27 April 2011

Crime and Immigrant Welfare by Region

Intentional homicide rates per 100,000 population by region and subregion, 2004[6] Rate
Southern Africa 37.3
Central America 29.3
South America 25.9
West and Central Africa 21.6
East Africa 20.8
Africa 20
Caribbean 18.1
Americas 16.2
East Europe 15.7
North Africa 7.6
World 7.6
North America 6.5
Central Asia and Transcaucasian countries 6.6
Europe 5.4
Near and Middle East/South-west Asia 4.4
Oceania 4
South Asia 3.4
Asia 3.2
South-east Europe 3.2
East and South-east Asia 2.8
West and Central Europe 1.5

Table from Wikipedia

An Audacious Epigone

Welfare use by immigrants from particular countries and regions.
International Homicide Rates Neglecting Subsaharan Africa and South America

World IQ Map via Wikipedia

If one were designing a rational immigration policy in a time of massive national debt and prolonged economic downturn, one would tend to favour immigrants who were more likely to contribute positively to national productivity and achievement. In general, one would not favour immigrants from nations with high crime rates, low average IQ, or nations whose previous immigrants had high rates of welfare dependency.

Unfortunately for the US, current immigration policies are leading to a high influx from just such regions. How stupid is that? Welcome to the coming Idiocracy.

Who is John Galt?

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26 April 2011


World Travel Photos

Most of what you see, read, and hear about "motivation" is pure horseshite. From Tony Robbins to Dan Pink to your motivational consultant, speaker, or psychologist of choice, most of the motivational industry is 99% scam and 1% truism with propagandist overtones.

What is motivation?

Using the online etymological dictionary, let's start with "move:"
late 13c., from Anglo-Fr. movir (O.Fr. moveir), from L. movere "move, set in motion" (pp. motus, frequentative motare), from PIE base *meue- (cf., Skt. kama-muta "moved by love" and probably mivati "pushes, moves;" Lith. mauti "push on;" Gk. ameusasthai "to surpass," amyno "push away"). Meaning "to affect with emotion" is from c.1300; that of "to prompt or impel toward some action" is from late 14c. Sense of "to change one's place of residence" is from 1707. Meaning "to propose (something) in an assembly, etc.," is first attested mid-15c. Related: Moved; moving. The noun in the gaming sense is from 1650s. Phrase on the move "in the process of going from one place to another" is from 1796; get a move on "hurry up" is Amer.Eng. colloquial from 1888.

Now, look at the root "motive:"
mid-14c., "something brought forward," from O.Fr. motif (n.), from motif (fem. motive), adj., "moving," from M.L. motivus "moving, impelling," from L. motus, pp. of movere "to move" (see move). Meaning "that which inwardly moves a person to behave a certain way" is from early 15c.

Now, "motivate:"
1885, "to stimulate toward action," from motive + -ate (2); perhaps modeled on Fr. motiver or Ger. motivieren. Related: Motivated; motivating.

Finally, "motivation:"
1873, from motivate + -tion. Psychological use, "inner or social stimulus for an action," is from 1904.

And ever since the invention of "social science", psychologists, consultants, public speakers, coaches, and other "motivators" have been milking and modifying the connotations and meanings of the word -- for profit, control, and personal power.

Let's take a step backward, and look at the word "motion:"
late 14c., from O.Fr. motion (13c.), from L. motionem (nom. motio) "a moving, an emotion," from motus, pp. of movere "to move" (see move). The verb sense in parliamentary procedure first recorded 1747; with meaning "to guide or direct by a sign, gesture, movement" it is attested from 1787. Related: Motioned; motioning.

Now let's go the extra mile and add an "e" to get "emotion:"
1570s, "a (social) moving, stirring, agitation," from M.Fr. émotion (16c.), from O.Fr. emouvoir "stir up" (12c.), from L. emovere "move out, remove, agitate," from ex- "out" (see ex-) + movere "to move" (see move). Sense of "strong feeling" is first recorded 1650s; extended to any feeling by 1808.
Psychology 101 Motivation

A person's motivations begin with basic needs and drives, which take firmer shape as the brain develops in early childhood. Social motivations come into the picture quite early, as well, with the need to convince others to take care of your young infant self. These motivations and their associated behaviours naturally grow more sophisticated with time and experience. According to Abraham Maslow (see chart above) a person's needs (and motivations) will climb a pyramid of sophistication (and enlightenment?) as he learns to satisfy each successive level of the pyramid.
Throughout our lives, we work toward achieving the top of the pyramid, self actualization, or the realization of all of our potential. As we move up the pyramid, however, things get in the way which slow us down and often knock us backward. Imagine working toward the respect and recognition of your colleagues and suddenly finding yourself out of work and homeless. Suddenly, you are forced backward and can no longer focus your attention on your work due to the need for finding food and shelter for you and your family.

According to Maslow, nobody has ever reached the peak of his pyramid. We all may strive for it and some may even get close, but no one has achieved full self-actualization. Self-actualization means a complete understanding of who you are, a sense of completeness, of being the best person you could possibly be. _Psychology101
Motivation is not a simple phenomenon. It is a fractal combination of the genetic, the social, the phsyiological, the psychological, and the experiential over a person's lifetime. Motivation is mixed up in in everything we do.

Let's pause a moment to take a look at a fascinating study done recently by psychologists at U. Penn. which makes an intriguing connection between IQ scores and the motivation of the IQ test taker.
They looked at 46 previous studies of more than 2,000 children to see if monetary incentives had any bearing on the result.

They found that on average a financial reward improved the score by 10 points but that higher values – above $10 (about £7) – could be rewarded with a 20 point increase. The size of the increase seemed to be proportional to the amount of reward offered.

A second study of 500 boys found that those who showed signs of boredom and lack of motivation – for example yawning or looking around during the test – scored lower test marks. Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist who led the study, said: "IQ scores may predict various outcomes in life, but in part for reasons that intelligence tests weren't designed for.

"I hope that social scientists, educators, and policy-makers turn a more critical eye to any kind of measure, intelligence or otherwise as how hard people try could be as important to success in life as intellectual ability itself."

The findings were reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. _Telegraph
It makes sense that someone who is more motivated during the taking of a test, will be more focused, and might perhaps score higher than he would otherwise have done. But it is also true that motivation is at least partially genetically determined -- just like IQ. Motivation is related to executive function (EF) of the frontal lobes of the brain -- which is claimed by researchers to be between 50% and 90%+ heritable. IQ itself is probably between 50% and 80% heritable, in modern affluent societies. So motivation is not separable from the genetics and brain function which underlie both IQ and EF.

But motivation, executive function, and (to a limited extent) IQ can all be improved with timely training. Here is a popular occupational overview of motivation:
1. Consequences – Never use threats. They’ll turn people against you. But making people aware of the negative consequences of not getting results (for everyone involved) can have a big impact. This one is also big for self motivation. If you don’t get your act together, will you ever get what you want?
2. Pleasure – This is the old carrot on a stick technique. Providing pleasurable rewards creates eager and productive people.
3. Performance incentives – Appeal to people’s selfish nature. Give them the opportunity to earn more for themselves by earning more for you.
4. Detailed instructions – If you want a specific result, give specific instructions. People work better when they know exactly what’s expected.

5. Short and long term goals – Use both short and long term goals to guide the action process and create an overall philosophy.
6. Kindness – Get people on your side and they’ll want to help you. Piss them off and they’ll do everything they can to screw you over.
7. Deadlines – Many people are most productive right before a big deadline. They also have a hard time focusing until that deadline is looming overhead. Use this to your advantage by setting up a series of mini-deadlines building up to an end result.

