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 veryhotthread  Author  Topic: Stuff & Nonsense  (Read 79804 times)
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« Reply #7830 on: Jan 2nd, 2013, 10:24am »

NASA.gov

Quadrantids Create Year's First Meteor Shower
01.02.12


Editor's note, Jan. 2, 10:45 a.m. EST:

Tonight is the peak of the 2013 Quadrantid meteor shower. Best viewing will be in the northern hemisphere, but the shower can be seen at latitudes north of 51 degrees south. Meteor rates increase after midnight and peak between 3 a.m. and dawn, your local time. To view Quadrantids, go outside and allow your eyes 30-45 minutes to adjust to the dark. Look straight up, allowing your eyes to take in as much of the sky as possible. You will need cloudless, dark skies away from city lights to see the shower. The maximum rate will be about 120/hour. However, light from the waning gibbous moon will wash out fainter meteors, so don't expect to see this many. The peak rate of the Quadrantids has varied between 60-200, so its peak is not as consistent as other showers.

A little-known meteor shower named after an extinct constellation, the Quadrantids will present an excellent chance for hardy souls to start the year off with some late-night meteor watching. Peaking in the wee morning hours of Jan. 3, the Quadrantids have a maximum rate of about 80 per hour, varying between 60-200. Unfortunately, light from a waning gibbous moon will wash out many Quadrantids, cutting down on the number of meteors seen by skywatchers.

Unlike the more famous Perseid and Geminid meteor showers, the Quadrantids only last a few hours, so it's the morning of Jan. 3 or nothing. Given the location of the radiant -- northern tip of Bootes the Herdsman -- only observers at latitudes north of 51 degrees south will be able to see Quadrantids.

Watch the Quadrantids! Live Ustream Feed.

A live Ustream feed of the Quadrantid shower will be embedded below on the nights of Jan. 2-4. The camera is mounted at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. During the day you will see either pre-recorded footage or a blank box -- the camera is light-activated and turns on at dusk (approx. 6 p.m. EST).
Convert to your local time:
http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/tc.cgi

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/watchtheskies/quadrantids_2013.html

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« Reply #7831 on: Jan 2nd, 2013, 10:35am »

Science Daily

Language Learning Begins in Utero, Study Finds; Newborn Memories of Oohs and Ahs Heard in the Womb

Jan. 2, 2013

— Newborns are much more attuned to the sounds of their native language than first thought. In fact, these linguistic whizzes can up pick on distinctive sounds of their mother tongue while in utero, a new study has concluded.

Research led by Christine Moon, a professor of psychology at Pacific Lutheran University, shows that infants, only hours old showed marked interest for the vowels of a language that was not their mother tongue.

"We have known for over 30 years that we begin learning prenatally about voices by listening to the sound of our mother talking," Moon said. "This is the first study that shows we learn about the particular speech sounds of our mother's language before we are born."

Before the study, the general consensus was that infants learned about the small parts of speech, the vowels and the consonants, postnatally. Moon added. "This study moves the measurable result of experience with individual speech sounds from six months of age to before birth," she said. The findings will be published in Acta Paediatrica in late December.

For the study Moon tested newborn infants shortly after birth while still in the hospital in two different locations: Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., and in the Astrid Lindgren Children's Hospital in Stockholm. Infants heard either Swedish or English vowels and they could control how many times they heard the vowels by sucking on a pacifier connected to a computer.

Co-authors for the study were. Hugo Lagercrantz, a professor at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden as well as a member of the Nobel Assembly, and Patricia Kuhl, Endowed Chair for the Bezos Family Foundation for Early Childhood Learning and Co-Director of the University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.

The study tested newborns on two sets of vowel sounds -- 17 native language sounds and 17 foreign language sounds, said Kuhl. The researchers tested the babies' interest in the vowel sounds based on how long and often they sucked on a pacifier. Half of the infants heard their native language vowels, and the other half heard the foreign vowels. "Each suck will produce a vowel until the infant pauses, and then the new suck will produce the next vowel sound," said Kuhl.

In both countries, the babies listening to the foreign vowels sucked more, than those listening to their native tongue regardless of how much postnatal experience they had. This indicated to researchers that they were learning the vowel sounds in utero.

"These little ones had been listening to their mother's voice in the womb, and particularly her vowels for ten weeks. The mother has first dibs on influencing the child's brain," said Kuhl. "At birth, they are apparently ready for something novel."

While other studies have focused on prenatal learning of sentences or phrases, this is the first study to show learning of small parts of speech that are not easily recognized by melody, rhythm or loudness. Forty infants were tested in Tacoma and another 40 in Sweden. They ranged in age from 7 to 75 hours after birth.

