Special thanks go to Magnifico for starting this venerable series.
Lead Off Story
Ukraine Plans To Pull Military From Crimea, Conceding Loss
Bowing to the reality of the Russian military occupation of Crimea a day after Russia announced it was annexing the disputed peninsula, the Ukrainian government said on Wednesday that it had drawn up plans to evacuate all of its military personnel and their families and was prepared to relocate as many as 25,000 of them to mainland Ukraine.
Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and sailors have been trapped on military bases and other installations here for more than two weeks, surrounded by heavily armed Russian military forces and loosely organized local militia.
While the provisional government in Kiev has insisted that Russia’s annexation of Crimea is illegal and has appealed to international supporters for help, the evacuation announcement by the head of the national security council, Andriy Parubiy, effectively amounted to a surrender of Crimea, at least from a military standpoint.
It came hours after militiamen, backed by Russian forces, seized the headquarters of the Ukrainian navy in Sevastopol and detained its commander.
Iran, Six Powers Lock Horns Over Nuclear Reactor That Could Yield Plutonium
Iran and world powers locked horns on Wednesday over the future of a planned Iranian nuclear reactor that could yield plutonium for bombs as the United States warned "hard work" will be needed to overcome differences when the sides reconvene in April.
The meeting in Vienna was the second in a series that the six nations - the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France, Britain - hope will produce a verifiable settlement on the scope of Iran's nuclear program, ensuring it is oriented to peaceful ends only, and put to rest the risk of a new Middle East war.
This week the two sides endeavored to iron out their positions on two of the thorniest issues: the level of uranium enrichment conducted in Iran, and its Arak heavy-water reactor that the West sees as a possible source of plutonium for bombs.
They appeared to reach no agreements and said only that they would meet again on April 7-9, also in the Austrian capital. However, Tehran's foreign minister voiced optimism that their July 20 deadline for a final agreement was within reach.
The broad goal is to transcend ingrained mutual mistrust and give the West confidence that Iran will not be able to produce atomic bombs while Tehran - in return - would win full relief from economic sanctions hamstringing the OPEC state's economy.
Venezuela Legislators Demand Investigation Into Opposition Deputy
Venezuela's congress has requested a criminal investigation be launched into opposition deputy Maria Corina Machado for crimes including treason in relation to her involvement in anti-government protests that have left at least 28 dead.
Machado, a 46-year-old engineer, has been one of the most visible leaders of six weeks of opposition demonstrations against socialist president Nicolas Maduro , the country's most serious unrest in a decade.
Ruling Socialist party legislators, who hold a majority of congressional seats, voted to ask the state prosecutor to investigate Machado for offences that range from damaging buildings to inciting civil war.
"We will not permit impunity. We will ensure revenge for those deaths. We will ensure these deaths will be paid for," said legislator Tania Diaz of the Socialist party. "Anyone who violates the right to life is violating the constitution."
The Central African Republic Has Become A Nightmare For Muslims
Halima, a 25-year-old Muslim, could not hold back tears when we met again recently in Bossemptele, about 185 miles north of Bangui, in the Central African Republic. She was living under the protection of the Catholic Church, after the anti-balaka militia slaughtered more than 80 Muslims in Bossemptele.
For the past six months, such militias have sought to avenge the devastation wrought by the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebel group, which took power last March in this majority-Christian country.
When we first spoke, two days earlier, Halima said that her husband and father-in-law were among the dead and that she had not heard from her three children since they had run away from the killers. At that point, there were 270 Muslims left in Bossemptele. Forty-eight hours later, only 80 Muslims remained at the mission — almost all women, children and people with disabilities.
Entire Muslim communities have disappeared. Baoro was once home to at least 4,000 Muslims and more than a dozen mosques. Now there are none. The last Muslims of Boali, where the local Catholic priest sheltered 700 in his church, left for Cameroon. The last Muslims of Yaloke, where more than 10,000 had lived, left for Chad.
