Saturday, April 11, 2015

intro to yemen for young hung wen ting...,

theatlantic |  In Safa al-Ahmad’s new documentary on the pitched battle for Yemen, which aired this week on Frontline, the Saudi Arabian filmmaker passes by countless posters declaring—and a number of schoolchildren gleefully chanting—a set of lines that may sound familiar to Americans who lived through the Iran hostage crisis:

God is great
Death to America
Death to Israel
God curse the Jews
Victory to Islam

The chilling slogan belongs to the Houthis, the enigmatic rebel group that has taken over the Yemeni capital Sanaa and other parts of the country, and ousted Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his government. But the echoes of Iran's revolutionary "Death to America" chant don't necessarily mean, as many have suggested, that the Houthis are a proxy force for Shia-led Iran in its battle with Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, which borders Yemen and has now launched air strikes against the Houthis.

The multi-front fight for Yemen—which involves numerous other factions including al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh—is far more complicated than a straightforward sectarian proxy war, Ahmad says.

Friday, April 10, 2015

P5 +1 fitna facilitate a fair fight on a level playing field for control of the middle-east...,

vox |  The core of the disagreement between Obama and his critics is over the nature of the Iranian regime. Obama sees an Iranian government that's hostile now, but one that can potentially be reasoned with on specific issues if given the right incentives. "Iran may change. If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place," he told Tom Friedman on Sunday. The deal is a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see whether or not we can at least take the nuclear issue off the table."

The deal's most vocal critics see Iran differently. They see it as essentially malevolent; a government that's fundamentally hostile to the United States and Israel by virtue of its very identity as a theocratic Islamist state. This regime will game any compromise to its advantage, pursuing a nuclear capability and violent foreign policy so long as it's able.

This isn't a fringe position. You hear it from rank-and-file Republicans on the Hill as well as presidential candidate Ted Cruz and likely presidential candidate Marco Rubio. Netanyahu will tell it to anyone who listens.

If you see Iran in this light, then there's only one real alternative: crush the Iranians. Cotton has argued American policy in Iran should be "regime change." Netanyahu's vision of a "better deal" depends on Iran being so beaten down by sanctions that it's essentially willing to give up everything to see them relaxed.

Obama thinks this is all pie-in-the-sky fantasizing. His view, laid out very clearly at a Thursday press conference, is that war is the only actual alternative to his deal that could prevent Iran from going nuclear.

arkansas conservatard cotton is an old school overseer...,

msnbc |  Look, we’ve seen this play before, and we have a pretty good idea how it turns out. When a right-wing neoconservative tells Americans that we can launch a new military offensive in the Middle East, it won’t last long, and the whole thing will greatly improve our national security interests, there’s reason for some skepticism.
Tom Cotton – the guy who told voters last year that ISIS and Mexican drug cartels might team up to attack Arkansans – wants to bomb Iran, so he’s telling the public how easy it would be.
What the senator didn’t talk about yesterday is what happens after the bombs fall – or even what transpires when Iran shoots back during the campaign. Are we to believe Tehran would just accept the attack and move on?
Similarly, Cotton neglected to talk about the broader consequences of an offensive, including the likelihood that airstrikes would end up accelerating Iran’s nuclear ambitions going forward.
There’s also the inconvenient detail that the Bush/Cheney administration weighed a military option against Iran, but it concluded that “a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be a bad idea – and would only make it harder to prevent Iran from going nuclear in the future.”
But don’t worry, America, Tom Cotton thinks this would all be easy and we could drop our bombs without consequence. What could possibly go wrong?

iran wants its legitimate international rights and property restored...,

WaPo |  Iran’s supreme leader expressed pessimism Thursday about a deal reached last week with six world powers to restrict the country’s nuclear program, saying he neither supports nor opposes the accord and demanding that all economic sanctions be lifted immediately upon any final agreement.

The remarks by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s ultimate religious and political authority, raised the prospect that talks on a final accord, following last week’s framework agreement, could bog down over what he described as “the details” ahead of a June 30 deadline.

In a televised speech marking Iran’s National Day of Nuclear Technology, Khamenei also ruled out any “extraordinary supervision measures” over Iran’s nuclear activities and said that “Iran’s military sites cannot be inspected under the excuse of nuclear supervision,” the Associated Press reported. But he also repeated his denials that Iran has any intention of building nuclear weapons, which he has declared to be forbidden by Islam.

In a separate speech earlier, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took the same position on economic sanctions as the supreme leader, saying that all of them “must be lifted immediately” once a final nuclear deal is implemented following talks under the framework agreement.

“We will not sign any agreement unless all economic sanctions are totally lifted on the first day of the implementation of the deal,” Rouhani said during a ceremony marking the nuclear technology day, which celebrates the country’s nuclear achievements, AP reported.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

the 3rd fitna...,

FP |  Did the Islamic State start a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran? The crisis in Yemen is one of the more complicated stories to emerge from a complicated region. It involves a cyclone of explosive elements: religious extremism, proxy war, sectarian tension, tribal rivalries, terrorist rivalries, and U.S. counterterrorism policies. There is little consensus on which element matters most, although each has its fierce partisans.

There was no shortage of events that could have ignited this volatile situation. Yet one in particular stands out: The March 20 synchronized suicide bombing of two mosques in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, which killed more than 140 people. The mosques were targeted specifically as gathering places for members of Yemen’s Houthi rebels, a political movement withroots in the minority Zaydi sect of Shiite Islam (although the coalition it leads in Yemen covers a number of different parties and issues).

The bombing provided a pretext for an already-surging Houthi rebellion to mass, mobilize, and deploy forces, advancing on the former government’s last major stronghold in the port city of Aden. This in turn prompted Saudi Arabia to begin airstrikes on Houthi positions and mass forces on its border with Yemen in advance of a possible ground invasion.