Vowel sounds were chosen for the study because they are prominent, and the researchers thought they might be noticeable in the mother's ongoing speech, even against the noisy background sounds of the womb.

The study shows that the newborn has the capacity to learn and remember elementary sounds of their language from their mother during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy (the sensory and brain mechanisms for hearing are intact at 30 weeks of gestational age).

"This is a stunning finding," said Kuhl. "We thought infants were 'born learning' but now we know they learn even earlier. They are not phonetically naïve at birth."

Prior to the kinds of studies like this one, , it was assumed that newborns were "blank slates," added Lagercrantz. He said that although it's been shown that infants seem to be attuned to sounds of their mother tongue, this same effect now seems to occur before birth. This surprised him.

"Previous studies indicate that the fetus seems to remember musical rhythms," he said. "They now seem to be able to learn language partially."

Kuhl added that infants are the best learners on the planet and while understanding a child's brain capacity is important for science, it's even more important for the children. "We can't waste early curiosity."

"The fact that the infants can learn the vowels in utero means they are putting some pretty sophisticated brain centers to work, even before birth," she said.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130102083615.htm

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« Reply #7832 on: Jan 3rd, 2013, 09:28am »

Washington Post

Judge backs Obama administration on secrecy of targeted killings of terrorism suspects

By Karen DeYoung, Published: January 2

The Obama administration acted lawfully in refusing to disclose information about its targeted killings of terrorism suspects, including the 2011 drone strikes that killed three U.S. citizens in Yemen, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

But the judge also described a “veritable Catch-22” of security rules that allow the executive branch to declare legal “actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.”

“The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me,” Judge Colleen McMahon of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York wrote in her ruling.

The case combined separate challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times to the administration’s refusal to release documents about targeted killings under the Freedom of Information Act.

“It’s a disappointing decision, but I think it’s important that the judge spent so much space discussing the substantive concerns with the authority the government has claimed,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU.

The ACLU lawsuit, filed last February, said the Justice and Defense departments and the CIA were illegally using secrecy claims to deny requests in 2010 for information about the legal basis for the killings and the selection process for targets. The suit cited public comments made by President Obama, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and other officials about the drone program in arguing that the government could not credibly claim a secrecy defense.

Earlier, the Times had requested opinions written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel on the legality of killing U.S. citizens following reports that New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki had been placed on the government’s “kill list” of authorized targets. Awlaki and another U.S. citizen, Samir Khan, were killed in a September 2011 attack in Yemen. Obama described Alwaki as chief of external operations for al-
Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Awlaki’s 16-year-old son was killed two weeks later in a drone strike that a senior administration official said was a “mistake” because someone else had been targeted.

After the ACLU suit was filed, the administration changed its initial refusal even to acknowledge the existence of the targeted killing program. Last year, it agreed that some documents pertinent to the requests existed, but said they were exempt from
release under various FOIA exemptions for secret operations,
attorney-client privilege and “deliberative process” within government organizations.

Government briefs in the case argued that public statements made by Obama and others had referred only to the broad outlines of their legal rationale, including international covenants on armed combat and a 2001 congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against al-Qaeda and associated organizations, but had not referred to any specific operations or documents.

In her ruling, McMahon found those arguments legally compelling and granted the government request for summary judgment against the ACLU and the Times.

But, she wrote in an introduction to the opinion, the case raised constitutional questions about executive power and “whether we are indeed a nation of laws, not of men. The administration has engaged in public discussion of the legality of targeted killing, even of citizens, but in cryptic and imprecise ways.”

“More fulsome disclosure” of the administration’s legal reasoning “would allow for intelligent discussion and assessment of a tactic that (like torture before it) remains hotly debated,” McMahon wrote. “It might also help the public understand the scope of the ill-defined yet vast and seemingly ever-growing exercise in well over a decade, at great cost in lives, treasure and (at least in the minds of some) personal liberty.”

“However, this Court is constrained by law,” she wrote, and the government “cannot be compelled . . . to explain in detail the reasons why its actions do not violate the constitution and laws of the United States.”

The ACLU and the Times both said they plan to appeal. A similar ACLU case covering many of the same issues remains pending in the U.S. District Court in Washington.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/2013/01/02/83799c18-5515-11e2-8b9e-dd8773594efc_story.html?hpid=z3

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« Reply #7833 on: Jan 3rd, 2013, 09:33am »

7 News Brisbane

UFO sightings reported in north Queensland

7News Brisbane
January 3, 2013, 11:20 am


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Several people in the tiny tropical town of Cardwell have reported seeing unidentified lights in the evening sky.

At least four residents in the coastal area, 165 kilometres north of Townsville, told The Townsville Bulletin they witnessed what they believed was a UFO.

