Monday, June 30, 2014
amazon | How are philosophical and theological concepts conceived in the mind? Why are certain topics of greater importance to philosophers and theologians? Why do people think about these issues in the first place? These are the questions that are explored in the ground breaking book, “The Metaphysical Mind”. Philosophy and theology usually considers various fundamental concepts such as those related to being, reality, causality, logic, or phenomenology. But the philosophical approach to these topics often leaves out one of the most important things – the human brain. After all, it is the brain that is actually thinking about these ideas in the first place. “The Metaphysical Mind” explores the relationship between the brain and philosophical thought and helps us to understand how the brain enables and restricts our ability to think about these metaphysical concepts.
One of the major developments of contemporary thought has been the field of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics considers the environmental, linguistic, and cultural factors that influence a given philosopher in order to determine how particular ideas or texts may have been shaped. However, no one has ever examined philosophical and theological thought specifically from the hermeneutical perspective of the neurobiological and genetic substrate that underlies such thinking. This “neuroscientific hermeneutic” or “neurohermeneutic” refers specifically to the functions of the brain and how they are related to various thought processes which have been at the cornerstone of philosophical and theological thought throughout history. Additionally, this neurohermeneutic helps to better interpret how and why such thoughts develop. Neurohermeneutics is based upon a synthesis of information from multiple fields including anthropology, neurophysiology, cognitive neuroscience, genetics, theology, and philosophy. Many of the major milestones in the history of philosophical and theological thought from pre-Socratic thinkers to the present day can be considered from the perspective of the functioning of the human mind and its multimodal interaction with the social, cultural, intellectual, and physical environment. In particular, the development of some of the most dramatic concepts in philosophy and theology can be considered in relation to certain brain functions and how those functions enable human beings to interpret meaning in the world. Similarly, contemplative/meditative traditions can be considered to be associated with certain brain functions in order to explore how such experiences are perceived and interpreted.
This book will also consider the issue of the experience of reality from a neurophysiological perspective. This leads to fascinating conclusions regarding the nature and degrees of reality and how the brain experiences that reality. Although not all philosophical and theological concepts will be examined, many of the major movements will be considered in order to extrapolate to the notion that a neurobiological hermeneutic may provide a basis and fundamental bias for all philosophical thinking – a “metaphilosophy” (or “metatheology” in the specific context of religion). Ultimately, this approach might even lead to a “megaphilosophy” containing universal concepts that could be conceived of from any philosophical or theological perspective. The result of this analysis leads to a description of the "metaphysical mind" which is necessarily driven to pursue philosophical and theological questions, but also shapes how the answers to such questions arise. Thus, the brain itself is “designed” to function in a philosophical or metaphysical manner. This revolutionary approach to philosophical and theological thought will provide readers something to think about for the millennium to come.
theatlantic | “Everyone philosophizes,” writes neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg in his latest book, The Metaphysical Mind: Probing the Biology of Philosophical Thought. We all speculate about the meaning of all kinds of things, from everyday concerns about dealing with a co-worker to our ultimate beliefs about the purpose of existence. Accompanying solutions we find to these problems, there’s a range of satisfied feelings, from “ah-ha” or light-bulb moments upon solving an everyday problem to ecstatic feelings during mystical experiences.
Since everyday and spiritual concerns are variations of the same thinking processes, Newberg thinks it’s essential to examine how people experience spirituality in order to fully understand how their brains work. Looking at the bigger questions has already provided practical applications for improving mental and physical health.
Newberg is a pioneer in the field of neurotheology, the neurological study of religious and spiritual experiences. In the 1990s, he began his work in the field by scanning what happens in people’s brains when they meditate, because it is a spiritual practice that is relatively easy to monitor.
Since then, he’s looked at around 150 brain scans, including those of Buddhists, nuns, atheists, Pentecostals speaking in tongues, and Brazilian mediums practicing psychography—the channeling of messages from the dead through handwriting.
As to what’s going on in their brains, Newberg says, “It depends to some degree on what the practice is.” Practices that involve concentrating on something over and over again, either through prayer or a mantra-based meditation, tend to activate the frontal lobes, the areas chiefly responsible for directing attention, modulating behavior, and expressing language.
When practitioners surrender their will, activity decreases in their frontal lobes, suggesting that speech is being generated from some place other than the normal speech centers.
In contrast, when practitioners surrender their will, such as when they speak in tongues or function as a medium, activity decreases in their frontal lobes and increases in their thalamus, the tiny brain structure that regulates the flow of incoming sensory information to many parts of the brain. This suggests that their speech is being generated from some place other than the normal speech centers.
Believers could say this proves that another entity is speaking through the practitioner, while nonbelievers would look for a neurological explanation. Newberg takes into account both perspectives. When he defines neurotheology in his book, Principles of Neurotheology, he writes, “An ardent atheist, who refuses to accept any aspect of religion as possibly correct or useful, or a devout religious person, who refuses to accept science as providing any value regarding knowledge of the world, would most likely not be considered a neurotheologian.”
vancouversun | When neuroscientist Andrew Newberg scanned the brain of “Kevin,” a staunch atheist, while he was meditating, he made a fascinating discovery. “Compared with the Buddhist monks and Franciscan nuns, whose brains I’d also scanned, Kevin’s brain operated in a significantly different way,” he says.
“He had far more activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area that controls emotional feelings and mediates attention. Kevin’s brain appeared to be functioning in a highly analytical way, even when he was in a resting state.”
Would Newberg find something similar if he scanned my brain? I, too, am an atheist. This is largely the result of my upbringing (my father is a theoretical physicist, who, as a former director general of Cern, set up the Large Hadron Collider that is searching for the Higgs boson, or so-called “God” particle – though many physicists loathe that phrase), but also of prolonged investigations into other religions to see if I was “missing” something central to billions of people worldwide.
When people speak in tongues, they’re gone, they’re in a completely altered state. But most of the time they’re normal people like us
In this spirit, several years ago, I attended an “Alpha” course, a 10-week introduction to evangelical Christianity. It utterly failed to convince me but, during a service, another “recruit,” Mark, fell to his knees, babbling “in tongues.” When he came round, he was convinced he had been possessed by the Holy Spirit. I watched, bemused. Why had he entered this transcendental state, while I was completely unmoved? Was he deluded, or was he genuinely a conduit of God? Or were our brains simply wired differently?