The Yemen branch of the Islamic State quickly claimed responsibility for the March 20 bombing. The attack was disavowed almost as quickly by its rival, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which said attacking a mosque was inconsistent with the guidelines for jihad put forward by al Qaeda’s increasingly absentee emir, Ayman al Zawahiri, which emphasize avoiding Muslim casualties.

Within Yemen, there are many conspiracy theories about the attack, including that it was carried out by a party (other than Islamic State) with a vested interest in providing a pretext for a Saudi invasion.
It’s getting hard to escape the feeling that the Sanaa bombing might be the Middle East’s “assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand” moment — the literal gunshot that has come to serve, if incompletely, as an answer to the question: “How did World War I begin?” (It should be noted that the assassin’s cause, which was more or less independence for Yugoslavia, was more or less achieved as a result of the ensuing war.)

thirsty people failing states...,

mintpressnews |  The UN defines a region as water stressed if the amount of renewable fresh water available per person per year is below 1,700 cubic metres. Below 1,000, the region is defined as experiencing water scarcity, and below 500 amounts to “absolute water scarcity”.

According to the AWWA study, countries already experiencing water stress or far worse include Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Israel, Syria, Yemen, India, China, and parts of the United States. Many, though not all, of these countries are experiencing protracted conflicts or civil unrest.

The AWWA is an international scientific association founded to improve water quality and supply, whose 50,000 strong membership includes water utilities, scientists, regulators, public health experts, among others. AWWA operates a partnership with the US government’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA) for safe water, and has played a key role in developing industry standards.

Study author Robert Patrick, formerly of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, is a government consultant and water management specialist who has worked on water scarcity issues in Jordan, Lebanon, New Mexico, California and Australia.

His Journal of AWWA paper explains that the grain price spikes that contributed to Egypt’s 2011 uprising, were primarily caused by “droughts in major grain-exporting countries” like Australia, triggered by climate change.

Patrick points out that such civil unrest could signal an Egyptian future of continuing unrest and conflict. He highlights the risk of war between Egypt and Ethiopia due to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, threatening to restrict Egypt’s access to the Nile River, which supplies 98% of Egypt’s water supply.

As Egypt’s population is forecast to double to 150 million by 2050, this could lead to “tremendous tension” between Ethiopia and Egypt over access to the Nile, especially since Ethiopia’s dam would reduce the capacity of Egypt’s hydroelectric plant at Aswan by 40%.

politricks are innate to you humans...,

royalsocietypublishing |  Humans are perhaps the most social animals. Although some eusocial insects, herd mammals and seabirds live in colonies comprising millions of individuals, no other species lives in such a variety of social groups as Homo sapiens. We live in many different sized societies, from small, nomadic hunter-gatherer societies to cities consisting of millions of people living in close proximity; we form special social bonds with kin and many of us make lifelong commitments to one socio-sexual partner, represented in the shape of a marriage.

Although the fledgling concept of social intelligence was formulated over 50 years ago by Chance & Mead (1953), and more explicitly by Jolly 13 years later (1966), it was perhaps Nick Humphrey's (1976) seminal paper on the ‘social function of intellect’ that paved the way for the past 30 years of productive research in so many seemingly unrelated areas of the biological and social sciences. It is Nick's significant contributions, as evidenced by the number of quotations to his work in this special issue, and the anniversary of the birth of the ‘social intelligence hypothesis’ (SIH), that were celebrated at a Discussion Meeting of the Royal Society on 22 and 23 May 2006 and which form the basis of this special issue.

Humphrey (1976) argued that the physical problems which primates face in their day-to-day lives, such as finding and extracting food or hunting and evading predators, are not sufficient to explain the differences in intellectual capabilities of animals in laboratory tests. Indeed, many animals with very different levels of cognitive ability have to solve similar kinds of problems in their natural environment. So, why do primates, especially humans, have such large brains? Observations of social groups of gorillas in the field and macaques at the Sub-department of Animal Behaviour, Madingley, led Humphrey to suggest that recognizing, memorizing and processing ‘technical’ information was not the driving force behind the evolution of primate intelligence. He proposed that it was the intricate social interactions of these animals, their ability to recognize individuals, track their relationships and deceive one another, which occupied their time and substantial brainpower. In particular, it was Humphrey's emphasis on the importance of predicting and manipulating the behaviour and minds of conspecifics which led to the development of ‘theory of mind’ as a major research focus in both comparative and developmental psychology. The question of whether animals possess a ‘theory of mind’ occupies many researchers to this day, and forms a major focus in this special issue in the papers by Barrett et al. (2007), Clayton et al. (2007), Moll & Tomasello (2007) and Penn & Povinelli (2007).

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

whom the gods would destroy, they first make thirsty...,

feelguide |  Tensions are high in the state, and small conflicts are breaking out as people are beginning to steal water from others. Caroline Stanley of Refinery 29 writes: “As Tom McKay points out, the water crisis will likely have the biggest impact on the state’s agricultural community — which currently accounts for a whopping 80% of its water usage. (According toCarolee Krieger, president and executive director of the California Water Impact Network, the almond crop alone uses enough water to supply 75 percent of the state’s population.) 

But, recently, your average citizens are feeling it, too. People in the Bay Area are actually stealing water from their neighbors.” So what will happen when California turns into a dust bowl? Will the beauty and rich fabric of California’s cultural historyevaporate as well? SF Weekly put together a list of the top 51 reasons why California is America’s greatest state, and you can read them HERE.   

BuzzFeed also points out the 32 reasons why California is the most beautiful place in the world and you can read them at as well. And what about the amazing culture of spirituality, peace, tolerance, ingenuity, and love that permeates the Golden State — would we lose that too? 