One local businessman, who recorded two lights moving side-by-side through the sky, proclaimed to be 'the world's biggest skeptic,' but says he's now convinced.

"There were two large orange lights... no beam and no noise," Greg Smith said.

"It was absolutely silent and they were moving slowly across the sky towards the north-west."

Mr Smith said the fact that he couldn't hear any activity ruled out the likelihood it may be a helicopter.

"I'll tell you what, this really rattled me and my son," he said.

Another Cardwell couple said the lights were visible two nights in a row.

"We watched it for a few minutes and then it disappeared," Phil Mulley said.
"The next night my sister rang me and said to look outside. I went and looked and there were two lights.

http://au.news.yahoo.com/queensland/a/-/latest/15755133/ufo-sightings-reported-in-north-queensland/

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« Reply #7834 on: Jan 3rd, 2013, 09:41am »

Scientific American

2 January 2013

New Year, New Science

Key findings and events that may emerge in 2013 concern stem cell trials, gene patents, open-access research papers and an updated U.N. climate assessment

By Richard Van Noorden and Nature magazine

Stem-cell trials

Landmark results from an early-stage clinical trial using human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) should appear this year. Biotechnology firm Advanced Cell Technology of Santa Monica, California, is injecting hESC-derived retinal cells into the eyes of around three dozen people with two forms of non-treatable degenerative blindness. It is the only company currently testing hESC therapies with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, and it hopes that the agency will give it the green light to test stem cells induced from adult cells in patients this year.

Diagnostics controversy

The American Psychiatric Association will publish the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in May, the first major update in 19 years to the standard reference guide for diagnosing mental illnesses. It will lead to controversial changes in clinical and research protocols, including restructured diagnoses for autism and major depression, although as a ‘living document’ the DSM-5 will see further revisions.

Climate assessment

Climate scientists have spent years preparing the fifth assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, its first update since 2007. Part of that report is due to appear in September: the conclusions of Working Group I, which summarizes the basic science of global warming. In the U.S., the Global Change Research Program’s second assessment will detail the national impacts of climate change.

The Big Bang’s glow

One of the stunning images of the year could be provided by the comet ISON, which will pass close to the Sun in November and could outshine the full Moon as its surface boils away into space. Just as spectacular will be the Planck space telescope’s map of the faint microwave afterglow from the Big Bang, which could even reveal ripples from gravitational waves generated during an initial period of cosmic ‘inflation’. In other missions, NASA’s LADEE spacecraft will orbit the Moon to study lunar dust; its MAVEN mission will launch to explore Mars’ upper atmosphere; and the Curiosity rover will continue to send back results from the red planet’s surface. Back on Earth, Chile’s massive 66-dish Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array will be completed.

Diet, microbes and cancer

Scientists increasingly suspect that our intestinal zoo of microbes might be the key link between diet and diseases such as cancer. A study last year connected a higher proportion of the bacterium Escherichia coli to colorectal cancer in mice with inflammatory bowel disease (J. C. Arthur et al. Science 338, 120–123; 2012). More studies this year will unpick the effect of diets on the gut microbiome and their implications for disease risk. Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline should find out whether the FDA approves its melanoma treatment trametinib, potentially the first in a new class of compound that inhibits a kinase signaling pathway regulating cell growth.

Particle seeking

After contradictory sightings of dark-matter particles from various underground experiments, the Large Underground Xenon detector at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, S.D., may this year boost or rule out some of the claims. The king of particle hunters—the Large Hadron Collider at CERN near Geneva—will shut down until 2015 for an upgrade to enable more powerful collisions, but physicists will continue to pore over the data collected so far for hints of supersymmetry.

more after the jump:
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=new-year-new-science

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« Reply #7835 on: Jan 3rd, 2013, 09:45am »

Hollywood Reporter

Senate Intelligence Committee to Probe 'Zero Dark Thirty' Filmmakers' CIA Access

8:13 PM PST 1/2/2013
by Tina Daunt

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee has begun an examination of the contacts between the CIA and the makers of Zero Dark Thirty, which has come under intense criticism in Washington for its depiction of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

A well-placed Washington source told The Hollywood Reporter Wednesday evening that members of the committee -- led by U.S Sen. Dianne Feinstein -- are trying to determine whether the agency gave director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal inappropriate access to secret materials about the government's efforts to find the mastermind of 9/11.

According to Reuters, which first reported the probe, the senators want to determine "whether CIA personnel are responsible for the portrayal of harsh interrogation practices, and in particular the suggestion that they were effective."

