensuring women’s access to health care (including legal contraception) and economic opportunity; and

4. Promoting adoption as an alternative for women facing unwanted pregnancies.

Virginia’s restrictions at that point, which Kaine wanted to uphold, included a 24-hour waiting period for abortions and a parental notification requirement, along with restrictions on Medicaid funding. What’s more, Kaine’s actions as governor continually aggravated pro-choice groups, including approving funding for “crisis pregnancy centers” that try to steer women away from abortion and signing into law a bill creating “Choose Life” license plates.

Lately, however, Kaine has shifted his rhetoric on abortion toward that of a generic pro-choice Democrat. “We all share the goal of reducing unwanted pregnancies and abortions,” his Senate website currently states…’

Source: Vox

Donald Trump’s New York Times interview reveals a dangerously lazy mind at work

‘Being president of the United States is hard work, it’s important work, and Donald Trump has proven time and again he’s much too lazy to do the job. Not too lazy in the sense of sleeps in too much — he’s clearly happy to maintain a frenetic pace of activity when doing things that engage him, like tweeting or doing television or phone interviews — but too lazy in the sense of being unwilling to put in the time and repetition necessary to master new things.

That is the unescapable message of the interview he conducted with David Sanger and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times that’s published today on their website. It’s an interview that demands to be read in full, because the full context is much more horrifying than the one headline featured where Trump suggests he would unilaterally abrogate America’s NATO commitments to the Baltic countries and possibly spark a third world war.

The problem with Trump is not just the specific things he says but the casual way in which he says them and the comical “logic” that ties them together. Most of all, it’s the repetition — the fact that it keeps happening without Trump showing any capacity for growth or any interest in doing the work that would make him better at answering questions. For better or worse, Trump is now the GOP nominee, and there are hundreds of professional Republican Party politicians and operatives around the country who would gladly help him become a sharper, better-informed candidate.

It doesn’t happen because he can’t be bothered. It’s terrifying…’

Source: Vox

However, George W. Bush too was not too swift and decidedly anti-intellectual. In this blog, I wrote at length about how appalling the attractiveness of such a stupid man was until I realized that this was part of his appeal to Republican voters. And, I fear, is again.

By the way, I regret that, with such heavy coverage of Trump, I have made you stare at his loathsome face so many times in the thumbnails which accompany my posts. I am considering refraining…

Trump’s version of law and order is the reason we lead the world in incarceration

‘During the 1968 election, Richard Nixon successfully ran as the candidate of law and order against a backdrop of rising crime and civil unrest. There was then, as there is now, a very unsubtle racial element at play in the statement. In ’68, Nixon plastered Americans’ TVs with images of protests and urban upheaval, urging the nation to “vote like your whole world depended on it.”

Today, Trump vows that without his guidance regarding Hispanic immigrants, Muslims, and the “threat” of Black Lives Matter, “we will cease to have a country.

“That’s because “law and order” in American politics has always been a dog whistle — a way of speaking in code to one group of Americans to exploit their fears regarding another.

But it’s not just racist posturing. Appealing to white America’s anxieties about black crime was more than smart election strategy for Nixon — it ended up shaping the criminal justice policies of both his administration and the ones that followed. The result was an unprecedented explosion in incarceration and aggressive community policing that continues to disproportionately target people of color…’

Source: Vox

Donald Trump’s NATO comments are the scariest thing he’s said

‘Wednesday night, Donald Trump said something that made a nuclear war between the United States and Russia more likely. With a few thoughtless words, he made World War III — the deaths of hundreds of millions of people in nuclear holocaust — plausible.

This probably scans like hyperbole, the kind of thing you hear a lot in politics. I assure you, it’s not. Not this time.

What Trump said, in an interview published by the New York Times, is that he wouldn’t necessarily defend the United States’ allies in NATO if they were attacked by a foreign power. This extended, Trump said, to the Baltic countries right on Russia’s border — countries Russia might conceivably invade…’

Source: Vox

Ted Cruz is betting Trump will lose disastrously in November and he can pick up the pieces

‘[B]y upsetting the Republican Party of 2016, Cruz is positioning himself to be the man who saves the party after the year is over. He’s making a bet: that Donald Trump will fail catastrophically in November and the Republican Party’s next leader will be someone who wasn’t implicated in the catastrophe. Ted Cruz wants to be that someone.’

Source: Vox

Newt Gingrich’s convention speech was an absurd dive into fearmongering

‘In a convention full of irresponsible speeches, Newt Gingrich’s may have just taken the cake. Its takeaway message — and I’m paraphrasing only slightly — is that if you don’t elect Donald Trump, ISIS could nuke an American city. He said that electing Hillary Clinton could very well destroy the United States.”The cost of Hillary’s dishonesty could be the loss of America as we know it,” Gingrich warned.