From another perspective, the North American food supply will also suffer a devastating blow because the state’s agricultural production zone is smack dab in the middle of the drought’s most severely hit area. And not only will California’s farming industry come to a screeching halt — the little water that is left will be so filled with toxins and pollutants that it will be undrinkable for local residents. Mother Jones put together an eye-opening set of infographics which paint a disturbing picture, and you can study them below.

“Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” – by Prometheus, in the Masque of Pandora

utopiathecollapse |  April 2015CIVILIZATION The enormous cognitive dissonance between our growing awareness of our civilization’s accelerating collapse, and the ‘news’ in the media and the subjects of most public discourse, continues to baffle me. Though I suspect it shouldn’t. We are all slow learners, preoccupied with the needs of the moment, with a preference for reassurance over truth. I often find myself, these days, at social and other events, at a loss for words, not saying anything, as a result. It’s as if I speak an utterly different language from the people I meet in my day-to-day life, so what’s the point of saying anything? Perhaps this is Gaia’s way of teaching me patience. I continue to vacillate back and forth all the way from the humanist worldview (F. on the ‘map’ above’) to the near-term extinctionist worldview (L.), depending on what I’m doing and who I’m doing it with, or what I’m reading (Charles Eisenstein seems to best represent worldview F. and Guy McPherson best articulates worldview L., and I greatly admire them both). I’m happy with company anywhere along that continuum — they both speak my newly-acquired language, though with very different dialects. It’s sad to me that most people find collapse too terrifying to contemplate. I find it liberating.

what happens to the poor in the game of musical chairs on the deck of the titanic...,

ips-dc |  Poor people, especially people of color, face a far greater risk of being fined, arrested, and even incarcerated for minor offenses than other Americans. A broken taillight, an unpaid parking ticket, a minor drug offense, sitting on a sidewalk, or sleeping in a park can all result in jail time. In this report, we seek to understand the multi-faceted, growing phenomenon of the “criminalization of poverty.”

In many ways, this phenomenon is not new: The introduction of public assistance programs gave rise to prejudices against beneficiaries and to systemic efforts to obstruct access to the assistance.

This form of criminalizing poverty — racial profiling or the targeting of poor black and Latina single mothers trying to access public assistance — is a relatively familiar reality. Less well-known known are the new and growing trends which increase this criminalization of being poor that affect or will affect hundreds of millions of Americans. These troubling trends are eliminating their chances to get out of poverty and access resources that make a safe and decent life possible.

In this report we will summarize these realities, filling out the true breadth and depth of this national crisis. The key elements we examine are:
  • the targeting of poor people with fines and fees for misdemeanors, and the resurgence of debtors’ prisons – the imprisonment of people unable to pay debts resulting from the increase in fines and fees;
  • mass incarceration of poor ethnic minorities for non-violent offenses, and the barriers to employment and re-entry into society once they have served their sentences;
  • excessive punishment of poor children that creates a “school-to-prison pipeline”;
  • increase in arrests of homeless people and people feeding the homeless, and criminalizing life-sustaining activities such as sleeping in public when no shelter is available; and
  • confiscating what little resources and property poor people might have through “civil asset forfeiture.”

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

once there was philanthropy, now the 1% seeks immortality...,

WaPo |  “If you think you can only do very little and be very incremental, then you’ll work only on very incremental things. It’s self-fulfilling,” Thiel, who is 47 and estimated to be worth $2.2 billion, said in an interview. “It’s those who have an optimism about what can be done that will shape the future.”

He and the tech titans who founded Google, Facebook, eBay, Napster and Netscape are using their billions to rewrite the nation’s science agenda and transform biomedical research. Their objective is to use the tools of technology — the chips, software programs, algorithms and big data they used in creating an information revolution — to understand and upgrade what they consider to be the most complicated piece of machinery in existence: the human body.

The entrepreneurs are driven by a certitude that rebuilding, regenerating and reprogramming patients’ organs, limbs, cells and DNA will enable people to live longer and better. The work they are funding includes hunting for the secrets of living organisms with insanely long lives, engineering microscopic nanobots that can fix your body from the inside out, figuring out how to reprogram the DNA you were born with, and exploring ways to digitize your brain based on the theory that your mind could live long after your body expires.

“I believe that evolution is a true account of nature,” as Thiel put it. “But I think we should try to escape it or transcend it in our society.”

who owns CRISPR?

thescientist |  On April 15, 2014, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) awarded the first patent for use the CRISPR/Cas system to edit eukaryotic genomes to Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute and MIT. Originally a bacterial or archaeal defense system that uses viral DNA inserted into the genome (CRISPR) as a guide to cut the genomic material of invading viruses with a CRISPR-associated enzyme (Cas), researchers have found many ways to turn the system into a potent and quick way to edit specific genetic sequences. Although there are a handful of other CRISPR-related patents, covering everything from the system’s use in yogurt production to a potential treatment for Huntington’s disease, Zhang’s patent was the first to be granted that covers the technology itself as a platform for a wide array of applications.

However, a patent application filed by Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Charpentier, currently at the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Germany, predates Zhang’s by seven months. Zhang’s was most likely granted first because he applied for a fast-track patent, which awarded his intellectual property (IP) six months after he applied. “I think without Zhang fast-tracking his application, the PTO would have flagged it for being in conflict with Doudna’s earlier application,” Jacob Sherkow of the New York Law School wrote in an e-mail to The Scientist. Had his application not been expedited, “we may have been living in a world where there were no issued CRISPR patents” until 2017, he added. The Doudna/Charpentier patent application, assigned to the University of California and the University of Vienna, claims much of the same technology as the Zhang patent, and could be read to cover genome-editing either solely in prokaryotes or in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes. “It’s hard to reconcile 100 percent of both of them,” said Sherkow.

Monday, April 06, 2015

is there any basis for intelligent people to hope and be hopeful?