8. Team Spirit – Create an environment of camaraderie. People work more effectively when they feel like part of team — they don’t want to let others down.
10. Recognize achievement – Make a point to recognize achievements one-on-one and also in group settings. People like to see that their work isn’t being ignored.
11. Personal stake – Think about the personal stake of others. What do they need? By understanding this you’ll be able to keep people happy and productive.
12. Concentrate on outcomes – No one likes to work with someone standing over their shoulder. Focus on outcomes — make it clear what you want and cut people loose to get it done on their own.
13. Trust and Respect – Give people the trust and respect they deserve and they’ll respond to requests much more favorably.
14. Create challenges – People are happy when they’re progressing towards a goal. Give them the opportunity to face new and difficult problems and they’ll be more enthusiastic.
15. Let people be creative – Don’t expect everyone to do things your way. Allowing people to be creative creates a more optimistic environment and can lead to awesome new ideas.

16. Constructive criticism – Often people don’t realize what they’re doing wrong. Let them know. Most people want to improve and will make an effort once they know how to do it.
17. Demand improvement – Don’t let people stagnate. Each time someone advances raise the bar a little higher (especially for yourself).
18. Make it fun – Work is most enjoyable when it doesn’t feel like work at all. Let people have fun and the positive environment will lead to better results.
19. Create opportunities – Give people the opportunity to advance. Let them know that hard work will pay off.

20. Communication – Keep the communication channels open. By being aware of potential problems you can fix them before a serious dispute arises.
21. Make it stimulating – Mix it up. Don’t ask people to do the same boring tasks all the time. A stimulating environment creates enthusiasm and the opportunity for “big picture” thinking.
Master these key points and you’ll increase motivation with a bit of hard work. _PicktheBrain
Certainly some good ideas there, and more enlightened than the typical employer (or teacher or parent or government) to be sure.

Psychology Today articles on motivation

Dopamine, Learning, and Motivation (abstract)

Individual differences in extraversion and dopamine genetics predict neural reward responses (abstract)

Motivation is one of the prime pillars of life success. Along with self-discipline, executive function, cognitive strengths, and particular personality traits, motivation can make the difference between poverty and affluence, a full life or an impoverished one. Out of all the pillars of life success, motivation is probably among the most amenable to outside influence and reinforcement.

Motivation can be a strength -- or it can be a weakness if it is directed toward dysfunctional activities. Motivation can also be a "backdoor to the brain" for sophisticated persons who wish to control the individual's actions. Anyone who understands a person's deep motivations, will be able to control him to some extent.

The effect of motivational speakers is too often like the effect of Chinese food -- immediately filling, but all too quickly losing its effect. But when motivational sessions are combined with clever propaganda -- as in "consciousness raising," labour union action, classroom indoctrination, faux environmental brainwashing, strict religious training, or other political and quasi-political activity -- it is often the propaganda message which gets through and "takes," subliminally. Deep motivations penetrate below the level of conscious rationality, into the level of basic and mid-pyramid needs.

It is crucial for parents to give their children the keys to their own motivations as soon as it is practical, so that others will not be able to control them. If the parents are too immature to understand the why and how of doing that, the grandparents or uncles and aunts would be the next line of defense. If no one in the family or close circle of friends has risen high enough on the pyramid to be able to help the child -- if the child is at the mercy of popular culture, government schools, and society at large -- the Idiocracy is likely to have gotten yet another recruit.

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25 April 2011

Northward Flow of Human Substrate: Bringing Mexican Drug Massacres to the US and Canada via Weak Border Control a la Obama

The bloody violence and breakdown in social order in modern Mexico is incomprehensible -- unimaginable -- to people living in the developed world.
Nearly 35,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug-related violence since the end of 2006, when President Felipe Calderon ordered a military-led crackdown on the country's drug cartels. _VOANews
Thousands of Mexicans marched against the violence in Mexican cities recently, but President Calderon may have given up. Mexican media certainly seems to be doing its best to ignore the underlying reality driving the organised violence.

The best place to find news about what is going on in Mexico -- and what is likely to come to Canada and the US unless stronger US border security is enforced -- is the Spanish language blog, the Narco Blog.
While much of Mexico's mainstream media, especially television stations and local newspapers, has shied away from covering killings and naming the cartels involved, the narco blog and its anonymous curator, publish graphic details of spiraling violence.

"Individuals journalists are doing the best they can, but in general I don't think the media has done a fair job in covering drug violence," says Lucila Vargas, a professor of journalism at the University of North Carolina who studies Mexico's media landscape. "The media in Mexico are commercial enterprises and their first concern is with the bottom line," she told Al Jazeera.

Like most large scale industries in Mexico, the media - particularly television stations - are highly concentrated in a few hands. Mexicans are more likely to own a television set than to have access to running water but two TV stations - Televisa and TV Azteca - control 94 per cent of television entertainment content, according to the Mexican Right to Information Association.

While experts and average people criticise the mainstream press, there is clearly an appetite for the narco blog's coverage. _aljazeera

The strongest, most violent gangs, are led by former Mexican military officers and elite troops. There are indications that elements of the Mexican government and military are cooperating with these "quasi-military" gangs, for their own self-preservation, profit, and continued political power. Such bottom-to-top corruption may be common among the most impoverished nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. But Mexico is considered an emerging nation, with a relatively prosperous per capita GDP, by global standards. Its relatively high GDP plus its proximity to wealthy Anglo North America, leads most observers to expect more from Mexico than outright bloody anarchy. And the anarchy is becoming more firmly entrenched with every passing day:
Over 28,000 Mexicans have been killed, with bloody gang wars breaking out throughout the country and unprecedented violence and terror affecting the lives of ordinary citizens. And although some drug kingpins have been taken off the playing field and significant drug shipments and weapon arsenals have been seized, it is difficult to claim any battles truly won. In fact, Mexico’s drug gangs have become more firmly entrenched in the organized crime world, with much of their income coming from other illegal activities, such as extortion, kidnapping, smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

...President Calderón and other government officials “lack the political will” to attack this aspect of organized crime. Furthermore, “no key individual or group within the country’s political elite is willing to shake up the bee’s nest” and “go all the way to the highest political and economic levels” of Mexican society to put a stop to the illegal money flow.

Permeating the economy
Just how much money from organized crime is circulating in Mexico’s economy? According to Piñeyro, estimates range from $25 billion to $35 billion introduced into the Mexican economy annually. He specified that this money flows into the country’s legal formal sectors, as well as informal sectors (mostly small-scale economic activities not registered with the Treasury Department that make up a significant portion of the Mexican economy) and in criminal activities.

According to Samuel González Ruíz, who once served as Mexico’s chief of Prosecutors against Organized Crime and is now a security analyst and law professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, the situation is out of control, with dirty money in many economic sectors—far beyond those traditionally infiltrated by organized crime, such as construction, real estate and stolen vehicles. _Borderland
Perhaps close to 10% of Mexico's economy comes from violent drug gang activity. But the actual influence of these marauding, quasi-military gangs is far greater than their economic impact. They are making large areas of Mexico unlivable for civilised persons.

Multiple massacres in the same location, the unearthing of mass graves, the use of sledge hammers as weapons of execution, presumably to save the cost of bullets, and the routine use of "payback" murders of civilian workers (including women and children) by rival gangs --- points to a widespread creeping horror permeating life not just in borderland cities, but into the heart of Mexico. Even drug rehab centres in Mexico are evolving into foci of drug gang terror and murder.

US President Obama's response to all of this is to order US Border Patrol agents not to enforce border laws, and to go on a legal offensive against the US state of Arizona -- which is lawfully attempting to enforce on-the-books US laws against illegal immigration.

Some have accused Mexican President Calderon of being in league with the strongest and most militarised drug gangs, and others have accused US President Obama of passively promoting illegal immigration and lax enforcement of US border controls and voting laws, in order to increase votes for his political coalition and party.

It is clear that the current US government is not taking the threat seriously, and is placing its citizens in an increasingly vulnerable posture with regard to the northward creeping lawlessness, corruption, and bloody violence.

What is the answer? The problem has gone far beyond drug trafficking into kidnapping, robbing and massacre of travelers on cross-country buses, and the typical activities of organised crime -- gambling, prostitution, extortion, sophisticated armed robberies, political corruption etc. Any solution must take all of that into account, along with the ever-present threat of allowing the importing of global terrorism along with narco-terrorism along southern US borders.