His speech was useful, in a sense. Not as instruction on terrorism — it wrong was in every major particular.It was useful instead in exposing what’s so terrifying about the role foreign policy plays in Trumpism. At the Republican convention, foreign policy is generally reduced to terrorism, and terrorism is hyped to make the world look far more terrifying than it is. ISIS isn’t a problem to be solved; it’s a culture war wedge, one designed to make Hillary Clinton into a villain and Trump into a conquering hero. It is base fearmongering, designed to terrify people into voting for an authoritarian who wants to punish huge numbers of Muslims for the actions of a tiny few.

And that crowd, judging from the reaction to Gingrich’s speech, is eating it up.

Gingrich is wrong about everything, Much of Gingrich’s speech is too vague to fact-check — just scary-sounding platitudes masquerading as truth-telling and brave honesty. But the basic message, that the terrorists will somehow defeat America, is impossible to miss.”We are at war with radical Islamists, we are losing the war, and we must change course to win the war,” Gingrich says. This threat is so grave, according to him, that electing Hillary Clinton might well cause a catastrophic terrorist attack, which (somehow) would endanger the United States itself…

When Gingrich gets specific, attempting to actually defend his theory that the US is “losing” a war on terrorism, his speech becomes nonsensical…’

Source: Vox

First Proof That Wild Animals Really Can Communicate With Us

‘When humans speak up, the little African birds called honeyguides listen—and can understand, a new study confirms for the first time. Honeyguides in northern Mozambique realize that when a man makes a special trilling sound, he wants to find a bees’ nest—and its delectable honey. Birds that hear this trill often lead human hunters to a nest, receiving a reward of honeycomb.

Communication between domesticated species and people is well known, but “the fascinating point in the case of the honeyguide is that it describes such a relationship between a wild animal and humans,” says behavioral biologist Claudia Wascher of Anglia Ruskin University in Great Britain, who was not involved with the new research…’

Source: National Geographic

A Touching Study Suggests Marine Mammals Ache for their Dead

‘Scientists have long believed that non-human animals care only about survival, spending their waking hours in search of food and engaging in activities that enhance their odds of survival in some way. Now a recent study in the Journal of Mammalogy of the way animals linger around their dead, and touch them, says we’re witnessing something much different than a survival instinct. It’s grief…’

Source: Big Think

I Always Knew I Liked That Band

Third Eye Blind trolled the RNC by playing Third Eye Blind songs no one wants to hear

‘… “I want something else to get me through this” is the linchpin of the chorus in “Semi-Charmed Life,” the most popular song the ’90s band Third Eye Blind has ever created. The jaunty track is about the allure of crystal meth addiction and the itchy desperation of desiring an escape.

And on Tuesday night, Third Eye Blind inflicted a similar kind of distress at the Republican National Convention during an after-party, surprising guests with messages of gay rights and science and serenading them with some of the band’s more obscure songs, while withholding the most popular song in their discography.

The crowd was not pleased, but Third Eye Blind didn’t care. “You can boo all you want, but I’m the motherfucking artist up here,” lead singer Stephan Jenkins said…’

Source:  Vox

Vox on the Convention Tonight

Donald Trump’s first 2 speakers made the subtext text : Though the theme was “make America safe again,” the first two speakers on Monday evening weren’t military veterans, law enforcement professionals, crime victims, or politicians. They were C-list celebrities Willie Robertson from Duck Dynasty and Scott Baio …

Chaos at the convention (but not where you’d expect) : The convention hasn’t exactly started on the right foot for Trump…

An ex-senator called Trump backers “brownshirts,” in case you wondered how the RNC’s going : Former Sen. Gordon Humphrey (R-NH) hasn’t been a major national political figure for some time. While he was a leading conservative in the Senate from 1978 to 1990, he faded away after he declined to seek reelection that year… But he surged back into the limelight as a leading #NeverTrump delegate to the Convention…

The RNC platform, explained : This year’s platform bears the distinctive mark of Donald Trump: It calls for stricter controls on immigration and an “America first” trade policy. But the platform isn’t just about Trump…

Stephen Colbert wasn’t supposed to speak at the RNC, but that didn’t stop him: The comedian and host of The Late Show on CBS made a surprise speech at Quicken Loans Arena on Sunday, welcoming everyone to the “2016 Republican National Hungry…

The chaos that just broke out on the Republican convention floor, explained : The opening session of the Republican convention briefly dissolved into chaos Monday afternoon, as pro-Trump and anti-Trump delegates shouted competing chants at each other and brought proceedings to a halt. Shouts of “Roll call vote!” and “Dump Trump” rang out in front of an empty stage, as anti-Trump delegates, including Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, demanded a full roll call…