14:49: Since the rise of western monotheism the human experience has been marginalized. We have been told that we were unimportant in the cosmic drama. But we now know from the feedback that we're getting from the impact of human culture on the earth that we are a major factor shaping the temperatures of the oceans, the composition of the atmosphere, the general speed and complexity of speciation on the planet... A single species, ourselves, has broken from the ordinary constants of animal nature and created a new world, an epigenetic world,...a world based on ideas...downloaded out of the human imagination and concretized in three dimensional space... 29:29: Consciousness is the generalized word that we use for this coordination of complex perception to create a world that draws from the past and builds a model of the future and then suspends the perceiving organism in this magical moment called the now where the past is coordinated for the purpose of navigating the future. McLuhan called it "driving with the rear-view mirror" and the only thing good about it is it's better than driving with no mirror at all. 36:10: Reality is accelerating towards an unimaginable Omega Point. We are the inheritors of immense momentum in our social systems, our philosophical and scientific and technological approaches to the world. Because we're driving the historical vehicle with a rear-view mirror it appears to us that we're headed straight into a brick wall at a thousand miles an hour. It appears that we are destroying the earth, polluting the atmosphere, wrecking the oceans, dehumanizing ourselves, robbing our children of a future, so forth and so on.

I believe what is in fact going on is that we are burning our bridges. One by one we're burning our bridges to the past. We cannot go back to the mushroom-dotted plains of Africa or the canopied rainforests of 5 million years ago. We can't even go back to the era of...200 years ago. We have burned our bridges. We are preparing for a kind of cultural forward escape. 39:35: Nobody's in charge. 41:16: We are central to the human drama and to the drama of nature and process on this planet. 41:34: Every model of the universe has a hard swallow...a place where the argument cannot hide the fact that there's something slightly fishy about it. The hard swallow built into science is this business about the big bang. Now let's give this a little attention here. This is the notion that the universe, for no reason, sprang from nothing in a single instant. Before we dissect this, notice that this is the limit test for credulity. Whether you believe this or not, notice that it is not possible to conceive of something more unlikely, or less likely to be believed. I defy anyone. It's just the limit case for unlikelihood: that the universe would spring from nothing in a single instant for no reason....It makes no sense. It is in fact no different than saying, "and then God said, 'Let there be light!'".

What the philosophers of science are saying is "give us one free miracle and we will roll from that point forward, from the birth of time to the crack of doom. Just one free miracle and then it will all unravel according to natural law and these bizarre equations which nobody can understand but which are so holy in this enterprise." Well I say then if science gets one free miracle then everybody gets one free miracle.

autistic spectrum a key ingredient of tech success?

WaPo |  If you want to be a true innovator, be prepared to leave everyone behind. (Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images) The individuals who have founded some of the most success tech companies are decidedly weird. Examine the founder of a truly innovative company and you’ll find a rebel without the usual regard for social customs.

This begs the question, why? Why aren’t more “normal” people with refined social graces building tech companies that change the world? Why are only those on the periphery reaching great heights?
If you ask tech investor Peter Thiel, the problem is a social environment that’s both powerful and destructive. Only individuals with traits reminiscent of Asperger’s Syndrome, which frees them from an attachment to social conventions, have the strength to create innovative businesses amid a culture that discourages daring entrepreneurship.

“Many of the more successful entrepreneurs seem to be suffering from a mild form of Asperger’s where it’s like you’re missing the imitation, socialization gene,” Thiel said Tuesday at George Mason University. “We need to ask what is it about our society where those of us who do not suffer from Asperger’s are at some massive disadvantage because we will be talked out of our interesting, original, creative ideas before they’re even fully formed. Oh that’s a little bit too weird, that’s a little bit too strange and maybe I’ll just go ahead and open the restaurant that I’ve been talking about that everyone else can understand and agree with, or do something extremely safe and conventional.”

An individual with Asperger’s Syndrome — a form of autism — has limited social skills, a willingness to obsess and an interest in systems. Those diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome tend to be unemployed or underemployed at rates that far exceed the general population. Fitting into the world is difficult.

While full-blown Asperger’s Syndrome or autism hold back careers, a smaller dose of associated traits appears critical to hatching innovations that change the world.

preferences and beliefs in ingroup favoritism

frontiersin |  Ingroup favoritism—the tendency to favor members of one’s own group over those in other groups—is well documented, but the mechanisms driving this behavior are not well understood. In particular, it is unclear to what extent ingroup favoritism is driven by preferences concerning the welfare of ingroup over outgroup members, vs. beliefs about the behavior of ingroup and outgroup members. In this review we analyze research on ingroup favoritism in economic games, identifying key gaps in the literature and providing suggestions on how future work can incorporate these insights to shed further light on when, why, and how ingroup favoritism occurs. In doing so, we demonstrate how social psychological theory and research can be integrated with findings from behavioral economics, providing new theoretical and methodological directions for future research.
Across many different contexts, people act more prosocially towards members of their own group relative to those outside their group. Consequently, a number of scientific disciplines concerned with human cognition and behavior have sought to explain such ingroup favoritism (also known as parochial altruism). Here we explore to what extent ingroup favoritism is driven by preferences concerning the welfare of ingroup over outgroup members, vs. beliefs about the (future) behavior of ingroup and outgroup members.
In this theoretical review we combine insights from a behavioral economic approach with knowledge from social psychological research on social identity processes in intergroup behavior to explain the proximate psychological causes of ingroup favoritism. We expand upon previous discussions about ingroup favoritism by using a conceptual framework of preferences and beliefs to review present findings demonstrating ingroup favoritism in economic games. Although we focus on economic games here, we also selectively draw upon other related research to highlight how social-psychological theory and research can be incorporated with findings from behavioral economics to provide exciting new directions for research. We therefore provide an integrative review of ingroup favoritism in economic games, identifying key gaps in the literature, as well as providing suggestions on how future work can incorporate these insights to shed further light on when, why, and how ingroup favoritism occurs.
Social Identity and Group Behavior From the dawn of our species to the present day, humans have lived, eaten, worked, and reproduced—that is, survived—in groups. These groups have expanded from small, primarily kin-based ties to groups based on language, nationality, religion, current geographical location, and even seemingly arbitrary characteristics such as the ownership of a particular brand of electronic device. As a species, we appear to have a remarkable tendency to seek out and identify with groups, and it has been suggested that cooperation with the ingroup and competition with the outgroup may have co-evolved (c.f. Rusch, 2014). Indeed, it is in our group-based character that the angels and demons of human nature can be seen: on the one hand, the success of intragroup cooperation that has given us democracy and civil rights; and on the other hand, the darkness of intergroup conflict that has given us the collective stains on human history of genocide and war. 