“When people speak in tongues, they’re gone, they’re in a completely altered state. But most of the time they’re normal people like us, with jobs and children – they don’t show any sign of being delusional,” says Newberg. “Scans of their brains – when they’re ’possessed’ – show very different results to scans of Buddhist monks or Carmelite nuns in prayer or meditation. There you see increased frontal lobe activity in the areas concerned with concentration, but the speakers in tongues had decreased activity in the same area, which would give them the sensation that someone else was ’running the show’.”
And what about me? “I wouldn’t be surprised if you have a harder time letting go of frontal lobe activity, so you tend to observe and take a more critical eye of events, while other people’s brains allow them to simply surrender to events around them.”
medicalexpress | One of the great mysteries of anesthesia is how patients can be temporarily rendered completely unresponsive during surgery and then wake up again, with all their memories and skills intact.
A new study by Dr. Andrew Hudson, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and colleagues provides important clues about the processes used by structurally normal brains to navigate from unconsciousness back to consciousness. Their findings are currently available in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Previous research has shown that the anesthetized brain is not "silent" under surgical levels of anesthesia but experiences certain patterns of activity, and it spontaneously changes its activity patterns over time, Hudson said.
For the current study, the research team recorded the brain's electrical activity in a rodent model that had been administered the inhaled anesthesia isoflurane by placing electrodes in several brain areas associated with arousal and consciousness. They then slowly decreased the amount of anesthesia, as is done with patients in the operating room, monitoring how the electrical activity in the brain changed and looking for common activity patterns across all the study subjects.
The researchers found that the brain activity occurred in discrete clumps, or clusters, and that the brain did not jump between all of the clusters uniformly.
A small number of activity patterns consistently occurred in the anesthetized rodents, Hudson noted. The patterns depended on how much anesthesia the subject was receiving, and the brain would jump spontaneously from one activity pattern to another. A few activity patterns served as "hubs" on the way back to consciousness, connecting activity patterns consistent with deeper anesthesia to those observed under lighter anesthesia.
"Recovery from anesthesia, is not simply the result of the anesthetic 'wearing off' but also of the brain finding its way back through a maze of possible activity states to those that allow conscious experience," Hudson said. "Put simply, the brain reboots itself."
Sunday, June 29, 2014
frontiersin | Dopamine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter involved in the pathology of schizophrenia. The revised dopamine hypothesis states that dopamine abnormalities in the mesolimbic and prefrontal brain regions exist in schizophrenia. However, recent research has indicated that glutamate, GABA, acetylcholine, and serotonin alterations are also involved in the pathology of schizophrenia. This review provides an in-depth analysis of dopamine in animal models of schizophrenia and also focuses on dopamine and cognition. Furthermore, this review provides not only an overview of dopamine receptors and the antipsychotic effects of treatments targeting them but also an outline of dopamine and its interaction with other neurochemical models of schizophrenia. The roles of dopamine in the evolution of the human brain and human mental abilities, which are affected in schizophrenia patients, are also discussed.
foreignpolicy | Weapons cocked, a group of well-armed young men rap about their hatred for the government. It sounds like a scene straight from a ‘90s gangsta rap video, but it isn't -- it's from the frontlines of Ukraine's violent east.
Inspired by the recent turmoil, Ukraine's young, burgeoning hip-hop community has taken to interpreting its country's politics through its music, providing an unlikely and unfiltered window into the unfolding scene there. Their music videos, posted on YouTube, tell the story: Anger toward former President Viktor Yanukovych, distrust of the interim government, anxiety over the annexation of Crimea, and taunts for government forces in the east.
Here, then, is the hip-hop guide to the Ukrainian crisis:
Many have forgotten that the crisis began as a peaceful protest against Yanukovych. Under his rule, corruption in Ukraine spiraled out of control, with Ukraine ranking 144 out of 177 on Transparency International's 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index. Resentment toward Yanukovych's presidency and a desire among many Ukrainians to forge ahead finally crystallized in the Maidan protest movement.
Cue the following video. Made in December 2013, the song features Ukrainian YouTube personality Michael Shchur rapping about the corruption of Yanukovych's regime while walking through the Maidan at night. Referring to Yanukovych and his decadent lifestyle paid for out of the state coffers, Shchur sums up the sense of palatable disgust: "Your childhood dream became a reality/You have shoes made of ostrich leather, a couple Italian suits/You got them from nowhere, almost for free."
Saturday, June 28, 2014
rollingstone | Coincidentally or not, the emergence of the nipster has taken place at the same time as the rise of a new far-right political scene in Europe: In this May's European elections, the National Front — the anti-immigrant party headed by Marine Le Pen — won the biggest voting share of parties in the French elections, and the British United Kingdom Independence Party won 27.5 percent of the vote in the U.K. Many people link these parties' success to their ability to package themselves as a friendlier, less-threatening far right. Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde has argued that these parties largely swept into power by linking the euro crisis "to their core ideological features: nativism, authoritarianism and populism."
The current German wave of, for instance, hip, vegan neo-Nazis functions in a similar way. Rafael says they attempt to slide into debates where young people wouldn't expect them, and then sell their politics as a palatable outlet. "They use subjects like globalization and animal protection as entry points, and then offer a very simple worldview that makes complex subjects very easy to understand," says Rafael. "Of course, in the end, it's always about racism and anti-Semitism and nationalism." The danger — in both cases — is that extreme-right positions might quietly shift into the mainstream.
Over the past two years, Cynthia Miller-Idriss, an associate professor at American University in Washington, D.C., has been conducting research with young people in Berlin schools who are on the periphery of the extreme-right. She says that, if anything, the change in neo-Nazi fashion has made it more difficult to step in when young people are being embroiled in the scene. "If you were a teacher," she says, "you used to be able to identify a skinhead in your class and you could think of ways to intervene. But now it's harder to mainstream society to understand who these young people are and to engage with them."
Miller-Idriss suggests that for a generation raised on Facebook and Twitter, it may no longer feel ridiculous to, say, love Rihanna in real life but disparage black people on Facebook. "The social media space allows young people to have different expressions of their identities in different places," she says. "This generation of youth likes the idea of having more control over their own identity. They've realized your style doesn't have to be connected to your ideology. You can dress however you want to and still be a neo-Nazi."
With this in mind, Koehler thinks there is a need in Germany for a new, broader educational campaign on how to identify members of the extreme right. "A short while ago we did a study with judges and lawyers, who thought they weren't encountering neo-Nazis because they weren't seeing any skinheads," he says, "but they have no idea anymore what a neo-Nazi looks like."
science20 | When African and Indian music was played near their large outdoor enclosures, the chimps spent significantly more time in areas where they could best hear the music. When Japanese music was played, they were more likely to be found in spots where it was more difficult or impossible to hear the music. The African and Indian music in the experiment had extreme ratios of strong to weak beats, whereas the Japanese music had regular strong beats, which is also typical of Western music.