The 5 most uncomfortable moments from Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s first joint interview : When Donald Trump announced Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, it was widely seen as an uncharacteristically establishment pick for a presidential candidate known for bombastic — and often wildly inaccurate — statements…

Donald Trump’s 60 Minutes interview left me wondering if he even wants to be president : On Sunday night, Donald Trump and Mike Pence sat down with 60 Minutes ’ Lesley Stahl for their first joint interview . It got weird quickly. ”

Melania Trump: the 5 most important things to read to understand Donald Trump’s wife

Source: Vox

Be afraid of violence in Cleveland; be very afraid

Conventions, particularly Republican conventions, usually attract protests and violence. But where Donald Trumpt goes, violence all too often follows. And this convention has become a destination for extremists of all stripes. The killings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge has people worried that even a peaceful protest can be a cover for extremists, particularly because anyone can bring a gun to Cleveland. The Cleveland police, feeling unsupported, might lash out. And, perhaps most important, predicting violence (like this) might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Source: Vox

Anti-Trump protests aren’t just about stopping Trump. They’re about repairing US norms.

‘At the root of these protests is the extraordinary passion Trump has inspired — not just among his supporters, but also for his opposition. After all, every candidate faces some level of opposition or protest, but Trump is clearly inspiring something unique.

So why are Trump’s opponents so passionate? In short, Trump is explicit in his bigotry in a way that people find extremely dangerous. That’s not solely because a President Trump would rule in a racist, xenophobic, or misogynistic way, but also because his campaign’s success represents a dissolution of American norms that reject outright bigotry — a shift that could have implications far beyond 2016.

Rebecca Pletewski, a leading member of Ohio-based Stand Together Against Trump, which will protest this week, had a long list ready of Trump’s worst hits: “He came out of the gate calling for a complete shutdown of Muslims coming into the country and for surveillance of mosques. He’s implied that Mexicans coming into this country are all rapists and murderers, and that a federal judge would be incapable of doing his job because of his Mexican heritage. He’s attacked any critic or opponent with violence and bullying, especially if you’re female. He’d rather call you a fat dog, a pig, a basket-case — just no respect for any [woman] unless they’re pretty and pageant-worthy.” The list goes on and on.

Time and time again, this was the consistent theme for why protesters and activists told me they’re terrified by Trump’s rise: It’s not just they disagree with his policies — although they do — but that they find his rhetoric and attitude bigoted in a way that’s particularly negative and, crucially, very influential…’

Source: Vox

Gearing Up for the Republican Convention Like It’s War 

‘The 2016 political season has been the most fractious in living memory. This week, America’s potpourri of turmoil will coalesce in Cleveland as groups from around the country come to support or protest the Republican National Convention. Or more accurately, they’ve come here because of Donald Trump, the demigod of modern American disarray.

Capturing these confrontations will be the nation’s corps of photo and video journalists. And many of them are packing protective gear—kevlar vests, helmets, gas masks—stuff that usually stays in the closet unless their assignment is a war zone…’

Source: WIRED

Angry Birds are Angrier in the City

‘In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 opus The Birds, two outsiders arrive in a seaside town in northern California with a cage of love birds in tow. Their arrival in the Bodega Bay triggers birds of all types to begin attacking the residents in the area, but Hitchcock ultimately leaves the reason for this strange avian behavior a mystery.

Luckily, new research published in Biology Letters which found that birds that live in areas with high human populations (urban/suburban areas) are more territorially aggressive than birds in rural areas might be able to shed some light on this Hitchcockian mystery.

“A possible reason for this is that these birds have less space but better resources to defend,” said Scott Davies, a postdoctoral associate in biological sciences at Virginia Tech. “Living near humans provides better food and shelter, but it also means more competition for these limited resources.” …’

Source: Motherboard

Donald Trump’s speech introducing Mike Pence showed why he shouldn’t be president

‘I do not know how to explain what I just watched.It should be easy.

Donald Trump introduced Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. There it is. One sentence. Eleven words. But that doesn’t explain what happened any better than “I spent a few hours letting lysergic acid diethylamide mimic serotonin in my brain” explains an acid trip. What just happened was weird, and it was important.

Back in May, EJ Dionne wrote that the hardest thing about covering Donald Trump would be “staying shocked.” Watching him, day after day, week after week, month after month, the temptation would be to normalize his behavior, “to move Trump into the political mainstream.”

But today helped. Donald Trump’s introduction of Mike Pence was shocking. Forget the political mainstream. What happened today sat outside the mainstream for normal human behavior.