The move comes weeks after committee chair Feinstein, along with senators John McCain and Carl Levin, expressed outrage over what they believe is the erroneous suggestion in the film that torture led to information that helped kill bin Laden. The senators sent a sharply worded letter to Sony Pictures, the film's distributor, asking that a disclosure be added to the movie.

According to Reuters, investigators plan to examine records detailing contacts between Bigelow, Boal and the CIA. Government e-mails and other documents turned over last year to the conservative group Judicial Watch indicate that both the CIA and Pentagon gave the filmmakers extensive access.

One of the intelligence officials whom the documents show as having met with the filmmakers is Michael Morell, the CIA's deputy director at the time and now the agency's acting chief. Morell last month penned a letter to CIA personnel criticizing the film's graphic torture scenes, an extraordinary move for a sitting CIA official.

"What I want you to know is that Zero Dark Thirty is a dramatization, not a realistic portrayal of the facts," Morell told agency personnel. "CIA interacted with the filmmakers through our Office of Public Affairs but, as is true with any entertainment project with which we interact, we do not control the final product."

A CIA spokesperson could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening. It is highly unusual for government officials to offer condemnations of Hollywood films, which are clearly protected by the First Amendment. An official probe into the access gained by filmmakers to CIA employees is even more rare, especially considering the senators and Morell called the movie fictional in their letters.

A spokesperson for Sony tells THR in a statement: “As the studio distributing Zero Dark Thirty in the United States, we are proud of this important film. Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal and their creative team have made an extraordinary motion picture and we fully support bringing this remarkable story to the screen.”

Boal and Bigalow released a statement last month defending the depiction of torture. "The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes," the filmmakers said. "One thing is clear: the single greatest factor in finding the world's most dangerous man was the hard work and dedication of the intelligence professionals who spent years working on this global effort.'

The movie, which has already premiered in New York and Los Angeles and is considered a likely Oscar contender, is set to be screened for lawmakers and others in Washington on Jan. 8. It will open nationwide Jan. 11.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/zero-dark-thirty-senate-intelligence-407782

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« Reply #7836 on: Jan 3rd, 2013, 09:47am »





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« Reply #7837 on: Jan 3rd, 2013, 10:37am »

Daily Mail

Former mental health patient who 'killed three women in Swiss village gun rampage' to be questioned about Alps massacre of British family

The killer wielded three weapons as he fired indiscriminately in the street

Reports say 'drunk' man was wounded in police shootout and arrested

The massacre has striking similarities to Alps attack on British family

By Peter Allen

PUBLISHED:23:03 EST, 2 January 2013
UPDATED: 11:30 EST, 3 January 2013

A gunman thought to have murdered three women in a rampage through an Alpine village is to be questioned about a similar massacre on a British family last year, it emerged today.

Police in Switzerland are waiting to interview the unnamed 33-year-old psychiatric patient thought to be responsible for last night's carnage in Daillon, in the Valais canton, 60 miles east of Geneva.

The man, who has a history of threatening people with guns, is in intensive care after being shot in the chest by a tactical police firearms unit last night.

Swiss general prosecutor Catherine Sappey said today: ''The man was known for having issued threats. Had they not stopped him he would have killed more people.'

At around 8.30pm, the alleged killer stormed out of the Channe D'Or (Gold Pitcher) restaurant in Daillon following a heavy drinking session, and picked up two rifles from his nearby flat.

more after the jump:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2256412/Gunman-shoots-wounds-quiet-Swiss-village-Reports-say-drunk-man-wounded-police-shootout-arrested.html

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« Reply #7838 on: Jan 3rd, 2013, 5:22pm »

Hollywood Reporter

George Lucas Engaged to DreamWorks Animation Chairman Mellody Hobson

1:24 PM PST 1/3/2013
by Sophie A. Schillaci


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The duo has been romantically linked since 2006.

Just months after selling Lucasfilm Ltd. to Disney, George Lucas is ready for another big change: marriage.

The Star Wars writer-director is engaged to longtime girlfriend and DreamWorks Animation chairman Mellody Hobson, a rep for Lucasfilm confirms to The Hollywood Reporter. It will be the first marriage for Hobson, 43, and the second for Lucas, 68.

In addition to her gig with DreamWorks, Hobson also heads Chicago-based investment management firm Ariel Investments Llc. and is chairman of Ariel Mutual Funds. Ariel reportedly is among the largest African-American-owned money management and mutual fund companies in the U.S.

Hobson is a regular financial contributor to ABC’s Good Morning America and in 2009 hosted a show on the same network called Unbroke: What You Need to Know About Money.

Lucas made headlines in October for donating his $4.05 billion payday – the amount he received for selling Lucasfilm – to an education foundation.

“As I start a new chapter in my life, it is gratifying that I have the opportunity to devote more time and resources to philanthropy,” Lucas said at the time.

