Special thanks go to Magnifico for starting this venerable series.
Lead Off Story
Ukraine Crisis: Russia's Putin 'Backs 25 May Election'
Russia's President Vladimir Putin says Ukraine's presidential election on 25 May is a step "in the right direction".
But he said the vote would decide nothing unless the rights of "all citizens" were protected.
Ukraine's PM described as "hot air" Mr Putin's call for an independence referendum, planned this weekend by separatists in the east, to be delayed.
Mr Putin also said that Russia had pulled back its troops from the border, as tension remains high.
The West is likely to treat these comments with some caution and wait to see what effect they have on the ground - and whether or not the Kremlin's pronouncements will de-escalate the tension.
No Special Path for Germany in Ukraine Crisis
To contain the forces of madness in Ukraine, the West must prepare to work together with Russian President Vladimir Putin. If he doesn't comply and continues to lie, then tough sanctions must follow. For Germany, there can be no special path.
It's time to put an end to the subterfuge and insanity. It is time for a judicious political process and for cooperation in the Ukraine crisis.
The scenes of the past week couldn't have been more contradictory. A civil war is raging in eastern Ukraine, yet Gerhard Schröder met with Vladimir Putin for a night out to celebrate the former German chancellor's 70th birthday. At the same time, German soldiers, part of the OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine, were being held hostage by a self-appointed "people's governor." Schröder's gesture struck many as obscene and it is certainly not the correct way to deal with a man who is threatening peace in Europe. Dialogue, yes. But that kind of open embrace is unacceptable.
But what should such a dialogue focus on? And which steps would be the most reasonable to take? To embark on such a path, Germany and the West must adopt a unified posture, a common goal and a roadmap for achieving it.
There are two fundamental aspects that must define Germany's position in the Ukraine crisis: There should be no war and no equidistance, but rather a clear affiliation with the Western alliance.
Boko Haram Attack In Nigerian Town Leaves Hundreds Dead
A new Boko Haram massacre has killed hundreds in Nigeria’s north-east, as police offered a 50 million naira ($324,600) reward for information leading to the rescue of more than 200 schoolgirls held hostage by the Islamists.
The latest insurgent attack targeted the town of Gamboru Ngala on the border with Cameroon, where gunmen this week razed scores of buildings and fired on civilians as they tried to flee.
Area Senator Ahmed Zanna put the death toll at 300, citing information provided by locals, in an account supported by numerous residents.
Zanna said the town had been left unguarded because the soldiers based there had been redeployed north towards Lake Chad in an effort to rescue the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram on April 14
South Sudan President, Rebel Chief To Meet On Friday In Ethiopia
South Sudan's president and rebel chief will meet for direct talks on Friday in Ethiopia in a bid to stem a brutal civil war, mediators from the bloc of regional nations said on Wednesday.
Mediators from the East African IGAD-bloc of nations said the "critical meeting will help end the violence and killings in South Sudan", and try to find a "political solution to the crisis," a statement read.
President Salva Kiir promised last week to attend peace talks, while rebel chief Riek Machar agreed on Tuesday to also come, although he has since said he may be delayed as he fled the capture of his former base by government troops into a remote bush area.
Both sides have been accused of widespread ethnic massacres, rape and recruitment of thousands of child soldiers.
Despite both leaders speaking of peace, fierce fighting continues for control of a key oil town in the north of the country.
Central African Republic Journalists Protest Murders Of Colleagues
Journalists in the Central African Republic held a one-day strike on Wednesday to protest at the killings of two of their colleagues amid clashes between Muslims and Christians in the capital Bangui last week.
Thousands of French and African troops have failed to stop the waves of intercommunal violence that erupted after predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority-Christian former French colony in March 2013.
Désiré Sayenga, a journalist with the Bangui daily Le Démocrate, was tortured and shot by a suspected group of armed Muslims who attacked him as he was returning home on the evening of April 29. He died the next day.
René Padou was the target of a grenade attack the same day and died on Monday as a result of his injuries.
