Special thanks go to Magnifico for starting this venerable series.
Lead Off Story
Iraqi Prime Minister Rejects Pleas For Government Of 'National Salvation'
The Iraqi prime minister has rejected the creation of a government of "national salvation" despite pleas from the US and Britain to form a more inclusive administration to fight a growing insurgency of jihadists and disaffected Sunnis.
Nouri al-Maliki, who has been criticised for putting Shia sectarian interests ahead of national goals, struck an uncompromising tone in his weekly national address.
"The call to form a national emergency government is a coup against the constitution and the political process," he said. "It is an attempt by those who are against the constitution to eliminate the young democratic process and steal the votes of the voters."
Maliki's electoral bloc won the most seats by far in April's parliamentary elections with 92 seats, nearly three times as many as the next biggest party, and he won 720,000 personal votes. But Maliki fell short of a majority in Iraq's 328-seat council of representatives, and has had to court the support of rivals in order to form a government. Parliament is due to begin its first session by 1 July.
Elsewhere, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) is consolidating its hold on the Iraq-Syria border. The al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria, has pledged loyalty to Isis, which it battled for months in factional fighting. The move clears the way for a joint push to take control of both sides of the frontier between eastern Syria and western Iraq, removing a threat to Isis.
Nigeria: Abuja Bomb Blast In Wuse District Kills 21
A bomb attack on a busy shopping district in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, has killed at least 21 people and injured 52 more.
The blast, near the popular Banex plaza shopping complex in Wuse district, could be heard from miles away and sent plumes of smoke into the air.
Police say a suspect has been arrested. No group has claimed responsibility.
Conditions At No. 1 No Better
A government official involved in measures to combat the toxic water buildup at Fukushima No. 1 emphasized the importance of improving working conditions for the roughly 6,000 workers at the crippled nuclear plant during a recent media tour.
The water buildup is a major headache for Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the government as they work toward decommissioning all six reactors at the complex. The contaminated water is increasing at a rate of around 400 tons per day as groundwater flows into the damaged buildings for reactors 1 through 4.
Tepco began constructing the huge underground ice wall early this month. It will surround reactor buildings 1 through 4 in an attempt to prevent more groundwater from seeping into their basements and mixing with heavily contaminated water.
Under the unprecedented government-funded project, 1,550 pipes will be inserted deep into the ground to circulate coolant and freeze the nearby soil, thereby forming a 1.5-km-long perimeter. Tepco aims to finish construction of the wall and put it into operation by next March.
However, the work is taking place in conditions of high radiation. “A worker is permitted to continue to do his job for about three hours a day due to legal limits on radiation exposure,” said Kino.
West Renews Russia Sanctions Threat As Ukraine Ceasefire Crumbles
Western powers warned Russia on Wednesday that they could impose new sanctions if it did not do more to defuse the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where a ceasefire between Russian-speaking rebels and government forces appeared to be crumbling.
The upper house of Russia's parliament fulfilled a request by President Vladimir Putin to rescind the right to invade Ukraine in defense of its Russian speakers that it had granted him in March.
However, a leading lawmaker said the power could be quickly restored if required, and Western governments indicated they would judge Russia by the progress that was made in ending the fighting in eastern Ukraine. (Full Story)
On Tuesday, less than 24 hours after a bilateral ceasefire was agreed, rebels shot down a Ukrainian military helicopter, killing all nine on board. This prompted Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to tell his troops to return fire if attacked, declaring that he might call off the ceasefire altogether.
Merkel, Putin, Poroshenko and French President Francois Hollande held a four-way phone call to discuss the crisis, where the Kremlin leader called for the ceasefire to be extended.
reuters (Recommended Article-Editor)
More U.S., EU Sanctions Depend On Putin's Choices On Ukraine: Kerry
Russian President Vladimir Putin's response to a peace plan for Ukraine will decide whether the United States and Europe step up sanctions, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday.
The United States was delighted that Putin had asked the upper chamber of Russia's parliament to retract a law enabling him to intervene militarily in Ukraine, Kerry said, "but it could be reversed in 10 minutes."
Putin should prove his commitment to peace in Ukraine, Kerry told a news conference after NATO foreign ministers met.
"Until Russia fully makes that kind of commitment to the peace process and to the stability of Ukraine, the United States and Europe are compelled to continue to prepare greater costs, including tough economic sanctions, with the hopes that they will not have to be used. But that is dependent on the choices that Russia and its president make in the next days and weeks," he said.
EU leaders are due to meet in Brussels on Friday and could consider more economic sanctions against Russia if it fails to support Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's peace plan.
