AuthorTopic: Knarf's Knewz Channel  (Read 1879950 times)

Offline knarf

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Ikea is closing its only US factory and moving production to Europe
« Reply #13425 on: July 17, 2019, 05:59:42 AM »
Ikea is shutting down its only furniture factory in the United States.
The Swedish company will end production this December at its plant in Danville, Virginia. Operations will move to Europe, where the company says it can cut costs.
"We made every effort to improve and maintain the competitiveness of this plant, but unfortunately the right cost conditions are not in place to continue production in Danville," site manager Bert Eades said in a statement.

The Danville facility, which opened in 2008, employs 300 workers. Wooden products including shelves and storage units are made at the plant.

In justifying its decision, Ikea pointed to raw material prices, which it said are higher in the United States than Europe. Ikea operates plants in European countries including Poland, Russia and Sweden.
Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, tweeted in 2018 that workers at the Danville plant were worried about how tariffs would affect costs. Kaine said the plant imports many raw materials.
Since Kaine visited the plant, the Trump administration imposed tariffs on imports of particle board, a common Ikea material, from China.
Ikea said Tuesday the decision to close the plant was not related to tariffs. It said that particle board used at the Danville plant is purchased from US suppliers.

Ikea owns manufacturing facilities in nine countries, employing roughly 20,000 people.
A recent shift in Ikea's retail strategy to adapt to the growth of online shopping has led to job cuts in other parts of the business.
The company has been investing in online pickup services and digital fulfillment centers, and in 2017 bought TaskRabbit, an online marketplace for finding gig workers. It's also been opening smaller stores in big cities to attract younger shoppers.

Ingka Group, the Swedish holding company that owns and operates most of Ikea's stores, said last year that it would lay off about 7,500 employees, or 5% of its global workforce, and build 30 smaller stores in major cities around the world in the next few years.
The company said it could ultimately create 11,500 jobs as a result of this shift.
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

Offline knarf

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The backlash is growing against Xi Jinping in China and around the world
« Reply #13426 on: July 17, 2019, 06:07:41 AM »
The backlash abroad against President Xi Jinping's China, at least in developed nations, has spread rapidly in the last year.
Some countries, like Australia and Canada, feel patronized and bullied. Neighbors worry they are being marginalized. Advanced industrial nations, especially Germany and South Korea, see China coming at them like an unstoppable, oncoming train.

The US, for decades the world's lone superpower, is confronted by a once-in-a-lifetime challenge from Beijing. All of these phenomena, previously bubbling under the surface, have burst into clear view during Xi's time in office.
Beijing's opaque internal political system means it is hard to make judgments about domestic Chinese politics, but there can be little doubt that a backlash is underway at home, too.

Good and bad enemies

As a leader, Xi is unique in post-revolutionary party politics in not having any identifiable domestic rival or successor, largely because he has ensured that none have been allowed to emerge. But Xi has earned himself an array of what we might called "bad enemies" and "good enemies" since taking office in late 2012.
They range from the once-rich and powerful families he destroyed in his anti-corruption campaign, all the way to the small-r reformers angered by his illiberal rollback of the incremental institutional advances of the reform period.
Forced to lay low initially because of the dangers of challenging him outright, Xi's critics at home have begun to find their voice. They have been outspoken mainly on economic policy, but the deeper undercurrents of their criticisms are unmistakeable.
The sons of former top leaders, revered scholars who guided China's economic miracle, frustrated private entrepreneurs and academics furious about Xi's unrelenting hardline -- all have complained in multiple public forums, in speeches, in online postings and in widely circulated essays at home and offshore, about Xi's policies and style.

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives at the G20 leaders summit on June 28 in Osaka, Japan.

"Something strange is happening in Xi Jinping's China," wrote Ian Johnson in the New York Review of Books. In what was supposed to be the "perfect dictatorship", the country was witnessing "the most serious critique of the system in more than a decade, led by people inside China who are choosing to speak out now, during the most sensitive season of the most sensitive year in decades."
The exact number of "tigers" toppled by Xi's anti-corruption campaign -- in other words, officials who were once part of the designated elite whose jobs had to be cleared through the Party's central personnel system -- is not easy to calculate. The best estimates put it around 300 to 400, including scores of generals. The officials who have been prosecuted and jailed include members of the Politburo, ministers, vice-ministers, the heads of state-owned enterprises, provincial party leaders and governors, and mayors.

In each of those cases, the investigations don't just hit the individual official who has been targeted and detained.
Literally, hundreds of thousands of people who are tied into and rely on that single person for their income are effectively swept up with them. Their livelihoods, and all that they have invested in clawing their way through the system, can evaporate with the stroke of a pen. Some members of the patronage networks are often arrested themselves.
Xi has made enemies of them all. "Xi has destroyed millions of people in the elite who now all hold a personal grudge against him," said a China-based businessman, who asked not to be named, earlier in 2019. "These people are not a bunch of uneducated peasants from the sticks in Henan. They had skin in the game."

Threshold for an uprising 'is high'

Despite all this, Victor Shih, a US-China specialist, was doubtless right when he said that the threshold for some kind of "intra-party uprising" against Xi remains very high. "He would need to commit a catastrophic mistake that jeopardizes the continual rule of the Party for his potential enemies within the Party to rise up against him," Shih said in the New Yorker.
But the idea that Xi is literally "president for life," as he is often referred to in the wake of the 2018 abolition of term limits, will in all likelihood be proved wrong.

From mid-2018, Xi was already facing a public backlash on economic policy, the area where it has always been safest for Chinese to speak out. Xi has a legion of critics on foreign policy as well, who believe he has overreached and left the way open for the US and others to bind together on issues ranging from trade and technology to military and strategic influence in east Asia.
Most scholars have delivered their critiques in private, or in carefully coded language. However Deng Xiaoping's son, Deng Pufang, was explicit in a speech late last year to a disabilities forum which was leaked to the Hong Kong media. He urged China's leadership to "know its place" in the world, and concentrate on its problems at home.
Finally, the abolition of term limits summed up the rage that many influential officials and scholars felt about their country's leader. In one decision, Xi confirmed his critics' view that he was an unrepentant autocrat willing to take China backwards in the service of his agenda.