If Americans have better legal methods of "getting high," they are less likely to seek out the products of illegal gangs and smugglers -- thus cutting off the profits of drug gangs at the hips. If you want to cut the profits off at the neck, you will need to enforce border security as if it were a matter of national security -- which it is.

Canada's future security depends upon the will of the US government to enforce its own security concerns. If the US fails, both Canadians and Americans will ultimately suffer.
A 2010 analysis of drug war coverage from the Fundacion MEPI, and investigate journalism center, found that regional newspapers in Mexico are failing to report most execution style killings linked to cartels. Journalists interviewed for the study said threats, bribes and other forms of pressure influenced their decisions not to cover killings or name the suspected cartels involved.

"Organised crime members have tried to bribe or influence traditional media [and] that is the importance of social media," says Raul Trejo Delabre, an independent media analyst in Mexico City.

"Thirty three million Mexicans use the Internet everyday," he told Al Jazeera, adding that average people use Twitter, Facebook and cellphone text messages to warn their friends about shoot-outs in the neighbourhood. The blog gets at least three million hits per week, the anonymous author told Associated Press in 2010 and the stats are likely higher now.

Regardless of the role of citizen journalism in keeping people informed or the journalistic ethics behind drug war coverage guidelines, Lucila Vargas doesn't think the policy will make much of a dent in the violence engulfing Mexico. "Journalism is only part of the popular culture landscape, which includes film, music and TV programmes and all of these have been glorifying the violence," she told Al Jazeera. _aljazeera

Mexico may be a lost cause. The US and Canada can be saved, if their governments realise that their nations are under attack in an undeclared war which presents a far greater threat than an overt war, due to its ongoing ability to kill and conquer from a place of media cover and political protection.

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24 April 2011

Non-Invasive Electromagnetic Brain Stim On the Way

Neuroscientists at the University of New Mexico asked volunteers to play a video game called “DARWARS Ambush!”, developed to help train American military personnel. Half of the players received 2 milliamps of electricity to the scalp, using a device powered by a simple 9-volt battery, and they played twice as well as those receiving a much tinier jolt. The DARPA-funded study suggests direct current applied to the brain could improve learning.

This type of brain stimulation, called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), is controversial but could show promise for treatment of various neurological disorders and cognitive impairments _PopSci

The wide field of electromagnetic brain stimulation is likely to prove to be a fertile area of research. Because the brain itself runs on electrical currents -- with it corresponding magnetic fields -- anything that might influence or interfere with these electrical and magnetic fields are likely to influence brain activity. But many of these researchers are discovering ways to selectively augment or inhibit particular parts of the brain, reversibly. Being able to do that safely provides an incredibly powerful research tool.
The technique, which has roots in research done more than two centuries ago, is experiencing something of a revival. Clark and others see tDCS as a way to tease apart the mechanisms of learning and cognition. As the technique is refined, researchers could, with the flick of a switch, amplify or mute activity in many areas of the brain and watch what happens behaviourally. The field is "going to explode very soon and give us all sorts of new information and new questions", says Clark. And as with some other interventions for stimulating brain activity, such as high-powered magnets or surgically implanted electrodes, researchers are attempting to use tDCS to treat neurological conditions, including depression and stroke. But given the simplicity of building tDCS devices, one of the most important questions will be whether it is ethical to tinker with healthy minds — to improve learning and cognition, for example. The effects seen in experimental settings "are big enough that they would definitely have real-world consequences", says Martha Farah, a neuroethicist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. _Nature

And certainly, the cognition-boosting techniques will not be used only in research and therapeutic situations. They will also be used by students, bankers, lawyers, salesmen, recreational mind trippers, sex fiends, and a wide range of individuals wanting to make more or less of themselves, depending upon their particular inclinations and needs.

Here is a look at what Eric Wasserman's lab at the National Institutes of Neural Disorders and Strokes is looking at:
We study the brain systems underlying learning, executive function, and behavioral regulation, using noninvasive stimulation and imaging techniques an innovative behavioral tools. Our main clinical interest is in the physiological and neuroanatomical basis of excess mental and physicial fatigue after brain injury...Using noninvasive brain stimulation techniques and structural and functional MRI, and MR spectroscopy, we are investigating the mechanisms of rewarded behaviors, for example, learning and sustained effort, in the human brain. _NINDS
Dr. Cohen Kadosh at the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, is using brain stimulation which he feels will improve mathematical ability, among other brain functions:
By stimulating the parietal lobes, Dr Cohen Kadosh has shown that he can actually boost mathematical skills in people who are normally less good at sums. The electric current triggers the area to produce chemicals that cause brain cells to develop or change. This process — ‘neural plasticity’ — is essential to learning (our brains change structure when we take on new information).

When Dr Cohen Kadosh’s subjects had their parietal lobes stimulated for 30 minutes every day for a week, they were able to pick up maths skills through conventional lessons far more quickly and effectively than they could before.

‘It’s completely safe. The electric current is one thousand times lower than anything that could cause damage,’ he says.

Tests have shown that the subjects’ maths abilities remain boosted six months after the treatment. To someone as numerically illiterate as me, the prospect of growing a ‘maths brain’ is exciting. But Dr Cohen Kadosh’s work is at the vanguard of a medical revolution.

It heralds a high-tech world of brain medicine where electronics will be used to repair deep faults, such as depression and Parkinson’s, modify problem personalities and boost everyone’s ability to learn, remember and think creatively. _DailyMail
Neurologists have grand hopes for clinical applications of these -- and other -- electromagnetic technologies.
...brain stimulation techniques tailored to modulate individual plastic changes associated with neurological diseases might enhance clinical benefits and minimize adverse effects. In this Review, we discuss the use of two noninvasive brain stimulation techniques—repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation and transcranial direct current stimulation—to modulate activity in the targeted cortex or in a dysfunctional network, to restore an adaptive equilibrium in a disrupted network for best behavioral outcome, and to suppress plastic changes for functional advantage. We review randomized controlled studies, in focal epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, recovery from stroke, and chronic pain, to illustrate these principles, and we present evidence for the clinical effects of these two techniques. _Nature (abstract)

Here are some specific uses for transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS):
Magnetic stimulation is being used, or evaluated, in many applications. These include areas as diverse as creating 'virtual lesions' in psychology in order to investigate information processing within the human brain; treatment of depression and schizophrenia in psychiatry using stimuli at either convulsive or sub-convulsive levels; aiding the diagnosis and charting the progress of disease or mechanical damage in central and peripheral nerve pathways; stimulating cortical plasticity; and functional stimulation applications such as the treatment of incontinence, artificial respiration and the induction of speech arrest. Particularly active areas at present are investigating whether magnetic stimulation can be used as an alternative to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to treat severe depression, and stimulation of the motor cortex using novel pulse paradigms to encourage plasticity as an adjunct to post-stroke rehabilitation. _Scholarpedia
TMS (like tDCS) can be used to either stimulate or inhibit specific parts of the brain. When used in conjunction with behavioural therapy or sophisticated forms of feedback, these technologies can accomplish amazing therapeutic results in a rather short period of time. Keep in mind that they are still in the research and developmental stage, and may present serious hazards (seizures etc) to certain individuals.

We are surrounded by an often foolish and dysfunctional world. But there is no reason why parts of the world cannot wake up and discover how to make themselves more rational, prosperous, and fulfilled.

Adapted from an article at Al Fin, The Next Level


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23 April 2011

A 60,000 Year Explosion of Invention?

IQ Map of World

Most readers of this blog have heard of the "10,000 Year Explosion" by Harpending and Cochrane, which convincingly describes how evolution can quickly work to change an insular breeding population of humans. Something similar -- the evolution of invention -- may have taken place on a global scale, after early humans moved out of Africa sometime over 60,000 years ago.

Before relatively recent contact with outside cultures, Subsaharan Africans did not invent the wheel, did not invent writing, developed minimal art, or agriculture, lacked musical instruments beyond simple percussion, and came up virtually empty in terms of math, science, and technology. Why the almost complete absence of invention and development?