"Chimpanzees may perceive the strong, predictable rhythmic patterns as threatening, as chimpanzee dominance displays commonly incorporate repeated rhythmic sounds such as stomping, clapping and banging objects," said de Waal.
"Chimpanzees may perceive the strong, predictable rhythmic patterns as threatening, as chimpanzee dominance displays commonly incorporate repeated rhythmic sounds such as stomping, clapping and banging objects," said de Waal.
Sixteen adult chimps in two groups participated in the experiment at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University. Over 12 consecutive days for 40 minutes each morning, the groups were given the opportunity to listen to African, Indian or Japanese music playing on a portable stereo near their outdoor enclosure. Another portable stereo not playing any music was located at a different spot near the enclosure to rule out behavior that might be associated with an object rather than the music.
The different types of music were at the same volume but played in random order. Each day, researchers observed the chimps and recorded their location every two minutes with handwritten notes. They also videotaped the activity in the enclosure. The chimps' behavior when the music was played was compared to their behavior with no music.
The different types of music were at the same volume but played in random order. Each day, researchers observed the chimps and recorded their location every two minutes with handwritten notes. They also videotaped the activity in the enclosure. The chimps' behavior when the music was played was compared to their behavior with no music.
"Chimpanzees displaying a preference for music over silence is compelling evidence that our shared evolutionary histories may include favoring sounds outside of both humans' and chimpanzees' immediate survival cues," said lead author Morgan Mingle, BA, of Emory and Southwestern University in Austin. "Our study highlights the importance of sampling across the gamut of human music to potentially identify features that could have a shared evolutionary root."
frontiersin | Consistent evidence suggests that pitch height may be represented in a spatial format, having both a vertical and a horizontal representation. The spatial representation of pitch height results into response compatibility effects for which high pitch tones are preferentially associated to up-right responses, and low pitch tones are preferentially associated to down-left responses (i.e., the Spatial-Musical Association of Response Codes (SMARC) effect), with the strength of these associations depending on individuals’ musical skills. In this study we investigated whether listening to tones of different pitch affects the representation of external space, as assessed in a visual and haptic line bisection paradigm, in musicians and non musicians. Low and high pitch tones affected the bisection performance in musicians differently, both when pitch was relevant and irrelevant for the task, and in both the visual and the haptic modality. No effect of pitch height was observed on the bisection performance of non musicians. Moreover, our data also show that musicians present a (supramodal) rightward bisection bias in both the visual and the haptic modality, extending previous findings limited to the visual modality, and consistent with the idea that intense practice with musical notation and bimanual instrument training affects hemispheric lateralization.
sciencedaily | Mom or dad may have driven you to cello rehearsal all those years, but you can also thank your genes for pushing you to practice, according to new research led by a Michigan State University professor.
Genetics and environment work together to help people become accomplished musicians, finds the study of 850 sets of twins. It's another arrow in the quiver of the argument that both nature and nurture play a role in developing expertise.
"The nature vs. nurture debate has raged since the beginning of psychology," said Zach Hambrick, MSU professor of psychology. "This makes it very clear that it's both. Not only in the sense that both nature and nurture contribute, but that they interact with each other."
The study breaks new ground in ascertaining the specific roles of genes. Essentially, it found:
- Accomplished musicians practiced much more than those who weren't accomplished.
- That propensity to practice was fueled partly by genetics, which the researchers were able to establish by comparing identical twins, who share 100 percent of their genes, with fraternal twins, who share 50 percent of their genes. The finding suggests genetics influence the sorts of activities we pursue.
- When it came to music accomplishment, genes had a bigger influence on those who practiced than those who didn't.
Writers such as Malcolm Gladwell argue that experts are almost entirely "made" and that a lack of innate ability can be overcome with enough training. The way to master that cello, in other words, is to practice for at least 10,000 hours, as past research has suggested.
But the new study challenges that theory by showing genes had a major contribution on the musicians who practiced and became successful. For those who didn't practice, there was essentially no genetic contribution.
"Contrary to the view that genetic effects go away as you practice more and more," Hambrick said, "we found that genes become more important in accounting for differences across people in music performance as they practice."
Friday, June 27, 2014
NYTimes | How did the United States, land of the free, become the world’s top jailer? It’s a question asked by visitors from other democracies, and the American citizen who wakes from a stupor to find that our prisons are stuffed with people serving interminable sentences for nonviolent crimes.
For the answer, you need look no further than the real America, the sparsely settled, ruggedly beautiful, financially struggling eastern third of Washington State. There, 70-year-old Larry Harvey, his wife, two family members and a friend are facing mandatory 10-year prison terms for growing medical marijuana — openly and, they thought, legally — on their farm near the little town of Kettle Falls.
To get a sense of the tragic absurdity of this federal prosecution, reaching all the way to the desk of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., consider what will happen next month. Pot stores will open in Washington, selling legal marijuana for the recreational user — per a vote of the people. A few weeks later, the Feds will try to put away the so-called Kettle Falls Five for growing weed on their land to ease their medical maladies. Federal sentencing guidelines, which trump state law, call for mandatory prison terms.
Harvey is a former long-haul truck driver with a bad knee, spasms of gout and high blood pressure. He says he has no criminal record, and spends much of his time in a wheelchair. His wife, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, is a retired hairdresser with arthritis and osteoporosis. Mr. Harvey says he takes his wife’s home-baked marijuana confections when the pain in his knee starts to flare. The Harveys thought they were in the clear, growing 68 marijuana plants on their acreage in northeast Washington, one of 22 states allowing legal medical marijuana. (Federal authorities say they are several plants over the limit.)
Their pot garden was a co-op among the four family members and one friend; the marijuana was not for sale or distribution, Mr. Harvey says. “I think these patients were legitimate,” Dr. Greg Carter, who reviewed medical records after the arrest, told The Spokesman-Review of Spokane. “They are pretty normal people. We’re not talking about thugs.”
But the authorities, using all the military tools at their disposal in the exhausted drug war, treated them as big-time narco threats. First, a helicopter spotted the garden from the air. Brilliant, except Harvey himself had painted a huge medical marijuana sign on a plywood board so that his garden, in fact, could be identified as a medical pot plot from the air.