The last Muslim in Mbaiki, Saleh Dido, was murdered recently by the anti-balaka, his throat slit as he tried to find shelter with police. Three weeks earlier, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza and the French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, had visited Mbaiki and declared it a “symbol of living together and reconciliation.” Now, its 4,000 Muslims are gone, their mosques destroyed.
Oil Industry Group: 'Irresponsible' To Link L.A. Quake, Fracking
An oil and gas industry association blasted a push by several members of the Los Angeles City Council to investigate whether hydraulic fracturing and other forms of oil well stimulation played any role in the earthquake that rattled Los Angeles on Monday, calling the move "appallingly irresponsible."
"It does not surprise us that the handful of extremist environmental organizations ... would attempt to make an entirely unfounded connection between hydraulic fracturing and the earthquake," Western States Petroleum Assn. President Catherine Reheis-Boyd wrote in a Wednesday statement.
"But when three members of the Los Angeles City Council make similar statements, despite an overwhelming amount of scientific and other evidence that contradicts their assertions, it is time for responsible leaders to say, 'Enough,'" Reheis-Boyd wrote. The trade group president stated that hydraulic fracturing, often referred to as fracking, "had nothing to do with" the Monday quake.
A motion presented Tuesday by Councilmen Paul Koretz and Mike Bonin and seconded by Councilman Bernard C. Parks asks for city departments to team up with the U.S. Geological Survey and other government agencies to report on whether fracking, acidizing and other well stimulation techniques contributed to the magnitude 4.4 quake.
“All high-pressure fracking and injection creates ‘seismic events’ .... It is crucial to the health and safety of the city's residents to understand the seismic impacts of oil and gas extraction activities in the city,” the motion stated.
Fed May Raise Rates As Soon As Next Spring, Yellen Suggests
The Federal Reserve will probably end its massive bond-buying program this coming fall, and could start to raise interest rates around six months later, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said on Wednesday.
That's a somewhat more aggressive path toward higher rates than some investors had anticipated, and both U.S. stocks and bonds slumped. Futures traders now are pricing in a first rate hike as soon as April 2015.
"She certainly moved (the timetable) up a little bit and I don't think the market was expecting that at all because she is widely viewed as being more on the dovish side of the aisle than she is on the hawkish side," said Peter Kenny, CEO of Clearpool Group in New York.
In announcing its view on future rates after a two-day policy meeting, the Fed dropped a set of guideposts it was using to help the public anticipate when it would finally start bumping overnight borrowing costs up from zero.
Yellen used her first press conference as Fed chair to emphasize that rates will stay low for a while, rise only gradually, and could end up staying lower than normal "for some time" even after the economy regains its health given lasting scars from the financial crisis.
Science and Technology
Ancient DNA Shows Moa Were Fine Until Humans Arrived
A study by Curtin University researchers and colleagues from Denmark and New Zealand strengthens the case for human involvement in the disappearance of New Zealand's iconic megaherbivore, the moa -- a distant relative of the Australian Emu.
All nine species of New Zealand moa, the largest weighing up to 250 kilograms, became extinct shortly after Polynesians arrived in the country in the late 13th century. Researchers have previously suggested, from limited genetic evidence, that huge populations of moa had collapsed before people arrived and hence influences other than people were responsible for the extinction.
Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, the researchers analysed the gene pools of four moa species in the 5000 years preceding their sudden extinction using ancient DNA from more than 250 radiocarbon-dated moa. The huge data sets provided an unprecedented level of insight into what was happening to the populations of an extinct megafauna, allowing a detailed examination of the extinction process.
"Elsewhere the situation may be more complex, but in the case of New Zealand the evidence provided by ancient DNA is now clear: the megafaunal extinctions were the result of human factors.
"Lessons can certainly be learnt from the historical study of megafaunal extinctions. As a community we need to be more aware of the impacts we are having on the environment today and what we, as a species, are responsible for in the past."