The map of world IQ at top provides a tentative answer to the question, but the map raises a more central question: Why do SubSaharan African populations test so low, on average, on tests of IQ, executive function, and impulse control? Is it possible that a significant part of the development of the human "superbrain" -- which makes invention and modern advanced civilisation possible -- developed only after humans left the African birthplace?
The dispersal of modern humans from Africa to Europe [60,000 some] years ago provides a “minimum date” for the development of language, Hoffecker speculated. “Since all languages have basically the same structure, it is inconceivable to me that they could have evolved independently at different times and places.”

A 2007 study led by Hoffecker and colleagues at the Russian Academy of Sciences pinpointed the earliest evidence of modern humans in Europe dating back 45,000 years ago. Located on the Don River 250 miles south of Moscow, the multiple sites, collectively known as Kostenki, also yielded ancient bone and ivory needles complete with eyelets, showing the inhabitants tailored furs to survive the harsh winters.

The team also discovered a carved piece of mammoth ivory that appears to be the head of a small figurine dating to more than 40,000 years ago. “If that turns out to be the case, it would be the oldest piece of figurative art ever discovered,” said Hoffecker, whose research at Kostenki is funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

The finds from Kostenki illustrate the impact of the creative mind of modern humans as they spread out of Africa into places that were sometimes cold and lean in resources, Hoffecker said. “Fresh from the tropics, they adapted to ice age environments in the central plain of Russia through creative innovations in technology.”

Ancient musical instruments and figurative art discovered in caves in France and Germany date to before 30,000 years ago, he said. “Humans have the ability to imagine something in the brain that doesn’t exist and then create it,” he said. “Whether it’s a hand axe, a flute or a Chevrolet, humans are continually recombining bits of information into novel forms, and the variations are potentially infinite.” _SB
The absence of sophisticated invention or innovation prior to the human diaspora out of Africa, or in SubSaharan Africa since that diaspora, suggests a potentially deep distinction in the way that humans inside SS Africa think in comparison to how Eurasian humans learned to think.

It would be good to be able to research this puzzle, but unfortunately, the straitjacket of Political Correctness prevents the raising of such questions -- even for purposes of objective scientific research. Which means that those of us who are curious will have to conduct our investigations under the table, so to speak.

Is that not always how it is, when intelligent and curious humans are faced with oppressive and authoritarian culture-reichs, such as the modern quasi-left postmodern PC culture?

More: Some links to websites listing some ancient inventions:

Ancient Inventions

Inventions of Ancient China

Top 10 Ancient Inventions

Adapted from an earlier article at abu al-fin

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22 April 2011

Double Plus Overhype Ado About Artificial Synapse?

There's a news story replicating on the web right now about a "Functioning Synapse Created Using Carbon Nanotubes," for instance here and here.

....the circuit has not actually been constructed, so the "apparatus" photo there is kind of silly. It just gives the false impression that a synapse model was actually built physically with analog components.

...[ed: all that we have is] an electrical circuit schematic that in turn depends on certain SPICE models of carbon nanotube FETs (which have apparently been available since 2006). So in other words, this circuit is a particular model of a synapse being simulated with a simple circuit. _Science20

Samuel Kenyon points out at the Science20 article linked above, that the "artificial synapse" is only a simulated circuit using the SPICE electronic simulation program. But the overhype is doubly overdone, because even if the researchers had actually built a real, physical circuit that functioned as an "artificial synapse", it would still not put them any closer to actually building an "artificial brain."
PDF Source (via Science20)
This overhyped excitement is reminiscent of IBM scientist Dharmendra Modha's claim that he had built a computer that was the equivalent of "a cat's brain." Initially, most science blogs (except Al Fin) accepted Modha's claim at face value. Then when Henry Markram came out publicly to refute the claim, Modha backed off and clarified, and almost everyone agreed in the end, that it was all pretty much ado about nothing.

It is the same thing here, where science and tech blogs initially rush to accept exaggerated claims in press releases. Then, little by little, sceptics step up and insist upon clarifications and qualifications of claims, until the claims are downgraded to the point that eventually no one can remember what the fuss was about.

In the case of "the artificial synapse", it is important to understand why this real world device is not even a synapse, much less a possible ingredient for an artificial brain.

The USC and Stanford researchers have designed a computer model of "an artificial synapse," not an actual artificial synapse. But even if it were a real synapse, would engineers be able to use it to assemble an artificial brain? No. And the reason why one thing does not naturally lead to the next is crucial to an understanding of how real brains work -- real brains being the only working proof of concept of intelligence in the known universe.

Artificial intelligence enthusiasts will rush to say that working brains do not necessarily have to work just like the bio-brains we know now. But then, what is the point of emulating a tiny component of a bio-brain in the first place, if you cannot use it to build a functioning brain, as we understand it? In other words, if your objective is to build a new class of brain, why start with a poor imitation of a low level component of a bio-brain? Why not start with something "better" from the get-go? [By "better", I mean faster, more versatile, etc etc]

Here is the reason: Because artificial intelligence researchers do not have a clue as to how to build an intelligent brain. And so they are practising a subtle form of cargo cult science.

It's okay. We all understand that rents and utilities must be paid, the price of gasoline is high, everything costs money. Academics must publish or perish, and getting research grants to build "artificial synapses" does sound kind of sexy. Anything to keep the lights on, right?

But all the same, it is important to understand that brains are not the plural of "synapse." It is time to stop pretending that one has made progress toward AI, when nothing of the sort has happened.

More: It is important to understand that the bulk of the exaggeration comes from press releases and media coverage. Here is the actual conclusion from the research study referred to:
A carbon nanotube synapse typical of cortical synapses has been designed and simulated using SPICE. While the simulations were successful, the design of a single typical synapse is only a small step along the path to a synthetic cortex. The variations in synapses, including inhibitory synapses, will be the focus of future research. Predicting the interconnection capabilities of nanotube circuits is also important in understanding the future prospects for a synthetic cortex. _PDFeve.usc.eduPDF

Unfortunately, as computer modelers try to more realistically model the events in the brain at cellular and molecular levels, computing power and computing time demands explode out of control very rapidly. More, the researchers above do not seem to understand the key facts of brain function upon which conscious intelligence is balanced: time-dependent high level cross-brain synchronisation (via evolved white matter pathways) of evolved multiple modular (grey matter) brain centers from brain stem to neocortex, dancing alongside sensory input, jostled by memory, under the changing lights of emotion, and swept up in hormonal tides and chaotic flows of molecules...

More complex than one imagines? More complex than one can possibly imagine. The job is simply too hard for intelligent design. Only evolution will do. We need to get better at intelligently designing evolution. ;-)

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Oil Price Volatility: Central Banks and Spooky Investors?

Global oil markets are coming to resemble something out of a D-grade science fiction movie, a monster with a life and will of its own bent on devouring everything in its path. But who created the monster, and who continues to feed the hungry beast?
...the advent of widespread Internet trading platforms radically increased the number of people with access to commodity markets, decreased the amount of time it took for an investment decision to impact the market and expanded the amount of money that could be applied to those markets. In particular, the creation of energy-indexed investment vehicles created additional demand for commodities by people who have no intention of ever taking delivery of the commodity.

...In any other market, the presence of a mass of new players would obviously have a distorting effect, but in the oil market, the inelastic nature of oil demand magnifies the investor presence. Since oil is so essential to modern life — needed for everything from transportation to making plastics, fertilizer or paint — industrial and retail demand for oil is actually fairly stable. The introduction of dynamic actors into a normally static system results in periodic and disproportionate price shifts.

...Over the past six years, the global money supply has roughly doubled. There are any number of reasons to expand money supply, but the most relevant ones of late have been to ensure that there is sufficient credit to stabilize the financial system. However, governments have few means of forcing such monies to go in any particular direction. And since the entire purpose of professional investors is to shuffle money to where it will earn them the highest return, some of the money from an expanded money supply often finds its way into commodity markets.

