Obama trumpets strikes against Islamic State, strength of alliance
By Dave Boyer - The Washington Times Updated: 10:40 a.m. on Tuesday, September 23, 2014
President Obama said U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic militants in Syria overnight demonstrated that America will fight the terrorist group anywhere it operates.
“We’re going to do what’s necessary to take the fight to this terrorist group,” Mr. Obama said in a statement on the South Lawn of the White House.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 70 Islamic State militants were killed about 300 were injured in the air attacks by U.S.-led coalition.
Ret. Col. Jack Jacobs, a military analyst, said on MSNBC that the airstrikes will be “not effective over the long term” without ground troops to follow up on the attacks.
The president said the coalition that participated in the airstrikes — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar — was important strategically and symbolically.
“The people and the governments of the Middle East are rejecting [the Islamic State] and standing up for the peace and security that the people of the region and the world deserve,” Mr. Obama said.
The president also referred to separate U.S. airstrikes against an al Qaeda offshoot known as the Khorasan Group in Syria, which the administration said is plotting to wage jihadi attacks against America and western allies.
“It must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Obama said the U.S. began the airstrikes Monday night “on my orders,” but he didn’t indicate how long the air campaign will go on.
Firelight talk of the Kalahari Bushmen: Did tales told over fires aid our social and cultural evolution?
Date: September 22, 2014
Source: University of Utah
After human ancestors controlled fire 400,000 to 1 million years ago, flames not only let them cook food and fend off predators, but also extended their day.
A University of Utah study of Africa's Kalahari Bushmen suggests that stories told over firelight helped human culture and thought evolve by reinforcing social traditions, promoting harmony and equality, and sparking the imagination to envision a broad sense of community, both with distant people and the spirit world.
Researchers previously studied how cooking affected diets and anatomy, but "little is known about how important the extended day was for igniting the embers of culture and society," anthropology professor Polly Wiessner writes in a study published online today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"There is something about fire in the middle of the darkness that bonds, mellows and also excites people. It's intimate," says Wiessner, who has studied the Bushmen for 40 years. "Nighttime around a fire is universally time for bonding, for telling social information, for entertaining, for a lot of shared emotions."
Wiessner's study, which she calls "exploratory," analyzed scores of daytime and firelight conversations among !Kung Bushmen -- also known as Ju/'hoansi Bushmen -- some 4,000 of which now live in the Kalahari Desert of northeast Namibia and northwest Botswana. (The exclamation, slash and apostrophe symbols represent click sounds in their language.) They are among several groups of Kalahari Bushmen.
Why study the campfire tales of Bushmen?
"We can't tell about the past from the Bushmen," Wiessner says. "But these people live from hunting and gathering. For 99 percent of our evolution, this is how our ancestors lived. What transpires during the firelit night hours by hunter-gatherers? It helps answer the question of what firelit space contributes to human life."
She writes: "Stories are told in virtually all hunter-gatherer societies; together with gifts, they were the original social media."
From the Workaday World to Nights of Bonding and Wonder
In her study, "Embers of Society: Firelight Talk among the Ju/'hoansi Bushmen," Wiessner says archaeological evidence indicates human ancestors had sporadic control of fire 1 million or more years ago, and regularly used it after 400,000 years ago.
"Fire altered our circadian rhythms, the light allowed us to stay awake, and the question is what happened in the fire-lit space? What did it do for human development?" asks Wiessner, who earlier this year was among three University of Utah researchers elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
Wiessner says !Kung Bushmen hold firelight gatherings most nights in groups of up to 15 people. A camp has hearths for each family, but at night people often converge at a single hearth. She analyzed only conversations involving five or more people.
Firelight stories deal with topics such as past hunts, fights over meat, marriage, premarital customs, murder, bush fires, birth, getting lost, interactions with other groups, truck breakdowns, being chased by animals, disputes and extramarital affairs. And there also are traditional myths.