The concept of social identity (Tajfel, 1970, 1974, 1982) is key to this review—and more broadly most contemporary social psychological work on intergroup processes. Social identity is “that part of an individual’s self concept which derives from his knowledge of his membership of a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership” (Tajfel, 1974, p. 69). We use here the definition of a group from work on intergroup relations in social psychology: a social group is a collection of individuals who perceive themselves to be members of the same social category, and therefore share a social identity (Tajfel and Turner, 1979; Turner et al., 1987; Ellemers et al., 2002; Ellemers and Haslam, 2011; Turner and Reynolds, 2011). Social groups can be based on a range of objective and subjective criteria—from ethnic background to gender to nationality to occupation to religion. An intergroup context emerges when social identities are salient and individuals interact with one another in terms of these social group identities (Turner et al., 1987). Indeed, even assignment to random groups can be sufficient to engender a relevant intergroup context in which intergroup behavior is observed (Tajfel, 1974). Once groups have been formed, how does this influence behavior?

between-group competition, intra-group cooperation and relative performance

frontiersin |  We report the results of a new public goods experiment with an intra-group cooperation dilemma and inter-group competition. In our design subjects receive information about their relative individual and group performance after each round with non-incentivized and then incentivized group competition. We found that, on average, individuals with low relative performance reduce their contributions to the public good, but groups with low performance increase theirs. With incentivized competition, where the relative ranking of the group increases individual payoffs, the reaction to relative performance is larger with individuals contributing more to the group; further, we observe that the variance of strategies decreases as individual and group rankings increase. These results offer new insights on how social comparison shapes similar reactions in games with different incentives for group performance and how competition and cooperation can influence each other.

1. Introduction Collective action most likely evolved as a survival group strategy to overcome challenges and threats difficult to surpass individually. Achieving collective action, however, requires solving the problem of incentives within the group, namely, the conflict among individuals who would be better materially if they reap the benefits of cooperation by others but do not assume the cost. Groups with higher levels of cooperation, on the other hand, could reproduce their strategies more successfully making them more competitive against other groups. This competition among groups over scarce resources decreases the within-group conflict at the cost of raising the between-group conflict1

One particular condition shaping competition is the availability of information on individual and group performance. When these informational sets are independently provided, the feedback at the group level decreases the salience of selfish incentives, increasing within-group cooperation (Burton-Chellew and West, 2012) at the cost of additional between-group conflict. However, subjects' reaction to the simultaneous provision of individual and group ranking has been rather unexplored. By receiving simultaneous feedback on individual and group performance subjects may develop richer responses to their relative success with respect to other group members but also to their group's success with respect to other groups, especially in presence of competition for additional resources. These different incentives bring a complex interaction of cooperation and conflict. One individual's higher relative performance could increase her individual payoffs at the expense of reducing the relative performance of her group, and thus harming the group's relative performance which in turn would decrease her individual payoffs.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

the only way to make any real money is to have a religion!

salon |  In America, salvation is big business, and he who dies with the most souls wins. Plenty of lives are wrecked along the way, but no matter. When consumer capitalism meets religious yearning, the sky’s the limit of what can you can get away with. That’s the subtext of Alex Gibney’s latest film, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and screened on HBO on March 29.

L. Ron Hubbard, or LRH, as he liked to style himself, was an American of unprepossessing origins in search of meaning and money. Possibly he found the first, and is just now cavorting with intergalactic spirits in the sky. Most definitely he found the second, riding a rocket ship of wacked-out ambition to create what is now essentially a tax-free shell company with $3 billion in assets and real estate holdings on six continents.

Gibney doesn’t give us LRH as a madman, or even a simple huckster. The penny-a-word pulp fiction writer could have just been another loser who couldn’t manage to finish college and whose less-than-stellar naval service went awry when he inadvertently used a Mexican island for target practice and was deemed unfit for command. Going Clear traces the young man’s early perambulations through California occultism and various hare-brained moneymaking schemes to the Jersey Shore, where he washed up exhausted and plagued by anxiety. Another man might have just given up. But not LRH.

Instead, he marshaled a smattering of knowledge from various strains of psychological and philosophical esoterica to gin up a mental health self-help system he named Dianetics, which he introduced in a hugely successful book in 1950. For a while it seemed like LRH had finally found his pot of gold, but alas, the Dianetics fad faded like the hula-hoop craze, its foundations disintegrating into debt and disorder.

Then came the epiphany, shared with his second wife Sara Northrup, who appears in the film as the shell-shocked survivor of LRH’s dreams. “The only way to make any real money,” he told her, “was to have a religion.”

africa's opium is the religion of others...,

mail&guardian |  For much of this week, our roads will overflow with cars, buses and minibuses full of pilgrims en route to African Zions and Jerusalems. Many local rivers will become Jordans in which the recently converted will be born again. Country valleys will echo with songs of gratitude from wretched souls singing: “Jo, ke mohlolo ha ke ratwa le nna [what a miracle it is for someone like me to be loved].”