None of the country's daily newspapers were published on Wednesday and radio stations broadcast only music.
Drought Forces A Texas City To Turn To Toilet Water
It's old news that drought conditions are sweeping across Texas, but the lack of rain is forcing one town to turn to a new solution.
Wichita Falls is studying whether it can use wastewater - including water from toilets - for drinking (after treatment, of course). It would be the first city in the United States to do so, NPR reports.
But before they can make any sort of switch, the Texas Commission on Environment Quality will have city officials conduct a test of the reuse project to ensure the water is safe to drink. The city expects to hear back from TCEQ this month on when it can start the test.
The $13 million project involves connecting two wastewater treatment plants to transport about 7 million gallons of treated wastewater, treating it again through microfiltration and reverse osmosis, and then blending it with raw water from nearby Lake Arrowhead.
That means the so-called "toilet water" would make up about half of the residents' drinking water and the project would recycle 5 million gallons a day.
Anti-Drought Bill The Talk Of California's D.C. Delegation
California lawmakers are furiously churning to keep an anti-drought bill afloat.
They're counting votes, making trade-offs and tinkering with language. They're confronting singular political calculations like: Will a Lake Mead provision for Nevada, home state of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, cause problems with other Democrats upstream in Colorado?
And, no mean feat, they are meeting.
For an hour Wednesday morning, half-a-dozen House Democrats convened privately with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to discuss her anti-drought legislation. Tellingly, the Northern California Democrats entered the meeting voicing caution -- Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, echoed others in saying parts of Feinstein's bill were "problematic" -- but they exited smiling.
"It was a great meeting," Thompson said. "She has made changes that alleviate some of our concerns."
Feinstein usually keeps her cards close to the vest, saying Wednesday only that "this was a private meeting and I'd like to keep it at that." Her third-floor office in the Hart Senate Office Building, though, has become the go-to spot for California water talks of late.
Great Lakes Water Levels For The Summer Of 2014 - What’s Up (Or Not)?
We’re coming out of a particularly long, cold and snowy winter, so it’s only natural for our thoughts to turn to summer fun. In Michigan, summer often means fun on the water, including our Great Lakes waters, so with the extreme winter we had, and in light of recent low water levels, how do the lakes look for this summer?Lake Superior: In 2012, Lake Superior levels peaked in July, at 601.4 feet above sea level. In 2013, Superior peaked in September at approximately 602 feet. These compare with the long-term average (1918-2013) summer maximum for Superior of approximately 602.2 feet. The projection for the summer of 2014 is a maximum of approximately 602 feet (same as 2013) but occurring in August.As the above information shows, 2014 Great Lakes water levels are generally up compared with the past two years, and should afford plenty of opportunities for recreational activities of all kinds. Enjoy your time on our Great Lakes this summer!
Lakes Michigan and Huron: These lakes share a common water level thanks to the Straits of Mackinac, and are considered one lake, hydrologically. In 2012, Michigan/Huron levels peaked in June at 577.7 feet above sea level. In 2013, their levels peaked in July at 577.8 feet (after setting a record January low seven months previously). These levels compare with the long-term summer maximum average of approximately 579.3 feet, which typically takes place in July. The projection for the summer 2014 maximum is 578.4 – up from the past two years, but still below the long-term mean.
Lake St. Clair: Lake St. Clair is not a Great Lake, per se, but rather one of connecting waterways linking the Great Lakes. It is often called the best muskie fishing lake in North America, and Bassmaster Magazine ranked it #1 on its list of Best Bass Lakes of 2013, so it does have a lot going for it! As for its water levels, the summer peak in 2012 took place April-June at 574.2 feet above sea level, while the 2013 maximum took place in July at 574.6 feet. These compare with the long-term average summer maximum of 574.8. For 2014, the forecast is for a peak in July at 574.5 feet above sea level, just slightly below the mean.
Lake Erie: Lake Erie’s 2012 summer maximum was 571.9 feet above sea level in April. In 2013, it was 2 inches higher in July. The long-term average maximum is 571.9, usually reached in June. For 2013, the forecast is a high of 571.7, down just a bit from last year.