Just as it is difficult to anticipate where any challenge will come from, it is equally hard to see how Xi's supremacy in domestic politics can be sustained. Factors which remain out of Xi's control will weigh against him. China's slowing economy and rapidly declining demographics can obviously be leveraged to argue in favor of maintaining tight authoritarian controls. But they are much more likely to work against Xi in future. The same goes for China's tightening fiscal situation.
Beijing's ability to throw money at every problem, like bailing out cash-strapped local governments, will only get harder. In other words, by the time of the next party congress, due in late 2022, the issue of succession should return with a vengeance.
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

Offline knarf

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The states that will be most affected by the climate crisis are the ones with the least political action.

Back in 2017 when Donald Trump reneged on our national commitment to fight climate change by pulling out of the Paris Agreement, a bunch of U.S. states formed a coalition to push back. Called the United States Climate Alliance, its members would continue to behave as if they were part of the Paris Agreement anyway. As of 2019, there were 24 governors in the coalition.

But the states that decided not to join are the ones that need it the most. A new analysis of existing data sets, released Tuesday by data scientists at The University of Virginia and their software partner, Brightest, found that the states absent from the alliance—such as Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina—will be the ones most negatively impacted by climate change.

Using survey data from The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, the analysis also showed it's not because those states’ residents don’t recognize the dangers they face. In fact, the majority of the residents believe that global warming is happening and that something should be done. Instead, it’s the elected officials in these regions that are driving inaction, not the beliefs of their constituents or overwhelming climate denialism. Overall, 70% of Americans believe in climate change, and most Americans also think their elected representatives should be doing more to address the crisis—even Republican voters. Seeing the data side by side shows how Republican officials aren't acting in their constituents' best interests.

Climate change's economic impacts will be the most severe in the southeastern, predominantly red, states

Those same states are not part of The United States Climate Alliance, mostly because of polarization of our political parties around climate change. ”Every state not in the Climate Alliance is represented by a Republican governor—with the exception of Louisiana,” said Charlotte McClintock, the primary researcher and a graduate student studying psychology research methods at the University of Virginia.

Conservative officials have consistently voiced doubt and blocked legislation concerning climate change, even though the parts of the country they represent stand to lose the most. A recent New York Times analysis rounded up over 80 environmental rules and regulations that are being pushed out by the Trump administration, with help from Republican congress members. Inside Climate News reported that in 2018, most caucus Republicans “voted to block agencies from considering the social cost of carbon in rulemaking," and that "only a handful spoke out against President Donald Trump's decision to leave the Paris climate accord.”

The majority of people in these red states believe climate change is happening and want their politicians to take action

Other recent surveys have had similar findings: that actually, a majority of Republicans do believe in climate change and think we should be doing something about it. For example, 80% of Republicans think that there should be funding for research into renewable energy resources, 64% think that CO2 should be regulated as a pollutant, and 52% think that environmental protection is more important than economic growth.

McClintock said that their data visualizations show that there is political will in areas perceived to be resistant against climate change policy. “It now needs to be harnessed to replace officials who deny the reality of a climate emergency,” she said.

Politicians and their aides are wildly mistaken about what their constituents believe and want

But it could be that officials are simply out of touch with what their constituents believe, said Matteo Mildenberger, an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of California Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the new analysis. In a study from February in American Political Science Review, Mildenberger and his colleagues asked senior members in Congress what they thought public opinion was about a variety of important issues. When they compared their answers to large survey results, “across the board, we found that congressional aides are wildly inaccurate in their perceptions of their constituents’ opinions and preferences,” Mildenberger and his co-authors wrote in The New York Times in 2018. They also found that the Democratic staff members were more accurate than the Republicans, guessing closer to the actual beliefs of their constituents.

For climate change specifically, the average Congress staffer thought it was a minority of their district that wanted action taken, “when in truth a majority supported regulating carbon.” And some of that had to do with corporate interests. They found that congress staff who reported that they met with groups representing big business—like the American Petroleum Institute—were more likely to be in the dark about their district’s opinions than ones who met with group that “represented ordinary Americans, like the Sierra Club or labor unions,” the authors wrote.

As more legislation around the climate crisis comes to the forefront, including a push for a Green New Deal, it’s important for politicians to know the beliefs of the people they’re representing, Mildenberger said. Especially the ones who are already most at risk.

“Most people in these states support climate action—without even realizing that climate change is most likely to personally impact them more than other parts of the country," researchers of the new analysis wrote. "Our findings suggests there is substantial, untapped public support for action on climate—even in more conservative states. The climate positions of GOP leadership do not seem to represent the majority of their constituencies."

Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

Offline K-Dog

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Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said Tuesday his country was aware that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was interfering in the 2016 US presidential election from the safety of Ecuador's embassy in London, where he lived under political asylum until this year.
"We did notice that he was interfering in the elections and we do not allow that because we have principles, very clear values, as we would not like anyone to interfere in our elections," he said. "We are not going to allow that to happen with a foreign country and friend like the US."
Correa granted asylum in 2012 to Assange, who took refuge in the country's London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations, which he denies. Correa fueled his rise to power on anti-US vitriol and aligned with Assange after WikiLeaks published highly classified Pentagon materials.
Correa's comments came one day after CNN published an exclusive report about surveillance reports that describe how Assange transformed the Ecuadorian embassy into a command center and orchestrated a series of damaging disclosures that rocked the 2016 presidential campaign in the United States.

The report cited hundreds of surveillance documents detailing Assange's time inside the embassy. The documents describe how Assange met with Russians and world-class hackers at critical moments and acquired powerful new computing and network hardware to facilitate data transfers just weeks before WikiLeaks received hacked materials from Russian operatives.
"WikiLeaks' justification was that they were providing truthful information," Correa told CNN. "Sure, but (it) was just about Hillary Clinton. Not about (Donald) Trump. So, they were not saying all the truth. And not saying all the truth is called manipulation. And we are not going to allow that."
WikiLeaks did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the exclusive CNN reporting. Assange's lawyers declined to comment.
In the interview on Tuesday morning, Correa distanced himself from Assange, even though he has steadfastly defended his decision to grant asylum to the WikiLeaks founder in 2012.
"You know how many times I've spoken with Assange? Never. I don't know him," Correa said. "Just one time he interviewed me when he worked for Russia Today, via Skype."
Before Assange arrived at the embassy in 2012, he hosted a short-lived program on RT, an English-language television network controlled by the Kremlin. In the RT interview, Correa explained how he admired the American people but had problems with US foreign policy.
Correa was president of Ecuador from 2007 to 2017 and made a name for himself as a leading US antagonist in Latin America, in the mold of the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.
The WikiLeaks disclosures undermined Clinton while she tried to consolidate her liberal base as she secured the Democratic nomination. They also gave Trump a lifeline when his campaign was on the brink of collapse in October 2016 after the "Access Hollywood" tape came out.
Despite Correa's ire against US policies, he rejected the notion that his government worked with Assange to help Trump win. The Kremlin's interference in the US election -- which was aided by WikiLeaks -- was designed to get Trump elected, according to US intelligence agencies. Assange denies that he worked on behalf of the Kremlin.
"I am way closer to Hillary Clinton than Trump," Correa told CNN. "I know Hillary, I admire her. I was a student in the US, doing my doctorate when Bill Clinton was (president). Trump is an enemy of our migrants. Why the hell are we going to support him? None of this makes sense."
CNN reported on Monday that in the wake of the October 2016 email dump targeting Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, the US government raised concerns with Ecuador that Assange was using their embassy to help Russian election meddling. Shortly after that, the embassy cut off Assange's internet access and phone service.
But in the interview, Correa did not indicate that US outreach fueled that decision and he denied personally receiving a warning from US officials about Assange before the 2016 election.
The former Ecuadorian leader also said it was "nonsense" that Assange was "the head of the embassy," downplaying Assange's influence. The surveillance reports obtained by CNN described in extraordinary detail how Assange's power rivaled that of the ambassador and said Assange used his connections to senior officials in Ecuador to threaten diplomats and guards at the London embassy.