This was followed by two raids. One from eight agents in Kevlar vests. The other from Drug Enforcement Agency officers. They searched the house, confiscating guns, and a little cash in a drawer. The guns are no surprise: Finding someone who does not own a firearm in the Selkirk Mountain country is like finding a Seattleite who doesn’t recycle. Still, the guns were enough to add additional federal charges to an indictment that the family was growing more than the legal limit of plants.
NYTimes | New York moved last week to join 22 states in legalizing medical marijuana for patients with a diverse array of debilitating ailments, encompassing epilepsy and cancer, Crohn’s disease and Parkinson’s. Yet there is no rigorous scientific evidence that marijuana effectively treats the symptoms of many of the illnesses for which states have authorized its use.
Instead, experts say, lawmakers and the authors of public referendums have acted largely on the basis of animal studies and heart-wrenching anecdotes. The results have sometimes confounded doctors and researchers.
The lists of conditions qualifying patients for marijuana treatment vary considerably from state to state. Like most others, New York’s includes cancer, H.I.V./AIDS and multiple sclerosis. Studies have shown that marijuana can relieve nausea, improve appetite and ease painful spasms in those patients.
But New York’s list also includes Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and epilepsy, conditions for which there are no high-quality trials indicating marijuana is useful. In Illinois, more than three dozen conditions qualify for treatment with marijuana, including Alzheimer’s disease, lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, Tourette’s syndrome, Arnold-Chiari malformation and nail-patella syndrome.
“I just don’t think the evidence is there for these long lists,” said Dr. Molly Cooke, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who helped research a position paper on cannabis for the American College of Physicians. “It’s been so hard to study marijuana. Policy makers are responding to thin data.”
Even some advocates of medical marijuana acknowledge that the state laws legalizing it did not result from careful reviews of the medical literature.
“I wish it were that rational,” said Mitch Earleywine, chairman of the executive board of directors for Norml, a national marijuana advocacy group. Dr. Earleywine said state lawmakers more often ask themselves, “What disease does the person in a wheelchair in my office have?”
Research into marijuana’s effects is thin not because of a lack of scientific interest, but chiefly because the federal government has long classified it as a Schedule 1 drug with “no currently accepted medical use.” Scientists who want to conduct studies must register with the Drug Enforcement Administration and win the approval of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is the only supplier of legal, research-grade marijuana and can decline to supply it.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
WaPo | As part of the American Civil Liberties Union’s recent report on police militarization, the Massachusetts chapter of the organization sent open records requests to SWAT teams across that state. It received an interesting response.
As it turns out, a number of SWAT teams in the Bay State are operated by what are called law enforcement councils, or LECs. These LECs are funded by several police agencies in a given geographic area and overseen by an executive board, which is usually made up of police chiefs from member police departments. In 2012, for example, the Tewksbury Police Department paid about $4,600 in annual membership dues to the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, or NEMLEC. (See page 36 of linked PDF.) That LEC has about 50 member agencies. In addition to operating a regional SWAT team, the LECs also facilitate technology and information sharing and oversee other specialized units, such as crime scene investigators and computer crime specialists.
Some of these LECs have also apparently incorporated as 501(c)(3) organizations. And it’s here that we run into problems. According to the ACLU, the LECs are claiming that the 501(c)(3) status means that they’re private corporations, not government agencies. And therefore, they say they’re immune from open records requests. Let’s be clear. These agencies oversee police activities. They employ cops who carry guns, wear badges, collect paychecks provided by taxpayers and have the power to detain, arrest, injure and kill. They operate SWAT teams, which conduct raids on private residences. And yet they say that because they’ve incorporated, they’re immune to Massachusetts open records laws. The state’s residents aren’t permitted to know how often the SWAT teams are used, what they’re used for, what sort of training they get or who they’re primarily used against.
neurologica | Energy is what makes stuff happen. The ability to generate energy in useful amounts and locations is key to our civilization. Often when discussing energy we are focusing on big energy, how to make large amounts of energy in a cost-effective manner with minimal negative impact on our environment.
The ability to generate tiny amounts of energy is also useful, however. One particular application requiring a small but reliable source of energy is implantable devices, such as cardiac pacemakers. Right now pacemakers are run by small batteries. These batteries have a limited lifespan, and need to be surgically replaced.
What if, however, we could generate the required electrical energy from the body itself. Our bodies use a relative large amount of energy, creating movement, electrical signals, generating heat, assembling proteins and cells, and undergoing biochemical reactions. All we would need to do is tap into a tiny slice of this energy and there would be enough energy to power a pacemaker, or many other small implantable devices.
A recent paper discusses a successful demonstration of one such technology. Hwang et. al. report:
A flexible single crystalline PMN-PT piezoelectric energy harvester is demonstrated to achieve a self-powered artificial cardiac pacemaker. The energy harvesting device generates a short-circuit current of 0.223 mA and an open-circuit voltage of 8.2 V, which are enough to meet the standard for not only charging commercial batteries but also stimulating heart without an external power source.
The piezoelectric effect is a property of some materials that converts mechanical stress into electrical current. In the body, mechanical stress can derive from the beating of the heart, the movement of the chest wall in breathing, the movement of limbs, or the bouncing movement of walking. The idea of harvesting electricity from such movement through the piezoelectric effect has been around for a while, and it’s good to see a successful demonstration of this principle.
Other types of devices that could benefit from this technology include hearing aids, medication pumps, vagal nerve or deep-brain stimulators, and implantable sensors (such as blood glucose monitors).
The technology could also be used for wearable or portable electronic devices. Flexible piezoelectric devices could provide extra juice to your cell phone, extending the life of its charge, or even providing an emergency charge if you are away from an outlet.
It’s likely that the technology would also give a boost to the development of new wearable electronics applications. A major limitation of such technology is providing convenient power.
TechnologyReview | For decades, biologists spurned emotion and feeling as uninteresting. But Antonio Damasio demonstrated that they were central to the life-regulating processes of almost all living creatures.
Damasio’s essential insight is that feelings are “mental experiences of body states,” which arise as the brain interprets emotions, themselves physical states arising from the body’s responses to external stimuli. (The order of such events is: I am threatened, experience fear, and feel horror.) He has suggested that consciousness, whether the primitive “core consciousness” of animals or the “extended” self-conception of humans, requiring autobiographical memory, emerges from emotions and feelings.
His insight, dating back to the early 1990s, stemmed from the clinical study of brain lesions in patients unable to make good decisions because their emotions were impaired, but whose reason was otherwise unaffected—research made possible by the neuroanatomical studies of his wife and frequent coauthor, Hanna Damasio. Their work has always depended on advances in technology. More recently, tools such as functional neuroimaging, which measures the relationship between mental processes and activity in parts of the brain, have complemented the Damasios’ use of neuroanatomy.
A professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, Damasio has written four artful books that explain his research to a broader audience and relate its discoveries to the abiding concerns of philosophy. He believes that neurobiological research has a distinctly philosophical purpose: “The scientist’s voice need not be the mere record of life as it is,” he wrote in a book on Descartes. “If only we want it, deeper knowledge of brain and mind will help achieve … happiness.”
Antonio Damasio talked with Jason Pontin, the editor in chief of MIT Technology Review.
Forbes | In her now classic book, Animals in Translation, Colorado State University professor of animal science Temple Grandin argues that most mammals seem incapable of feeling fear and curiosity at the same time—meaning the presence of one inhibits the other.
Something similar also shows up in the research around flow. It appears that flow (that is, optimal performance) is the exact opposite of fight-or-flight—something I explain in Rise of Superman:
The fight-or-flight response—a.k.a. the adrenaline rush—cocktails adrenaline, cortisol (the stress hormone), and norepinephrine. It’s an extreme stress response. The brain switches to reactive survival autopilot. Options are limited to three: fight, flee, or freeze. Flow is the opposite: a creative problem-solving state, options wide open.
Yet there are reasons for the confusion. The two highs are linked. Risk heightens focus and flow follows focus. This means that the fight-or-flight response primes the body—chemically and psychologically—for the flow state. Athletes report moving through one to get to the other. [Skateboard legend] Danny Way, for example, has a phrase he uses to remind himself of the importance of this transition. “Never a glitch on takeoff,” he says. He means that when you’re teetering between flow and fight-or-flight, all it takes is one errant thought to send you in the wrong direction. When Way pushes off onto the megaramp, he has seconds to flip this switch. If he can follow his focus into flow he lives to ride another day. But if panic swamps the circuitry? “The greatest slams of my life took place when that happened,” he says. “Almost every time, I’ve ended up in the hospital.”
Of course, it’s early days for these sorts of ideas, but what the science is suggesting is evolution has overlaid instinctive, anti-social fear-based traits—things that narrow our options and responses—with more pro-social traits that widen options and responses. This may mean that we can make radical improvements in ourselves, our organizations and our society by training up skills like flow, curiosity and empathy as a way of training down violence, prejudice, and fear.
In other words, peace on earth is now moving out of the field of dreams and into the laboratory and, honestly, not a moment to lose.
kingscollegelondon | The researchers found that people genetically pre-disposed to schizophrenia were more likely to use cannabis, and use it in greater quantities than those who did not possess schizophrenia risk genes.
Power says: “We know that cannabis increases the risk of schizophrenia. Our study certainly does not rule this out, but it suggests that there is likely to be an association in the other direction as well – that a pre-disposition to schizophrenia also increases your likelihood of cannabis use.”
“Our study highlights the complex interactions between genes and environments when we talk about cannabis as a risk factor for schizophrenia. Certain environmental risks, such as cannabis use, may be more likely given an individual’s innate behaviour and personality, itself influenced by their genetic make-up. This is an important finding to consider when calculating the economic and health impact of cannabis.”
Additional funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health, Australian National health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council, GenomEUtwin Project, Centre for Research Excellence on Suicide Prevention in Australia, the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR BRC) at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London and the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development.
Paper reference: Power, R. et al. ‘Genetic predisposition to schizophrenia associated with increased use of cannabis’ published in Molecular Psychiatry.
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
|Just look at that face - any more puckered and he'd burst a vein!|
WaPo | The American Civil Liberties Union has released the results of its year-long study of police militarization. The study looked at 800 deployments of SWAT teams among 20 local, state and federal police agencies in 2011-2012. Among the notable findings:
- 62 percent of the SWAT raids surveyed were to conduct searches for drugs.
- Just under 80 percent were to serve a search warrant, meaning eight in 10 SWAT raids were not initiated to apprehend a school shooter, hostage taker, or escaped felon (the common justification for these tactics), but to investigate someone still only suspected of committing a crime.
- In fact, just 7 percent of SWAT raids were “for hostage, barricade, or active shooter scenarios.”
- In at least 36 percent of the SWAT raids studies, no contraband of any kind was found. The report notes that due to incomplete police reports on these raids this figure could be as high as 65 percent.
- SWAT tactics are disproportionately used on people of color.
- 65 percent of SWAT deployments resulted in some sort of forced entry into a private home, by way of a battering ram, boot, or some sort of explosive device. In over half those raids, the police failed to find any sort of weapon, the presence of which was cited as the reason for the violent tactics.
- Ironically (or perhaps not), searches to serve warrants on people suspected of drug crimes were more likely to result in forced entry than raids conducted for other purposes.
- Though often justified for rare incidents like school shootings or terrorist situations, the armored personnel vehicles police departments are getting from the Pentagon and through grants from the Department of Homeland Security are commonly used on drug raids.
In other words, where violent, volatile SWAT tactics were once used only in limited situations where someone was in the process of or about to commit a violent crime — where the police were using violence only to defuse an already violent situation — SWAT teams today are overwhelmingly used to investigate people who are still only suspected of committing nonviolent consensual crimes. And because these raids often involve forced entry into homes, often at night, they’re actually creating violence and confrontation where there was none before.
When SWAT teams are used in a way that’s consistent with their original purpose, they’re used carefully and cautiously. The ACLU report finds that, “In nearly every deployment involving a barricade, hostage, or active shooter, the SWAT report provided specific facts that gave the SWAT team reason to believe there was an armed and often dangerous suspect.” By contrast . . .
. . . incident reports for search warrant executions, especially in drug investigations, often contained no information about why the SWAT team was being sent in, other than to note that the warrant was “high risk,” or else provided otherwise unsubstantiated information such as “suspect is believed to be armed.” In case after case that the ACLU examined, when a SWAT team was deployed to search a person’s home for drugs, officers determined that a person was “likely to be armed” on the basis of suspected but unfounded gang affiliations, past weapons convictions, or some other factor that did not truly indicate a basis for believing that the person in question was likely to be armed at the moment of the SWAT deployment. Of course, a reasonable belief that weapons are present should not by itself justify a SWAT deployment. Given that almost half of American households have guns, use of a SWAT team could almost always be justified if this were the sole factor.But we’ve already seen cases in which the mere factor that the resident of a home was a legal gun owner — in some cases by virtue of the fact that the owner had obtained some sort of state license — was used as an excuse to execute a full-on SWAT raid to serve a warrant for an otherwise nonviolent crime.
commondreams | For months there have been rumors that the Social Security Administration has a “secret plan” to close all of its field offices. Is it true? A little-known report commissioned by the SSA the request of Congress seems to hold the answer. The summary document outlining the plan, which is labeled “for internal use only,” is unavailable from the SSA but can be found here.
