11/26/2014

Hump Day Art

Pawel Kuczynski 

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Lidia Wylangowska 

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              Ira Tsantekidou 

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Alexey Bogolyubov 

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Sterilization


The death of 15 women at two state-run sterilisation camps in Chhattisgarh has put a spotlight on India's dark history of botched sterilisations.

The drive to sterilize began in the 1970s when, encouraged by loans amounting to tens of millions of dollars from the World Bank, the Swedish International Development Authority and the UN Population Fund, India embarked on an ambitious population control program.

During the 1975 Emergency - when civil liberties were suspended -Sanjay Gandhi, son of the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, began what was described by many as a "gruesome campaign" to sterilize poor men. There were reports of police cordoning off villages and virtually dragging the men to surgery.

The campaign also made an appearance in Salman Rushdie's novel, Midnight's Children.

An astonishing 6.2 million Indian men were sterilized in just a year, which was "15 times the number of people sterilized by the Nazis", according to science journalist Mara Hvistendahl. Two thousand men died from botched operations.

"India has a dark history of state-sponsored population control, often with eugenic aims - targeting the poor and underprivileged," Ms Hvistendahl told me. "The women's tragic deaths [in Chhattisgarh] show that it still happens today."

Since family planning efforts began in the 1970s, India has focused its population control efforts on women, even though, as scientists say, sterilizations are easier to perform in men. "This may be because women are deemed less likely to protest," says Ms Hvistendahl.

India carried out nearly 4 million sterilisations during 2013-2014, according to official figures. Less than 100,000 of these surgeries were done on men. More than 700 deaths were reported due to botched surgeries between 2009 and 2012. There were 356 reported cases of complications arising out of the surgeries.


Though the government has adopted a raft of measures and standards for conducting safe sterilizations, an unseemly haste to meet high state-mandated quotas has often led to botched operations and deaths.

Religious Persecution on Rise

"I don't know if we will ever be able to go back to Syria. My mother wants to see her home again, but she may never be able to return."


Maria fights back the tears as she contemplates her country of birth, now wracked by fighting.

Her mother - now in her 80s - was able to flee the fighting in Syria and stay with her son in Canada.
But it is not clear whether she will return to a country where Christians and other religious minorities no longer feel safe or welcome.

The Syriac Orthodox church in west London where we speak is filled with families with similar stories to tell.

Across much of the globe, at the start of the 21st Century, religion is once again a matter of life and death - quite literally in Iraq and Syria, while elsewhere, admitting or defending your faith can land you in jail.

Meriam Ibrahim, a young Christian mother from Sudan, discovered that when she refused to renounce her faith even after she was placed on death row for "apostasy", or allegedly converting from Islam to Christianity.

Meriam - whose mother was Christian - has now started a new life in America with her husband and children, following an international outcry - but how many more Meriams are there?

On the same day that the news emerged of a Pakistani Christian couple burnt to death in a kiln by enraged Muslim villagers for apparently unwittingly burning the verses of the Koran, Prince Charles was addressing a gathering at the House of Lords on religious freedom.

The future King, who once said that he wished to be Defender of Faith, rather than Defender of the Faith on ascending the throne, made an eloquent plea for religious tolerance at home and across the world.

He spoke in a video message as the international Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, launched a global report saying that religious freedom was at risk in 60% of the world's countries and had entered a period of serious decline.

The report termed the rising tide of anti-Christian persecution in several parts of the world "catastrophic", pointing out that Christians remain the most persecuted religious minority, due partly to their geographic spread and high relative numbers.


The charity also made clear that Muslims were experiencing what it called a serious degree of persecution and discrimination, "both at the hands of other Muslims and from authoritarian governments".  Read more...

11/25/2014

Making Its Own Currency


Recently, the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) announced that they will be minting their own currency, together with design mock-ups of how the coins will look.

According to a statement issued by the group's treasury department, Bayt Al-Mal, the currency will exist separate from "the tyrannical financial system" which use "satanic usury" and have been "imposed upon Muslims" which serve to "enslave and impoverish" them.