... In China, for example, such a huge and expanding money supply is keeping the country’s many profitless enterprises solvent, which keeps legions of unemployed from causing social instability or unrest. But it comes at the cost of inflation pressures, which could also cause unrest by consumers due to price increases. (The massive monetary expansion in China is symptomatic of a brewing crisis that STRATFOR expects to burst within the next few years.)

But for the commodity markets, including oil, the impact is clear: Prices will steadily rise — and on occasion dramatically fall — so long as the world’s monetary authorities keep expanding the money supply. _Forbes (STRATFOR)

Adapted from an earlier posting at Al Fin Energy

Unless one is a student of complexity, autopoiesis, and emergent phenomena, the seemingly disconnected movements of modern markets would be completely incomprehensible. But even under the best circumstances, the energy market monster is somewhat unpredictable in terms of timing the repeated rises and crashes.

Caution is recommended whether one is lulled into going long or scared into taking a short position. Oil is not gold, and should not be treated as a safe repository of value. Even gold and silver are subject to price swings, due to market psychology, geopolitical instability, and politically corrupt policies.

Try to be ready to take advantage of the inevitable erratic swings as they happen. For long term planning, make allowances for the likely volatility in energy and commodity prices -- as well likely erratic movement and possible collapse of selected currency values.

Brian Wang has more insight into some of the inadvertent effects of a weak dollar policy for the US

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21 April 2011

Science Unshackled: Putting Knowledge in Real People's Hands

Modern humans have become slaves to the "hyperspecialist," the so-called experts who tell us what to think and how we should act. But the hyperspecialisation of modern society is a huge step backward to an authoritarian society, ruled from the top down. Much better for as many people as possible -- credentialed or not -- to acquire the specialised knowledge and tools which will reveal the path to a higher level of knowing and being.

One of the pivotal areas of knowledge and research which should be propagated widely, is the new biology and genetics. Bio-hobbyists and bio-hackers are pushing against legal and institutional constrictions and biases, asserting the rights of individuals to master these important tools. Journalist Marcus Wohlsen recently published the book "Biopunk," which looks more closely at the phenomenon of bio-hacking.
In Biopunk, journalist Marcus Wohlsen surveys the rising tide of the biohacker movement, which has been made possible by a convergence of better and cheaper technologies. For a few hundred dollars, anyone can send some spit to a sequencing company and receive a complete DNA scan, and then use free software to analyze the results. Custom-made DNA can be mail-ordered off websites, and affordable biotech gear is available on Craigslist and eBay.

Wohlson discovers that biohackers, like the open-source programmers and software hackers who came before, are united by a profound idealism. They believe in the power of individuals as opposed to corporate interests, in the wisdom of crowds as opposed to the single-mindedness of experts, and in the incentive to do good for the world as opposed to the need to turn a profit. Suspicious of scientific elitism and inspired by the success of open-source computing, the bio DIYers believe that individuals have a fundamental right to biological information, that spreading the tools of biotech to the masses will accelerate the pace of progress, and that the fruits of the biosciences should be delivered into the hands of the people who need them the most.

With all their ingenuity and idealism, it's difficult not to root for the biohackers Wohlsen meets. Take MIT grad student Kay Aull, who built her own genetic testing kit in her closet after her father was diagnosed with the hereditary disease hemochromatosis. "Aull's test does not represent new science but a new way of doing science," Wohlsen writes. Aull's self-test for the disease-causing mutation came back positive.

Or take Meredith Patterson, who is trying to create a cheap, decentralized way to test milk for melamine poisoning without relying on government regulators. Patterson has written a "Biopunk Manifesto" that reads in part, "Scientific literacy empowers everyone who possesses it to be active contributors to their own health care, the quality of their food, water and air, their very interactions with their own bodies and the complex world around them."

Biohackers Josh Perfetto and Tito Jankowski created OpenPCR, a cheap, hackable DNA Xerox machine (PCR stands for "polymerase chain reaction," the name for a method of replicating DNA). Interested biohackers can pre-order one for just over $500 or, once it's ready, download the blueprint free and make their own. According to the website, its apps include DNA sequencing and a test to "check that sushi is legit." Jankowski "hopes to introduce young people to the tools and techniques of biotech in a way that makes gene tweaking as much a part of everyday technology as texting," Wohlsen writes. Jankowski, together with Joseph Jackson and Eri Gentry, also founded BioCurious, a collaborative lab space for biohackers in the Bay area. "Got an idea for a startup? Join the DIY, 'garage biology' movement and found a new breed of biotech," their website exhorts.

Then there's Andrew Hessel, a biohacker fed up with the biotech business model, which he believes is built on the hoarding of intellectual property and leads companies to prioritize one-size-fits-all blockbuster drugs. "During the sixty years or so that computers went from a roomful of vacuum tubes to iPhones, the pace of drug development has never quickened," Hessel tells Wohlsen. Hoping to change that, Hessel is developing the first DIY drug development company, the Pink Army Cooperative, whose goal is to bioengineer custom-made viruses that will battle breast cancer. "Personalized therapies made just for you. In weeks or days, not years. Believe it. It's time for a revolution," the company's website proclaims. "We are trying to be the Linux of cancer," Hessel explains. _TechnologyReview
Bio-hackers tend to be as intelligent as mainstream researchers, but a bit more unorthodox, and sometimes skeptical of mainstream approaches. In science, skepticism and lack of orthodoxy can be very good things, leading to new approaches to problem-solving. Conventional scientists and other academics and institutional workers too often get caught up in "groupthink," where they fear the risks of moving too far away from the herd.

A good example of this "herd thinking" is the reaction of many scientists to 81 year old celebrated biologist Edward O. Wilson's new ideas on group selection in evolution. Wilson has moved away from the popular concept of "kin selection" to a broader concept of evolutionary selection that applies to groups, rather than only to individuals and their close kin. The blowback from "the group" has been furious.
His position is provoking ferocious criticism from other scientists. Last month, the leading scientific journal Nature published five strongly worded letters saying, more or less, that Wilson has misunderstood the theory of evolution and generally doesn’t know what he’s talking about. One of these carried the signatures of an eye-popping 137 scientists, including two of Wilson’s colleagues at Harvard.

The last time Wilson found himself embroiled in controversy as scalding as the current one was after the publication of his book “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis” in 1975. In that landmark book, he made an argument about the power of genetics, demonstrating how all manner of social behaviors observed in insects and animals could be seen as the result of natural selection. What landed Wilson in trouble was the last chapter, in which he extended his argument to humans. That chapter thrust Wilson into a long and loaded debate over how much our genetic heritage — as opposed to, say, culture — has shaped our behavior. Amid the outcry over “Sociobiology,” Wilson was pilloried by critics on the left as an agent of biological determinism and racist science. Protestors once interrupted Wilson while he was speaking at a science conference and poured a glass of water on his head.

....What Wilson is trying to do, late in his influential career, is nothing less than overturn a central plank of established evolutionary theory: the origins of altruism. _boston
Notice that the focus of the controversy circles around the concept of the origin of "altruism" and "self-sacrifice." But such concepts have almost nothing to do with the main thrust of evolution, or the most important questions which evolutionary theorists must answer. Far more important to evolutionary progress than altruism, is "cooperation." Politically correct scientists and science journalists are attempting to construct PC moralistic edifices upon tangential scientific and pseudo-scientific foundations. And they get away with it because knowledge is "supposed to" come from the top down.

It is this "beside the pointness" of much of scientific argument -- and most of the journalistic inspired arguments about science -- which reflect and reveal the destructiveness of hyperspecialisation and "top-down science" and scholarship. The need for citizen science, and citizen scholarship in general, has never been clearer than in modern times, when the "experts" have been so widely coopted by political interests and political correctness.

Bio-hacking should be one useful restorative to the balance of knowledge tools -- and the balance of knowledge power. But much more is needed. We are on the fast road to Idiocratic authoritarianism, aided by the dual crises of skyrocketing debt and demographic decline.

Give it some thought. You may come up with some solutions on your own, which is what all of this is about.