It began in irony. Before Pence, before Trump, there was an empty podium, and the Rolling Stones blasting through the speakers. It had been widely reported that few top Republicans were willing to serve as Trump’s running mate. It had been widely reported that Trump was unsure about Pence, that he had regretted the decision almost as soon as he made it, that he had sought ways to reverse himself. Hours before the announcement, Trump tweeted that Pence was “my first choice from the start!”, which is a thing presidential candidates typically do not need to say.So there we were. Waiting for Trump and Pence to emerge. And what Rolling Stones song did the campaign choose? What did we all hear, over and over again, as we waited for Trump to introduce Mike Pence, his “first choice from the start!”?”You can’t always get what you want…”

Now back to Mike Pence…What started as farce continued as farce. Trump emerged without Pence. He spoke, alone, at a podium adorned with Trump’s name, but not Pence’s. And then Trump proceeded to talk about himself for 28 minutes. There is no other way to say this than to say it: it was the single most bizarre, impulsive, narcissistic performance I have ever seen from a major politician.There is no way I will be able to properly described Trump’s speech to you. You should really just go and watch it yourself…’

Source: Ezra Klein, Vox

Mississippi’s prison town are in danger of collapse, thanks to tiny reforms in the War on Drugs

chain_gang_street_sweepers_1909‘Towns in Mississippi and other Tea Party-ruled states with large (often private) prison industries are totally reliant on state/fed funding transfers to local prisons for cash and jobs, forced prison labor to provide local services for free, and War on Drugs arrests and minimum sentencing to fill those jails. The first tiny steps toward criminal justice reform have eroded the underpinnings of the whole system, leaving the towns facing collapse.Increasing vacancy rates in these prisons mean less revenue (and less free, forced labor), but the counties and towns still have to keep up payments on the bonds they floated to raise the money to build their prisons…’

Source: Boing Boing

The science of urban paranoia

‘…[A]n article in The Atlantic describes how paranoia and psychosis are more common in cities and why the quest to explain the ‘urban psychosis effect’ is reshaping psychiatry.

The more urban your neighbourhood, the higher the rate of diagnosed schizophrenia and you are more likely to experience what are broadly known as ‘non-affective psychosis-psychoses’ – that is, delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia not primarily caused by mood problems.

This has led to a long and ongoing debate about why this is, with some arguing that it is an effect of city-living on the mind, while others arguing the association is better explained by a complex interaction between genetic risk factors and limited life chances.

The article discusses the science behind exactly this debate, partly a judgement on the value of the city itself, and notes how it’s pushing psychiatry to re-examine how it deals with what is often euphemistically called ‘the environment’. Link to ‘The Mystery of Urban Psychosis’ in The Atlantic…’

Source: Mind Hacks

Self-Proclaimed Center of the Universe: Wallace, Idaho

This came as a surprise to New York City.

‘On the corner of Bank Street and Sixth Street in the quaint mining town of Wallace, Idaho, you will find a manhole. Initially, it may seem like an unremarkable sewer cover, but step a bit closer and you’ll realize it is much, much more: It is the Center of the Universe.The town of Wallace is four by nine blocks and has a current population of 784 citizens. But in 2004, the mayor made a proclamation: “I, Ron Garitone, Mayor of Wallace, Idaho, and all of its subjects, and being of sound body and mind, do hereby solemnly declare and proclaim Wallace to be the Center of the Universe.” …’

Source: Atlas Obscura

The Physical Damage Racism Inflicts on Your Brain and Body

‘A growing body of research now links experiencing racism to poorer health outcomes—from depression to low-birth weight to cardiovascular disease.

Racism, blatant or subtle, marks the bodies of those who have to live with it. Much of the research, though not all, comes from the experience of African Americans in the US.  “The literature is quite consistent,” says Naa Oyo Kwate, a psychologist and professor of Africana studies at Rutgers. “The more racism you experience, the worse your health experience in a number of domains.”

Experiencing racism, whether it’s violence or insults or more subtle snubbing, makes life more difficult. That added stress becomes “allostatic load,” which disrupts the normal function of the body: more stress means more cortisol in the body means more cardiovascular disease. “You’re continually having to respond to this kind of stress in the body and this kind of wear and tear,” says Kwate.

…Even subtle racism can hurt. In a 2012 study, researchers compared the performance of students trying to solve a simple task after they had experienced subtle or blatant racism from the person at the desk next to them. The subtle stuff—having someone inch away while sitting next to the student—was a bigger drag on performance than the blatant bigotry. Uncertainty about racism in a situation can sometimes make it worse. Vicarious experiences matter, too. A preliminary study in 2010 catalogued the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder in students who not only experienced but witnessed racist incidents. The more vicarious incidents they experienced, the more signs of trauma. “So much of what people contend with is not just their individual experience, but also their family and friends and broader society with the police killings,” says Kwate…’

Source: WIRED

Lots of Thought-Provoking Links This Week in Big Think

Some within the autism community take issue with seeing autistic people as having a disorder, decrying the “cure culture”.
If There Are Other Dimensions, Where Are They? 

