What animals are thinking and feeling, and why it should matter

 

Greenland’s ice melting faster than scientists previously thought

The Guardian reports:

Greenland is melting faster than scientists previously thought, with the pace of ice loss increasing four-fold since 2003, new research has found.

Enormous glaciers in Greenland are depositing ever larger chunks of ice into the Atlantic ocean, where it melts. But scientists have found that the largest ice loss in the decade from 2003 actually occurred in the southwest region of the island, which is largely glacier-free.

This suggests surface ice is simply melting as global temperatures rise, causing gushing rivers of meltwater to flow into the ocean and push up sea levels. South-west Greenland, not previously thought of as a source of woe for coastal cities, is set to “become a major future contributor to sea level rise,” the research states.

“We knew we had one big problem with increasing rates of ice discharge by some large outlet glaciers,” said Michael Bevis, lead author of the paper and a professor of geodynamics at Ohio State University. “But now we recognize a second serious problem: increasingly, large amounts of ice mass are going to leave as meltwater, as rivers that flow into the sea.”

The research provides fresh evidence of the dangers posed to vulnerable coastal places as diverse as Miami, Shanghai, Bangladesh and various Pacific islands as climate change shrinks the world’s land-based ice. [Continue reading…]

Nuclear weapons and the legacy of Dr. King

Vincent Intondi writes:

On February 6, 1968, Dr. King, stepped up to the pulpit to warn against the use of nuclear weapons. Addressing the second mobilization of the Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, King urged an end to the war and warned that if the United States used nuclear weapons in Vietnam the earth would be transformed into an inferno that “even the mind of Dante could not envision.”

Then, as he had done so many times before, King made clear the connection between the black freedom struggle in America and the need for nuclear disarmament: “These two issues are tied together in many, many ways. It is a wonderful thing to work to integrate lunch counters, public accommodations, and schools. But it would be rather absurd to work to get schools and lunch counters integrated and not be concerned with the survival of a world in which to integrate.”

King was not alone. Since 1945, many in the African American community actively supported nuclear disarmament, often connecting the nuclear issue with the fight for racial equality and with liberation movements around the world. While African Americans immediately condemned the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not all of the activists protested for the same reason. For some, race was the issue. Many in the black community agreed with Langston Hughes’s assertion that racism was at the heart of Truman’s decision to use nuclear weapons in Japan. Why did the United States not drop atomic bombs on Italy or Germany, Hughes asked.

Black activists’ fear that race played a role in the decision to use atomic bombs only increased when the United States threatened to use nuclear weapons in Korea in the 1950s and in Vietnam a decade later. For others, mostly black leftists ensconced in Popular Front groups, the nuclear issue was connected to colonialism.

From the United States obtaining uranium from the Belgian-controlled Congo to France testing nuclear weapons in the Sahara, activists saw a direct link between those who possessed nuclear weapons and those who colonized the nonwhite world. However, for many ordinary black citizens, fighting for nuclear disarmament simply translated into a more peaceful world. The bomb, then, became the link that connected all of these issues and brought together musicians, artists, peace activists, leftists, clergy, journalists, and ordinary citizens inside the black community. [Continue reading…]

The 26 richest people possess as much wealth as half the world’s population

The Guardian reports:

The growing concentration of the world’s wealth has been highlighted by a report showing that the 26 richest billionaires own as many assets as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the planet’s population.

In an annual wealth check released to mark the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the development charity Oxfam said 2018 had been a year in which the rich had grown richer and the poor poorer.

It said the widening gap was hindering the fight against poverty, adding that a 1% wealth tax would raise an estimated $418bn (£325bn) a year – enough to educate every child not in school and provide healthcare that would prevent 3 million deaths.

Oxfam said the wealth of more than 2,200 billionaires across the globe had increased by $900bn in 2018 – or $2.5bn a day. The 12% increase in the wealth of the very richest contrasted with a fall of 11% in the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population.