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19 April 2011

Objective Testing of Individual Learning Capacity

Researchers collected brain imaging data from people performing a motor task, and then analysed this data using new computational techniques. They found evidence that the 'flexibility' of a person's brain - how much different areas of the brain link up in different combinations; essentially 'swapping partners' - can be used to predict how fast someone will learn. _PO

Scientists are developing better tools for testing human cognitive capacity objectively. In a recent study featuring an international scientific team from Oxford University, UC Santa Barbara, and UNC Chapel Hill, sophisticated brain imaging techniques were used to predict how quickly individuals could learn particular motor tasks.
The new study uses computational methods developed to analyze what the researchers call multilayer networks, in which each layer might represent a network at one snapshot in time, or a different set of connections between the same set of brain regions. These layers are combined into a larger mathematical object, which can contain a potentially huge amount of data and is difficult to analyze. Previous methods could only deal with each layer separately.

..."Parts of the brain communicate with one another very strongly, so they form a sort of module of intercommunicating regions of the brain," said first author Danielle S. Bassett, postdoctoral fellow in physics at UC Santa Barbara. "In this way, brain activity can segregate into multiple functional modules. What we wanted to measure is how fluid those modules are."

Bassett explained that there are flexible brain regions with allegiances that change through time. "That flexibility seems to be the factor that predicts learning," said Bassett. "So, if you are very flexible, then you will end up learning better on the second day, and if you are not very flexible, then you learn less." _PO

The ability to objectively measure cognitive capacity using brain imaging, bypasses most of the problems identified with IQ testing. During a brain imaging session, the person does not necessarily know what is being measured, and could not likely influence the measured outcome even if he tried -- short of withholding cooperation entirely. And that would be quite obvious to observers.

With the ability to objectively measure cognitive capacity, we are faced with a "put up or shut up" moment. If scientists seriously want to accurately measure group differences in IQ and cognitive ability, they now have the tools to do so. But if they only want to shout down opposing viewpoints without doing the work to get to the heart of the matter -- they will continue to shout, grouse, whine, and grumble. Which is it to be?

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Debt and Demography: A Deadly Double Dose


Interest on the US national debt is scheduled to explode wildly out of control, faster than entitlements, faster than any other government expenditure. And yet the US government cannot bring itself to stop its suicidally profligate deficit spending, adding over US$1 trillion a year to the debt!.

This is clearly a global problem, not just a US problem. As the economic foundations of the world's military hegemon and economic powerhouse crumble under an overload of debt and collapsing demographics, the rest of the world is going to feel the pain as well. Just as US baby boomers can find no one to buy their accumulated lifetime wealth, so the US government is finding it harder to find buyers for its accumulating debt.

Across the advanced economies, demographics are collapsing. And the US is not even on the list of the 17 countries with the fastest-collapsing demographics. The deadly combination of exponentially rising debt on top of a quickly collapsing demographic, becomes irreversible after a certain point. But in order for welfare states to maintain their bloated social benefit spending schedules, they must go deeply into debt -- just at the time that their productive workers are disappearing in time.

At the state government level of the US, reality is slowly and spottily sinking into the minds of those who are tasked with keeping the pensions and benefits solvent. But the blowback from leftist government unions, communtiy organisers, and other leftist special interest groups is severe and verging on open violence. In Europe the leftist backlash against proposed austerity programs -- even very modest and minimal plans -- is likewise bordering on open insurrection.

Obama has a plan for a fundamentally different America. We know that Obama has a plan -- he must have a plan! But we cannot decrypt the US President's plan from his words or even his actions. We may have to wait a hundred years, and look back in time at what we can learn about Mr. Obama's plans, to finally understand.

Al Fin has been suggesting that readers should buy precious metals, acquire the capacity to grow their own food, develop the means to defend yourself, your loved ones, and your possessions, and more -- for years now. Some readers may still wonder what he is getting at....

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18 April 2011

China's Shakey Tightrope Walk

I think one day we will all wake up with as much surprise as we woke up to the Arab Spring and there will be in China what we witnessed in North Africa. Whether - we may have to wait, you know, 10 years for it, it may happen in the next six months. And the party is plainly paranoid about this. _abc.net
via NextBigFuture

China's authoritarian government attempts to project an image of strength and stability to the rest of the world. But things are not going nearly as smoothly as the CCP leaders wish outsiders to believe. A feverish rush to build "an infrastructure to nowhere" has occupied the attention of most Chinese, and drawn investment from overseas -- but it has not replaced the rich export markets which vanished virtually overnight with the 2008 global finacial collapse and its aftermath.

China's leaders have their work cut out for them, if they are to avoid a regime-threatening upswell of popular discontent among its hundreds of millions of "have-nots."
China is involved in an enormous fixed investment bubble. At this point, a very large part of this is malinvestment, and will eventually lead to deflation and a sharp drop in growth. More than likely it will trigger a financial crisis as well. Right now, China is investing nearly 50% of its GDP in capital stock, which is an astounding figure. Inevitably, this leads to many bridges to nowhere, ghost cities, unused high speed rail, and empty airports. Roubini notes that all previous recent examples of over-investment, particularly the East Asian economies in 1990s, ended up with financial crises and slow growth. _SeekingAlpha
China remains one of the great “if it’s too good to be true it probably is”. This economy is growing at a rate that is incomprehensible to most westerners. But the cracks have started to show in the facade. Between their reverse mergers, supposed GDP fraud, accounting scandals, highly flawed monetary policy and insanely inflationary fiscal policy (where they just build empty cities in the middle of nowhere) I have to wonder what breaks the back of this economy at some point? My guess is that inflation will rage in China to the point of public discontent and ultimately harsh economic repercussions. _PragCap
...given China's massive property bubble and unwarranted infrastructure build-out, the Chinese banking system is as bad a shape if not worse than other major countries. _Mish
China's runaway inflation isn't just a problem for the Chinese government or consumers in that country. It poses big risk for the global economy. _Portfolio.com
China's history is one of repeated dynasties disrupted by periods of lawlessness, outside conquest, and rule by competing warlords. The Chinese Communist Party which has ruled the country since the late 1940s can be seen as a short-lived dynasty. But the centrifugal forces are building, threatening to pull the massive population in different directions, under different powerful ruling cliques.

China's rulers are walking a shakey tightrope between a ballooning inflation and the threat of creeping collapse from the periphery moving inward. The push to build multiple massive mega-cities along the coast and around Beijing may well be an unwitting push toward national schism along the borders of the multiple power centers.

Finally, one should never forget that modern China is an empire, ruling over significant numbers of other ethnics, who feel that their own nations have been stolen from them. Unlike the Russian conquests of Asian peoples and the US / Canadian conquests of native American peoples, the conquests of the CCP's China are still rather fresh in the minds of over 100 million conquered people.

In other words, China's problems are many, occurring on multiple levels. It is really a question of when the CCP government will give way to subsequent powers, not if. And when that happens, the global fallout could be significant.

More: Brian Wang presents a more sanguine picture of China's future

More: Brian Wang has an update on some of China's military power upgrades


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Hippocampal Neurogenesis in Mice Key to New Brain Research

Scientists have found that antidepressants (sertraline and tofranil) can boost the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus of mice. This finding is important for treatment of depression, dementia, and brain trauma.
one of the ways that antidepressants work is by boosting neurogenesis in the hippocampus. Christoph Anacker and his colleagues at King's College London have now worked out how they do so.

Previous research has shown a link between some antidepressants and stress hormones called glucocorticoids. So Anacker's team decided to test whether the antidepressant sertraline acts on the glucocorticoid receptors of brain cells. They grew human hippocampal progenitor cells in a dish and added sertraline. Ten days later, the cultures showed a 25 per cent greater than expected increase in the number of new neurons.

When the researchers added a drug to block the glucocorticoid receptors before adding the antidepressant, the number of new neurons produced after 10 days was similar to that expected from natural growth. This suggests that the antidepressant does indeed exert its effect through this receptor (Molecular Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1038/mp.2011.26). _NewScientist
US researchers suspect that this neurogenic effect of antidepressants may prove useful in the treatment of brain injury.
Jason Huang, M.D., and colleagues undertook the study after noticing that patients with brain injuries who had been prescribed anti-depressants were doing better in unexpected ways than their counterparts who were not taking such medications. Not only did their depression ease; their memory also seemed improved compared to patients not on the medication.

