Special thanks go to Magnifico for starting this venerable series.
Lead Off Story
Ebola Death Toll Passes 1,900, Says WHO
WHO head Margaret Chan said there were 3,500 confirmed or probable cases in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
"The outbreaks are racing ahead of the control efforts in these countries," she said.
The WHO has previously warned that more than 20,000 people could be infected before the outbreak of the virus is brought under control.
Ms Chan described the outbreak as "the largest and most severe and most complex we have ever seen".
"No one, even outbreak responders with experience dating back to 1976, to 1995, people that were directly involved with those outbreaks, none of them have ever seen anything like it," she said.
Salmond: Independence Is Closer Than It Has Ever Been
The No camp high command expressed serious doubts for the first time about whether the Union can be saved after the YouGov survey revealed its lead had been cut by eight points in one month.
With just 15 days to go, one senior Better Together source admitted the latest poll showing a 53/47 split accurately reflected Scotland's mood.
As one senior Whitehall insider predicted the final two weeks would be "a rollercoaster", Better Together leader Alistair Darling noted: "Earlier this year people would say to me - it's in the bag, what have you got to worry about? I always said then, as I do now, no it's not. It's going to be close and your vote could make the difference. So a tightening of the polls helps us."
But the markets responded nervously to the latest snapshot of opinion. Sterling fell to near a five-month low against the dollar and also slipped versus a generally weak euro, while the cost of hedging against sharp swings in the pound rose as investors sought to insure against what they regarded as the risk of independence.
Today, as Mr Darling is due to speak at the Oil and Gas UK Conference in Aberdeen, a report is published estimating Scotland could be sitting on more than double the amount of oil and gas reserves currently predicted. The study, from oil and gas industry jobs board oilandgaspeople.com and independent North Sea experts, suggests the West Coast alone could provide oil and gas for at least 100 years with an estimated value of more than £1 trillion.
The Auschwitz Files: Why the Last SS Guards Will Go Unpunished
It was a carefully coordinated campaign. Criminal investigators from the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria, Hesse and Baden-Württemberg all struck at the same time, at 9 a.m. on Feb. 19 of this year. The investigators, driving civilian vehicles, drove up to residences in 12 locations and presented the suspects with search warrants. The officials had previously determined whether their targets had firearm or explosives licenses.
The police raid on Feb. 19 was part of a bigger operation in 11 German states, initially directed against 30 former members of the SS who had worked at this human extermination factory. The cumbersomely named Central Office of State Judiciary Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes, in the southwestern city of Ludwigsburg, had identified the cases.
The former SS members arrested in Baden-Württemberg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania have since returned home. So were the actions of the public prosecutor's office "completely excessive," as Peter-Michael Diestel says critically? Diestel, who served as the last East German interior minister and now works as a criminal defense attorney, represents Hubert Z., a former SS Unterscharführer, or sergeant.
Prosecutors are only seriously pursuing charges in eight cases today, suggesting that an especially ignoble chapter in German postwar history is coming to a fitting end. Some suspect that the prosecutors were merely trying to collect PR points by booking a few gray-hairs with a Nazi past.
Either way, the episode seems as though it will do nothing to improve the history of failure that has characterized the German judiciary's approach to Auschwitz. Many explanations for that failure have been offered over the years.
Letters Deliver Profit Slump For Australia Post
Australia Post announced a sharp slump in profit on Thursday morning, and added a dire warning about the future of the business.
The government-owned entity said it was likely to overwhelmed by losses in the coming years, mostly caused by its traditional letter delivery services.
The cost of running the sprawling, low margin delivery network dragged this year's total profit down to $116.2 million, a fall of 34.5 per cent from the previous year. In total, letter delivery cost $328.4 million.
The company reported a net loss of $105.9 million for the second half of the year, its first since it was corporatised."Profit growth in parcels has covered the growing losses in letters again in this full year but possibly for the last time," chief executive Ahmed Fahour said. "These results are a stark illustration of the urgent need for changes to the regulations governing our Letters service."smh
"Unfortunately without significant and urgent reform of our community service obligations, the loss in the regulated mail business will overwhelm the entire company and result in the enterprise making a loss in the near future."
Path Of Stolen Credit Cards Leads Back To Home Depot Stores
There are two tracks to finding the identity of a company that has been hit by cybercriminals. Both of them involve going backward.
Over the last few days, thousands of fresh credit and debit card numbers have surfaced on so-called carding sites, which are websites where stolen credit card data is sold. On those sites, Eastern European hackers are selling the stolen account information of people in cities as distant as Mission Viejo, Calif., and Hanover, N.H. They are charging as much as $50 per card.
Bank employees, fraud detectives at computer security companies and law enforcement officials are tracing the path taken by the stolen cards, tracking the source of what appears to be the latest in a series of major data breaches that the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security believe has affected more than 1,000 American retailers.