Innocent villagers will be battered with amplified sermons on loudspeakers in all manner of fake American accents. With their stomping feet, the dancing masses will convert ordinary mountains and hills into sacred spaces. And the goats will catch hell on several fronts – they will be slaughtered either in celebration or in libation.

For more than 170 years, Karl Marx’s brief reference to religion as the opium of the people has proved hard to forget and harder to forgive. He probably did not have Africa in mind when he made the statement, but nowhere is this Marxist “dictum” in sharper focus. This is the continent whose people respected scholar and academic John Mbiti’s described as “notoriously religious”.

Nothing captures the tragedy and the wonder of the African continent better than the coexistence of poverty and religiosity, both in their most extreme forms imaginable. The question is whether the coincidence is merely casual or causal – and in which direction. Are Africans poor because they are religious, religious because they are poor, or religious in spite of being poor?

Saturday, April 04, 2015

the competitive exclusion principle

The Guardian Overpopulation, Overdevelopment and Overshoot in Pictures

peakoilbarrel |  Every animal had adaptations that allowed it to survive in the wild. But no animal had a “super adaptation”, that is no animal evolved an adaptation that gave it ultimate control over other animals. There was no colossus in the animal world. No matter what the adaption, no animal could be that strong.

But the first hint of such an adaptation evolved about 5 million years ago. Somewhere in Africa a species of great ape evolved that had all the other survival adaptations of other great apes plus one more, that ape was just a wee bit smarter than other apes. And among these smarter apes, some were smarter than others. These smarter apes had a slightly higher survival and reproductive rate than the ones in their own group who were not so smart. But even these “smarter” apes were not really all that smart.

Brain size, which is correlated with intelligence, increased very slowly over two and one half million years. But the ultimate competitive weapon, the weapon that would give this one great ape a huge survival weapon over all other species had begun to evolve. From this point on the fate of the earth, the fate of all other species, was set. The ultimate weapon had begun to evolve. And about 100,000 years ago modern humans appeared.

about 10,000 years ago, give or take, humans depended entirely on the natural world for its substance. Killing animals that they could find and gathering what fruits, roots and tubers than nature provided them. Then slowly the Neolithic Revolution started to happen. People began to plant seeds and domesticate animals. However Homo colossus had not yet appeared.

Homo colossus appeared about 250 years ago. That was when man began to spend nature’s non renewable carbon deposits as if they were income.

William Catton: When the earth’s deposits of fossil fuels and mineral resources were being laid down, Homo sapiens had not yet been prepared by evolution to take advantage of them. As soon as technology made it possible for mankind to do so, people eagerly (and without foreseeing the ultimate consequences) shifted to a high-energy way of life. Man became, in effect, a detritovore, Homo colossus. Our species bloomed, and now we must expect crash (of some sort) as the natural sequel.

However we need to get back to the subject of this post, the competitive exclusion principle.

Wiki: The competitive exclusion principle, sometimes referred to as Gause’s Law, is a proposition that states that two species competing for the same resource cannot coexist at constant population values, if other ecological factors remain constant. When one species has even the slightest advantage or edge over another then the one with the advantage will dominate in the long term. One of the two competitors will always overcome the other, leading to either the extinction of this competitor or an evolutionary or behavioral shift toward a different ecological niche. The principle has been paraphrased into the maxim “complete competitors cannot coexist“.

expecting common sense from reptile brains is inherently risky...,

npr |  And nobody feels as much like a nobody as an immigrant does. And you can engage with a great power like the United States simply by throwing a bomb. You can declare war on the United States. And the amazing thing about it is that the United States will accept the declaration of war. We respond to terrorism by treating it not as a crime, but by treating it as war. So someone like Tamerlan, who feels small and insignificant, can suddenly claim a sense of belonging to a great, big effort - and a place in history.

GREENE: This is obviously an event that many Americans followed and have memories of. What do you hope people will learn from your book that they haven't learned from other places?

GESSEN: A couple of things. One is that - and I understand that this is a risky strategy, but I think it is really important to see people as people, and to try to understand the story, and perhaps catch yourself being sympathetic to these brothers, because I think that the more we understand about something that we believe is a huge threat to this country, the more effective we can be inviting it.

GREENE: And you said catch yourself being sympathetic there -just want to make sure I understand that. You're suggesting that it can be healthy to find some level of sympathy somehow.

GESSEN: Yes, I am suggesting it could be healthy to find some level of sympathy because I think that the way that wars are fought is that the enemy is always dehumanized. That's what we have done with terrorism. It's a perfectly normal and logical thing to do. It also makes wars continue and build. And until you start seeing your enemy as a human being for at least a second, you're never going to advance in your understanding of what's going on. That's one thing I want people to take away from it. Another thing is I want people to question what they think about terrorism and the war on terror, and how it's fought, and the assumptions that have been made and that aren't usually questioned by the media, like this whole radicalization narrative.

