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Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

Journal Archives

Gunshots fired at Al Jazeera bureau in Gaza

Gunshots have been fired into Al Jazeera’s bureau in the Gaza Strip amid an intensified bombardment campaign on the Palestinian enclave.

The shots caused panic among the civilians living in the same building but no casualties have been reported in the incident on Tuesday morning.

"Two very precise shots were fired straight into our building", Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from the bureau in Gaza said.

"We are high up in the building so we had a very strong vantage point over the area. But we have evacuated."

The bureau is situated in a residential area of Gaza City.


Don’t give up on America’s long-term unemployed just yet

Federal Reserve researchers argue that the central bank has been right not to give up on the ranks of America’s long-term unemployed.

The plight of the long-term jobless has been at the heart of Fed chair Janet Yellen’s position that the US central bank can and should continue to provide support for the US economy in the form of low interest rates and an ongoing—though tapering—bond-buying program.

Opponents have said there isn’t much that Fed policy can do, and that unduly long periods without a job have rendered large swaths of American workers unemployable through a process known to wonks as hysteresis.

But new Federal Reserve research contradicts this pessimistic assessment, and suggests that the recent decline in US unemployment has been driven, largely, by improvement in long-term unemployment. The researchers write:

In many ways the fight against unemployment during the recent recovery has been mainly one of bringing down the long-term unemployment rate. By the end of 2010, short-term unemployment rates (the blue and green lines) were only 1/2 percentage point above their pre-recession levels, while the long-term unemployment rate (in red) was markedly elevated. Since then, about two-thirds of the decline in the aggregate unemployment rate can be accounted for by a retracing of the long-term unemployment rate.



It’s time to admit that America will never really include black America

By Reniqua Allen

Last week, after watching another black man die at the hands of the New York City police, I can’t help but wonder whether there will ever be true equality for African Americans. The number of African Americans that have been victimized, murdered, terrorized, shot, and left for dead seems not just to be a legacy of some bloodstained Jim Crow past, but a part of a present moment that seems just as bleak. While there has been some progress, the narrative of the black experience in America feels remarkably static, as if it’s just shaken up, flipped, and twisted for a new generation.

It’s making me question whether America is truly the best place for African Americans.

I recently watched a film from the 1970s called Space is the Place. It’s about an African American leader who wants blacks to leave an oppressive America for a new land in outer space where blacks will have more agency and equal opportunities to thrive. On the surface, the movie is every form of ridiculousness you can imagine, with a slick-talking pimp, outrageous wardrobes, and a spaceship that looks like a pair of binoculars. But the heart of the film, the idea of mobility and liberation through migration is intriguing—and one that has been missing for nearly a century from our current dialogue about upward mobility and the state of black America.

Is it time to revisit?

I don’t have to repeat all of the ways in which black lives are challenged in America. You’ve heard all the statistics. Read about Trayvon, Jordan, and Emmett. Watched as the nation grieves for missing white girls, while the stories of 64,000 black and brown girls remain unheard. Look at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece on reparations or glance at some of the most recent reports about black life and you’ll find higher rates of unemployment, a larger wealth gap, more foreclosed homes and lower education rates. Last year the Washington Post found that “the economic disparities separating blacks and whites remain as wide as they were when marchers assembled on the Mall in 1963.”


But none of this is a surprise. Nowadays it seems as if the stagnant state of the black community has been normalized, accepted as part of a reality instead of a crisis that needs to be attacked as ferociously as one would a plague.



Your Brain Is On the Brink of Chaos


In one important way, the recipient of a heart transplant ignores its new organ: Its nervous system usually doesn’t rewire to communicate with it. The 40,000 neurons controlling a heart operate so perfectly, and are so self-contained, that a heart can be cut out of one body, placed into another, and continue to function perfectly, even in the absence of external control, for a decade or more. This seems necessary: The parts of our nervous system managing our most essential functions behave like a Swiss watch, precisely timed and impervious to perturbations. Chaotic behavior has been throttled out.