Correa was succeeded by Lenín Moreno, a close ally who had been his vice president for more than six years. But after Moreno was elected, he quickly turned against Correa and started undoing many of his policies, including his support for Assange. Moreno revoked Assange's asylum in April, paving the way for British police to remove him from the embassy.
When that happened, Correa said Moreno was "the greatest traitor in Ecuadorian and Latin American history," and said Moreno's decision was "a crime that humanity will never forget."

"WikiLeaks' justification was that they were providing truthful information," Correa told CNN.

Who at CNN?  This is fake news repeated 100 times everywhere on the net.  Go to the source and there is no identification of who at CNN Correa was talking to.

Message was told to CNN by a little birdie?  Are we supposed to believe that Assange had this going on from within the embassy?

Boldly influencing elections from inside a foreign embassy like no journalist has ever done before.

« Last Edit: July 17, 2019, 09:10:58 AM by K-Dog »
Under ideal conditions of temperature and pressure the organism will grow without limit.

Offline azozeo

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A man receiving his implanted microchip in Stockholm, Sweden.

Thousands of people in Sweden are having futuristic microchips implanted into their skin to carry out everyday activities and replace credit cards and cash.

More than 4,000 people have already had the sci-fi-like chips, about the size of a grain of rice, inserted into their hands — with the pioneers predicting millions will soon join them as they hope to take it global.

Two thoughts: 1) people were talking about being "chipped" some years ago. It's finally here.

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2) I have written about the HBO/Studio Canal production. Years and Years, which incorporates many of the things that appear as posts in this forum as part of the plot to advance the story. The six-part series follows the British Manchester-based Lyons family: a gay male protagonist whose immigrant lover is summarily deported, a couple worrying about their kids, one looking for a new partner, and another, a globe hopping reporter come home, is engaged in one humanitarian cause after another. All their lives converge on one crucial night in 2019, and the story accelerates into the future, following the lives and loves of the Lyons over the next 15 years as Britain is rocked by unstable political, economic and technological advances.

In the latest episode, which speeds ahead to 2026 after the bank failures, the teenaged daughter has had a phone implanted in to her hand, and can be seen talking on the phone by talking to her hand. (In a deft touch, they discover that calls transacted in this manner cost more,sometning revealed only after surgery.) She and her girlfriend want to become "transhuman" and embark on an adventure which ends rather badly.

the fact that the BBC and HBO are undertaking this goes to show how far concern about collapse has permeated the zeitgeist, no matter what the Panglossian denialists might aver.

I know exactly what you mean. Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world.
You don’t know what it is but its there, like a splinter in your mind

Offline knarf

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For police, is AI deception technology a 'truth meter' yet?
« Reply #13430 on: July 17, 2019, 05:49:55 PM »
Artificial intelligence (AI) quickly has become a transformative technology impacting many aspects of our lives through augmentation of processes and tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making and language translation. This technology allows for machines to learn from experience, refine new data inputs and perform tasks with almost human-like responsiveness.

As companies increasingly rely on AI technology to solve the most complex and pressing business challenges, law enforcement has turned to AI as a tool to help execute on the multifaceted mission of modern-day policing. However, for all the potential that AI possesses for law enforcement, we are still at the early stages of achieving fully viable and legally permissible options to meet law enforcement needs — particularly when it comes to capabilities such as video analytics and facial recognition.

Both have introduced challenges related to accuracy and bias, already generating skepticism by the public and, in some cases, legal action or bans by elected officials in pockets around the country. The latest development garnering attention in the world of AI and law enforcement is “deception analysis,” which utilizes AI technology to assess an individual’s truthfulness in criminal investigations and judicial administrative proceedings. 

In policing, we’ve benefitted from AI by gaining the ability to rapidly analyze large data sets to aid in the identification of individuals, make predictions on criminal activity and facilitate enhanced communications. As the police commissioner for the New York Police Department (NYPD), I embraced the utilization of AI technology to aid in the management of our precision policing methodology using CompStat — an accountability and crime reduction approach that leverages intelligence and crime data to inform the rapid deployment of police resources. However, AI for the purpose of assessing truthfulness via deception analysis signals yet another example of the near-term limitations of using this technology.

Deception analysis, which utilizes algorithms to classify facial micro expressions (there are seven universal micro expressions: disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise and contempt), coupled with vocal patterns to indicate an individual’s truthfulness, is attempting to find its way into the criminal justice process. Deception systems currently being tested by the Department of Homeland Security try to detect changes in a suspect’s eye movement, voice and body posture to assess the individual’s likelihood of acting deceptively.

However, as with polygraph examinations — commonly known as “lie detector tests” — results from these deception analyses can be skewed by various physiological and psychological factors. AI-based deception systems face a similar criticism: To date, there is no scientific evidence of a consistent relationship between an individual’s internal mental state, his or her intent, and any kind of external inducements. As a result, models and algorithms designed to predict or identify deceptiveness may be deemed unreliable.

For instance, machine learning in AI technology, which is based on the idea that systems can identify patterns and make decisions with minimal human intervention, need to ingest baseline data to “learn” behavior patterns or other indicators of, in this instance, “deception.” This raises concerns that, currently, in the absence of a data set representative of a predictable correlation between individual intentions, actions, motivations and deceptiveness, the results of deception analysis remain limited in terms of judicial admissibility.