Friday, April 03, 2015

I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords

Popular Science | In case you were wondering whether Steve Wozniak is afraid of robots, get this: He probably is. "Computers are going to take over from humans, no question," the Apple co-founder told the Australian Financial Review earlier this week. He also said that, "If we build these devices to take care of everything for us, eventually they'll think faster than us and they'll get rid of the slow humans to run companies more efficiently.” Wozniak goes into so much detail, however, wondering aloud about whether the machine will squash us like ants, or pamper us like pets, that it's hard to tell whether this was a cathartic expression of his genuine fears, or just the more respectable version of the sort of freshman-year prognosticating happening in any given dorm room, on any given night. But while Wozniak doesn't have the same prophetic gravitas as an Elon Musk, a Stephen Hawking or a Bill Gates, the list of household names who want robots to plot a path off of humanity's lawn is growing.
It's a bad time, in other words, to be staging the most ambitious robotics competition in history. Worse still, the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Finals, scheduled for June 5-6 in Pomona, California, will feature machines that walk on two legs—imagine the hubris—or skitter across rubble like giant insects. Robots will turn doorknobs, and saw through walls with power tools. The DRCis a robophobic's worst nightmare.
DARPA is fully aware of this climate of fear, and plans to tackle it head-on. “We actually take these questions about what the future is going to be like, and what the applications are, for the different technologies that DARPA helps to develop, in a very serious way.” said DRC program manager Gill Pratt in a telephone briefing earlier this month. “And we don't want to presume that we're the ones who have to come up with the answers, but we do want to be responsible for asking the questions.”

the symbolic "great father" was really just a demented old fool....,

NYTimes |  Even before Ronald Reagan became the oldest elected president, his mental state was a political issue. His adversaries often suggested his penchant for contradictory statements, forgetting names and seeming absent-mindedness could be linked to dementia.

In 1980, Mr. Reagan told me that he would resign the presidency if White House doctors found him mentally unfit. Years later, those doctors and key aides told me they had not detected any changes in his mental abilities while in office.

Now a clever new analysis has found that during his two terms in office, subtle changes in Mr. Reagan’s speaking patterns linked to the onset of dementia were apparent years before doctors diagnosed his Alzheimer’s disease in 1994.

The findings, published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease by researchers at Arizona State University, do not prove that Mr. Reagan exhibited signs of dementia that would have adversely affected his judgment and ability to make decisions in office.

But the research does suggest that alterations in speech one day might be used to predict development of Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions years before symptoms are clinically perceptible.

psychological science and social change? how you gonna manage the reptile brain?

NYTimes |  “I wanted the research I was doing to match the stuff I was thinking about,” he says. “And I just felt more and more that the most relevant level of analysis for generating social change was the psychological level.”

He started looking into conflict-intervention programs and discovered that there were hundreds more like the one he volunteered for in Ireland, and that hardly any of them had been scientifically validated. No one was really checking to see if the programs accomplished their stated goals, or even if their stated goals were the best ones for achieving the desired outcomes. “They have all these very straightforward metrics like building trust, and building empathy, that sound totally reasonable,”
Bruneau says. “But it turns out that a lot of those common-sense approaches can be way off-base.”

Increasing empathy seemed to be a key goal of every conflict-resolution program he looked at; he thought this reflected a misconception about the type of people who engage in political violence. “If Hollywood is to be believed, they’re all sociopaths,” he says. “But that’s not the reality. Suicide bombers tend to be characterized by, if anything, very high levels of empathy. Wafa Idris, the first Palestinian woman suicide bomber, was a volunteer paramedic during the second Intifada.”
Bruneau developed a theory to explain this paradox: When considering an enemy, the mind generates an “empathy gap.” It mutes the empathy signal, and that muting prevents us from putting ourselves in the perceived enemy’s shoes. He couldn’t yet guess at the mechanism behind the phenomenon, but he hypothesized that it had nothing to do with how empathetic a person was by nature. Even the most deeply empathetic people could mute their empathy signals under the right circumstances. And it was difficult to determine what role empathy played in group conflicts. Increasing empathy might be great at improving pro-social behavior among individuals, but if a program succeeded in boosting an individual’s empathy for his or her own group, he reasoned, it might actually increase hostility toward the enemy.

science can explain but not undo the works of the reptile brain..., |  Figure 2 now shows on the horizontal axis the share of total income inequality due to differences between racial groups. Under this dimension, the two cities turn out to be actually very different. The share of total inequality due to differences between races is twice as large in Houston as in San Francisco. This in turn is related to the level of trust in the two cities. In San Francisco, where the probability of meeting an individual of a different race but similar income level is relatively high, the level of trust is higher than in Houston, where belonging to a different race is also likely to be associated with a difference in income.

This same pattern of apparent similarity, which is in reality masking an additional dimension of heterogeneity, is repeated over different pairs of cities in the US My empirical analysis documents the pattern in a systematic way, exploiting answers from 20,000 respondents to the US General Social Survey (GSS) between 1973 and 2010. The survey contains a variety of indicators on the respondents' political views, social behavior and socioeconomic characteristics. Crucially, it also asks respondents whether they think that most people can be trusted. I match their answers to this question to their socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, and to the level of racial diversity, total income inequality and racial income inequality in the MSA of residence.

I start out by showing that racial diversity and total income inequality have a statistically significant, negative effect on individual measures of trust, a result that is consistent with previous studies. But I then find that these effects become statistically insignificant once I account for the income inequality between , which instead remains negatively and significantly associated to the level of trust of the respondent.

I then show that the negative impact of racial income inequality on trust is larger in more racially fragmented communities, and that members of minority groups reduce their trust towards others more, when racial income inequality increases. These results are consistent with a simple framework in which individuals can be similar in both race and income, and trust towards others falls at increasing rates as individuals become different in both dimensions.

Overall, my results suggests that is more detrimental when associated with between races and that, similarly, is more harmful when it has a marked racial connotation. This in turn suggests that policies aimed at reducing income disparities along racial lines might be particularly effective in increasing the level of social participation and in US communities.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

when the stupid go to stunting it can't end well...,

newyorker |  The Indiana law is the product of a G.O.P. search for a respectable way to oppose same-sex marriage and to rally the base around it. There are two problems with this plan, however. First, not everyone in the party, even in its most conservative precincts, wants to make gay marriage an issue, even a stealth one—or opposes gay marriage to begin with. As the unhappy reaction in Indiana shows, plenty of Republicans find the anti-marriage position embarrassing, as do some business interests that are normally aligned with the party. Second, the law is not an empty rhetorical device but one that has been made strangely powerful, in ways that haven’t yet been fully tested, by the Supreme Court decision last year in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. That ruling allowed the Christian owners of a chain of craft stores to use the federal version of the RFRA to ignore parts of the Affordable Care Act. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent, argued strongly that the majority was turning that RFRA into a protean tool for all sorts of evasions. As Jeffrey Toobin has noted, she was proved right even before the Indiana controversy.