Theoretical physicist Brian Greene discusses how we may not be able to see other dimensions.
The Science Behind Why Cops Kill Black Men – And How to Fix it 

Cops use the same mechanism to make split-second life-or-death decisions that we do. But that mechanism is kind of a racist idiot. We Depend on Comedians to Ask the Questions Newscasters Won’t 

When the news media don’t do their job, comedians step in to ask the tough questions.
This Aspect of a Father’s Health Can Increase his Daughter’s Breast Cancer Risk 

Though those of the mother have been researched, the father’s biometrics are now getting a closer look.
Will We See An End to the Brand Ambassador? 

Hash-tag capitalism, paid posts, and transparent (but not honest) sponsored captions – will this social media influencer trend ever end?
The Thing Is We Don’t Really Want What We Think We Desire 

Slavoj Žižek considers the pursuit of happiness to be dumb because we don’t really want it anyway.
The Very Common Painkiller Linked to Autism and Hyperactivity in Children 

A new study links one of the world’s most popular painkillers to an increase in autism spectrum and hyperactivity symptoms.
Is Loss of Community the #1 Cause of Depression? Sebastian Junger on PTSD 

Sebastian Junger takes a big-picture look at depression, PTSD, and the importance of the tribe in his new book.
Ozone Hole Could Be Completely Healed by 2050 

The atmosphere is on the mend, according to an article published in Science . It took almost 30 years for the ban on ozone-depleting substances to work and scientists are saying the ozone could be completely healed by the middle of the century.
Scientists Discover Brain Circuits Attached to Mood, and How to Hack Them 

Emotional hacking is real with implications toward mental health. What if this got into the wrong hands? We could be joyously enslaved without the emotional countenance to fight back.
52 Common Myths, Rumors and Falsehoods Debunked 

A list debunking commonly believed falsehoods, misconceptions and just bad ideas.
Would God Create a World Full of Other Competing Gods? 

The conflict between faiths is one good reason to doubt God’s existence.
What Drugs the Kids Are Using and Why 

An expansive new study makes clear the extent of the problem and the importance of parents in avoiding teen drug use.
Psychopath Test: Would You Kill Baby Hitler? 

Wherein moral conundrums could determine the fate of millions — and how a psychopath might respond to them.
How Henry Rollins Escaped the Bleak Existence He Calls “The America” 

Henry Rollins talks about how fear of winding up starting in The America drove his to his remarkable career.
That Time Neutrinos Moved Faster Than Light. Major Uh-Oh. 

Michio Kaku tells the story of one super-scary mistake in physics and reminds us how hard it is to get science right.
No Biggie, Neil deGrasse Tyson Just Proposed a New Kind of Government 

Neil deGrasse Tyson proposes an ideal form of government and causes a viral debate.

“Jury-Rigged Drone Strikes”: Ethical Ramifications of Police Killing Suspects With Robots

“It might be justified to use remotely controlled robots to apply lethal force where such force is justified,” Jay Stanley, a senior legal analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union told me. “As a legal matter, the choice of weapon in a decision to use lethal force does not change the constitutional calculus, which hinges on whether an individual poses an imminent threat to others, and whether the use of lethal force is reasonable under the circumstances.”

Dallas police chief David Brown told reporters Friday that the force “saw no other option than to use our bomb robot” to kill Johnson, and said that prior to using the bomb, Johnson and officers on the force exchanged gunfire.

“It is essentially a jury-rigged version of a drone strike,” Ryan Calo, a University of Washington School of Law professor specializing in cyber and robotic law, told me. “If they would have been justified in throwing a grenade, then they’re likely justified in doing this, which was quite frankly a creative thing.”

Source: Motherboard

 

 

Evidence of Neanderthal Cannibalism Puzzles Researchers

‘A team of researchers led by Dr. Hélène Rougier of California State University has announced a landmark discovery in the journal Scientific Reports this week. The team has uncovered evidence of cannibalism among a population of Neanderthals at the Goyet cave site in Belgium—the first discovery of Neanderthal cannibalism in Northern Europe.

Paleoanthropologists have debated evidence for Neanderthal cannibalism for over 100 years, since researchers first discovered remains believed to show evidence of cannibalism in Croatia, although those findings were later disproven. More recently, cannibalized remains were found in France in 1999, Spain in 2006, and in other parts of Southern Europe.