"We saw these patients improving in multiple ways – their depression was improved, but so were their memory and cognitive functioning. We wanted to look at the issue more, so we went back to the laboratory to investigate it further," said Huang, associate professor of Neurosurgery and chief of Neurosurgery at Highland Hospital, an affiliate of the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The team's findings were published online recently in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

Huang said many patients who have a traumatic brain injury also experience depression – by some estimates, half of such patients are depressed. Doctors aren't sure whether the depression is a byproduct of the sudden, unfortunate change in circumstances that patients find themselves in, or whether the depression is a direct consequence of brain damage.

Previous research by other groups indicated that anti-depressants help generate new brain cells and keep them healthy in healthy animals. That, together with the experience of his patients, led Huang to study the effects of the anti-depressant imipramine (also known as Tofranil) on mice that had injuries to their brains.

Scientists found that imipramine boosted the number of neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain primarily responsible for memory. By one measure, mice treated with imipramine had approximately 70 percent more neurons after four weeks than mice that did not receive the medication.

That change was borne out on behavioral tests as well. The team tested mice by using what scientists call a novel object recognition test. Like human infants, mice tend to spend more time sizing up objects that they haven't encountered before – or don't remember encountering – than they do objects that they've seen before. This gives scientists a way to measure a mouse's memory.

The team found that mice that had been treated with imipramine had a better memory. They were more likely to remember objects they had seen previously and so spent more time exploring truly novel objects, compared to mice that did not receive the compound. _PO
Improvement of memory in mice follows naturally from the boost in neurogenesis within the hippocampus -- a part of the brain which is key to laying down new memories, among other things.

The fact that brain damaged humans also show cognitive improvement after treatment with antidepressants, points the way to new research to augment neurogenesis after brain trauma, stroke, tumour, and other forms of brain damage.

It is interesting that both tofranil -- one of the oldest antidepressants -- and sertraline, a newer antidepressant, were found to be effective in growing new hippocampal neurons. This approach may be used as a screening tool for antidepressant research, as well as a means to rank to likely effectiveness of antidepressants already on the market.

More: This PDF research article from research teams in France and the US, describes a new approach to antidepressant and anti-anxiety treatment which may take a paradoxical approach to nerve growth when compared to the antidepressants described in the above studies. Anyone who is significantly interested in understanding possible deep brain mechanisms for effective antidepressant therapy should take a look. Keep in mind that it is a research article, using mice as subjects.

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Descent of Africa Tests the Honesty of the Politically Correct

There was a great global rejoicing over the death of the apartheid regime of South Africa, and the coming of majority rule in 1994. Media analysts -- regardless of political persuasion -- were genuinely ecstatic over the rise of democratic self-governance in South Africa, and expected great things from Africa's richest nation, after apartheid.

But something happened along the road to paradise for South Africa. Things got worse for everyone except the few corrupt insiders within the ANC. Crime, corruption, disease, poverty, human misery, all much worse -- and worsening with time, just as in Zimbabwe under Mugabe. But if you try to get a leftist's honest opinion about the ongoing descent of South Africa, you may find the going a bit rocky, to say the least.
The central problem of writing about South Africa is that it is almost impossible to explain the country's slow-motion catastrophe in terms that make sense to foreigners... All power concentrated in the hands of an over-mighty President who attempts to prolong his rule. The decay of infrastructure through poor maintenance alongside a pronounced taste for prestige expenditures. Power cuts for the people, the arrogance of power for the elite and an ever-growing chasm of inequality between...

...When Mugabe took power in 1980, Zimbabwe [formerly Rhodesia -- ed.] was regarded as one of Africa's jewels, a country with good infrastructure, deep soil, and a thriving agricultural sector, whose exports were the country's largest sources of foreign earnings....Mugabe turned nasty, organizing mobs to drive white farmers off their land—a move intended to restore the dictator's popularity with the masses. Instead, it destroyed the country's banking system, which in turn led to soaring inflation and generalized economic collapse. With most of his subjects facing starvation, Mugabe and his generals resorted to naked repression.

...As for Mbeki, the godfather of the African Renaissance backed Mugabe from the outset, shielding him against condemnatory United Nations and Commonwealth resolutions and blocking the Human Rights Commission's attempts to investigate his atrocities. South Africans were told that Mbeki was working behind the scenes to prevent Zimbabwe's implosion, but the country imploded anyway, driving millions of refugees into South Africa, where they sat on street corners, attempting to exchange worthless billion-dollar Zimbabwe banknotes for bread crusts. Zimbabwe's implosion had become part of our implosion, and still Mbeki remained silent

...Elsewhere, we have FAILED BILLION-DOLLAR EDUCATION PROGRAM; WHISTLE-BLOWER MURDERED; WIFE OF NIA CHIEF ON TRIAL FOR SMUGGLING COCAINE, the NIA being our CIA. And finally, the story of the hour: The National Prosecuting Authority has abandoned its investigation into the whereabouts of $130 million in bribes generated by South Africa's notorious 1990s arms deal.

In the West, scandals of this magnitude would topple governments. Here, they are almost meaningless. Most will never be pursued or resolved satisfactorily. The electorate will not stand up and scream, "Enough!" In many cases, the alleged culprits won't even be investigated, and the incompetent bureaucrats who presided over the education fiasco will not be fired. In a week or two, these stories will be blown off the front pages by equally hair-raising scandals, most of which will also just fade away. It's been like this for years, and there comes a time when you stop paying attention lest the drumbeat of bad news drive you mad. _BookForum


Africa was colonised by several foreign powers, whose nation-building badly disrupted the tribal and language infrastructure which had existed in pre-colonial times. But then, when maintaining their colonies proved too much for European powers after WWII, their African possessions were "dispossessed" and left largely to fend for themselves.

But oddly, Africa did not rise out of poverty like Japan and Germany had done -- after World War II, or like South Korea did after the Korean War, or like China did after it rejected Maoism in favour of a more pro-business economic environment. No, Africa went downhill after de-colonisation, rather than upward.

Yes, you will see numbers claiming that certain African nations are growing economically, and certain to rise from poverty "any day now." But if you look more closely, you will see that the oil and mineral dictatorships of Africa are selling natural resources to outsiders -- the leaders then stashing their profits in overseas bank accounts. Not the kind of prosperity a nation could actually build upon to benefit most of its citizens.

Corruption, disease, poverty, violent tribal and ideological conflict -- everything that was true of the rest of Africa except Rhodesia and South Africa, suddenly began becoming true for Zimbabwe and majority-rule South Africa. How does one explain this near-uniformity of poverty, hopelessness, disease, violence, and near absence of achievement across an entire sub-continent? If one is a leftist -- once euphoric over the emergence of majority rule in Zimbabwe and South Africa -- how does one explain the ongoing collapse of once-rich and once-proud nations?

If one is not a leftist, he might look at such things as "race, genes, and disparity." Such biologically-based factors involved in the study of evolutionary human biodiversity may correlate far better with the actual conditions on the ground, in Africa, than more abstract concepts which are far more popular with the leftists and proto-leftists of media, academia, popular culture, and most political organisations. But the modern intellectual world has little tolerance for demonstrable, evidence-based theories, if they contradict politically correct dogma.

And for at least that reason, one cannot truly hold an honest discussion about Africa with most leftists. Of course, many evidence-based theories contradict politically correct dogma, so Africa is not the only topic which is verboten, in terms of honest discussion.

Anyone who wants to make his way to the higher levels of achievement in the politically correct world, must needs adjust his crap detector to its lowest possible setting, so as to be able to tolerate the PC crap which passes for common wisdom among most pseudo-intellectuals in academia, media, culture, and politics.

Those of us who are unable to make such adjustments will just have to create something better on our own.