Additional challenges to the reliability of AI-based deception technology include the process by which the systems are built and deployed, combined with the legality of the information that law enforcement can collect and utilize in the face of changing privacy regulations.

Deception analysis is one type of risk assessment process, which seeks to draw a conclusion about an individual’s truthfulness or dishonesty based on certain inputs, assumptions and logic. Both law enforcement and government agencies must fully understand these concerns — and their potential legal and ethical implications — before they adopt an automated assessment process to understand an individual’s tendency towards deception, especially when attempting to adjudicate a suspect’s guilt or innocence.

In my nearly 50 years of law enforcement experience, I can attest that not everyone behaves in the same manner, especially when they are trying to hide the truth. Thus, finding a baseline pattern of behavior from which to develop machine-learning algorithms remains a difficult task. My concern is that a high probability that someone is lying does not guarantee certainty that that person is untruthful. And when it comes to enforcing the law, any mistake could come with a significant toll on individual lives and overall public safety and trust.

Similar to the recent ban on facial recognition technology for police and other agency use in San Francisco, I foresee near-horizon legal challenges for the utilization of AI-based deception technology. Agencies that seek to quickly deploy micro-facial AI-based technology for deception identification, without the necessary testing and data validation, may bear the brunt of the legal challenges. However, these challenges will not negate or stop further development of this technology. Instead, they will provide precedents for resolving future privacy and developmental concerns so that AI-based deception technology eventually can be a viable tool for law enforcement.

Going forward, the adoption of artificial intelligence by law enforcement agencies ultimately will help align safety and mitigation strategies in a dynamically changing threat environment. However, the legal, technical and ethical challenges which accompany deception analysis or facial recognition capabilities today should guide law enforcement’s implementation of AI for investigative support, not investigative conclusion. In the realms of law enforcement and justice — where the stakes are measured in human lives, and both nuance and precision are paramount — there is no room for uncertainty or error.
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

Offline knarf

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Elon Musk’s Neuralink Shows Off Advances to Brain-Computer Interface
« Reply #13431 on: July 17, 2019, 05:59:10 PM »

A sewing machine-like robot that inserts electrodes into the brain, under development by Neuralink.

Elon Musk and top-level scientists from his neuroscience startup Neuralink Corp., who are developing a next-generation brain-computer interface, unveiled what they billed as a significant advance toward a therapeutic device Tuesday night.

The device would connect human brains and machines with more precision than other available devices, according to the company, which has been developing the technology for roughly two years. Neuralink is putting together a submission to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to start testing the technology in humans. The goal is to use the platform to treat neurological conditions like movement disorders, spinal-cord injury and blindness.

“It’s not like suddenly Neuralink will have this neural lace and take over people’s brain,” said Mr. Musk. He also mentioned the announcement was meant to recruit talent to the company, which has about 100 employees.

The company said it is first focusing on patients with severe neurological conditions, but wants to make it safe enough to turn the implantation surgery into an elective procedure, like Lasik.

“We hope we’re less than a year from the first safety study on the order of five patients,” said Neuralink President Max Hodak in an interview. He emphasized that it could take years before the device could help a range of patients. “The road is long,” he said.

Among the most important tests: showing they can monitor brain activity and then decode it, meaning they can correlate certain patterns of activity to actions, such as movement, vision or speech. The company didn’t specify what behavioral experiments were performed or how reliably they were able to translate brain activity into smooth, well-controlled movement.

The device has been tested on monkeys, according to Mr. Musk. The primate was able to control a computer with its brain, he said in a surprise announcement during a question and answer session. He didn’t provide any other details. A company spokeswoman confirmed the experiment had been done.

Neuralink is one of several companies, including Facebook Inc., Kernel, CTRL-Labs and Paradromics Inc., trying to build neural interfaces for clinical and nonclinical applications. In recent years, neurotechnology development has been spurred by public and private investment, including the U.S. Brain Initiative, which was started by the Obama administration in 2013.

The goal of many of these projects is to access as many neurons as possible because that would give scientists more precise reads on activity that underpins walking, speech and mood, among other brain functions. They can then turn neural recordings into electrical signals that can be fed into a robotic device or back into the nervous system to produce movement or vision to help patients, according to experts.

At the event Tuesday in San Francisco, Neuralink described a tiny probe with nearly 3,100 electrodes laid out across about 100 flexible wires, or threads, each individually inserted into rat brains by a custom-made surgical robot. The device can monitor the activity of upward of 1,000 neurons at a time, according to the company.

The sewing-machine-like robot can target very specific brain areas, helping surgeons avoid major blood vessels—an important consideration for minimizing inflammation and long-term damage, according to a paper from the company. Data were processed and analyzed by proprietary chips and software.

Neuroscientists and neurotechnologists said that a platform that can insert tiny electrodes robotically throughout the brain and then analyze activity with custom software is exciting, but cautioned it is too early to tell how quickly Neuralink’s device could safely be used in patients.

“If you’re trying to walk yourself toward human prosthetics, this is a more promising direction than currently available technology,” said Tim Harris, a senior fellow at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus and a developer of research-grade neural interfaces. Among the questions that are left unanswered by the company’s paper, he said, is how long it lasts in the brain.

“If you’re going to do this for people, you should be aiming for at least five years, minimum,” he said. “To do an implantation surgery of this level of intricacy, a year or two is not enough.”

The paper, which wasn’t peer-reviewed, didn’t include data on the long-term stability of recorded neural signals nor the brain’s inflammatory response.

“That is utterly critical” before any device can advance to human trials, said Loren Frank, a University of California, San Francisco neuroscientist developing brain-computer interfaces.

Neuralink has said it is doing those experiments but isn’t ready to make the data public.

The device, in theory, was designed to also stimulate brain cells, but “we have not demonstrated these capabilities here,” according to the paper. Direct brain stimulation with implanted electrodes is a longstanding approach to treating movement disorders and epilepsy. Most brain-computer interfaces are so-called open-looped systems that don’t adapt to a patient’s needs and experience. Neurosurgeons and technologists have pointed to that drawback as reason why brain stimulation hasn’t worked for treating mood disorders.

The advantage of a system like Neuralink envisions would be its ability to analyze recordings using machine learning and to adapt the type of stimulation it delivers to a patient’s brain, according to the company and other experts.

Because of Mr. Musk, Neuralink has perhaps the highest profile among startups developing brain-computer interface technology.