Does the document, entitled “Long Term Strategic Vision and Vision Elements,” really propose shuttering all field offices? The answer, buried beneath a barrage of obfuscatory consultantese, clearly seems to be “yes.” Worse, the report also suggests that many of the SSA’s critical functions could soon be outsourced to private-sector partners and contractors.
Here are five insights from this austerity-minded outline.
npr | Marijuana has been intertwined with race and ethnicity in America since well before the word "marijuana" was coined. The drug, , has a disturbing case of multiple personality disorder: It's a go-to pop culture punch line. It's the foundation of a growing recreational and medicinal industry. , it's also the reason for more than half of the drug arrests in the U.S. A deeply disproportionate number of marijuana arrests (the vast majority of which are for possession) befall African-Americans, despite similar rates of usage among whites and blacks, the ACLU says.
Throughout the 19th century, news reports and medical journal articles almost always use the plant's formal name, cannabis. Numerous accounts say that "marijuana" came into popular usage in the U.S. in the early 20th century because anti-cannabis factions wanted to underscore the drug's "Mexican-ness." It was meant to play off of anti-immigrant sentiments.
A common version of the story of the criminalization of pot goes like this: Cannabis was outlawed because various powerful interests (some of which have economic motives to suppress hemp production) were able to craft it into a bogeyman in the popular imagination, by spreading tales of homicidal mania touched off by consumption of the dreaded Mexican "locoweed." Fear of brown people combined with fear of nightmare drugs used by brown people to produce a wave of public action against the "marijuana menace." That combo led to restrictions in state after state, ultimately resulting in federal prohibition.
But this version of the story starts to prompt more questions than answers when you take a close look at the history of the drug in the U.S.: What role did race actually play in the perception of the drug? Are historical accounts of pot usage — including references to Mexican "locoweed" — even talking about the same drug we know as marijuana today? How did the plant and its offshoots get so many darn names (reefer, pot, weed, hashish, dope, ganja, bud, and on and on and on) anyway? And while we're on the subject, how did it come to be called "marijuana"?
Let's start with the race question. Eric Schlosser recounts some of the racially charged history of marijuana in (some of the source material for the best-selling book):
"The political upheaval in Mexico that culminated in the Revolution of 1910 led to a wave of Mexican immigration to states throughout the American Southwest. The prejudices and fears that greeted these peasant immigrants also extended to their traditional means of intoxication: smoking marijuana. Police officers in Texas claimed that marijuana incited violent crimes, aroused a "lust for blood," and gave its users "superhuman strength." Rumors spread that Mexicans were distributing this "killer weed" to unsuspecting American schoolchildren. Sailors and West Indian immigrants brought the practice of smoking marijuana to port cities along the Gulf of Mexico. In New Orleans newspaper articles associated the drug with African-Americans, jazz musicians, prostitutes, and underworld whites. "The Marijuana Menace," as sketched by anti-drug campaigners, was personified by inferior races and social deviants."
In 1937, U.S. Narcotics Commissioner Henry Anslinger testified before Congress in the hearings that would result in the introduction of federal restrictions on marijuana. , Anslinger's testimony included a letter from Floyd Baskette, the city editor of the Alamosa (Colo.) Daily Courier, which said in part, "I wish I could show you what a small marihuana cigaret can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents. That's why our problem is so great; the greatest percentage of our population is composed of Spanish-speaking persons, most of who [sic! such an enthusiastic sic!] are low mentally, because of social and racial conditions."
Folks weren't just worrying about Mexicans and jazz musicians, either. "Within the last year we in California have been getting a large influx of Hindoos and they have in turn started quite a demand for cannabis indica," wrote Henry J. Finger, a powerful member of California's State Board of Pharmacy, (page 18). "They are a very undesirable lot and the habit is growing in California very fast; the fear is now that it is not being confined to the Hindoos alone but that they are initiating our whites into this habit."
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
archive | Before the Gatewood Galbraith for Governor Campaign in 1991, few Kentuckians knew that the plant that the federal government had demonized for over 50 years as "Marijuana - Assassin of Youth," was, in fact, Cannabis Hemp, the most traded commodity in the world until the mid-1800s, and our state's number one crop, industry, and most important source of revenue, for over 150 years.
Today, thanks to the efforts of pioneer hemp researchers and public advocates such as Galbraith, Jack Fraizer, Jack Herer, Chris Conrad, Ed Rosenthal, Don Wirtshafter and others, the federal government's unjustifiable suppression of our state's right to develop our most valuable and versatile natural resource, is facing increasing opposition from an informed public. Hemp is now recognized as the number one agriculturally renewable raw material in the world, and perhaps the only crop / industry which can guarantee us industrial and economic independence from the trans-national corporations.
"Shadow of the Swastika" is a follow-up to my earlier work, "Cannabis Hemp: the Invisible Prohibition Revealed," which I wrote and published in support of the Galbraith Campaign. Since publication of that booklet, there has been growing public acceptance of the evidence that Marijuana Prohibition was created in 1937, not to protect society from the "evils of the drug Marijuana," as the Federal government claimed, but as an act of deliberate economic and industrial sabotage against the re-emerging Industrial Hemp Industry.
Previous investigations by hemp researchers have been limited to the suppression of free-market competition from the hemp industry, and focused on the activities of three prominent members of America's corporate, industrial and banking establishment during the mid- to late-1930s:
WILLIAM RANDOLPH HEARST, the newspaper and magazine tycoon.
The expected rebirth of cannabis hemp as a less expensive source of pulp
for paper meant his millions of acres of prime timberland, and
investment in wood pulp papermaking equipment, would soon be worth much
less. In the 1920s, about the same time as the equipment was developed
to economically mass-produce raw hemp into pulp and fiber for paper, he
began the "Reefer Madness" hoax in his newspaper and magazine
ANDREW MELLON, founder of the Gulf Oil Corporation.
He knew that cannabis hemp was an alternative industrial raw material
for the production of thousands of products, including fuel and
plastics, which, if allowed to compete in the free-market, would
threaten the future profits of the oil companies. As Secretary of the
Treasury he created the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and appointed his
own future nephew-in-law, Harry Anslinger, as director. Anslinger would
later use the sensational, and totally fabricated, articles published by
Hearst, to push the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 through Congress, which
successfully destroyed the rebirth of the cannabis hemp industry.