For her study, Wiessner analyzed two sets of data:
- Notes she took in 1974 (initially for another purpose) of 174 daytime and nighttime conversations at two !Kung camps in northwest Botswana. Each conversation lasted more than 20 to 30 minutes and involved five to 15 people.
- Digital recordings, transcribed by educated Bushmen, of 68 firelight stories Wiessner originally heard in the 1970s but came back to have retold and recorded during three visits in 2011-2013 to !Kung villages in Botswana and Namibia.
Wiessner found daytime conversations differed much from firelight discussions. Of daytime conversations, 34 percent were complaints, criticism and gossip to regulate social relationships; 31 percent were economic matters, such as hunting for dinner; 16 percent were jokes; only 6 percent were stories and the rest were other topics
But at night, 81 percent of the conversations involved stories, and only 7 percent were complaints, criticism and gossip and 4 percent were economic.
Bonding with People Near and Far -- and with the Supernatural
Wiessner found how conversations reinforced major !Kung social institutions and values: arranged marriages, the kinship system, a social structure based on equality, the sharing of food during times of hardship, land rights, trance healing and xaro, a system of exchange that involved pledges of mutual assistance, including housing and food, in troubled times.
"What I found was a big difference between day and night conversation, the kinds of information transmitted and the use of imaginary thought," Wiessner says.
"Day conversation has a lot to do with economic activities -- working, getting food, what resources are where," she says. "It has a lot to do with social issues and controls: criticism, complaints and gripes."
"At night, people really let go, mellow out and seek entertainment. If there have been conflicts in the day, they overcome those and bond. Night conversation has more to do with stories, talking about the characteristics of people who are not present and who are in your broader networks, and thoughts about the spirit world and how it influences the human world. You have singing and dancing, too, which bonds groups."
Healers dance and go into trances, "travel to god's village and communicate with the spirits of deceased loved ones who are trying to take sick people away," Wiessner says.
She says nonhuman primates don't maintain mutually supportive ties outside their group: "We are really unique. We create far-flung ties outside our groups."
Such extended communities allowed humans "to colonize our planet because they had networks of mutual support, which you see expressed today in our capacity for social networking" she adds. "Humans form communities that are not together in space, but are in our heads -- virtual communities. They are communities in our heads. For the Bushmen, they may be up to 120 miles away."
Wiessner suggests that firelight stories, conversations, ceremonies and celebrations sparked human imagination and "cognitive capacities to form these imagined communities, whether it's our social networks, all of our relatives on Earth or communities that link us to the spirit world." She says they also bolstered the human ability to "read" what others are thinking -- not just their thoughts or intentions, but their views toward other people.
What Has Electricity Done to Us?
Examining how firelight extended the day prompted Wiessner to wonder about modern society, asking, "What happens when economically unproductive firelit time is turned to productive time by artificial lighting?"
Parents read stories or show videos to their children, but now, "work spills into the night. We now sit on laptops in our homes. When you are able to work at night, you suddenly have a conflict: 'I have only 15 minutes to tell my kids a bedtime story. I don't have time to sit around and talk.' Artificial light turned potential social time into potential work time. What happens to social relations?"
Her research raises that question, but doesn't answer it.
Everything we know, and don't know, about the other extremist group targeted by U.S. airstrikes in Syria early Tuesday.
The U.S. and a coalition of allies in the Middle East targeted a number of Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) strongholds in Syria with pre-dawn airstrikes on Tuesday — but in an unexpected detour, U.S. warplanes struck a cluster of sites west of Aleppo, an area outside of ISIS’s purview and under the command of a little known al-Qaeda cell known as the Khorasan Group.
U.S. officials had not acknowledged the Khorasan Group by name until as recently last week, when director of national intelligence James Clapper said the group “may pose as much of a danger” as ISIS, the New York Times reports. While information about the group’s members and goals remains scant, officials have made clear with recent comments, punctuated by Tuesday’s airstrikes, that the Khorasan Group now constitutes one of the chief concerns of the intelligence community. Here’s a primer on what’s known and unknown about the group so far:
What is the Khorasan group?