But in the past couple of years, nearly all startups in the sector have seen a considerable boost in investor and regulator interest. Since 2016, startups including Paradromics and CTRL Labs have collectively raised around $260 million from a mix of venture capital, grants and corporate investors. In February, the FDA released guidelines for regulating brain-computer interface technology, in hopes of spurring faster development of devices.

Dolby Family Ventures managing director David Dolby, whose firm has backed Paradromics, said as regulators are involved and more startups emerge, the time is right for the private sector to push brain-computer interface technology into the next stages of commercialization.

“There are a multitude of applications for this technology. Through open market competition, I think we will learn a lot and benefit as a society,” said Mr. Dolby.

Not all neurotech investors are convinced implantable devices are the way forward. Lux Capital co-founder and managing partner Joshua Wolfe is in investor in CTRL Labs, which is developing sensor-based technology to decode nerve signals, but said he isn’t yet comfortable with invasive devices such as those developed by Neuralink and Paradromics.

“There is no way I’m thinking about technology that involves drilling holes behind ears right now,” said Mr. Wolfe.

Enke Bashllari, a neuroscientist by training who now heads venture-capital firm Arkitekt Ventures, agreed there are considerable safety measures that must be ensured with implantable technology and said she believes that noninvasive devices also have a valuable role to play in augmenting human movement or cognitive performance. But she said the highest unmet medical needs will require technology that goes inside.

“It has to allow for two main things—high spatial resolution and high bandwidth. It has to interface with millions of neurons at the same time and you need to know exactly which neuron is firing,” she said. “That can currently only be done invasively.”
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

Offline knarf

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Ebola outbreak in Congo declared a global health emergency
« Reply #13432 on: July 17, 2019, 06:02:53 PM »
GENEVA (AP) — The deadly Ebola outbreak in Congo is now an international health emergency, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday after a case was confirmed in a city of 2 million people .

A WHO expert committee declined on three previous occasions to advise the United Nations health agency to make the declaration for this outbreak, even though other experts say it has long met the required conditions. More than 1,600 people have died since August in the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, which is unfolding in a region described as a war zone.

A declaration of a global health emergency often brings greater international attention and aid, along with concerns that nervous governments might overreact with border closures.

The declaration comes days after a single case was confirmed in Goma, a major regional crossroads in northeastern Congo on the Rwandan border, with an international airport. Also, a sick Congolese fish trader traveled to Uganda and back while symptomatic — and later died of Ebola.

While the risk of regional spread remains high, the risk outside the region remains low, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said after the announcement in Geneva.

The international emergency "should not be used to stigmatize or penalize the very people who are most in need of our help," he said. Tedros insisted that the declaration was not made to raise more money — even though WHO estimated "hundreds of millions" of dollars would be needed to stop the epidemic.

Dr. Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, said she hoped the emergency designation would prompt a radical reset of Ebola response efforts.

"The reality check is that a year into the epidemic, it's still not under control, and we are not where we should be," she said. "We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results."

Liu said vaccination strategies should be broadened and that more efforts should be made to build trust within communities.

The U.S. Agency for International Development applauded the WHO decision and said USAID officials would "continue to scale up life-saving support" to end the outbreak.

This is the fifth such declaration in history. Previous emergencies were declared for the devastating 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people, the emergence of Zika in the Americas, the swine flu pandemic and polio.

WHO defines a global emergency as an "extraordinary event" that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response. Last month, the outbreak spilled across the border for the first time when a family brought the virus into Uganda after attending the burial in Congo of an infected relative. Even then, the expert committee advised against a declaration.

Alexandra Phelan, a global health expert at Georgetown University Law Center, said Wednesday's declaration was long overdue.

"This essentially serves as a call to the international community that they have to step up appropriate financial and technical support," she said but warned that countries should be wary of imposing travel or trade restrictions.

Such restrictions "would actually restrict the flow of goods and health care workers into affected countries so they are counterproductive," she said. Future emergency declarations might be perceived as punishment and "might result in other countries not reporting outbreaks in the future, which puts us all at greater risk."

WHO had been heavily criticized for its sluggish response to the West Africa outbreak, which it repeatedly declined to declare a global emergency until the virus was spreading explosively in three countries and nearly 1,000 people were dead. Internal documents later showed WHO held off partly out of fear a declaration would anger the countries involved and hurt their economies.

The organization's emergency committee will meet again within three months to assess the situation. Committee members will review whether the outbreak is still a global emergency and whether other measures are needed.

Wednesday's announcement prompted fear in eastern Congo, where many do business across borders and travel overseas.

"I am vaccinated and I protect myself against Ebola," said Zoe Kibwana, a 46-year-old shoe salesman who does business in Uganda, just 70 kilometers (40 miles) from Beni. "Closing the borders would handicap our economy. The health ministry and WHO need to end this epidemic as soon as possible."

The current outbreak is spreading in a turbulent Congo border region where dozens of rebel groups are active and where Ebola had not been experienced before. Efforts to contain the virus have been hurt by mistrust among wary locals that has prompted deadly attacks on health workers. Some infected people have deliberately evaded health authorities.

The pastor who brought Ebola to Goma used several fake names to conceal his identity on his way to the city, Congolese officials said. WHO on Tuesday said the man had died and health workers were scrambling to trace dozens of his contacts, including those who had traveled on the same bus.

Congo's minister of health resisted the characterization of the outbreak as a health emergency.

"We accept the decision of the committee of experts but one hopes that it's a decision that wasn't made under pressure of certain groups that want to use this as a way to raise funds for certain humanitarian actors," said Dr. Oly Ilunga.

Those working in the field say the outbreak is clearly taking a turn for the worse despite advances that include the widespread use of an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine.

Dr. Maurice Kakule was one of the first people to survive the current outbreak after he fell ill while treating a woman last July, before the outbreak had even been declared.

"What is clear is that Ebola is an emergency because the epidemic persists despite every possible effort to educate people," he told the Geneva meeting.
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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Scotland's new target: 100% renewable electricity in 2020
« Reply #13433 on: July 17, 2019, 06:08:04 PM »
As we work to fight the climate crisis, one of the most important things we can do is continue shifting towards renewable energy. And while some countries may be struggling to make that shift, Scotland is excelling. So far this year, Scotland's wind turbines have produced almost double the amount of wind energy needed to power every household in Scotland, according to WWF.

As WWF explained in the report, between January and July of 2019, Scotland generated 9,831,320 megawatt hours (MWh) of wind energy, as per data recorded by WeatherEnergy. That's enough to power 182 percent of all 4.47 million Scottish homes, or nearly 100 percent of homes in both Scotland and the North of England. The new figures have set a new record for the country's wind power output.