Colorado River Delta To Get Colorado River Water For First Time In Years
"Dampen" is the right word for it. Later this month, officials plan to release water from the Colorado River into the river's delta. It will be the first time in decades that people have released water into the delta for environmental reasons instead of, say, because a reservoir was too full, Nature News reports. Normally, the delta is mostly dry. Since the 1930s, successive dam projects have held back the river, so that folks in the U.S. and Mexico can use Colorado water for drinking, farming, and everything else.
This release certainly won't restore the delta to its former wetness. It represents less than 1 percent of the river's annual flow. Nevertheless, scientists think that even this amount of water—calculated to mimic days of light spring flooding, from the time before dams—will help. "The goal is to dampen broad swathes of the arid Colorado River delta," Nature News' Alexandra Witze writes, "allowing new cottonwood and willow trees to germinate and restore small patches of riparian habitat."
The release is timed to when native cottonwoods and willows drop their seeds, ScienceInsider reports. Ecologists hope those seeds will take root in the newly-wetted sand and drive out invasive salt cedars that have taken over.
Scientists themselves will proliferate in the area after the planned mini-flood. Hydrologists and ecologists will monitor where the water goes and how trees and birds react.
What Are The Acoustic Wonders Of The World?
Acoustic engineer Trevor Cox was inspired to embark on his life's grandest quest when he climbed down to the bottom of a sewer.
An expert who designs treatments to optimize the acoustics of concert halls and lecture rooms, Cox was participating in a TV interview on the acoustics of sewers when he was struck by something. "I heard something interesting down there, a sound sprialing around the sewer," he says. "It kind of took me by surprise, and it got me thinking: what other remarkable sounds are out there?"
Eventually, this line of thought led him to take up a new mission: finding the sonic wonders of the world. He set up a website and began his research, traveling to ancient mausoleums with strange acoustics, icebergs that creak and groan naturally and a custom-built organ called the Stalacpipe that harnesses the reverberations of stalactites in a Virginia cave. His new book, The Sound Book, catalogs his journeys to these locales. "They're places that you want to visit not for the more typical reason, that they've got beautiful views, but because they've got beautiful sounds," he says.
One of the most remarkable sites Cox visited is an abandoned oil tank in Inchindown, in the Scottish highlands, buried deep in a hillside in the 1940's to protect it from German bombing campaigns. "It's this vast space, the size of a small cathedral, and there's absolutely no light besides your flashlight," he says. "You don't realize how big it really it until you make a sound, and then the echo just goes on and on."
The extreme length of the echo, in fact, made Cox suspect the tank could overtake Hamilton Mausoleum, also in Scotland, which previously held the record for the world's longest echo. As a test, he shot a blank cartridge in the tank from a pistol, and timed the resulting reverberation at 75 seconds, giving the buried chamber the record.
Society and Culture
The Destructive Myth About Religion That Americans Disproportionately Believe
This week, Pew Research Center published the results of a survey conducted among 40,080 people in 40 countries between 2011 and 2013. The survey asked a simple question: Is belief in God essential to morality? While clear majorities say it is necessary, the U.S. continues to be an outlier.
In 22 of the 40 countries surveyed, the majority says it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person. “This position is highly prevalent, if not universal, in Africa and the Middle East,” says the report. No surprise there, but Asian and Latin countries such as Indonesia (99 percent), Malaysia (89 percent), the Philippines (99 percent), El Salvador (93 percent), and Brazil (86 percent) all fell in the highest percentile of respondents believing belief in a god (small G) is central to having good values.
Interestingly, clear majorities in all highly developed countries do not think belief in god to be necessary for morality, with one exception only: the USA.
With the exception of the U.S. and China, the survey finds that those “in richer nations tend to place less emphasis on the need to believe in God to have good values than people in poorer countries do.” [...]