A cell of battle-hardened al-Qaeda fighters who have set up a franchise, of sorts, in the contested provinces of Syria. The group has tapped new recruits from the influx of foreign fighters infiltrating the region. Their goal, officials allege, is to capitalize on their range of nationalities to carry out terrorist attacks on a range of Western targets, including the U.S. While they share ISIS’s severe interpretation of Sunni Islam and disdain for differing sects within Islam, they have rejected the group’s battle tactics, fearing that brutal attacks against Muslims in Syria and Iraq would erode support for their goals of waging a wider war against western powers.
How big is it?
The exact number of fighters is unknown. Estimates range from a few dozen to upwards of 50 fighters, intelligence experts told ABC News, though their affiliations are loose and shifting within a larger network of al-Qaeda fighters known as the al-Nusra front. Under the protection of the al-Nusra front, the group has secured land and buildings in the areas surrounding Aleppo. Tuesday’s air strikes suggest that it has commandeered a range of compounds, including “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building and command and control facilities,” according to U.S. Central Command.
Who’s in charge?
Muhsin al-Fadhli, 33, formerly a close confidante of Osama bin Laden. According to the State Department, he was one of the few members of al-Qaeda entrusted with advanced knowledge of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He climbed the ranks fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan and raising funds for al-Qaeda fighters in Iraq. The State Department has placed a $7 million reward on information that would lead to his capture, and has connected him to attacks on a French oil tanker in 2002 and a string of bombings across Saudi Arabia.
Why haven’t we heard of it until now?
The organization keeps a low profile, in stark contrast to ISIS fighters who regularly release gruesome footage of beheadings and mass executions over social media. Rather than brandishing blades before the cameras, members of the Khorasan Group have reportedly taken a greater interest in developing attacks that would employ concealed weapons.
Could it really be more lethal than Islamic State?
To the West, perhaps. Islamic State has a far greater number of recruits under its command, upwards of 31,000 according to the latest CIA estimate, but its aspirations so far have been fixed on establishing and expanding a caliphate in the region, wresting chunks of territory from Iraq and Syria, and driving out or killing waves of ethnic and religious minorities. Khorasan, on the other hand, seems to have a more single-minded ambition of attacking the U.S. and other western nations, according to officials who said that Tuesday’s airstrikes were meant to disrupt an “imminent attack” on western targets.
CDC’s Worst Case Scenario: 1.4 Million Ebola Cases
A new CDC report says there are likely 2.5 times as many Ebola cases as are being reported, and that the disease could reach 1.4 million people by early next year.
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns the international community that if it doesn’t step up efforts to combat Ebola, it could reach millions by January.
The investigation, a part of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), lays out the best and worst case scenarios for the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, which has claimed more than 2,500 lives. Using numbers gathered from Sierra Leone and Liberia in August, it presents the first hard data to predict how dependent the scale of the epidemic is on our response.
Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director, National Security Council, stressed the importance of taking the numbers seriously in a press briefing Tuesday morning. “Every hour counts. Every minute counts,” said Smith. “There is data that shows if we don’t respond steadily, effectively, and on time, we will be looking at an even more unprecedented situation.”
A better system for calculating the numbers is needed. The CDC says that the current numbers on record for the epidemic, 5,843 cases and 2,803 deaths, are “substantially underreported.” In order to account for this difference, the CDC created an Ebola Response modeling tool, which they are calling “EbolaResponse, to predict the discrepancy mathematically. The authors of the study highlight the importance of this new, unprecedented tool. “The data corrected for underreporting reflects the potential range of uncertainty regarding the actual number of cases that might occur,” the report reads.
There are likely 2.5 times as many cases as are being reported.
According to the work of EbolaResponse, the number of reported cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone may be 2.5 times higher than reported. This means that, by current predictions, an estimate of 8,000 cases in these two countries by Sept. 30 may look more like 21,000. The CDC points to the rate at which the cases are increasing as evidence that the numbers are too low. For example, in Liberia, cases are reportedly doubling every 15—20 days. In Sierra Leone, they are doubling every 30—40.