The Goyet remains, which consist of four adolescent or adult neanderthals and one child—the largest discovery of cannibalized remains in Northern Europe—exhibit cut marks where flesh and muscle was separated from bone and percussion marks where bones were crushed to extract marrow. The research team concluded the remains were processed for consumption based on the similar treatment of horses and reindeer remains also found at the site. Because there is no evidence that modern humans were in the area, the scientists believe it is most likely the remains were butchered by other Neanderthals. Basically, it’s a clear case of cannibalism.There’s also evidence the remains weren’t solely used as a food source, as some bones appear to have been used as tools to reshape or sharpen stones. Neanderthals’ use of other Neanderthals’ bones as tools has been seen before in Croatia and France, but the quantity found in Belgium far surpasses what has been recovered at the other sites. Eerily, the researchers note that the living Neanderthals “may have been aware that they were using human remains” as tools, although it’s unclear whether the use was ceremonial or functional.

While the discovery represents “unambiguous evidence” that Neanderthals in Northern Europe practiced cannibalism, the findings shed little light on the motivations behind the behavior. In the published results, the research team argues that the state of preservation of the remains makes it “highly unlikely” that cannibalism was part of a funerary rite, although they acknowledge that it’s ultimately “impossible to infer the behavioural signature represented by these remains.” …’

Source: Atlas Obscura

We’re Getting a Leap Second This Year

‘Twenty-six times since 1972, the world’s timekeepers have added a leap second to the clock, the last time being on June 30 of last year, when the day got a little longer, even if you might not have noticed.

It’s going to happen again this year, according to the Associated Press, with the leap second added to the final day of 2016, when the clock will strike 11 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds. Ordinarily the next tick would be midnight, but timekeepers said this year it will be 11:59:60, before turning over to 12:00.

The leap second isn’t necessary on some years, if the Earth orbits more quickly around the Sun. But an official from the U.S. Naval Observatory told the AP that the Earth was a bit slower around the Sun this year, in part because of El Niño…’

Source: Atlas Obscura

The Loudest Sound In The World Would Kill You On The Spot

‘Q: I want to hear what the loudest thing in the world is! — Kara Jo, age 5

No. No, you really don’t. See, there’s this thing about sound that even we grown-ups tend to forget — it’s not some glitter rainbow floating around with no connection to the physical world. Sound is mechanical. A sound is a shove — just a little one, a tap on the tightly stretched membrane of your ear drum. The louder the sound, the heavier the knock. If a sound is loud enough, it can rip a hole in your ear drum. If a sound is loud enough, it can plow into you like a linebacker and knock you flat on your butt. When the shock wave from a bomb levels a house, that’s sound tearing apart bricks and splintering glass. Sound can kill you.

Consider this piece of history: On the morning of Aug. 27, 1883, ranchers on a sheep camp outside Alice Springs, Australia, heard a sound like two shots from a rifle. At that very moment, the Indonesian volcanic island of Krakatoa was blowing itself to bits 2,233 miles away. Scientists think this is probably the loudest sound humans have ever accurately measured. Not only are there records of people hearing the sound of Krakatoa thousands of miles away, there is also physical evidence that the sound of the volcano’s explosion traveled all the way around the globe multiple times…’

Source: FiveThirtyEight

You Can Contract Fatal Bacteria Just By Sniffing

’… [T]he simple act of sniffing can infect you with a bacteria that has a 50 percent chance of killing you.

We’ve long known about the bacteria, which is called Burkholderia pseudomallei and leads to a disease called melioidosis found in southeast Asia and Australia. But until this week’s findings, published in the journal Immunity and Society, we didn’t know that how people contracted it. By studying mice, scientists found that the bacteria is transmitted from the nose to the brain stem to the spinal cord in as little as 24 hours.

“Imagine walking around and you sniff it up from the soil and the next day you’ve got this bacteria in your brain and damaging the spinal cord,” said James St John, who is head of the Clem Jones Centre for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research at Griffith University. Griffith, along with Bond University, collaborated on the study.

Even better, once you made that decisive sniff, you might not know it’s there for years and years. The longest-known incubation period for the bacteria is 62 years. In that extraordinary case, one man contacted the bacteria after being taken as prisoner of war by the Japanese in World War II, and had no idea for the next six decades.

“It could just be sitting there waiting for an opportune moment, or it could just be doing small incremental damage over a lifetime. You could lose the function in your brain incrementally,” continued elite-level fearmonger St. John, who added that the study’s results were interesting because it showed that other bacteria could also use this pathway. Great news, for science! Also, he thinks the bacteria could be used as a bioweapon, which is an interesting development for science, but terrifying for us.