It is not yet known when and where Lucas and Hobson, who have dated since 2006, will tie the knot.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/george-lucas-mellody-hobson-engaged-408012

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« Reply #7839 on: Jan 4th, 2013, 09:57am »

New York Times

Vatican Goes ‘Cash Only’ Because of Lack of Money Laundering Controls

By HARVEY MORRIS
4 January 2013

LONDON — If you’re planning a trip to the Vatican, be sure to take cash.

Since Wednesday, museums and businesses in the Holy See have been declining credit card and debit card purchases following a decision by the Bank of Italy that is reportedly linked to concerns over inadequate money-laundering controls.

Cash machines have also been shut down after the Italian central bank refused authorization for Deutsche Bank’s Italian unit to continue operating services it provided within the Vatican’s walls.

An Italian Treasury official said last month that the Vatican could no longer use the services of Italian-based banks in the light of new anti-money laundering rules, according to Vatican Radio.

“The Bank of Italy could not give the authorization because the Vatican, apart from not respecting money laundering regulation, did not have the legal prerequisites,” Reuters reported, quoting a source close to the Bank of Italy.

The banking freeze, which has prompted the move to cash-only transactions, and which Vatican officials have tersely dismissed as a technical problem, has prompted speculation in the Italian press that a fresh scandal is about to erupt involving the mini-state’s still shadowy finances.

Pope Benedict XVI has pledged to throw light on the Holy See’s finances and on its ultra-secretive Institute for Works of Religion, otherwise known as the Vatican Bank. He has even hired a Swiss anti-money-laundering expert, René Brülhart, to oversee the process.

A report by Moneyval, an official European financial watchdog, reported last year that the Vatican was failing in almost half the criteria required to meet standards of financial transparency. The Holy See had come a long way in a short time, the report said. However, the Vatican Bank continued to lack independent supervision.

Mr. Brülhart’s brief involves getting the Vatican included in a “white list” of territories judged to comply with international standards on combating financial crime.

The Vatican’s efforts to shake off a reputation for shadowy finances date back to 1982 and the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano, in which the Vatican Bank was a major shareholder.

At the height of that scandal, the body of Roberto Calvi, the Ambrosiano chairman known as “God’s Banker” for his Vatican ties, was found hanging beneath Blackfriars Bridge in London.

The Ambrosiano affair was not the last of the Vatican’s troubles, however.

Just last May, the Vatican Bank fired Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, its chairman, after a three-year tenure marred by financial scandal. In 2010, Italian prosecutors had seized the equivalent of $29 million from a Rome bank account registered to the Vatican Bank, amid suspicions of money-laundering violations.

As the current ban on credit cards suggests, the Vatican’s efforts to clean up its finances have only been partially successful.

Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said contacts were under way with other operators to resume normal banking services and the suspension would be “short-lived.”

In the meantime, at the Vatican’s museums and souvenir stores, it’s cash only, please.

http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/vatican-goes-cash-only-because-of-lack-of-money-laundering-controls/?ref=world

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« Reply #7840 on: Jan 4th, 2013, 10:02am »

Der Spiegel


01/04/2013

Between Syria's Fronts
A Two-Year Travelogue from Hell

By Christoph Reuter

Since unrest began in Syria in the spring of 2011, reporting from the country has been difficult. Former contacts are now dead or can't be located, and the country lies in ruins. Now, amid harrowing conditions, the balance of power appears to have shifted, with rebels beginning to gain the upper hand.

Night falls quickly in Syria, as the overloaded pickup trucks carrying stray refugee families emerge through the mist. The headlight beams from our car fall over destroyed houses on our drive through olive groves and abandoned towns. Campfires can occasionally be seen in the distance.

We've driven along this road once before, in April 2012, which these days seems like an eternity ago. At the time, there was still electricity here, and people still lived in Taftanas, Sarmin, Kurin and other villages in Idlib Province, in northern Syria. But now, in December 2012, entire villages are empty and pockmarked with bullet holes, their residents having fled from airstrikes, hunger and frigid temperatures.

After a while, we reach a village where residents did not openly demonstrate against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in the past. As a result, they still have electricity today. A man opens a door, shivering as he looks out at the damp, cold landscape. "Thank God for this weather!" he says wryly. It's been raining for days, and everything seems immersed in fog and mud. But the fog is also a deterrent against aircraft and helicopters, sparing the area the usual bombardment for a few days and providing a moment of calm in the midst of the apocalypse.

Today, Syria is a devastated country. The cities have turned into battlefields, and in the places from which the Assad regime's troops and militias were forced to withdraw, its air force is now incinerating the infrastructure.