A prominent member of one Congressional subcommittee who voted in
favor of this bill was Joseph Guffey of Pennsylvania, an oil tycoon and
former business partner of Andrew Mellon in the Spindletop oil fields in
THE DU PONT CHEMICAL CORPORATION,
- which owned the
patents on synthetic petrochemicals and industrial processes that
promised billions of dollars in future profits from the sale of wood
pulp paper, lead additives for gasoline, synthetic fibers and plastics,
if hemp could be suppressed. At the time, du Pont family influence in
both government and the private sector was unmatched, according to
historians and journalists.
This publication, however, reveals documented historical evidence that the suppression of the hemp industry was only one key part of a much larger conspiracy in the 1930s, not only by the three corporate interests named above, but by many others, as well.
Congressional records, FBI reports and investigations by the Justice Department, during the 1930s and 1940s, have already documented evidence of this wider plot. A list of the corporations named include Du Pont, Standard Oil, and General Motors, all of which were proven to be conspiring with Nazi industrial cartels to eliminate competition world-wide and divide among themselves the Earth's industrial resources and commercial markets, for profitable exploitation.
This conspiracy succeeded. It is now obvious that this lack of serious competition in the industrial raw materials market caused our present - and totally contrived - addiction to petrochemicals. Its success is directly responsible for the most troubling problems we now face in the 1990s; serious damage to our environment, concentration of economic and political power into fewer and fewer hands, and the weakening of the rights of individuals and states to determine their own futures.
It is more and more evident that, given the historical record, the structure of the New World Order is being built upon the Foundation of Marijuana Prohibition, and only the relegalization of free-market hemp competition can save us.
- R. William Davis
July 4, 1996
stanford | A new study led by investigators at the Stanford University School of Medicine has implicated the blocking of endocannabinoids — signaling substances that are the brain’s internal versions of the psychoactive chemicals in marijuana and hashish — in the early pathology of Alzheimer’s disease.
A substance called A-beta — strongly suspected to play a key role in Alzheimer’s because it’s the chief constituent of the hallmark clumps dotting the brains of people with Alzheimer’s — may, in the disease’s earliest stages, impair learning and memory by blocking the natural, beneficial action of endocannabinoids in the brain, the study demonstrates. The Stanford group is now trying to figure out the molecular details of how and where this interference occurs. Pinning down those details could pave the path to new drugs to stave off the defects in learning ability and memory that characterize Alzheimer’s.
In the study, published June 18 in Neuron, researchers analyzed A-beta’s effects on a brain structure known as the hippocampus. In all mammals, this midbrain structure serves as a combination GPS system and memory-filing assistant, along with other duties.
“The hippocampus tells us where we are in space at any given time,” said Daniel Madison, PhD, associate professor of molecular and cellular physiology and the study’s senior author. “It also processes new experiences so that our memories of them can be stored in other parts of the brain. It’s the filing secretary, not the filing cabinet.” Fist tap Dale.
Monday, June 23, 2014
pdescioli | Evolutionary theories of morality, beginning with Darwin, have focused on explanations for altruism. More generally, these accounts have concentrated on conscience (self-regulatory mechanisms) to the neglect of condemnation (mechanisms for punishing others). As a result, few theoretical tools are available for understanding the rapidly accumulating data surrounding third-party judgment and punishment. Here we consider the strategic interactions among actors, victims, and third-parties to help illuminate condemnation. Weargue that basic differences between the adaptive problems faced by actors and third-parties indicate that actor conscience and third-party condemnation are likely performed by different cognitive mechanisms. Further, we argue that current theories of conscience do not easily explain its experimentally demonstrated insensitivity to consequences. However, these results might be explicable if conscience functions, in part, as a defense system for avoiding third-party punishment. If conscience serves defensive functions, then its computational structure should be closely tailored to the details of condemnation mechanisms. This possibility underscores the need for a better understanding of condemnation, which is important not only in itself but also for explaining the nature of conscience. We outline three evolutionary mysteries of condemnation that require further attention: third-party judgment, moralistic punishment, and moral impartiality
guardian | In what appears to be the first study of its kind, computer scientists report that an algorithm discovered more than 50 years ago in game theory and now widely used in machine learning is mathematically identical to the equations used to describe the distribution of genes within a population of organisms. Researchers may be able to use the algorithm, which is surprisingly simple and powerful, to better understand how natural selection works and how populations maintain their genetic diversity.
By viewing evolution as a repeated game, in which individual players, in this case genes, try to find a strategy that creates the fittest population, researchers found that evolution values both diversity and fitness.
Some biologists say that the findings are too new and theoretical to be of use; researchers don't yet know how to test the ideas in living organisms. Others say the surprising connection, published Monday in the advance online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may help scientists understand a puzzling feature of natural selection: The fittest organisms don't always wipe out their weaker competition. Indeed, as evidenced by the menagerie of life on Earth, genetic diversity reigns.
"It's a very different way to look at selection," said Stephen Stearns, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University who was not involved in the study. "I always find radically different ways of looking at a problem interesting."
Sunday, June 22, 2014
jayhanson | Since natural selection occurs under thermodynamic laws, individual and group behaviors are biased by the MPP to generate maximum power, which requires over-reproduction and/or over-consumption of resources whenever system constraints allow it. Individuals and families will form social groups to generate more power by degrading more energy. Differential power generation and accumulation result in a hierarchical group structure.
Eventually, members of the weakest group (high or low rank) are forced to “disperse.” Those members of the weak group who do not disperse are killed, enslaved, or in modern times imprisoned. By most estimates, 10 to 20 percent of Stone-Age people died at the hands of other humans. The process of overshoot, followed by forced dispersal, may be seen as a sort of repetitive pumping action—a collective behavioral loop—that drove humans into every inhabitable niche.
Here is a synopsis of the behavioral loop described above:
Step 1. Individual and group behaviors are biased by the MPP to generate maximum power, which requires over-reproduction and/or over-consumption of natural resources (overshoot), whenever systemic constraints allow it. Individuals and families will form social groups to generate more power by degrading more energy. Differential power generation and accumulation result in a hierarchical group structure.Step 2. Energy is always limited, so overshoot eventually leads to decreasing power available to the group, with lower-ranking members suffering first.Step 3. Diminishing power availability creates divisive subgroups within the original group. Low-rank members will form subgroups and coalitions to demand a greater share of power from higher-ranking individuals, who will resist by forming their own coalitions to maintain power.Step 4. Violent social strife eventually occurs among subgroups who demand a greater share of the remaining power.Step 5. The weakest subgroups (high or low rank) are either forced to disperse to a new territory, are killed, enslaved, or imprisoned.Step 6. Go back to step 1.