The Supreme Court Justices Have Cellphones, Too
Fourteen years ago, the Rehnquist court interrupted a string of law enforcement victories to rule that when looking for illegal drugs, the police couldn’t simply walk down the aisle of an intercity bus and squeeze the bags and soft-sided luggage on the overhead rack.
The common tactic amounted to an unconstitutional search, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the 7-to-2 majority in Bond v. United States. While passengers certainly expect that their luggage “may be handled,” the chief justice said, that expectation didn’t extend to supposing that anyone “will, as a matter of course, feel the bag in an exploratory manner.”
I remember puzzling over that decision. In one opinion after another, most written by Chief Justice Rehnquist, the Supreme Court had been allowing the police to write their own ticket when it came to detecting drug trafficking. Why draw the line at a duffel bag on a Greyhound bus? Eventually, it occurred to me: The justices were passengers, too. Not on buses, for sure, but on Amtrak or the shuttle, and the notion that anyone with a badge could start randomly feeling up their carry-ons was deeply distasteful.
Urging the Supreme Court to uphold the California decision, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. told the justices in the federal government’s brief that “cellphones do not raise qualitatively different privacy concerns than items that the police have always had authority to search incident to arrest, such as letters, diaries, briefcases, and purses.”
Oh yes, they do, Chief Justice Roberts said: “Cellphones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be kept on an arrestee’s person.” He went on at length to describe the differences, noting that a cellphone can reveal more private information than the search of an entire house. The phone contains “the sum of an individual’s private life” he said; searching it without a warrant is constitutionally unreasonable. The chief justice’s response to the government’s warning that a warrant requirement would impede law enforcement was basically a shrug: “Privacy comes at a cost.”
Controversial No-Fly List Declared Unconstitutional
Imagine a reality where your ability to move freely in this country is limited, where you never know when you visit an airport if this is the time you will be stopped from taking your flight. And imagine if once this happened, you could never find out even why you are being prevented from travel.
That is the reality for thousands of Americans, people who find themselves on the government’s no fly list.
We can all fly free now, as the methods used to manage the no fly list have been declared unconstitutional in federal court. In her 85 page decision, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown found that the inability for citizens to not only find out why they were on the list, but to challenge their inclusion, was insufficient, and the entire process flawed.
ACLU National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi had this to say in regards to the case:For years, in the name of national security the government has argued for blanket secrecy and judicial deference to its profoundly unfair No Fly List procedures, and those arguments have now been resoundingly rejected by the court.[...]
Our clients will finally get the due process to which they are entitled under the Constitution. This excellent decision also benefits other people wrongly stuck on the No Fly List, with the promise of a way out from a Kafkaesque bureaucracy causing them no end of grief and hardship. We hope this serves as a wake-up call for the government to fix its broken watchlist system, which has swept up so many innocent people.
This decision comes as a relief to many travellers within the US, who faced an uncertain fate when they needed to fly in this country, and to the rest of us who know that the United States itself, is a little bit stronger for it.
Science and Technology
How Repeatable Is Evolutionary History?
'Weakness' In Clover Genome Biases Species To Evolve Same Trait.
Writing about the weird soft-bodied fossils found in the Burgess Shale in the Canadian Rockies, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould noted that of 25 initial body plans exhibited by the fossils, all but four were quickly eliminated. If we rewound the tape, he asked, and cast the dice once more, would the same four body plans be selected? He thought it unlikely.
We can't repeat the Burgess Shale experiment, but Washington University in St. Louis biologist Ken Olsen, PhD, says there are other ways to ask whether evolution is repeatable. One is to look at related species that have independently evolved the same traits and ask if the same genes are responsible and, if so, whether the same mutations led to the trait.
Looking at 27 species in the genus Trifolium (clovers), Olsen, an associate professor of biology, showed that six of them displayed what is called a balanced polymorphism. In some environments, natural selection favors plants that release hydrogen cyanide to discourage nibbling, while in others, plants that do not release cyanide are favored. The polymorphism evolved independently in each of the six species.
Often, we think of evolution as driven by chance mistakes in DNA replication, some of which produce novel traits. But in this case, chance played little part. The clover species are in a sense predisposed to develop this trait.
"This is interesting," he said, "because it gets at the question of how constrained evolution is. The more it is constrained, the more predictable it is, but also the less adaptive flexibility there is."
2014: Will It Be The Hottest Year Ever?
Last month was the warmest-ever May in the history of temperature records, leaving atmospheric scientists to wonder: Will 2014 go down as the hottest year ever?
“For 351 months in a row, or more than 29 years, global temperatures have been warmer than average,” writes Andrea Thompson at Climate Central. “May 2014 was the 351st month in that uninterrupted series.”