Nevertheless, after months of static conflict between unequally matched forces, during which provinces were neither lost by the regime nor gained by the rebels, the balance has suddenly shifted. Military camps, airports and cities are falling to the rebels, while demoralized and hungry Syrian army units are simply giving up. The rebels are already on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, the capital. The army is defending its last bastions in the north and east, like islands in a sea, only able to receive supplies from the air. Even the Russian government, Assad's most important ally next to Iran, is gradually abandoning the dictator. Before Christmas, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wasn't concerned with the fate of the Assad regime.

Anxiety about Postwar Syria

"We are tired," says one of the rebels who have gathered in the village on this evening. The group includes a man charged with distributing bread, a few fighters and the owner of the only satellite telephone in the village. Everyone here has lost friends and relatives, in a country that is sinking all around them.

"The others, the soldiers, are also tired. But at least we know what we're fighting for," the rebel says. Even though they are sometimes worried about the future, about the days after victory when revenge will be taken, another adds: "Who can blame someone whose family was killed?"

But where would that leave a revolution that was intended to bring down the dictator, but not plunge the country into a civil war? The Assad regime will fall, but no one knows what will happen after that.

The West has a bizarre impression of the Syrian revolution, fueled by the multiplicity of reports, photos and videos from a war zone. But who exactly are these Syrians, of whom initially a few, and then hundreds of thousands, began protesting in the spring of 2011 and eventually took up arms against the regime? What is really happening in the country where -- depending on one's interpretation of events -- either al-Qaida groups have long infiltrated the insurgency or the CIA is merely staging everything to bring about "regime change?"

At least 2 million Syrians are currently refugees within their own country, and more than 500,000 have fled to neighboring countries. This week, the United Nations reported that it estimates more than 60,000 people have been killed in the uprising.

Two Years of Change

Since the beginning of the revolution, we -- a photographer, a Syrian colleague and I -- have traveled around the country a number of times, mostly following secret routes, passed on from one local opposition group to the next. We have been in hiding and have worn disguises, and we have been shot at and chased. It isn't easy to cope with the fact that so many of the people who helped us are now dead.

The current trip, shortly before Christmas, is our eighth since the beginning of the revolution. It passes through the north and to Deir el-Zour, a center for the petroleum industry on the Euphrates River, deep in the country's eastern desert. On our earlier trips, we passed through more than two-thirds of the populated parts of Syria, often spending weeks traveling in Damascus, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Idlib and countless other cities, towns and villages.

We witnessed the beginning of the peaceful demonstrations, the inferno and the strange periods of calm in between.

At the beginning, in 2011, I traveled to the country three times on an official visa, allegedly as an agricultural adviser, an alibi so absurd that it was above suspicion. At the government forces' checkpoints, it helped to identify myself as a devout Christian -- not because all Christians support Assad, but because the regime would like to have their support. In 2011, we were still able to move back and forth between the two sides. But, by 2012, we could only travel in areas no longer controlled by Assad's troops. Unfortunately, this limited our field of vision.

On the other hand, the rebel-controlled area is large and uneven enough to avoid affiliation with individual groups. Moreover, we made a concerted effort to report only what we had experienced firsthand.

This is also a story of loose ends. The people with whom it begins, in the summer of 2011, are almost all dead or missing. Some have taken their place, and some of those are now dead, too. Others have become hardened and obsessed with revenge. Still others have transformed themselves: Interior decorators have become guerilla commanders and electricians are now mayors. They are doing things they have never learned how to do, building a new system even before the old one has been overthrown.

more after the jump:
http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/shift-in-balance-of-power-for-rebels-in-wartorn-syria-a-875423.html

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« Reply #7841 on: Jan 4th, 2013, 10:08am »

Hollywood Reporter

Senators Step Up Pressure on CIA to Turn Over 'Zero Dark Thirty' Documents

4:20 PM PST 1/3/2013
by Tina Daunt

Three senior U.S. senators who have assailed Oscar contender Zero Dark Thirty for alleged factual inaccuracies now are raising the possibility that the CIA might have misled director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal and are demanding that the agency turn over documents that could clarify the question.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., have attacked the cinematic portrayal of the decadelong hunt for Osama bin Laden because they believe it suggests that information obtained by torturing Al Qaeda detainees aided in the search for the terrorist kingpin.

However, in a Dec. 19 letter to acting CIA director Michael Morell, the lawmakers expressed a concern that “given the CIA’s cooperation with the filmmakers and the narrative’s consistency with past public misstatements by former senior CIA officials, filmmakers could have been misled by information they were provided by the CIA.” The senators went on to demand that the intelligence agency turn over to them “all information and documents provided to the filmmakers by CIA officials.”