Melioidosis kills about 89,000 people a year with symptoms such as fever, bone pain, and abscesses in the liver. Nearly half the population in southeast Asia may have it, and the mortality rate is as high as 50 percent in places like Cambodia and northern Australia…’

Via Gizmodo

Does Brexit illuminate Trumpism?

‘…The recent victory of the Brexiters in the referendum on whether the UK should remain in the EU has led many people to reflect on–and worry about–similarities between support for Trump in the US and support for Brexit in the UK. Clearly, both campaigns have appealed to racist attitudes and anti-immigrant sentiments; indeed, this has been a core element without which neither would have got off the ground. The lack of clarity about what Leavers think Brexit will entail, and the immediate backpedalling after their victory of those who campaigned for it, is also revealing. It looks like a classic case of chickens coming home to roost when overly simple solutions are proposed for complex problems. And Trump’s critics hope the US electorate will draw the appropriate moral from this.

…It seems blindingly obvious that Trump is a narcissistic, mendacious windbag, an attention junkie who manifestly lacks the knowledge, experience, judgment, and character that one would hope for in any individual who wishes to shoulder the responsibilities of high office. Asked by journalists to explain their position, Trump supporters seem to traffic mainly in vacuities or absurdities…

But suppose we bracket the racism, the xenophobia, the hopeful embracing of simplistic solutions, and (in the case of Trump supporters) the messianic faith in an individual savior. Are there, in addition, cogent reasons why people might vote for Trump. I think there are, although “cogent” does not here mean “good”; it just means understandable in rational terms. And here, too, there are interesting parallels between the appeal of Brexit and the appeal of Trump…’

Source: 3quarksdaily

Why are people starting to believe in UFOs again?

‘In 2006 historian Ben Macintyre suggested in The Times that the internet had “chased off” the UFOs. The web’s free-flowing, easy exchange of ideas and information had allowed UFO skeptics to prevail, and, to Macintyre, people were no longer seeing UFOs because they no longer believed in them.

Data seemed to back up Macintyre’s argument that, when it came to belief in UFOs, reason was winning out. A 1990 Gallup poll found that 27 percent of Americans believed “extraterrestrial beings have visited Earth at some time in the past.” That number rose to 33 percent in 2001, before dropping back to 24 percent in 2005.

But now “The X-Files” is back, and Hillary Clinton has even pledged to disclose what the government knows about aliens if elected president. Meanwhile, a recent Boston Globe article by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie suggests that belief in UFOs may be growing. She points to a 2015 Ipsos poll, which reported that 45 percent of Americans believe extraterrestrials have visited the Earth.

So much for reason.

Why does Western society continue to be fascinated with the paranormal? If science doesn’t automatically kill belief in UFOs, why do reports of UFOs and alien abductions go in and out of fashion? …’

Source: The Conversation

We Can Finally Stop Demonizing Butter

‘For years we’ve been told to reduce the amount of butter in our diets. Health guidelines, many of which have been around since the 1970s, have warned us about the dangers of eating food high in saturated fats, claiming—and often without merit—that they contribute to heart problems and other health issues. Increasingly, however, scientists are learning that saturated fats aren’t the demons they’ve been made out to be.

A new study published in PLOS ONE is now bolstering this changing tide of opinion, showing there’s no link between butter and chronic disease. This gigantic analysis—a meta-study that included a total of 636,151 individuals across 15 countries, and involving 6.5 million person-years of follow-up—showed no association between the consumption of butter and cardiovascular disease…’

Source: Gizmodo

The Ozone Hole Is Finally Healing

‘Nearly thirty years after an international treaty banned the use of chlorofluorocarbons, the Antarctic ozone hole is finally starting to heal. By mid to late century, it should be fully recovered. “This is a reminder that when the world gets together, we really can solve environmental problems,” Susan Solomon, an atmospheric chemist at MIT, told Gizmodo…’

Source: Gizmodo

R.I.P. Rob Wasserman

Unsung String Hero, Grammy-Nominated Rock Bassist, Dies at 64:‘Rob Wasserman, a bassist who performed and recorded with Lou Reed, Neil Young, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello and many others, and whose album “Duets” was nominated for three Grammy Awards, died on Wednesday in Los Angeles. He was 64.

His death was confirmed by Matt Busch, the manager of the longtime Grateful Dead guitarist and composer Bob Weir, who founded the group RatDog with Mr. Wasserman in the mid-1990s.Mr. Busch did not specify the cause. Mr. Weir said on Facebook only that Mr. Wasserman had been hospitalized earlier in the day and had “lost his struggle.”