Staying with the U.S., this correlation between a high rate of poverty and high degree of religiosity is supported by a 2009 Pew Forum “Importance of Religion” study that determined the degree of religious fervor in all 50 states. The study measured a number of variables including frequency of prayer, absolute belief in God, and so forth. Led by Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas, nine of the top 10 most religious states were Southern. Oklahoma ruined the South’s clean sweep by sneaking in at No. 7.
Not coincidentally, led again by Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas, nine of the top 10 poorest states are also found in the South, while Northern and Pacific states such as Wisconsin, Washington, California, New York, New Hampshire and Vermont are among the least religious and the most economically prosperous.
The Ancient Greeks' 6 Words For Love
(And Why Knowing Them Can Change Your Life)
Today's coffee culture has an incredibly sophisticated vocabulary. Do you want a cappuccino, an espresso, a skinny latte, or maybe an iced caramel macchiato?
The ancient Greeks were just as sophisticated in the way they talked about love, recognizing six different varieties. They would have been shocked by our crudeness in using a single word both to whisper "l love you" over a candlelit meal and to casually sign an email "lots of love."
So what were the six loves known to the Greeks? And how can they inspire us to move beyond our current addiction to romantic love, which has 94 percent of young people hoping—but often failing—to find a unique soul mate who can satisfy all their emotional needs?
The ancient Greeks found diverse kinds of love in relationships with a wide range of people—friends, family, spouses, strangers, and even themselves. This contrasts with our typical focus on a single romantic relationship, where we hope to find all the different loves wrapped into a single person or soul mate. The message from the Greeks is to nurture the varieties of love and tap into its many sources. Don't just seek eros, but cultivate philia by spending more time with old friends, or develop ludus by dancing the night away.
Moreover, we should abandon our obsession with perfection. Don't expect your partner to offer you all the varieties of love, all of the time (with the danger that you may toss aside a partner who fails to live up to your desires). Recognize that a relationship may begin with plenty of eros and ludus, then evolve toward embodying more pragma or agape.
Teaching Children To Calm Themselves
When Luke gets angry, he tries to remember to look at his bracelet. It reminds him of what he can do to calm himself: stop, take a deep breath, count to four, give yourself a hug and, if necessary, ask an adult for help.
Luke is 5 and he has been practicing these steps for half a year at school and at home, thanks to a program called Head Start Trauma Smart that currently serves some 3,300 children annually in 26 counties in Kansas and Missouri. “We used to have to do these steps four or five times a day,” said Connie, his grandmother (who requested that I change her grandson’s name and omit her surname). “Now we’re down to four or five times a week.”
Luke’s difficulties stem from his earliest experiences. Before and after his birth, his parents regularly used drugs. His mother was unable to attend to him and his father was sent to prison shortly after his first birthday. Now he lives with his grandparents.
Children like Luke, who experience neglect, severe stress or sudden separation at a young age can be traumatized. Without appropriate adult support, trauma can interfere with healthy brain development, inhibiting children’s ability to make good decisions, use memory or use sequential thought processes to work through problems.
“Kids who have had significant chronic adversity become hypervigilant,” said Janine Hron, C.E.O. of the Crittenton Children’s Center, which developed the Head Start Trauma Smart program. “Their emotions overwhelm them. They have difficulty sleeping, difficulty tracking in class, they act out, and then they get kicked out of school. The numbers of people who are experiencing these traumas are really epidemic.”
Well, that's different...
Jack Harvey, 42, drew a three-plus-year sentence in England's Truro Crown Court in February following his guilty plea on drug charges. Earlier, he had insisted that police had planted the drugs they found in his house and car and even that a stranger (maybe "some filthy woman," he said) must be the owner of that cocaine and heroin that police found taped to his testicles.
Bill Moyers and Company:
No Escaping Dragnet Nation
Investigative reporter Julia Angwin talks to Bill about how
America has become a dragnet nation where mass surveillance rules.