The above loop was repeated countless thousands of times during the millions of years that we were evolving. This behavior is entrained in our genetic material and will be repeated until we go extinct. Carrying capacity will decline  with each future iteration of the overshoot loop, and this will cause human numbers to decline until they reach levels not seen since the Pleistocene.
Current models used to predict the end of the biosphere suggest that sometime between 0.5 billion to 1.5 billion years from now, land life as we know it will end on Earth due to the combination of CO2 starvation and increasing heat. It is this decisive end that biologists and planetary geologists have targeted for attention. However, all of their graphs reveal an equally disturbing finding: that global productivity will plummet from our time onward, and indeed, it already has been doing so for the last 300 million years.
It’s impossible to know the details of how our rush to extinction will play itself out, but we do know that it is going to be hell for those who are unlucky to be alive at the time.
theatlantic | The arrangement of positions along the left-right axis—progressive to reactionary, or conservative to liberal, communist to fascist, socialist to capitalist, or Democrat to Republican—is conceptually confused, ideologically tendentious, and historically contingent. And any position anywhere along it is infested by contradictions.
Transcending partisanship is going to require what seems beyond the capacities of either side: thinking about the left-right spectrum rather than from it. The terminology arose in revolutionary France in 1789, where it referred to the seating of royalists and anti-royalists in the Assembly. It is plausible to think of the concept (if not the vocabulary) as emerging in pre-revolutionary figures such as Rousseau and Burke. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first citation of “left” and “right” used in the political sense in English is in Thomas Carlyle's French Revolution in 1837, but the idea only crystallized fully with the emergence and under the aegis of Marxism, in the middle of the 19th century. It was not fully current in English-speaking countries until early in the 20th.
Before that, and outside of the West, there have been many intellectual structures for defining and arranging political positions. To take one example, the radical and egalitarian reform movements of the early and mid-19th century in the U.S.—such as abolitionism, feminism, and pacifism—were by and large evangelical Christian, and were radically individualist and anti-statist. I have in mind such figures as Lucretia Mott, Henry David Thoreau, and William Lloyd Garrison, who articulated perfectly coherent positions that cannot possibly be characterized as on the left or the right.
The most common way that the left-right spectrum is conceived—and the basic way it is characterized in the Pew survey—is as state against capital.* Democrats insist that government makes many positive contributions to our lives, while Republicans argue that it is a barrier to the prosperity created by free markets. On the outer ends we might pit Chairman Mao against Ayn Rand in a cage match of state communism against laissez-faire capitalism.
The basic set of distinctions on both sides rests on the idea that state and corporation, or political and economic power, can be pulled apart and set against each other. This is, I propose, obviously false, because hierarchies tend to coincide. Let's call that PHC, or Principle of Hierarchical Coincidence. A corollary of PHC is that resources flow toward political power, and political power flows toward resources; or, the power of state and of capital typically appear in conjunction and are mutually reinforcing.
I'd say it's obvious that PHC is true, and that everyone knows it to be true. A white-supremacist polity in which black people were wealthier than white people, for example, would be extremely surprising. It would be no less surprising if regulatory capture were not pervasive. You could keep trying to institute reforms to pull economic and political power apart, but this would be counter-productive, because when you beef up the state to control capital, you only succeed in making capital more monolithic, more concentrated, and more able to exercise a wider variety of powers. (Consider the relation of Goldman Sachs to the Treasury Department over the last several decades, or Halliburton and the Pentagon, or various communications and Internet concerns and NSA. The distinction between "public" and "private" is rather abstract in relation to the on-the-ground overlap.)
Saturday, June 21, 2014
RT | The number of people who fled their homes across the globe in 2013 is over 50 million for the first time since World War II, a new UN report says. Amnesty International blamed the UN for ineffective or delayed responses to ongoing conflicts.
In total, there were registered 51.2 million refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people last year. On average, 32,200 people fled their homes each day, according to the report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, titled “War’s Human Cost.”
"We are witnessing a quantum leap in forced displacement in the world," António Guterres, head of the UN's refugee agency, told The Guardian.
A total of 16.7 million people are refugees. Apart from 5 million Palestinians, Afghans, Syrians and Somalis are 50 percent, with the main host countries Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
Then, about 1.2 million people sought asylum to mostly developed countries, and Germany was the largest recipient. Most of the asylum seekers were from Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar.
Finally, internally displaced people were a historic 33.3 million people – forced to flee their homes, but staying within their country’s borders.
Over 50 percent of the refugees are children, with many of them traveling alone and some falling into the hands of human traffickers – that’s according to the UNHCR annual global trends report, issued Friday.
More than 25,000 children asked for asylum in 77 countries last year, and according to the document, it’s just a small percentage of the number of displaced children around the world.
The main causes for the jump in figures are climate change, population growth, urbanization, food insecurity and water scarcity. In many cases, the causes are combined with each other.
digitaljournal | Wikileaks today released secret draft text from the Trades in Services Agreement negotiations that confirms the concerns first raised by the global trade union Public Services International in the recent ground-breaking report 'TISA versus Public Services.'
Fronting themselves as the 'Really Good Friends of Services,' a group of 50 countries-representing an estimated 70 per cent share of the world's trade in services-are secretly negotiating the TISA. This deal will open up a wide range of public services to be sold permanently for private profit.
This massive trade deal will put public health care, child care, postal, broadcasting, water, power, transport and other services at risk. The TISA will lock in the privatisations of services-even in cases where private service delivery has failed-meaning governments can never return water, energy, health, education or other services to public hands.
The TISA will also restrict a government's right to regulate stronger standards in the public's interest. For example, it will affect environmental regulations, licensing of health facilities and laboratories, waste disposal centres, power plants, school and university accreditation and broadcast licenses. The proposed deal will also restrict a government's ability to regulate key sectors including financial, energy, telecommunications and cross-border data flows.
The TISA will limit the ability of governments to regulate the financial services industry at exactly the time when the global economy is still recovering from a crisis caused by financial deregulation.
Responding to today's leak, Public Services International General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli says, "This agreement is all about making it easier for corporations to make profits and operate with impunity across borders. The aim of public services should not be to make profits for large multinational corporations. Ensuring that failed privatisations can never be reversed is free market ideology gone mad.
"The secrecy surrounding these negotiations to extend controversial GATS arrangements into a wide range of areas previously rejected is anti-democratic in the extreme. If our governments are doing nothing wrong - why are they hiding these texts?