“These are amazing figures, Scotland’s wind energy revolution is clearly continuing to power ahead. Up and down the country, we are all benefitting from cleaner energy and so is the climate," Robin Parker, WWF Scotland's Climate and Energy Policy Manager, said in a statement for WWF. “These figures show harnessing Scotland’s plentiful onshore wind potential can provide clean green electricity for millions of homes across not only Scotland, but England as well. It’s about time the U.K. Government stepped up and gave Scottish onshore wind a route to market.”

Alex Wilcox Brooke, Weather Energy Project Manager at Severn Wye Energy Agency, added that these statistics show how reliable wind energy can be. “These figures really highlight the consistency of wind energy in Scotland and why it now plays a major part in the U.K. energy market," Brooke told WWF.

Scotland is pretty forward-thinking when it comes to renewable energy. As detailed on Scotland's government website, the country has a goal of using renewable energy sources to provide 100 percentof Scotland's gross annual electricity by 2020. If Scotland accomplishes this goal, that would mean that beginning next year, Scots will not be using any fossil fuels to generate electricity.

When Scotland set that 2020 target, it also set an interim goal of powering 50 percent of its electricity with renewable energy by 2015. Scotland met and exceeded that target, with renewables powering 59 percent of Scotland's energy in 2015, according to Scottish Development International. Wind energy is a favorite in Scotland, but other renewable energy sources include solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, hydrokinetic, and biomass.

Since achieving that interim goal in 2015, Scotland has continued to ramp up its dependency on renewable energy. The Independent called the country a "world leader" in renewable energy, and noted that in 2016, 54 percent of Scotland's electricity came from renewables, and in 2017, 68.1 percent came from renewables. And in 2018, 74.6 percent of Scotland's gross electricity came from renewable sources, according to Power Technology.

If Scotland achieves its target of being 100 percent powered by renewable electricity next year, it would join a small group of countries who have already accomplished the same goal: Albania, the Congo, Iceland, and Paraguay.
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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Chimpanzees bond over watching movie together
« Reply #13434 on: July 17, 2019, 06:13:57 PM »
Chimpanzees enjoy watching movies together and get a sense of closeness and bonding through shared experience, scientists say.

A study of apes watching videos suggests human social bonding may have deeper evolutionary roots than previously thought.

Humans create social closeness with others through activities in which they align their mental states towards a stimulus, such as playing board games or watching a movie together.

The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, involved pairs of chimps being shown a short video.

Researchers said they found that the animals approached their partner faster, or spent more time in their company, than when they had attended to something different.

The effect was also measured for pairs of bonobos and for great apes paired with humans.

Eye-trackers were used to make sure the apes were watching the film and they were given grape juice to encourage them to stay relatively still and in the same place.

“Our results suggest that one of the most basic mechanisms of human social bonding— feeling closer to those with whom we act or attend together — is present in both humans and great apes, and thus has deeper evolutionary roots than previously suspected,” the study authors say.

The results indicated that great apes behave more socially after an interaction in which they align their attention to an external stimulus.

Study one – where they watched a video with a human – showed that both chimpanzees and bonobos approach a human experimenter faster after having watched a video with them.

Study two replicated these findings in a different sample and extended them by showing that this effect is not limited to great apes’ interactions with humans, but also seems to occur in interactions between great apes.

Study co-authors Wouter Wolf, from the department of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University in the US, and Michael Tomasello, said: “As such, the current findings shed new light on great ape social cognition and social behaviour, as well as the evolutionary origin of connecting through shared experiences in humans.”

They add that this is “surprising” because many researchers have argued that the capacity to experience reality as shared is “uniquely human”.
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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Arctic temperature hits record 21°C
« Reply #13435 on: July 17, 2019, 06:17:10 PM »
Canadian weather services reported Tuesday that temperatures hit a record 21 degrees Celsius in the world’s most northern settlement at the weekend, a first for the region within about 1100 kilometres of the North Pole.

The record temperature was recorded at Alert, a military base and weather station at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, 817 kilometres from the North Pole.

The base, which sits on the 82nd parallel and intercepts Russian communications, is the northernmost permanently inhabited settlement on the planet.

Since the weather station became operational in 1950, the previous record high temperature was 20 degrees Celsius, on 8 July 1956.

“It’s an absolute record, we’ve never seen that before,” Armel Castellan, a meteorologist with the Canadian environment ministry, told AFP news agency.

Multiple high temperatures

The new record is part of a recent trend of warming, and high temperatures have reached 19 and 20 degrees on several occasions since 2012.

Two other records have been broken in recent days.

The temperature reached 21 degrees on Sunday and then 20 degrees on Monday, the first time the station recorded back-to-back days of highs of at least 20 degrees.

Such highs are “completely staggering,” Castellan noted, adding “for a week and a half we have had much higher temperatures than usual.”

It was also the first time a temperature warmer than 20 degrees has been measured anywhere north of the 80th parallel, or within about 1100 km of the pole.

Historically, the average July daily temperature in Alert is 3.4 degrees, with the average maximum temperature being 6.1 degrees.

Arctic heat wave

Scientists say an uncommon high pressure front over Greenland and winds from the south are making for high temperatures across the region.

“It is not exaggerated to call it an Arctic heat wave,” David Phillips, a senior climatologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada, told AFP.

“The north, from Yukon right to the Arctic islands, was the second or third warmest spring on record,” he said, adding that forecast models show “that is going to continue through July and then into August and early September.”

Scientists warned last year that the Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the planet.

Research published this year found rising temperatures impact changes in permafrost, snow cover, sea ice and ecosystems, among other indicators.

And, as meteorologists note, the new record is just one more of the high temperature records being broken around the globe ever year.

“It’s just one example among hundreds and hundreds of other records established by global warming,” said Castellan.
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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The lesson from the ruins of Notre Dame: don’t rely on billionaires
« Reply #13436 on: July 18, 2019, 05:48:35 AM »
The French super-rich promised to dig deep, but such philanthropy comes at a steep price

You remember the story, of course you do. One of the most ancient and holy buildings on Earth, Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, goes up in flames. As pictures of the inferno are beamed around the world, adjectives rain down: it is atrocious, disastrous, diabolical.

Barely has the fire been put out before some of the richest people in France rush to help rebuild it. From François-Henri Pinault, the ultimate owner of Gucci, comes €100m (£90m). Not to be outdone, the Arnault family at Louis Vuitton put up €200m. More of the wealthy join the bidding, as if a Damien Hirst is going under the hammer. Within just three days, France’s billionaire class has coughed up nearly €600m. Or so their press releases state.