"Based on the directive of the Emir of the Believers in the Islamic State, Caliph Ibrahim, may Allah preserve him, to mint currency for the Islamic State, as it is far removed from the tyrannical monetary system that was imposed on the Muslims and was a reason for their enslavement and impoverishment, and wasting the fortunes of the Ummah, making it easy prey in the hands of the Jews and Crusaders, the Treasury Department studied the matter and presented a comprehensive project, by the grace of Allah, to mint a currency based on the inherent value of the metals gold and silver." (translation by Site Intelligence)

The value of the coins will be based on the market value of gold and silver, which we know is extremely volatile and, as such, it is unclear how products and services in ISIS controlled territories will be priced – how many coins will a loaf of bread cost?

The ISIS proposed currency will have seven coins called Dinars – two gold, three silver and two copper. The largest value coin will be the five dinar which will contain 21.25g of gold (valued at £525.30 at the time of writing). The lowest value coin will be a 10g copper coin worth about five pence.

Logistically, it is unclear how ISIS will issue this currency. 

ISIS has an estimated daily oil revenue of $1 million, $20 million in kidnapping ransoms and over $2 billion in assets, it is not clear where or how it will acquire the supply of the precious metals it will need to mint these coins.

ISIS' plan to create its own currency aims to bolster its claim that it is a functional nation and not just a terrorist organisation. However, since territories in Iraq and Syria fall in and out of the group's hand, the acceptability of the currency as a payment method won't be widespread or stable.


Not to mention that most foreign investors won't be able to "invest" in this currency without being charged with "providing material support to a terrorist entity".

Really Robin . . .


Global Malnutrition

Most countries in the world are facing a serious public health problem as a result of malnutrition, a report warns.

The Global Nutrition Report said every nation except China had crossed a "malnutrition red line", suffering from too much or too little nutrition.

Globally, malnutrition led to "11% of GDP being squandered as a result of lives lost, less learning, less earning and days lost to illness," it added.

The findings follow on from last year's Nutrition from Growth summit in London.

At the 2013 gathering, 96 signatories made "significant and public commitments to nutrition-related actions" and this report was an assessment of the work that still needed to be done and the progress made.

"Malnutrition is an invisible thing, unless it is very extreme," explained Lawrence Haddad, co-chairman of the independent expert group that compiled the report.

"This invisibility stops action happening but it does not stop bad things happening to the children, " he told BBC News.

"It does not stop preventing the children's brains from developing; it does not stop their immune systems from not developing.

"It is a silent crisis and we are trying to raise the awareness of the extent of malnutrition and the damage it does."

The UN World Food Program estimates that poor nutrition causes nearly half of deaths in children aged under five - 3.1 million children each year.

Dr Haddad, a senior research fellow for the International Food Policy Research Institute, highlighted three areas that the report focused on.

"The first thing we did was to say that we were not just going to focus on under nutrition, which is
closely related to hunger, but also over nutrition and obesity," he explained. "Malnutrition just means bad nutrition."

The second thing we did was focus on not just the outcomes, we also focused on the drivers. We looked at underlying factors, such as sanitation, water quality, food security, spending on nutrition and women's status.

"The third thing we did was to look at a very specific set of commitments that were made in the 2013 summit that David Cameron hosted in London."

The expert group's assessment on global nutrition drew a number of conclusions.

11/24/2014

More to CEOs Than to Taxes


Ford CEO Alan Mulally (above) earned $23.2m last year while Ford got a tax refund of $19m. 

Seven of the country’s 30 largest corporations paid more to their CEOs than they did in taxes last year, according to a just-released study by the Center for Effective Government and the Institute for Policy Studies.

The biggest gap between executive pay and taxes was at Citigroup. Michael Corbat, Citigroup’s CEO had a compensation package that totaled $17.6m. 

At the same time, Citigroup qualified for a $260m tax refund from the IRS, thanks to a special waiver that enabled it to capture the full tax benefits of buying unprofitable businesses. This could be a tax gift that keeps on giving, as the bank has been on a tear to keep earning more to take full advantage of the provision. 