As a result, the report concluded, the number of billionaires owning as much wealth as half the world’s population fell from 43 in 2017 to 26 last year. In 2016 the number was 61. [Continue reading…]

The 26 richest billionaires are: Jeff Bezos (U.S.); Bill Gates (U.S.); Warren Buffett (U.S.); Bernard Arnault (France); Mark Zuckerberg (U.S.); Amancio Ortega (Spain); Carlos Slim Helu (Mexico); Charles Koch (U.S.); David Koch (U.S.); Larry Ellison (U.S.); Michael Bloomberg (U.S.); Larry Page (U.S.); Sergey Brin (U.S.); Jim Walton (U.S.); S. Robson Walton (U.S.); Alice Walton (U.S.); Ma Huateng (China); Francoise Bettencourt Meyers (France); Mukesh Ambani (India); Jack Ma (China); Sheldon Adelson (U.S.); Steve Ballmer (U.S.); Li Ka-shing (Hong Kong); Hui Ka Yan (China); Lee Shau Kee (Hong Kong); Wang Jianlin (China) (Source: Forbes)

Israel and Iran are on a collision course in Syria – and the U.S. and Russia don’t care

Anshel Pfeffer writes:

The escalation in the conflict between Israel and Iran in the skies over Syria in the past 24 hours has brought their secret war of the last two years well and truly into the open.

On Sunday, Israel carried out a rare daylight series of airstrikes in the Damascus area, followed by an Iranian attempt to fire a mid-range missile toward northern Israel. Overnight Monday, at 1 A.M., Israel not only launched a second, much wider series of attacks against Iranian targets in Syria, but for the first time announced in real time that they were taking place.

Israel and Iran are now engaged in direct and open conflict in Syria – which is perhaps not so surprising, considering how the events of the last eight years since Syria was plunged into civil war have led to this moment.

What is remarkable is how this latest development is happening without either of the world powers – the United States and Russia – trying to exert any significant influence on the outcome.

In recent years, geopolitical analysts have talked about the world and the Middle East transitioning from an international system where the United States was the only superpower to a more “multipolar” balance. What is happening in Syria now is a nonpolar situation. Neither side, Israel or Iran, seems to want to go all the way to all-out war, but without any restraining hand that could well happen.

Russia pretends to have plans for Syria’s future, but doesn’t seem to be doing much to implement them. The United States, meanwhile, doesn’t even pretend. It is now well into its second White House administration that quite clearly does not consider Syria and the surrounding region important enough for any meaningful U.S. intervention. [Continue reading…]

The cerebellum is your ‘little brain’ — and it does some pretty big things

Diana Kwon writes:

For the longest time the cerebellum, a dense, fist-size formation located at the base of the brain, never got much respect from neuroscientists.

For about two centuries the scientific community believed the cerebellum (Latin for “little brain”), which contains approximately half of the brain’s neurons, was dedicated solely to the control of movement. In recent decades, however, the tide has started to turn, as researchers have revealed details of the structure’s role in cognition, emotional processing and social behavior.

The longstanding interest in the cerebellum can be seen in the work of French physiologist Marie Jean Pierre Flourens—(1794–1867). Flourens removed the cerebella of pigeons and found the birds became unbalanced, although they could still move. Based on these observations, he concluded the cerebellum was responsible for coordinating movements. “[This] set the dogma that the cerebellum was involved in motor coordination,” says Kamran Khodakhah, a neuroscientist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, adding: “For many years, we ignored the signs that suggested it was involved in other things.”

One of the strongest pieces of evidence for the cerebellum’s broader repertoire emerged around two decades ago, when Jeremy Schmahmann, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, described cerebellar cognitive affective syndrome after discovering behavioral changes such as impairments in abstract reasoning and regulating emotion in individuals whose cerebella had been damaged. Since then this line of study has expanded. There has been human neuroimaging work showing the cerebellum is involved in cognitive processing and emotional control—and investigations in animals have revealed, among other things, that the structure is important for the normal development of social and cognitive capacities. Researchers have also linked altered cerebellar function to addiction, autism and schizophrenia.

Although many of these findings suggested the cerebellum played an important part both in reward-related and social behavior, a clear neural mechanism to explain this link was lacking. New research, published this week in Science, demonstrates that a pathway directly tying the cerebellum to the ventral tegmental area (VTA)—one of the brain’s key pleasure centers—can control these two processes. [Continue reading…]

Music: Aaron Parks — ‘Small Planet’

 

‘If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?’

The Washington Post reports:

During the summer of 2017, when temperatures reached triple digits in Arizona, four women drove to a vast desert wilderness along the southwestern border with Mexico. They brought water jugs and canned food — items they later said they were leaving for dehydrated migrants crossing the unfriendly terrain to get to the United States.

The women were later charged with misdemeanor crimes. Prosecutors said they violated federal law by entering Cabeza Prieta, a protected 860,000-acre refuge, without a permit and leaving water and food there. A judge convicted them on Friday in the latest example of growing tension between aid workers and the U.S. Border Patrol.