So far, all roads point back to Home Depot. And if the evidence uncovered so far proves to be valid, the hack could top the record-setting breach of Target’s network last December.
Thirteen people, Including Children, Injured In Chemical Explosion At Nevada Museum
Thirteen people were hurt, including several children, in a chemical explosion on Wednesday at a museum in Reno, Nevada, where presenters demonstrating a so-called smoke tornado caused the blast with a faulty mixture, officials said..
Seven children and two adults with non-life threatening injuries were transported to a local hospital, and another four people were treated and released at the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum in Reno where the explosion occurred, said Reno police spokesman Tim Broadway.
The people who were hospitalized had suffered burn injuries, said Matthew Brown, a spokesman for the city of Reno.
Presenters at the museum were trying to create a "smoke tornado" in a visual demonstration they had done before when a faulty mixture of alcohol and boric acid caused the blast, Brown said.
Officials said they did not immediately have details on the ages of the children hurt in the explosion, which they said did not light anything on fire at the museum
Tesla Reportedly Chooses Nevada For Big Factory; California Falls Short
California’s campaign to land Tesla Motors Inc.’s 6,500-employee battery factory has failed, with northern Nevada emerging Wednesday as the apparent destination.
The Associated Press and other media, quoting anonymous sources, said Tesla has chosen a site near Reno for its much-coveted $5 billion “Gigafactory,” capping a multi-state beauty contest that dragged on for months.
Tesla and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval confirmed that a “major economic development announcement” would be made Thursday at the state Capitol in Carson City. “We continue to work with the state of Nevada and we look forward to joining the governor and legislative leaders (Thursday) in Carson City,” Tesla spokeswoman Liz Jarvis-Shean said in an email to The Sacramento Bee.
The disclosure came a little more than a month after Tesla acknowledged that it broke ground earlier this summer at an industrial park a few miles east of Reno. The developer of the park, Lance Gilman, told The Bee in an email that he plans to attend the announcement in Carson City.
Tesla insisted a month ago that it hadn’t finalized a decision regarding the Reno site. Elon Musk, chief executive of the Palo Alto electric-car manufacturer, said then that the company would continue to evaluate other locations and might break ground at multiple spots before reaching a conclusion.
Science and Technology
German Boars Are Too Radioactive To Eat
In Germany, boar meat is considered a delicacy, consumed in various forms such as salami and boar leg. But now, German restaurant-goers may want to rethink ordering boar the next time they dine out (and it’s not because of boar taint).
According to the Telegraph, recent testing in the state of Saxony has revealed that more than one-in-three wild boar in Germany are so radioactive that they're considered unfit for human consumption. Boar carcasses are not supposed to exceed radiation levels of 600 becquerels per kilogram, but in the past year, 297 out of 752 boar tested in Saxony have su this safe amount. Some boars have even tested dozens of times over.
The illuminating trend is thought to be a lingering effect of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, one of the worst nuclear power plant accidents in history. More than 28 years ago, a reactor exploded at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Soviet-run Ukraine, releasing radioactive particles into the atmosphere. The contamination was so widespread that experts have estimated between 4,000 and 93,000 extra cancer deaths have occurred as a result of Chernobyl, though the actual tally may never be known.
Saxony is approximately 700 miles away from the Chernobyl site, but various weather conditions helped the radioactive particles spread far into Western Europe, contaminating much of the ground soil. And, since wild boar dig through soil for food, they are particularly affected by this contamination. They also eat underground mushrooms and deer truffles, which are known to store radiation.
Apparently, researchers have been cataloguing this pattern of boar radioactivity for some time, and they don’t believe it’ll go away any time soon. Experts predict it may be another 50 years before boar radiation levels return to normal, the Telegraph notes.
Languages Are Being Wiped Out By Economic Growth
The world's roughly 7000 known languages are disappearing faster than species, with a different tongue dying approximately every 2 weeks. Now, by borrowing methods used in ecology to track endangered species, researchers have identified the primary threat to linguistic diversity: economic development. Though such growth has been shown to wipe out language in the past on a case-by-case basis, this is the first study to demonstrate that it is a global phenomenon, researchers say.
Many people know about the threatened polar bear and extinct passenger pigeon, but few have heard of endangered and extinct languages such as Eyak in Alaska, whose last speaker died in 2008, or Ubykh in Turkey, whose last fluent speaker died in 1992, says Tatsuya Amano, a zoologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and lead author of the new study. It’s well known that economic growth or the desire to achieve it can drive language loss, he notes—dominant languages such as Mandarin Chinese and English are often required for upward mobility in education and business, and economic assistance often encourages recipients to speak dominant languages. Whereas specific case studies demonstrate such forces at work, such as the transition from Cornish to English in the United Kingdom and from Horom to English in Nigeria, this is the first study to examine losses worldwide and rank economic growth alongside other possible influences, he says.