The epidemic, in a worst-case scenario, could reach millions. According to current numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO), the reported cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone and Guinea on September 9th were 2,407. By these estimates, the number of cases between the two countries may reach 550,000 by January. However, accounting the imprecision of current numbers, which WHO director Dr. Margaret Chan calls a “vast underestimate” of reality, there may be as many as 1.4 million cases by January 20.
Containing the response means ramping up treatment. In order to contain the epidemic, the CDC estimates that approximately 70 percent of Ebola patients must be receiving care in a medical facility. Once this number is reached, the authors of the report estimate that the outbreak will decrease at a “rate nearly equal to the initial rate of increase.”
Delay could be catastrophic.
For every 30-day window that response to the epidemic is delayed, the CDC estimates that an approximate tripling in cases may occur. With 125 CDC experts on the ground, the agency says it is “developing innovative methods” to isolate patients who cannot make it in to a treatment center in order to “help disrupt Ebola transmission in communities.”
Despite the high numbers, the CDC has stressed the notion that a quick response may render them “very unlikely.” Thomas Frieden, who led the call, was careful to caution that Americans not take the numbers as indicators of what will happen, but rather predictions of what could. “These are not projections,” Frieden during the Tuesday press conference. “What we have done is outline what might happen.”
Frieden, who weeks ago claimed the “window was closing” on Ebola containment efforts, reaffirmed the need for an urgent response. “A surge now can break the epidemic’s back. It is possible,” he said. “We can be on track to turning it around, but costs of delay are significant and that’s why the response is so incredibly important, because every day counts and will make a difference.”
“Snakes on a plane” might be a good strategy for building rescue robots. A four-propeller helicopter can carry a wheeled snakelike robot through the air, or connect with two snakebots to speed over flat terrain. On their own, the snakebots can squeeze through a 4-inch tube, drive over gravel and climb stairs. The helicopter can also quickly bring a bot up a flight of stairs. Pairing two snakelike robots with a flying one has let researchers combine the exploring skills of small, ground-based bots with the swift moves of an aerial machine.
Engineers have created search-and-rescue robots before — tanklike machines with heavy-duty treads — but most of these bots muscle over rough terrain with brute force. They can disturb damaged areas and have trouble reaching nooks and crannies within the wreckage.
This Palm-Sized Laser Could Make Self-Driving Cars Way Cheaper
By Alex Davies 09.25.14
We don’t know how much self-driving cars will cost when they finally hit the market, but our best guess is, a lot. The technology needed to take the wheel out of your hands is frightfully expensive. Now, we can revise that estimate down a bit with the debut of a laser system that’s roughly the size and shape of a hockey puck and costs just eight grand.
Silicon Valley-based Velodyne Acoustics makes sound systems and a self-stabilizing boat said to prevent seasickness, but its most high profile product is the Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) system spinning proudly atop each of Google’s self-driving cars. The device uses 64 lasers to map the physical the world. It can collect more than a million data points about its surroundings every second, crucial information for autonomous automobiles. It’s remarkably cool, and remarkably expensive: Each unit costs up to $85,000, far too pricey to be used in vehicles the rest of us might one day buy.
Which brings us to the Puck, Velodyne’s miniaturized version of that technology. Instead of 64 lasers, it has just 16, resulting in a tenfold reduction in price. It’s also smaller, just 4 inches tall and 1.3 pounds—compared to 10 inches tall and 29 pounds for the unit on each of Google’s robocars. At $7,999, it’s small and cheap enough for mass-market vehicles, a big help for automakers intent on offering cars that drive themselves in the next decade.
There are downsides to going from 64 lasers to 16. The Puck’s smaller size limits how much it can see, with a vertical field of view that drops from ±26.8° in the 64-channel version to ±15° (both offer 360° horizontal views). It delivers lower resolution and fewer data points, just 300,000 per second instead of the 1.3 million provided by the 64-channel unit.