The rift between tax burden and executive pay for big companies is “getting worse”, says Scott Klinger, director of revenue and spending policies at the Center for Effective Government.

Since the Center for Effective Government and the Institute for Policy Studies published their first report in 2010, the average compensation of the CEOs they single out has climbed from $16.7m to almost $32m.

And, there’s a widening rift between corporate profits and the jobs they create. After tax, corporate profits last year accounted for 10% of GDP, higher than ever recorded. The contribution of employee incomes to GDP has been sliding steadily lower since the 1970s. 

Indeed, he notes that most of the corporations whose names appear on his list – nearly all of which are profitable – have been nearly as active reducing their workforce over the past year as they have been trying to cut their tax burden.


Washington state gave Boeing $8.7bn in tax breaks to ensure that the 777x was built in the state, but the aerospace company has been shifting engineering jobs to lower-wage areas, saving the company $100m a year and resulting in layoffs. 

Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase – both on “the list” – have slashed jobs in the past few years. Ford has been closing down plants and axing jobs, too.

Burn brightly...


Net Neutrality


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - AT&T Inc will stop investing in new high-speed Internet connections in 100 U.S. cities until regulators decide whether to enact tough "net neutrality" rules proposed by President Obama, Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson said recently.

The FCC — which regulates how internet service providers are allowed to handle traffic  said that it would create new rules that may allow ISPs to treat traffic differently.


The NPRM [the FCC] will propose ... that broadband providers would be required to offer a baseline level of service to their subscribers, along with the ability to enter into individual negotiations with content providers. In all instances, broadband providers would need to act in a commercially reasonable manner subject to review on a case-by-case basis. Exactly what the baseline level of service would be, the construction of a 'commercially reasonable' standard, and the manner in which disputes would be resolved, are all among the topics on which the FCC will be seeking comment.

The investment pause is the most dramatic action yet by a telecommunications or cable company after Obama on Monday urged the Federal Communications Commission to regulate Internet service providers more like public utilities.

At the same time, AT&T had been spending heavily acquisitions and had cut its capital spending estimate for 2015.

Companies and industry groups have already protested Obama's proposal, saying it would stifle growth and investment.

"We can't go out and invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities not knowing under what rules those investments will be governed," Stephenson said at an analyst conference.

In April, AT&T said it would deploy its high-speed fiber network in 100 cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami.

A primary goal for the FCC in recent years has been to ensure quality Internet access across the country, especially in rural communities.

AT&T pushed back against Obama's comments on Monday and said it would take the government to court if the FCC follows through on his request.

The company, which is buying DirecTV for $48.5 billion, said on Friday that it would also pay $1.7 billion to acquire Mexican wireless operator Iusacell. It trimmed its 2015 capital spending outlook to $18 billion from $21 billion.

Verizon Communications Inc Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo struck a somewhat lighter tone.


"I think the independent agency of the FCC will make the right decision," Shammo said.

11/21/2014

T. G. I. F. Solitude











S O L I T U D E


1. Bypassing Burnout
Too often, our culture assigns self-worth with productivity. Whether it's asking what your country can do for you, or what you can do for your country, the question remains -- what can be done? It's a one-way ticket to burnout.

2. Heightened Sensitivity 
For many, attempting ten days of silence would be akin to walking on water. Vipassana silent retreats are exactly that; participants are instructed to refrain from reading, writing, or eye contact.

3. Dissolving Tomorrow's Troubles 
Silence brings our awareness back to the present -- where concrete happiness is experienced. Watts makes the distinction between our basic and ingenious consciousness; the latter makes predictions based on our memories, which seem so real to the mind that we're caught in a hypothetical abstraction. It plans out our lives with an abstract happiness, but an abstract happiness is a very real disappointment.

4. Improves Memory
Combining solitude with a walk in nature causes brain growth in the hippocampus region, resulting in better memory.

