Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Music: Rostam Mirlashari — ‘Laila O Laila’

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Neanderthals developed art earlier than modern humans

Carl Zimmer writes: The two new studies don’t just indicate that Neanderthals could make cave art and jewelry. They also establish that Neanderthals were making these things long before modern humans — a blow to the idea that they simply copied their cousins. The earliest known cave paintings made by modern humans are only about 40,000 years old, while Neanderthal cave art is at least 24,000 years older. The oldest

Britain left Stone Age 4,500 years ago as early Britons were replaced by metalworking migrants

BBC News reports: The ancient population of Britain was almost completely replaced by newcomers about 4,500 years ago, a study shows. The findings mean modern Britons trace just a small fraction of their ancestry to the people who built Stonehenge. The astonishing result comes from analysis of DNA extracted from 400 ancient remains across Europe. The mammoth study, published in Nature, suggests the newcomers, known as Beaker people, replaced 90%

New paper links ancient drawings and the origins of language

Peter Dizikes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: When and where did humans develop language? To find out, look deep inside caves, suggests an MIT professor. More precisely, some specific features of cave art may provide clues about how our symbolic, multifaceted language capabilities evolved, according to a new paper co-authored by MIT linguist Shigeru Miyagawa. A key to this idea is that cave art is often located in acoustic “hot spots,”

Arctic temperatures soar 45 degrees above normal, flooded by extremely mild air on all sides

The Washington Post reports: While the Eastern United States simmers in some of its warmest February weather ever recorded, the Arctic is also stewing in temperatures more than 45 degrees above normal. This latest huge temperature spike in the Arctic is another striking indicator of its rapidly transforming climate. On Monday and Tuesday, the northernmost weather station in the world, Cape Morris Jesup at the northern tip of Greenland, experienced

New mapping shows just how much fishing impacts the world’s seas

Science News reports: Fishing has left a hefty footprint on Earth. Oceans cover more than two-thirds of the planet’s surface, and industrial fishing occurred across 55 percent of that ocean area in 2016, researchers report in the Feb. 23 Science. In comparison, only 34 percent of Earth’s land area is used for agriculture or grazing. Previous efforts to quantify global fishing have relied on a hodgepodge of scant data culled

In Syria’s war economy the worst of enemies are also partners in business

Century Foundation Fellow, Aron Lund, writes: After the October 2017 fall of Raqqa to U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab guerrillas, the extremist group known as the Islamic State is finally crumbling. But victory came a cost: Raqqa lies in ruins, and so does much of northern Syria. At least one of the tools for reconstruction is within reach. An hour and a half’s drive from Raqqa lies one of the largest

How Charles Fletcher Lummis helped create the myth of the American West

At Lapham’s Quarterly, Greg Luther writes: For a people more and more bound to the city, more confined to factory work and its bitter hours and cramped spaces, to a people suffocating from the smoke and greed of industrialism, a walk under open skies must have seemed the purest freedom. In A Tramp Across the Continent Lummis fashioned himself as a man unafraid to cast off the shackles of society

Music: Bugge Wesseltoft ft. Dhafer Youssef — ‘Hope’

 

The immobilization of life on Earth

One of the defining characteristics of life is movement, be that in the form of locomotion or simply growth. What is inanimate is not alive and yet humans, through the use of technology, are constantly seeking ways to reduce the need to move our own limbs. We have set ourselves on a trajectory that, if taken to its logical conclusion, will eliminate our need to possess a fully functioning body

Why moths learn so much faster than machines

Technology Review reports: One of the curious features of the deep neural networks behind machine learning is that they are surprisingly different from the neural networks in biological systems. While there are similarities, some critical machine-learning mechanisms have no analogue in the natural world, where learning seems to occur in a different way. These differences probably account for why machine-learning systems lag so far behind natural ones in some aspects

Google Chrome now blocks ads in order to promote advertising

The New York Times reports: Google did not become the creator of the world’s most popular browser and a dominant advertising force by running its business in a manner that did not serve its own interests. With the Chrome update, the company hopes to come out ahead by lessening the temptation of web users to install more comprehensive ad-blocking software. In other words, Google is betting that ridding the web

Vietnam’s internet is in trouble

Dien Luong writes: Vietnamese authorities have harped of late on the urgency of fighting cybersecurity threats and “bad and dangerous content.” Yet the fight against either “fake news” or misinformation in Vietnam must not be used as a smoke screen for stifling dissenting opinions and curtailing freedom of speech. Doing so would only further stoke domestic cynicism in a country where the sudden expansion of space for free and open

Facebook poses an increasing threat to journalism

Mathew Ingram writes: Author and journalism professor Dan Gillmor recently described a future in which “we will be living in the ecosystem of a company that has repeatedly demonstrated its untrustworthiness, an enterprise that would become the primary newsstand for journalism and would be free to pick the winners via special deals with media people and tweaks of its opaque algorithms. If this is the future, we are truly screwed.”

Amazon behaves like a planned economy

Malcolm Harris writes: Although they attempt to grow in a single direction, planned economies always destroy as well as build. In the 1930s, the Soviet Union compelled the collectivization of kulaks, or prosperous peasants. Small farms were incorporated into a larger collective agricultural system. Depending on who you ask, dekulakization was literal genocide, comparable to the Holocaust, and/or it catapulted what had been a continent-sized expanse of peasants into a

The case for impeaching Clarence Thomas

Jill Abramson writes: [Clarence] Thomas, as a crucial vote on the Supreme Court, holds incredible power over women’s rights, workplace, reproductive, and otherwise. His worldview, with its consistent objectification of women, is the one that’s shaping the contours of what’s possible for women in America today, more than that of just about any man alive, save for his fellow justices. And given the evidence that’s come out in the years