Mr. Wasserman was born in San Mateo, Calif, on April 1, 1952, and studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. .Early in his career he worked with Van Morrison and was a member of the David Grisman Quintet.A stand-up bassist, he was perhaps best known for a trilogy of albums with titles derived from the number of players on each track: “Solo” (1983), “Duets” (1988) and “Trios” (1994).On “Duets” Mr. Wasserman performed with, among others, Mr. Reed, Aaron Neville, Rickie Lee Jones and Bobby McFerrin, whose track, “Brothers,” won the Grammy for best male jazz vocal performance.

Source: The New York Times

Rumor: Donald Trump as Stimulant Abuser

‘Back in December, Donald Trump’s personal doctor declared to the world that Trump would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” While that particular claim is unfalsifiable (although almost certainly incorrect), according to a source with knowledge of Trump’s current prescriptions, that letter isn’t telling the whole story. Most notably: Donald Trump is allegedly still taking speed-like diet pills.

Rumors of Trump’s predilection for stimulants first started really popping up in 1992, when Spy magazine wrote, “Have you ever wondered why Donald Trump has acted so erratically at times, full of manic energy, paranoid, garrulous? Well, he was a patient of Dr. [Joseph] Greenberg’s from 1982 to 1985.” At the time, Dr. Greenberg was notorious for allegedly doling out prescription stimulants to anyone who could pay.

In 1993, Harry Hurt’s unauthorized biography on Trump, Lost Tycoon, corroborated the rumors and went one step further:

The diet drugs, which [Trump] took in pill form, not only curbed his appetite but gave him a feeling of euphoria and unlimited energy. The medical literature warned that some potentially dangerous side effects could result from long-term usage; they included anxiety, insomnia, and delusions of grandeur. According to several Trump Organization insiders, Donald exhibited all these ominous symptoms of diet drug usage, and then some.

The supposed drug Trump took back then was Tenuate Dospan, a drug with speed-like effects that’s not unlike dexedrine.

These rumors say Trump stopped seeing Dr. Greenberg decades ago. But according to our source, the Donald Trump of today is on a diet drug called phentermine—and has been since at least April of 2014…

C. Richard Allen, the director of the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency, called phentermine “cheap speed” to The New York Times. Side effects of phentermine include:

  • Trouble with thinking, speaking, or walking
  • Decreased ability to exercise
  • False or unusual sense of well-being
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Increase in sexual ability, desire, drive, or performance
  • Confusion …’

Via Gawker

Gut Bacteria Spotted Eating Brain Chemicals for the First Time

‘Bacteria have been discovered in our guts that depend on one of our brain chemicals for survival. These bacteria consume GABA, a molecule crucial for calming the brain, and the fact that they gobble it up could help explain why the gut microbiome seems to affect mood.

Philip Strandwitz and his colleagues at Northeastern University in Boston discovered that they could only grow a species of recently discovered gut bacteria, called KLE1738, if they provide it with GABA molecules. “Nothing made it grow, except GABA,” Strandwitz said while announcing his findings at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Boston last month.

GABA acts by inhibiting signals from nerve cells, calming down the activity of the brain, so it’s surprising to learn that a gut bacterium needs it to grow and reproduce. Having abnormally low levels of GABA is linked to depression and mood disorders, and this finding adds to growing evidence that our gut bacteria may affect our brains.

An experiment in 2011 showed that a different type of gut bacteria, called Lactobacillus rhamnosus, can dramatically alter GABA activity in the brains of mice, as well as influencing how they respond to stress. In this study, the researchers found that this effect vanished when they surgically removed the vagus nerve – which links the gut to the brain – suggesting it somehow plays a role in the influence gut bacteria can have on the brain. …’

Via New Scientist

Do “Concealed Carry” Gun Laws Lead to More Violence?

‘…[C]oncealed carry laws… are now legal in all fifty states. In two decades the number of concealed-carry permit holders has increased from under five million to 12.8 million… More American civilians have died by gunfire in the past decade than all the Americans who were killed in combat in the Second World War.

The media will always focus on mass shootings. While tragic, those are not the episodes that result in the majority of gun deaths. Those occur one by one, on late night streets outside of bars, in homes due to domestic fights or accidental shootings, and simply when someone’s vision is primed for violence and so decides to pre-empt the situation.

…[A] person holding a gun is more likely to misperceive an object in another person’s hand to be a gun…While a fringe community in size, the ‘Open Carry’ sect of gun advocates presents an even more dangerous proposition. Knowing, instead of imagining, that a potential adversary—really, who initially perceives a person walking toward you with a gun as a friend?—is armed does not hint at de-escalation of violence. The human brain simply is not built that way. Add in alcohol and anger, both which stoke and taunt the lizard brain, and the difference between self-defense and offense becomes difficult to discern…’

Source: Big Think