The potential spoiler is the cyclical El Nino event: a band of unusually warm ocean water that periodically forms along the equatorial Pacific Ocean and drives up global temperatures. We're definitely in an El Nino year, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), but the phenomenon may not peak until the Northern winter, which would push most of its effects into 2015, and likely put next year into contention for the hottest ever since record-keeping began in 1880.
According to data from NOAA:•The average temperature over land and ocean combined in May 2014 was 1.33 degrees Fahrenheit (0.74 degrees Celsius) higher than the 20th century average of 58.6°F (14.8°C)Another indicator of intensifying global warming: The area of Arctic Ocean covered by sea ice, a major influencer of weather for the Northern Hemisphere, continued its multi-year shrinking trend.
•Taken separately, temperatures over land were the fourth highest on record.
•Temperatures over ocean in May were the highest on record, and tied with three other records (all set within the past two decades) for “the highest departure from average for any month on record.”
•Alaska had its sixth warmest May since record-keeping for that region began in 1918: 3.56°F (1.98°C) above the 1971–2000 average.
The Cultural Evolution Of Mind Reading
We use “theory of mind” or “mind reading” to understand our own thoughts and feelings and those of other agents. Mind reading has been a focus of philosophical interest for centuries and of intensive scientific inquiry for 35 years. It plays a pivotal role in human social interaction and communication. Mind reading allows us to predict, explain, mold, and manipulate each other’s behavior in ways that go well beyond the capabilities of other animals; therefore, mind reading is crucial to understanding what it means to be human. In many respects, the capacity to read minds is like the capacity to read print: It involves the derivation of meaning from signs, depends on dedicated brain mechanisms, is subject to specific developmental disorders, shows cultural variation as well as cultural commonality, and has both interpretive (reading) and regulative (writing) functions. However, recent studies of mind reading in young infants suggest that, unlike print reading, mind reading develops very early in human ontogeny.
Learning to read minds is like learning to read print. The acquisition of explicit mind reading is a slow, effortful process in which a novice develops an important, culture-specific skill through expert tuition. Experts facilitate development by directing the novice’s attention to signs that the novice is on the edge of understanding, as well as by explaining in conversation how these signs relate to their meaning.
In nonverbal tests of mind reading, infants’ eye movements have been taken as evidence that infants expect an agent to reach toward a location where he or she believes a desirable object to be hidden, even when the agent’s belief is false. This “implicit” mind reading could indicate that humans genetically inherit the specialized neurocognitive mechanisms used for “explicit,” verbally mediated mind reading in adulthood. However, recent research with adults shows that, unlike explicit mind reading, implicit mind reading does not make demands on executive function. This indicates that, although they may be genetically inherited, the mechanisms that mediate implicit mind reading, whether specialized or general-purpose, are distinct from those controlling explicit mind reading. Furthermore, studies of twins, people with hearing impairments, and children from non-Western cultures, as well as typically developing Western children, suggest that, like print reading, explicit mind reading is culturally inherited. Rather than being constructed by simulation or theory-testing, explicit mind reading is a skill that is passed from one generation to the next by verbal instruction.
Most, possibly all, human neurocognitive skills are shaped by culture and many are culturally inherited, but the parallels between mind reading and print reading are extraordinary. In contrast, whereas linguistic communities vary in the ways that they categorize colors, color perception is not culturally inherited in the same way as print reading. Unlike print reading, color perception is rooted in highly specialized, genetically inherited mechanisms that humans share with other species. Though cultural input adjusts these mechanisms, it does not make them into a whole new neurocognitive system.
The cultural evolutionary account of mind reading does not imply that mental states are mere fictions, but it does suggest that any aspect of mind reading—even those relating to knowledge and primary emotions—could show substantial cultural variation. More cross-cultural studies using sensitively translated test procedures are needed to chart extant variation. Similarly, although the cultural evolutionary account suggests that humans do not genetically inherit mechanisms that are specialized for the representation of mental states, it assumes that, as in the case of print reading, many of the neurocognitive raw materials for explicit mind reading are inborn. Therefore, priorities for future research are to identify the genetic “start-up kits” for both implicit and explicit mind reading and to find out exactly how the products of the former contribute to the development of the latter. Our view suggests that, like print reading, mind reading is a culturally inherited skill that facilitates the cultural inheritance of other, more specific skills; mind reading is a cultural gift that keeps on giving.
Well, that's different...
An historic, decades-old snit ended in May in the state of Tabasco, Mexico, where two men (now in their 70s) who were the very last living speakers of their village's Ayapaneco language resumed talking to each other, and through the efforts of Stanford University anthropologist James Fox, their language may now be sufficiently recorded for a preserved historical record. The cause of their falling out was not reported.
Bill Moyers and Company:
Chaos in Iraq
While armchair warriors in Washington cry “back to Iraq,” former combat veteran and military historian Andrew Bacevich says no way.