Or has it? Two simple pendulums that swing with perfect regularity can, when yoked together, move in a chaotic trajectory. Given that the billions of neurons in our brain are each like a pendulum, oscillating back and forth between resting and firing, and connected to 10,000 other neurons, isn’t chaos in our nervous system unavoidable?

The prospect is terrifying to imagine. Chaos is extremely sensitive to initial conditions—just think of the butterfly effect. What if the wrong perturbation plunged us into irrevocable madness? Among many scientists, too, there is a great deal of resistance to the idea that chaos is at work in biological systems. Many intentionally preclude it from their models. It subverts computationalism, which is the idea that the brain is nothing more than a complicated, but fundamentally rule-based, computer. Chaos seems unqualified as a mechanism of biological information processing, as it allows noise to propagate without bounds, corrupting information transmission and storage.

At the same time, chaos has its advantages. On a behavioral level, the arms race between predator and prey has wired erratic strategies into our nervous system.1 A moth sensing an echolocating bat, for example, immediately directs itself away from the ultrasound source. The neurons controlling its flight fire in an increasingly erratic manner as the bat draws closer, until the moth, darting in fits, appears to be nothing but a tumble of wings and legs. More generally, chaos could grant our brains a great deal of computational power, by exploring many possibilities at great speed.



Check out the crystal tools ancient Americans used to kill their dinner

By Marissa Fessenden

Paleo diet adherents can add another food item to their menu: a four-tusked, elephant-like animal that roamed the Americas during the Miocene and Pliocene.

Scientists has discovered the bones of just such a creature in Mexico along with evidence that they were nommed by early Native Americans.

The trunked animals are now extinct, so you can’t really eat them, but eating a truly Paleo diet was always a questionable proposition. The findings do, however, have some neat implications for how humans first came to the Western Hemisphere.

The tusked giants were called gomphotheres. Scientists didn’t realize that humans preyed on gomphotheres because they never found any evidence for that—gomphotheres are rare in the fossil record. The new discovery, dug up in the Sonoran Desert at a site called El Fin del Mundo, shows that humans and gomphotheres did clash, to the detriment of the latter. Two sets of gomphothere bones were found with 27 stone and bone tools used by the so-called Clovis people, the earliest well-characterized group of humans in the Americas.

To add to the already cool finding, one of the artifacts was a clear quartz crystal point, embedded just one meter away from a gomphothere. These early Native Americans hunted in style. The findings were published July 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.



Goodbye to the Republican Wave?

Republicans entered this election cycle with high hopes. President Obama’s approval ratings had sunk into the low 40s, and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act had been an unmitigated disaster. In an off-year election, Democrats weren’t expected to fully mobilize the young and diverse coalition that has given them an advantage in presidential elections. Off-years are also when a president’s party typically suffers significant losses.

This year seemed poised to turn into another so-called wave election, like in 2006 or 2010, when a rising tide of dissatisfaction with the incumbent party swept the opposition into power. Given a favorable midterm map, with so many Democratic Senate seats in play, some analysts suggested that Republicans could win a dozen of them, perhaps even picking up seats in states like Virginia, New Hampshire and Oregon.

The anti-Democratic wave might still arrive. But with three and a half months to go until November’s elections, the promised Republican momentum has yet to materialize.

The race for the Senate, at least right now, is stable. There aren’t many polls asking whether voters would prefer Democrats or Republicans to control Congress, but the Democrats appear to maintain a slight edge among registered voters. Democratic incumbents in red Republican states, who would be all but doomed in a Republican wave, appear doggedly competitive in places where Mitt Romney won by as much as 24 points in 2012.



Tuesday Toon Roundup 4: The Rest

The Issue






Tuesday Toon Roundup 3: Immigrants

Tuesday Toon Roundup 2: Eye for an Eye

Tuesday Toon Roundup 1: Shot down

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