A few folk question this very public display of plutocratic piety, but we are of course professional malcontents. Some of Paris’s 3,600 rough sleepers protest at how so many euros can be found for a new cathedral roof yet not a cent to put a roof over their heads – still, what do the poor know of the sublime? From all other seats, the applause is deafening. “Billionaires can sometimes come in really handy,” remarks the editor of Moneyweek. “Everybody is at our bedside,” says French TV celeb Stéphane Bern. Flush with cash, French president Emmanuel Macron vows the gothic masterpiece will be rebuilt within five years. Front pages scored, studio hours filled, the world moves on. You almost certainly haven’t heard the rest of the story – yet you should, because it comes with one hell of a twist.

Weeks go by, then months, and Notre Dame sees nothing from the billionaires. The promises of mid-April seem to have been forgotten by mid-June. “The big donors haven’t paid. Not a cent,” a senior official at the cathedral tells journalists. Far humbler sums are sent in, from far poorer individuals. “Beautiful gestures,” says one charity executive, but hardly les grands prix.

That prompts a newswire story, after which two of the wealthy donors, the Arnault and Pinault families, stump up €10m each. Followed by silence. Questions I put this week to the various donors and charities went largely unanswered. (Perhaps their offices are busy or emptied out by the summer holidays.)

The Notre Dame fire on 15 April 2019: ‘As pictures of the inferno are beamed around the world, adjectives rain down: it is atrocious, disastrous, diabolical.’

But for now, let’s call this the Parable of the Disappearing Billionaires – a tale that goes to the heart of much that is wrong with modern philanthropy. Whether dispensed by the Sacklers of opioid fame, or sponsored by BP at the British Museum, it often comes on the terms and timelines of the wealthy, with the epic generosity hiding a much harder bargain.

At the time of the fire near the Seine, you could barely move for expressions of cashmere-clad concern. Take the family and foundation behind L’Oréal, who at the time declared how “touched” they were “by this drama that unites beyond cultures and beliefs [and] intend to take part in the collective effort and talents needed to meet this immense challenge, which touches the heart of our country”. As of mid-June, they had handed over a big fat zero. The same goes for oil giant Total.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive,” said Jesus. To which anyone surveying the Notre Dame debacle might advise the son of God to get a better brand manager. Because the billionaires who promised those vast sums have received all the credit while not giving more than a fraction of the money.

They have banked the publicity, while dreaming up small print that didn’t exist in the spring. As another charity executive, Célia Vérot, said: “It’s a voluntary donation, so the companies are waiting for the government’s vision to see what precisely they want to fund.” It’s as if the vast project of rebuilding a 12th-century masterpiece was a breakfast buffet from which one could pick and choose.

Meanwhile, the salaries of 150 workers on site have to be paid. The 300 or so tonnes of lead in the church roof pose a toxic threat that must be cleaned up before the rebuilding can happen. And pregnant women and children living nearby are undergoing blood tests for possible poisoning. But funding such dirty, unglamorous, essential work is not for the luxury-goods billionaires. As the Notre Dame official said last month, they don’t want their money “just to pay employees’ salaries”. Heaven forfend! Not when one could endow to future generations the Gucci Basilica or a Moët Hennessy gift shop, so you, too, can enjoy the miracle of sparkling wine, or a nave by L’Oréal (tagline: Because Jesus is Worth It).

For the super-rich, giving is really taking. Taking power, that is, from the rest of society. The billionaires will get exclusive access to the “vision” for the reconstruction of a national landmark and they can veto those plans, because if they don’t like them they can withhold their cash. Money is always the most powerful casting vote, and they have it. Never mind that much of this cash actually comes from the public, as French law grants a whopping 66% tax relief on any donation – the power is entirely private. The annual cap on such contributions doubtless constitutes a prudent reason for the big donors to stagger their generosity.

Whether in France or Britain or the US, the rich give money to the grand institutions at the heart of our cultures to secure their social status in plaques and photo opportunities. In much the same way, they fund our political parties, then enjoy the kickbacks when they form a government. As Julia Cagé, an economist at Paris’s SciencesPo, points out, some of the same people pledging donations to Notre Dame were also among those who funded Macron’s rise to the presidency. In her recent award-winning book, to be published in English next year as The Price of Democracy, Cagé calculates that 600 wealthy people in France gave between €3m and €4.5m to Macron’s election campaign. In other words, 2% of all donors made up between 40 % and 60% of all En Marche funding. Within a few months, the new president cut taxes on the wealthy, giving his richest donors “a return of nearly 60,000% on their investment”. Just as with Notre Dame – a tiny deposit, a lot of influence and one hell of a payout.

Perhaps I and others have got this all wrong. The billionaires could, with the flourish of a pen, pay up the money in full with no conditions. Let’s see. But the irony of all this big money is how alien it is to France’s image of itself. In the middle of this decade, then-president François Hollande could boast he didn’t even like rich people. But back then the country could still console itself with the memory of les trentes glorieuses: the three glorious postwar decades of Keynesian economic management and relative equality. No more. A recent study co-authored by Thomas Piketty, among others, notes that since the era of François Mitterrand in the 1980s and 90s, there have been another 30 glorious years – for those right at the top, whose real incomes have risen at triple the rate of most of the population.

The political and cultural consequences of this face us now.

Macron can go from investment banking to the Elysée palace where he claims to be the Anti-Trump but, like his bête noire, he can’t cut taxes hard enough to help his rich friends, all the while slashing welfare benefits and school funding to make his budget stick. Charitable giving, too, has been Americanised. As Thomas Roulet at Cambridge University told me, Paris’s big donors now ape the champagne-guzzlers and influence-hawkers over on Wall Street.

The tragedy of Notre Dame came with a flatpack happy ending: of France’s wealthy dipping into their pockets to save a chunk of world heritage. But what once appeared tragic now looks grotesque: a wealthy few who are all press release and no cheque and who rely on thousands of ordinary French people to stump up instead, even while the entire economy is turned inside out to benefit those who already have the most.
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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25 dead in suspected arson attack on Japanese animation studio
« Reply #13437 on: July 18, 2019, 05:56:21 AM »

The fire broke out at a studio of Kyoto Animation Co. on July 18 in Kyoto, Japan.