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17 April 2011

Young Russians Fleeing a Sinking Ship

Scared, fed up and feeling disenfranchised, many successful Russians are investing in citizenship in Western countries, according to consultants who have made a business of facilitating such emigration.

"It seems that the whole generation of 25- to 45-year-old Russians is actively thinking about running away, especially considering the prospect of seeing the same people in power for another 12 years, starting 2012. All dinner conversations tend to finish with this subject," said the general director of a multibillion-dollar multinational company in Russia, who asked not to be identified because of the blunt nature of his comments. _MoscowTimes
In our People Risk study, we found that Russia currently has the highest brain drain risk compared to the other three countries (see Figure 2). The issue of an ageing population is also an important factor for companies to consider as it can, and will, impact the company's workforce planning and costs in the future. Russia poses the highest risk of an ageing population, with close to 18% of its population above the age of 60, as compared to Brazil (9.9%), India (7.4%) and China (11.9%). _aon.com
Al Fin has been told by several readers that he is too hard on Russia. But compared to many young modern Russians, Al Fin's criticisms are quite mild.
In recent times, the posting of one blogger, who has left Russia, is popular in the Russian segment of the internet.

He, in particular, writes: «Russia is an evil, moreover – of a worldwide scale. Evil must be annihilated. Consequently, everything that is directed against Russia is a good.

…In general, to emigrate is much easier than this seems from Russia. To get a tourist visa now is not a problem, a residence permit – of course, is more complex, but here too there are different paths. As an example, if there are no provable grounds to ask for the status of a refugee – one can get a work visa to Australia or Canada; there, unlike in the USA, they give it automatically, if you gather the necessary quantity of points, given by profession (from a rather large list), education, knowledge of the language, age (the younger, the better), etc. Of course, nobody’s waiting for us anywhere with open arms, certain difficulties, especially at the start, will have to be overcome everywhere. But what is being spoken of is not getting into paradise. What is being spoken of is breaking out of hell. From a hell that in the foreseeable prospect is going to be getting ever worse and worse. By the way, a country and a people consistently standing up on the side of evil don’t deserve anything else.

I still don’t know how my own personal destiny will turn out, will they give me asylum in the USA or will I have to look for another country for myself. I know one thing – I will not return to Russia in any event…» _EurasiaReview
The situation inside Russia can be very bleak for the young, bright, and ambitious.
As chief of the migration laboratory at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Zhanna A. Zayonchkovskaya has studied previous waves of emigration, including in the 1990s, when as many as 6 million people left. But her desire to research this one puts her up against the wall others are confronting.

“Brain drain is a very urgent topic now,” she said. “We would like to study it, but we cannot get the money to do it.”

President Dmitry Medvedev drew attention to the brain drain in October, when two emigre scientists born and educated in Russia won the Nobel physics prize. They work in Britain, where they have attracted a number of other Russian-born scientists.

“We need to make an effort so that our talented people do not go abroad,” Medvedev said, adding that the government had failed to invest sufficiently in research. He has been trying to recruit foreigners to make Russia more competitive. _WaPo
Russia's human infrastructure is crumbling along with its physical and technological infrastructures. Vodka makes Russians feel warm at night, but it is a false warmth with no future.
For many educated young Russians, Western countries seem to have an intractable allure, whether there are more work opportunities, a better educational system, or simply nicer weather. While this last reason may seem trivial, many students are beginning to wonder if the grass is literally greener on the other side.

“Each year, I ask my master’s students where they see themselves three or four years from now,” Moscow State University economics professor Alexander Auzan said at a conference in the Polytechnic Museum this year. “In September 2010 roughly half said they envisaged themselves working abroad: not just anywhere but quite specifically in Germany, Britain, Ireland, or Argentina.” _Indrus.in
Young Russian women may find more paths open to them for emigration, not all of them with happy endings. But for the young who are bright, well trained, and ambitious, the rest of the world holds many possibilities.
For most of the men who stay in Russia, the picture is not very pretty.
RUSSIA is suffering from a serious shortage of men, with a high male mortality rate fuelled by heart disease and alcoholism, The Moscow Times reported today.

Preliminary census results showed that Russia's population dropped by 2.2 million since 2002 to just under 143 million, suggesting the government's efforts to boost the population were not working.

Just 46.3 percent of Russia's population was made up of men, down from 46.6 percent in 2002, the report said.

"Women here live longer," the newspaper quoted demographics researcher Boris Denisov as saying.

Men "do not want to live" in Russia, he added.

Russia has experienced a dramatic drop in population since the fall of the Soviet Union, fueled by alcoholism and unhealthy lifestyles as well as emigration. _HeraldSun.au

Interestingly, Russian women live about ten years longer than Russian men, but retire 5 years earlier at 55. Sadly, most Russian men never live to 60 to enjoy retirement, while retired Russian women have only the vodka to keep them company those long cold winter nights.

No wonder so many young Russians want to leave, to avoid such fates.

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16 April 2011

Eating Ten Year Old Meat

How to Know Spoiled Meat

If you do not do something to preserve fresh meat, it tends to go bad rather quickly. Early humans discovered that eating fresh kill was healthier than eating days or weeks old flesh. Italians in Naples may be discovering the same thing:
Italian police arrested a Naples butcher after discovering worm-infested meat for sale in his store that was 10 years past its expiry date, the ANSA news agency reported Friday.

Shocked food safety inspectors discovered pasta and biscuits crawling with parasites, rotting meats and dairy products, and olives covered in mold in the store of horrors.

The butcher tampered with expiry dates on the products in order to keep on selling the items, even though some were a decade old, the report said.

Police arrested the butcher on suspicion of endangering public health. _FoxDC
Of course, the worms just add to the protein content. But seriously, how did the butcher preserve meat so well that it could be sold to conscious humans after ten years?

Curing Meat
Thousands of years ago, man figured out that salting and smoking meat could retard spoilage and improve flavor. One old-fashioned and time-tested method is the salt barrel. Packed in a barrel of salt, meat will last almost indefinitely. However, salt is a commodity like anything else: unless you have access to an unlimited supply of it, the salt barrel is a very resource intensive method of food preservation. Meat is often salt cured and smoked, but by itself, that is more for flavor than actual preservation. Ironically, the relatively low temperatures at which meat is smoked actually encourages the growth of one very serious pathogen: Botulism.

...To effectively preserve meat in a survival situation, you need only have two things: Salt and Sodium Nitrate. With these two ingredients, you can produce an unbelievable variety of cured and preserved meats that are ready for long term storage or immediate consumption, and eaten “raw” or cooked.

...To dry-cure the meat:
Wrap it in cheesecloth. This is to discourage insects. Hang it in a humid, cool environment. 70% humidity and 55 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal. Humidity may be increased by placing a container of salted water near the meat. Somewhat paradoxically, higher humidity actually yields better results. It may slow the curing process a bit, but in the absence of sufficient humidity, the outer surface of the meat will dry and lock moisture in, causing spoilage. A cellar or even an uninhabited cave is an ideal curing chamber. An unused refrigerator will work as well.

Depending on climate conditions, size, and type of meat, this can take anywhere from a week to several months. A ham should be cured for six months; a pork belly or duck breast only needs a week. It is ready when it has reduced its weight by a third, or just feels “cooked.” You may cook the meat after it is cured, or eat it as is. You can store it by leaving it to hang in the curing environment. It should last almost indefinitely, and add flavor and variety to your diet. _SurvivalBlog
So, according to the author of the piece above, dry cured meat "should last almost indefinitely." That is reassuring, should the power ever go down for 10 or 20 years.

Apparently butchers cannot get away with selling 20 year old meat, but if you are willing to practise the art of dry-curing until you become an expert at the craft, you may be able to put in a good supply of long-term meat, without depending upon a deep freeze to keep the meat edible.

Just something to consider as the moocher in chief doubles down on his lifetime revolutionary goals.

More: Drug-resistant bacteria are commonly found in supermarket meat and poultry. Is food irradiation the answer? Perhaps yet one more reason for stocking your survival compound with a small modular nuclear reactor.


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