Data on the number and location of surviving fluent speakers of endangered languages are scant, but Amano and colleagues used the most complete source available—an online repository called Ethnologue—for their analysis, he says. From the database, the group was able to calculate the geographical range, number of speakers, and rate of speaker decline for languages worldwide and map that data within square grid cells roughly 190 km across, spanning the entire globe. Although they were able to obtain information about the range and number of speakers for more than 90% of the world’s estimated 6909 languages, they could only glean details about the rate of decline or growth for 9%, or 649, of those languages, Amano notes.
Next, they looked for correlations between language loss and factors such as a country's gross domestic product and levels of globalization as calculated by an internationally recognized index. In addition, they examined environmental factors such as altitude, which might contribute to language loss by affecting how easily communities can communicate and travel.
Of all the variables tested, economic growth was most strongly linked to language loss, Amano says. Two types of language loss hotspots emerged from the study, published online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. One was in economically well developed regions such as northwestern North America and northern Australia; a second was in economically developing regions such as the tropics and the Himalayas. Certain aspects of geography seemed to act as a buffer or threat, Amano says. For example, recent declines appear to occur faster in temperate climates than in the tropics or mountainous regions—perhaps because it is easier to travel in and out of temperate regions, Amano says. More research is necessary to determine precisely what it is about economic development that kills languages, he adds. Figuring out how growth interacts with other factors such as landscape is the next step, he says.
Direct Brain-To-Brain Communication Demonstrated In Human Subjects
In a first-of-its-kind study, an international team of neuroscientists and robotics engineers have demonstrated the viability of direct brain-to-brain communication in humans. Recently published in PLOS ONE the highly novel findings describe the successful transmission of information via the internet between the intact scalps of two human subjects -- located 5,000 miles apart."We wanted to find out if one could communicate directly between two people by reading out the brain activity from one person and injecting brain activity into the second person, and do so across great physical distances by leveraging existing communication pathways," explains coauthor Alvaro Pascual-Leone, MD, PhD, Director of the Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. "One such pathway is, of course, the internet, so our question became, 'Could we develop an experiment that would bypass the talking or typing part of internet and establish direct brain-to-brain communication between subjects located far away from each other in India and France?'"[...]
In the neuroscientific equivalent of instant messaging, Pascual-Leone, together with Giulio Ruffini and Carles Grau leading a team of researchers from Starlab Barcelona, Spain, and Michel Berg, leading a team from Axilum Robotics, Strasbourg, France, successfully transmitted the words "hola" and "ciao" in a computer-mediated brain-to-brain transmission from a location in India to a location in France using internet-linked electroencephalogram (EEG) and robot-assisted and image-guided transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) technologies.
Previous studies on EEG-based brain-computer interaction (BCI) have typically made use of communication between a human brain and computer. In these studies, electrodes attached to a person's scalp record electrical currents in the brain as a person realizes an action-thought, such as consciously thinking about moving the arm or leg. The computer then interprets that signal and translates it to a control output, such as a robot or wheelchair.
But, in this new study, the research team added a second human brain on the other end of the system. Four healthy participants, aged 28 to 50, participated in the study. One of the four subjects was assigned to the brain-computer interface (BCI) branch and was the sender of the words; the other three were assigned to the computer-brain interface (CBI) branch of the experiments and received the messages and had to understand them.
Using EEG, the research team first translated the greetings "hola" and "ciao" into binary code and then emailed the results from India to France. There a computer-brain interface transmitted the message to the receiver's brain through noninvasive brain stimulation. The subjects experienced this as phosphenes, flashes of light in their peripheral vision. The light appeared in numerical sequences that enabled the receiver to decode the information in the message, and while the subjects did not report feeling anything, they did correctly receive the greetings.
Well, that's different...
All War Is Weird, But This ISIS War
"The absurdity runs deep." America uses American military equipment to bomb American military equipment that ISIS captured (from inept Iraqi soldiers, inept in part since America disbanded Iraq's professional military in 2003). America's Kurdish allies, fighting ISIS, use inferior Russian weapons they captured in the 1980s. ISIS has a so-far-safer haven in Syria because America declined to arm moderate Syrian rebels, largely out of fear that radicals like the future ISIS would capture weapons America provided. "So now (America is) bombing the guns that (it) didn't mean to give ISIS because (America) didn't give guns to their enemies because then ISIS might get guns."
Bill Moyers and Company:
Elizabeth Warren on Fighting Back Against Wall St. Giants
The Massachusetts senator talks to Bill about taking on the entrenched political
and Wall Street interests that have rigged the game against the rest of us.