In a second letter sent Dec. 31, Feinstein, Levin and McCain responded to an unusual message Morrell sent to all CIA employees on Dec. 21. In that message, which was posted to the agency's website, the acting director stated that “some [intelligence related to bin Laden’s location] came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well.”

Morell's statement irked Feinstein because it contradicts the Senate Intelligence Committee's recently released report, which concluded that no information obtained through torture played a constructive role in tracking bin Laden to the hiding place in Pakistan where he ultimately was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs. The Senate study was based on information from members of the CIA, including Morell.

The three lawmakers’ second letter demands that the acting director provide them with any information obtained from CIA detainees subjected to so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” and whether such information was provided prior to, during or after the detainee was subjected to torture.

The senators noted that Morrell has acknowledged in an e-mail that he personally met with the filmmakers for 40 minutes to provide “substance.”

"Another publicly released CIA email states that 'As a [sic] Agency, we’ve been pretty forward-leaning with [the filmmaker], and he’s agreed to share scripts and details about the movie with us so we’re absolutely comfortable with what he will be showing,' ” the senators wrote.

"Given the discrepancy between the facts above and what is depicted in the film, previous misstatements by retired CIA officials, as well as what appears to be the CIA’s unprecedented cooperation with the filmmakers, we request that you provide the Committee with all information and documents provided to the filmmakers by CIA officials, former officials, or contractors, including talking points prepared for use in those meetings."

The texts of both letters from the senators were released late Thursday in Washington.

Sony, which is releasing Zero Dark Thirty in the U.S., declined to comment.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/zero-dark-thirty-senators-step-408178

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« Reply #7842 on: Jan 4th, 2013, 10:10am »

Science Daily

Best Evidence Yet That Dinosaurs Used Feathers the Way Peacocks Do, for Courtship

Jan. 4, 2013

— A University of Alberta researcher's examination of fossilized dinosaur tail bones has led to a breakthrough finding: some feathered dinosaurs used tail plumage to attract mates, much like modern-day peacocks and turkeys.

U of A Paleontology researcher Scott Persons followed a chain of fossil evidence that started with a peculiar fusing together of vertebrae at the tip of the tail of four different species of dinosaurs, some separated in time and evolution by 45 million years.

Persons says the final vertebrae in the tails of a group of dinosaurs called oviraptors were fused together forming a ridged, blade-like structure. "The structure is called a pygostyle" says Persons. "Among modern animals only birds have them."

Researchers say fossils of Similicaudiptery, an early oviraptor, reveals feathers radiating from the fused bones at the tail tip. Similicaudiptery was not known to be a flying dinosaur and Persons contends its tail feathers evolved as a means of waving its feathered tail fans.

No direct fossil evidence of feathers has been found with the fossils of the oviraptors that followed Similicaudiptery, but Persons says there is still strong evidence they had a feathered tail.

Persons reasons that because the later oviraptor had the same tail structure as the feathered Similicaudipteryx, the tails of later oviraptors' still served the same purpose, waving feathered tail fans.

Persons says the hypothesis of oviraptor tail waving is supported by both the bone and muscle structure of the tail.

Individual vertebrae at the base of an oviraptor's tail were short and numerous, indicating great flexibility. Based on dissections of modern reptile and bird tails, Persons reconstruction of the dinosaur's tail muscles revealed oviraptors had what it took to really shake their tail feathers.

Large muscles extended far down the tail and had a sufficient number of broad connection points to the vertebrae to propel oviraptor's tail feathers vigorously from side to side and up and down.

Oviraptors were two-legged dinosaurs that had already gone through major diversifications from the iconic, meat eating dinosaur family. Oviraptors were plant eaters that roamed parts of China, Mongolia, and Alberta during the Cretaceous period, the final age of the dinosaur.

"By this time a variety of dinosaurs used feathers for flight and insulation from the cold, "said Persons. "This shows that by the Late Cretaceous dinosaurs were doing everything with feathers that modern birds do now," said Persons.

In addition to feathered-tail waving, oviraptors also had prominent bone crests on their head, which Persons says the dinosaur also may have used in mating displays.

"Between the crested head and feathered-tail shaking, oviraptors had a propensity for visual exhibitionism," said Persons.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130104083114.htm

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« Reply #7843 on: Jan 4th, 2013, 10:48pm »

Psychology of Compromise: Why Congress Fails

Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 03 January 2013 Time: 02:33 PM ET

Hyenas do it. Elephants do it. But apparently congressional representatives do not.

"It" would be cooperation, which has been little-seen in Washington during the "fiscal cliff" negotiations. Despite a deadline they themselves set with consequences no one wanted, Democrats and Republicans went down to the wire before passing a bill that averts major cuts and tax increases but sets the stage for more bickering over the raising of the nation's debt limit and other budgetary issues.