Tokyo (CNN)At least 25 people have died in a suspected arson attack at a renowned animation studio in the Japanese city of Kyoto on Thursday, according to police.
The death toll at the Kyoto Animation Co. building is expected to rise and the city's fire department said that 36 people were injured in the blaze, some critically.
A Kyoto prefectural police spokesperson said a 41-year-old man suspected of carrying out the attack also had a backpack containing several knives. The suspect poured what appeared to be gasoline around the studio and set it on fire.
The suspect is currently in hospital with serious burn injuries and police do not expect to be able to question him on Thursday.

The fire broke out at about 10:30 a.m. local time on Thursday (9:30 p.m. ET) in the company's 1st Studio building in Kyoto's Fushimi-ku district. Police said a resident reported hearing a sound like an explosion coming from the studio.
About 48 fire engines have been dispatched to the area and are currently trying to get the fire under control.

Footage from the scene shows thick smoke billowing out of the four-story building, which is located in a residential area several kilometers south of Kyoto Station, as firefighters worked to douse the flames.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tweeted that he was left speechless at the "gruesomeness of the crime," and offered condolences to victims.
Founded in 1981, Kyoto Animation -- known as KyoAni -- produces animations and publishes anime novels, comics and books, according to its website. Among Japan's most well known studios, its most famous works include "Free!", manga series "K-On!", the anime TV adaptation of "Haruhi Suzumiya" and "Violet Evergarden" which Netflix picked up in 2018.
The company's philosophy as posted on its website includes keeping a "humanitarian" corporate culture and believes that "promoting the growth of people is equal to creating the brightness of works."

There was an outpouring of grief on Twitter Thursday with fans of the studio offering their condolences.

‏ @PrideWrathToday

Kyoto Animation is a beloved, organized, & independent studio full of talented people who’ve worked/helped tirelessly on these gorgeously animated & heartwarming shows that spread joy to millions. My condolences to all the brilliant staffs & their families.
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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Iran state TV: Iranian forces seize foreign oil tanker, crew
« Reply #13438 on: July 18, 2019, 06:12:21 AM »
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces seized a foreign oil tanker accused of smuggling oil, Iran’s state TV reported Thursday. The vessel appears to be a United Arab Emirates-based tanker that had disappeared off trackers in Iranian territorial waters over the weekend.

The seizure was the latest in a series of dramatic developments as tensions mount between the United States and Iran over the unravelling nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

The Panamanian-flagged oil tanker MT Riah stopped transmitting its location early Sunday near Qeshm Island, which has a Revolutionary Guard base on it, according to data listed on tracking site Maritime Traffic.

Iran’s state television did not identify the seized vessel or nationalities of the crew, but said it was intercepted on Sunday. It said the oil tanker had 12 foreign crew members on board and was involved in smuggling some 1 million liters (264,000 gallons) of fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers.

The report said the oil tanker was intercepted south of Iran’s Larak Island in the Strait of Hormuz. Larak is a smaller island just southeast of the larger Qeshm Island.

Crude prices, which had been falling since last week, ticked higher almost immediately after reports of the incident.

The seizure of the ship does not immediately appear to directly target any one particular country and shows the Revolutionary Guard cracking down on illegal smuggling of Iranian oil.

If the MT Riah was indeed the ship seized, the move directly singles out UAE-bound and based vessels. The 58-meter (190-foot) Riah typically made trips from Dubai and Sharjah on the UAE’s west coast before going through the strait and heading to Fujairah on the UAE’s east coast.

The UAE has been calling for a de-escalation of tensions between the U.S. and Iran in past weeks, but has also lobbied for tougher U.S. policies on Iran and supports the maximum pressure campaign of sanctions imposed by the Trump administration since the U.S. unilaterally pulled out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

The ship’s seizure comes after a tense, but brief standoff last week between the British navy and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all crude oil passes. The British government said a navy frigate had to warn away the paramilitary vessels from disrupting the passage of a British oil tanker through the strait.

It also comes after British marines helped seize an Iranian supertanker off Gibraltar, a British overseas territory at the southern tip of Spain. Britain has since said it would facilitate the release of the tanker if Iran can provide guarantees the vessel would not breach European Union sanctions on shipments to Syria.

Iran has recently increased uranium production and enrichment over the limits of its 2015 nuclear deal, trying to put more pressure on Europe to offer it better terms and allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.

The U.S. has sent thousands of additional troops, B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the region amid the heightened tensions. Iran also shot down a U.S. surveillance drone, raising fears of a wider conflict.

In May, two Emirati oil tankers were among four tankers attacked in acts of sabotage that the U.S. has blamed on Iran. The UAE has stopped short of blaming any country for the attacks off its coast of Fujairah and maintains that diplomacy is the way forward.

Last month saw two other attacks on oil vessels. Iran denies involvement in any of the vessel attacks.

A U.S. defense official had told The Associated Press earlier this week that America had suspicions that Iran had seized the MT Riah when its tracker was turned off in the Strait of Hormuz. An Emirati official had told the AP the small oil tanker made no distress call before switching off its tracker.

Iran’s acknowledgement that a vessel has been seized by the Revolutionary Guard appears to contradict statements by Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman on Wednesday saying Iran had aided a foreign oil tanker with a malfunction.

The ship’s registered owner, Dubai-based Prime Tankers LLC, told the AP earlier this week it had sold the ship to another company called Mouj Al-Bahar. A man who answered a telephone number registered to the firm told the AP it didn’t own any ships.
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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Chinese investment in Kenya is bringing with it a nasty by-product — racism and discrimination from Chinese employers toward the local population and its workforce, according to a feature in the New York Times.

China’s presence has expanded in Africa and no less in Kenya, where its companies have invested in infrastructure projects and agriculture. The NYT article features testimony from a variety of Kenyans who say they’ve experienced blatant racism from their Chinese employers, and have been segregated from Chinese employees.

The story, published late Monday, includes experiences from Kenyan people that are employed by Chinese companies that have expanded into the East African nation that was once part of the British Empire. The Chinese population in Kenya is estimated to be around 40,000 currently, with many there to work for one of hundreds of Chinese companies located in the country.

“Episodes involving discriminatory behavior by the region’s growing Chinese work force have unsettled many Kenyans, particularly at a time when their government seeks closer ties with China,” the feature by Joseph Goldstein, reported.

“In Nairobi, workers in their 20s and 30s swap stories of racism or discrimination they have witnessed. One described watching a Chinese manager slap her Kenyan colleague, who was also a woman, for a minor mistake. Other Kenyan workers explained how their office bathrooms were separated by race: one for Chinese employees, the other for Kenyans,” the article states.

A spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not immediately available when contacted by CNBC.
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'