Both of those factors have combined to produce real confusion about the Indiana law. Some people are not being straightforward about its implications, whether because they are calculating, mortified, or—in the case of opponents, some of whom have also been unclear about what the law means—alarmed, but it also inhabits novel legal territory, so it is genuinely hard to know what those implications would be.  Governor Pence has done much to muddle things even more. On Sunday, on “This Week,” George Stephanopoulos asked Pence “a yes-or-no question” about whether “a florist in Indiana can now refuse to serve a gay couple without fear of punishment.” He asked half a dozen times, but never got an answer:
Pence: This is not about discrimination, this is about …
Stephanopoulos: But …
Pence: … empowering people …
Stephanopoulos: But let me try to pin you …
Pence: … government overreach here.
Stephanopoulos: … down here though. … It’s just a question, sir. Question, sir. Yes or no?
Pence: Well—well, this—there’s been shameless rhetoric about my state and about this law and about its intention all over the Internet. People are trying to make it about one particular issue. And now you’re doing that as well.

hustling up a little darren wilson $$$...,

WaPo |  The pizza shop in Walkerton, Ind. — a small town of about 2,200 people about 20 miles south of South Bend — doesn’t look like the epicenter of a national controversy. The black-and-white linoleum and red booths are unassuming — the decor of any take-out joint anywhere in America. A Triple XXX Root Beer will set you back $2. It even has a piano — and a prayer suggestion box.

“Every day before we open the store, we gather and pray together,” reads a sign posted in the store, which also boasts numerous crosses, including one that says “Glorify the Lord.” “If there is something you would like us to pray for, just write it down and drop it in the box.”

But Memories Pizza — “a Walkerton mainstay,” according to local media, for more than a decade — is feeling the heat of a great debate about religious freedom and gay rights. Memories has been billed by a local ABC affiliate as the “first business to publicly deny same-sex service” after Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law. Many feel the law, which advocates say is intended to protect religious freedom, will result in discrimination against homosexuals.

The affiliate was looking for reactions to RFRA — and it made some memories at Memories.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

David Brooks: politely respect being refused service or risk bloody war of all against all...,

NYTimes |  The 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was supported by Senator Ted Kennedy and a wide posse of progressives, sidestepped the abstract and polarizing theological argument. It focused on the concrete facts of specific cases. The act basically holds that government sometimes has to infringe on religious freedom in order to pursue equality and other goods, but, when it does, it should have a compelling reason and should infringe in the least intrusive way possible.

This moderate, grounded, incremental strategy has produced amazing results. Fewer people have to face the horror of bigotry, isolation, marginalization and prejudice.

Yet I wonder if this phenomenal achievement is going off the rails. Indiana has passed a state law like the 1993 federal act, and sparked an incredible firestorm.

If the opponents of that law were arguing that the Indiana statute tightens the federal standards a notch too far, that would be compelling. But that’s not the argument the opponents are making.
Instead, the argument seems to be that the federal act’s concrete case-by-case approach is wrong. The opponents seem to be saying there is no valid tension between religious pluralism and equality. Claims of religious liberty are covers for anti-gay bigotry.

This deviation seems unwise both as a matter of pragmatics and as a matter of principle. In the first place, if there is no attempt to balance religious liberty and civil rights, the cause of gay rights will be associated with coercion, not liberation. Some people have lost their jobs for expressing opposition to gay marriage. There are too many stories like the Oregon bakery that may have to pay a $150,000 fine because it preferred not to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. A movement that stands for tolerance does not want to be on the side of a government that compels a photographer who is an evangelical Christian to shoot a same-sex wedding that he would rather avoid.

Furthermore, the evangelical movement is evolving. Many young evangelicals understand that their faith should not be defined by this issue. If orthodox Christians are suddenly written out of polite society as modern-day Bull Connors, this would only halt progress, polarize the debate and lead to a bloody war of all against all.

As a matter of principle, it is simply the case that religious liberty is a value deserving our deepest respect, even in cases where it leads to disagreements as fundamental as the definition of marriage.
Morality is a politeness of the soul. Deep politeness means we make accommodations.

RFRA: Indiana's First Church of Cannabis

rawstory |   In a classic case of “unintended consequences,” the recently signed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in Indiana may have opened the door for the establishment of the First Church of Cannabis in the Hoosier State.

While Governor Mike Pence (R) was holding a signing ceremony for the bill allowing businesses and individuals to deny services to gays on religious grounds or values, paperwork for the First Church of Cannabis Inc. was being filed with the Secretary of State’s office, reports RTV6.

Church founder Bill Levin announced on his Facebook page that the church’s registration has been approved, writing, “Status: Approved by Secretary of State of Indiana – “Congratulations your registration has been approved!” Now we begin to accomplish our goals of Love, Understanding, and Good Health.”

Levin is currently seeking $4.20 donations towards his non-profit church.

According to Indiana attorney and political commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, Indiana legislators, in their haste to protect the religious values and practices of their constituents, may have unwittingly put the state in an awkward position with those who profess to smoke pot as a religious sacrament.

Shabazz pointed out that it is still illegal to smoke pot in Indiana, but wrote, “I would argue that under RFRA, as long as you can show that reefer is part of your religious practices, you got a pretty good shot of getting off scot-free.”