Already, some lawmakers were calling for tough terms in those upcoming battles, with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) urging Republicans on Wednesday (Jan. 2) to prepare to shut down the government over the debt limit negotiations.

Meanwhile, the 112th Congress failed to meet end-of-the-year deadlines, resulting in the death of the Violence Against Women Act, which had been in place since 1994. Likewise, the House of Representatives sparked a furor when Speaker John Boehner canceled a vote on a bill to aid victims of Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey. The outrage prompted Boehner to schedule a vote for tomorrow (Jan. 4) for the new Congress being sworn in today (Jan. 3). (Which now has passed.)

Why all the rancor? A major contributor is partisan polarization, which political scientists say is at historic levels among the political elite. But simple human psychology may also explain why it's so tough to compromise, with feelings often trumping logic in heated debates.

A Congress divided

Polarization in American politics ebbs and flows. Among average Americans, political views have likely not changed that much over the years. According to research presented in January 2012 at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the public has become no more extreme in its political views in the last 20 years.

People have begun to see politics as more polarized, however, which can influence them to vote and otherwise become politically active, the researchers found. Strong Republicans and strong Democrats see the gulf between their parties as enormous, a perception that could prompt them to become more active than independents or less-extreme party members. Thus, even the perception of polarization can influence who gets elected.

While the public remains relatively purple, the blue and red factions in Congress have moved apart. Congressional votes are more likely to fall along party lines now than they were in the mid-20th century, a relatively nonpolarized time in American history. Conservative Democrats have increasingly become Republicans, while liberal Republicans are more likely to identify as Democrats, said Nolan McCarty, a professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University who has written a book about political polarization in America.

"Voters who are pro-life, anti-tax, anti-regulatory are almost all in the Republican Party," McCarty told LiveScience in 2010. "All of their counterparts who are pro-choice, pro-redistribution, pro-federal government are in the Democratic Party."

Stubborn psychology

With few aisle-crossing congressional representatives around, it's no wonder the two sides rarely see eye-to-eye. But negotiation is tough even without the extra complication of politics. Psychologically, it's harder to negotiate when the outcomes involve losses (such as higher taxes or fewer benefits) than when they involve gains, University of Amsterdam psychologist Carsten de Dreu told the Association for Psychological Science in 2011 after a congressional supercommittee failed to reach an agreement to reduce the national debt.

Likewise, emotion can blind negotiators to agreeable deals. In a study released in 2009 in the journal Psychological Science, researchers had participants play a game often used to study the intricacies of negotiation. In the game, a participant is given a certain amount of money and told to split it with a second person. If the second person accepts the offer, the money is split. If the second person sees the offer as unfair and rejects it, neither gets any money.

Thus, the first negotiator has to consider the likelihood of the second person accepting the split before they make their offer. The researchers found that participants who relied more on their feelings versus logic in playing the game made less generous offers — even though, logically, such offers are less likely to be accepted, resulting in no money for anyone.

Pros and cons of emotion

On the other hand, emotions aren't all bad — at least for getting what you want. The more emotional participants in the game made as much or more money than the logical ones, suggesting some advantages to relying on your feelings.

Anger can also be advantageous, according to a study published in Psychological Science in 2010. European Americans who read offers by reportedly angry negotiators coughed up more concessions than European Americans who read offers by neutral negotiators. (The same was not true of Asian or Asian American participants, who gave up less to angry negotiators than neutral ones. The results show that anger is only useful in negotiations when it is seen as culturally appropriate by both parties, the researchers wrote.)

Perhaps the anger advantage was what Boehner was aiming for last Friday (Dec. 28), when he reportedly told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, "Go f--- yourself." Either way, however, the real secret to compromise appears to be a good-faith effort to see the world through your opponent's eyes.

In 2008, Northwestern University's Adam Galinsky and his colleagues had participants negotiate a complex deal. Half the participants were urged to focus on how their opponent felt during the negotiations. The other half were told to focus on what their opponent was thinking. The second group, known as the "perspective takers," were much more effective compromisers than the first, with 76 percent of those focusing on their opponents' thoughts reaching a deal compared with 54 percent of those focused on feelings.

In other words, if the goal is to reach a compromise, emotions are better set aside.

"The current research suggests that in mixed-motive interactions, it is better to 'think for' than to 'feel for' one’s adversaries — more beneficial to get inside their heads than to have them inside one’s own heart," the study authors wrote.

http://www.livescience.com/25962-psychology-compromise-congress-fiscal-cliff.html
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« Reply #7844 on: Jan 5th, 2013, 11:08am »

"Why Congress Fails"


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