5. Strengthens Intention and Action
Psychologist Kelly McGonigal says during silence, the mind is best able to cultivate a form of mindful intention that later motivates us to take action.
Intentional silence puts us in a state of mental reflection and disengages our intellectual mind. At that point McGonigal says to ask yourself three questions:
  • "If anything were possible, what would I welcome or create in my life?"
  • "When I'm feeling most courageous and inspired, what do I want to offer the world?"
  • "When I'm honest about how I suffer, what do I want to make peace with?"

6. Increases Self-Awareness
In silence, we make room for the self-awareness to be in control of our actions, rather than under their control. The break from external voices puts us in tune to our inner voices -- and it's those inner voices that drive our actions. Awareness leads to control.  
Practice becoming an observer of your thoughts. The human will is strengthened whenever we choose not to respond to every actionable thought.

7. Grow Your Brain
The brain is the most complex and powerful organ, and like muscles, benefits from rest. UCLA research showed that regular times set aside to disengage, sit in silence, and mentally rest, improves the the "folding" of the cortex and boosts our ability to process information.

8. "A-Ha" Moments
The creative process includes a crucial stage called incubation, where all the ideas we've been exposed to get to meet, mingle, marinate -- then produce a eureka or "A-ha" moment. The secret to incubation? Nothing. Literally; disengage from the work at hand, and take a rest. It's also the elixir for mental blocks.

9. Mastering Discomfort
Just when you've found a quiet place to sit alone and reflect, an itch will beckon to be scratched. But many meditation teachers will encourage you to refrain, and breath into the experience until it passes. Along with bringing your mind back from distracting thoughts and to your breathing, these practices during silence and solitude work to build greater self-discipline.


10. Emotional Cleansing
Our fight/flight mechanism causes us to flee not only from physical difficulties, but also emotional difficulties. Ignoring and burying negative emotions however, only causes them to manifest in stress, anxiety, anger, and insomnia.

11/20/2014

Rising Intelligence


Researchers from the University of Aberdeen and Scottish health board NHS Grampian studied 751 people born in Aberdeen, divided into two groups -- one born in 1921 and the other in 1936 -- known as the Aberdeen Birth Cohort. They were all tested at age 11 and then again up to five times between 1998 and 2011.

When the two groups were tested at age 11, the researchers found an IQ disparity of 3.7 points between the two generations, but after age 62, the difference jumped to 16.5 points -- more than three times what was anticipated. Study leader Dr. Robert Staff described the intelligence gains of the 1936 group as "surprisingly large," and says that he expects average intelligence gains to rise further.

"One especially interesting aspect of the study is that the IQ difference between the cohorts grew by a very large amount over the course of 50 years," educational psychologist and intelligence researcher Jonathan Plucker said in an email to The Huffington Post. "This provides further evidence that one’s intelligence –- at least the aspects that can be examined using tests –- is not fixed at an early age and can be quite malleable over the course of our lifespans."

The study, published in the journal Intelligence, isn't the first to suggest that global IQ is on the rise. In a phenomenon known as the "Flynn effect" (named after psychologist and human intelligence researcher James R. Flynn), IQ has been shown to raise by 3-4 points each decade.

"These IQ gains are probably not unique to Aberdeen, with similar environmental changes being experienced across the UK," Staff said in a statement.

"The results fit with numerous other studies documenting the Flynn Effect," said Plucker. "The Aberdeen results suggest that causes of the Effect, as Flynn originally surmised, are largely environmental in nature: As our living standards -– involving nutrition, education, safety, and many other factors -– steadily improved over the past 100 years, our ability to solve cognitive problems likewise increased."

Another working theory has less to do with the subjects than the test itself. According to intelligence researcher Michael Woodley, who was not involved in the study, they might reflect improvement of specialized and easily trainable cognitive abilities. Woodley points to some measures which suggest a slight decline in general intelligence scores each decade.


"Whilst people are undoubtedly becoming more test-wise and are picking up specialized cognitive skills, as evidenced by studies such as the one conducted by Dr. Staff and colleagues," Woodley said in an email to The Huffington Post, "they are unfortunately not becoming more innovative, or better complex problem solvers."