“It’s really light; it’s really small; it doesn’t take a lot electricity.”
Those tradeoffs are worthwhile when you consider the reduced cost, says Wolfgang Juchmann, Velodyne’s head of sales and marketing. The 64-channel unit costs up to $85,000, while a 32-channel version roughly the size of a soda can runs $30,000 to $40,000. Automakers and tech juggernauts can easily afford that when they need a few for research, but such prices are prohibitive for use on consumer vehicles. “It’s more than double the price of the car,” Juchmann says. Eight grand is still a lot, but easier to get away with.
The reduced size is good news for automotive design. Google happily, even proudly, sticks the 64-channel unit on top of its self-driving Lexus SUVs, but automakers favor a more subtle approach to introducing autonomous driving. Slapping a spinning gizmo that resembles a police light on the roof of a car would make any designer cringe, and it makes the car look more like a science experiment than a personal vehicle.
Treasure hunter guards biggest find of Roman coins by sleeping in his car.
Builder with a metal detector makes record-breaking discovery of 22,000 Roman coins, known as the Seaton Down Hoard, then sleeps in his car to guard his treasure.
By Anita Singh, Arts and Entertainment Editor 12:31PM BST 26 Sep 2014
A treasure hunter who uncovered the biggest hoard of 4th century Roman coins recorded in Britain spent three nights sleeping in his car to guard his find.
Laurence Egerton, a builder, took up metal detecting seven years ago and his usual hauls consisted of old ring pulls and shotgun cartridges.
But on this occasion fortune was with him. Scanning an area of ground in Seaton, East Devon, he uncovered 22,000 Roman coins dating from AD260 to AD348.
“Between finding the hoard and the archaeologists excavating the site, I slept in my car alongside it for three nights to guard it,” said Mr Egerton, 51.
“Every night the archaeologists packed up and left, and I couldn’t go home and sleep thinking there was something of such significance sitting there in a hole in the ground in a field in the middle of nowhere.
“It was November and it was very cold. I had three or four fleeces on and a quilt. And I’m 6’3” so I’m not really built for sleeping in cars.”
The hoard went on temporary display yesterday at the British Museum, where experts hailed it as an extraordinary find. A number of the coins were struck to mark the foundation of Constantinople in AD332 and bear the image of Emperor Constantine the Great.
Mr Egerton’s lucky day began when he searched a field close to the previously excavated site of a Roman villa.
"Initially, I found two small coins the size of a thumbnail sitting on top of the ground," he recalled.
His metal detector indicated there was iron in the ground. Mr Egerton said most detectors are set up to ignore iron because it is relatively worthless, but he followed his instinct.
Beneath two iron ingots, he found his treasure. “The next shovel was full of coins – they just spilled out over the field."
Mr Egerton, a member of the East Devon Metal Detector Club, contacted the authorities to report his find. He also called his wife, Amanda, and she came down to film the moment.
“It’s by far the biggest find I’ve ever had. It really doesn’t get any better than this,” he said.
“I’m fascinated by history although I was never really interested at school. Over the years I have found lots of interesting items but never anything of this magnitude.
“It’s not all treasure, though. For every interesting or historic item found I will have dug a few dozen ring pulls, shotgun cartridges or other miscellaneous items of rubbish.”
Metal detecting is regarded by some as an eccentric pastime – BBC Four is developing a sitcom about it, starring The Office’s Mackenzie Crook. Mr Egerton acknowledged that it had a “geeky” reputation but said: “It’s no different from any other hobby. You aspire to find something special, no different from a golfer aspiring to get a hole in one.”
The coins, now known as the Seaton Down Hoard, have been officially declared as treasure and are eligible for acquisition by a museum. Mr Egerton, who had obtained a licence to operate on the land, will be eligible to split the proceeds 50/50 with the landowner.
The local Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter is launching a public fundraising campaign to buy them.