Aid workers say their humanitarian efforts, motivated by a deep sense of right and wrong, have been criminalized during the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal border crossings. Federal officials say they were simply enforcing the law.

The four women, all volunteers for the Arizona-based aid group No More Deaths, were convicted after a three-day bench trial at a federal court in Tucson. They could face up to six months in federal prison.

Their trial coincided with a partial government shutdown that has now entered its 30th day, the longest in the country’s history. Negotiations have stalled as President Trump stands firm on his demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding, citing a humanitarian and security crisis at the southern border.

In his verdict, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco said the women’s actions violated “the national decision to maintain the Refuge in its pristine nature.” Velasco also said the women committed the crimes under the false belief that they would not be prosecuted and instead would simply be banned or fined.

Catherine Gaffney, a volunteer for No More Deaths, said the guilty verdict challenges all “people of conscience throughout the country.”

“If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?” she said in a statement. [Continue reading…]

Waiting for a shutdown to end in disaster

McKay Coppins writes:

As the longest government shutdown in American history lurches toward its fifth week, a grim but growing consensus has begun to emerge on Capitol Hill: There may be no way out of this mess until something disastrous happens.

This is, of course, not a sentiment lawmakers are eager to share on the record. But in interviews this week with congressional staffers on both sides of the aisle (whom I granted anonymity in exchange for candor), I heard the same morbid idea expressed again and again.

The basic theory—explained to me between weary sighs and defeated shrugs—goes like this: Washington is at an impasse that looks increasingly unbreakable. President Donald Trump is dug in; so is Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Democrats have public opinion on their side, but the president is focused on his conservative base. For a deal to shake loose in this environment, it may require a failure of government so dramatic, so shocking, as to galvanize public outrage and force the two parties back to the negotiating table.

In these interviews, I heard an array of macabre hypotheticals—from airplane crashes to food-safety scares, TSA strikes to terrorist incidents. But the one theme that ran through every conversation was a sense that the current political dynamics won’t change until voters get a lot angrier. [Continue reading…]

Protecting the work of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, isn’t the Attorney General’s only job

Jeffrey Toobin writes:

When William Barr testified last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee as President Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, he gave the impression that he would be an aberrational figure in the Administration. Unlike many members of the President’s Cabinet, Barr is experienced, knowledgeable, and clearly qualified, in any formal sense, for the job, which he has held before, under President George H. W. Bush. In addition, he has a reputation for integrity and straight dealing. Most of the questions at his confirmation hearing concerned the work of Robert Mueller, the special counsel, whom Barr will supervise if he is confirmed. He made a convincing case that he would allow Mueller to complete his investigation of President Trump. He was less definitive about how much of Mueller’s report he would release, but he seemed receptive to the sentiment, expressed by Democrats and even by some Republicans, that the public has a right to know what Mueller has learned.

Based on the hearing, one might think that supervision of the special counsel is the Attorney General’s main responsibility. But that’s far from true, and it’s regarding the other work of the Justice Department, particularly its central mission of protecting the civil rights of all Americans, that the prospect of Barr’s service appears dismaying. By and large, he seemed prepared to sustain the work of his predecessors in the Administration: the belligerently right-wing Jeff Sessions and the comically unqualified Matthew Whitaker, the acting Attorney General.

Consider voting rights. In the past decade, Republicans have changed and applied electoral laws to make it harder for Democrats, especially people of color, to vote. The Supreme Court abetted these practices with its decision, in 2013, in the Shelby County case, which gutted the Voting Rights Act. The midterm elections brought home the consequences. In states around the country—especially Florida and Georgia, where African-Americans ran competitive statewide campaigns—voter suppression, in various forms, demeaned the process and may have affected the outcome.

And what has the Trump Justice Department done about these outrages? It’s encouraged them, in part by withdrawing legal challenges to discriminatory laws which were filed during the Obama Administration. (In Ohio, the department switched sides in a suit that had been brought to halt a purge of registered voters.) Last week, Barr said that he would enforce the Voting Rights Act, but he did not seem perturbed by the problem of voter suppression. He allowed that low voter turnout was likely the result of public disengagement, adding that “turnout shouldn’t be artificially driven up.” Actually, turnout by eligible citizens should be driven up, whether artificially or otherwise.

Indeed, the Trump Justice Department has had something of an obsession with making sure that minorities don’t count. [Continue reading…]