Lake Ontario: Michigan has shoreline on all the Great Lakes but Ontario, which empties into the St. Lawrence River, and leads to the Atlantic Ocean. Lake Ontario’s 2012 maximum 245.5 feet above sea level was reached in April. In 2013, the maximum was 246.3 in July, exceeding the long-term average of 246.1, which is typically reached in June. This year, the peak is expected to reach 245.9 in June.
Science and Technology
Magnetic Brain Stimulation May Trump Drugs For Severe Depression
Drugs are the most common psychiatric treatment for depression. But about 40 percent of people fail to respond to this first-line of antidepressants. What to do? The answer to date has often been more and different drugs.
But transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a technique that can revive activity in neurons in the brain's prefrontal cortex using an electromagnet, has been receiving more attention as a possible treatment for these stubborn cases of depression. In 2008, the FDA approved TMS for this purpose. Data since that point has been promising, but questions remain: How does it compare to antidepressant drugs? Is it cost-effective?
Research presented today (May 6) at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting in New York suggests that the technique is perhaps better than previously thought. In the study, the researchers compared two groups: those who had received TMS after failing to respond to drugs, and those who were given new antidepressants after not getting better on prior meds. The finding: 53 percent of those receiving TMS had no or mild depression after six weeks of treatment, compared with 38 percent taking a new or augmented type of antidepressant.
The study also looked at the economics. It found that TMS therapy would cost about $1,000 per patient per year, which is considered quite affordable, according to study co-author Kit Simpson, an economist at the Medical University of South Carolina. Over the course of two years, TMS would actually become more affordable than the current default of additional rounds of drug therapy, said Dr. Mark Demitrack, a study co-author and chief medical officer of Neuronetics, which makes a widely-used type of TMS called the NeuroStar TMS Therapy System
Radio Waves Affect Migrating Birds
Radio waves disrupt the magnetic "compass" in robins, according to a study published on Wednesday that is likely to fuel debate about the safety of electronic devices.
In a long and careful experiment, German scientists found that migrating robins became disorientated when exposed to electromagnetic fields at levels far lower than the safety threshold for humans.
The frequencies were in the medium-wave band used by AM radio -- not the bands used by mobile phones, whose safety has been contested by some campaigners.
"For decades, it has been hotly debated whether man-made electric and magnetic fields affected biological processes, including human health," the authors, from Oldenburg University, wrote in Nature.
The tests show "a reproducible effect of anthropogenic [man-made] electromagnetic noise on the behaviour of an intact vertebrate."
Blinded By Scientific Gobbledygook
I have just written the world’s worst science research paper: More than incompetent, it’s a mess of plagiarism and meaningless garble. Now science publishers around the world are clamouring to publish it. They will distribute it globally and pretend it is real research, for a fee. It’s untrue? And parts are plagiarized? They’re fine with that.
Welcome to the world of science scams, a fast-growing business that sucks money out of research, undermines genuine scientific knowledge, and provides fake credentials for the desperate. And even veteran scientists and universities are unaware of how deep the problem runs.
When scientists make discoveries, they publish their results in academic journals. The journals review the discovery with independent experts, and if everything checks out they publish the work. This boosts the reputations, and the job prospects, of the study’s authors.
Many journals now publish only online. And some of these, nicknamed predatory journals, offer fast, cut-rate service to young researchers under pressure to publish who have trouble getting accepted by the big science journals.
In academia, there’s a debate over whether the predators are of a lower-than-desired quality. But the Citizen’s experiment indicates much more: that many are pure con artists on the same level as the Nigerian banker who wants to give you $100 million.
Society and Culture
Body Postures And Power
Most organizations are hierarchical and consist of lineup of individuals, some of whom are more powerful and some less powerful. Managers, CEOs and leaders occupy powerful roles in the organization since it is they who control promotions, salaries, hiring and firing of others while subordinates possess less powerful roles. This is true also in many relationships and interactions, where some people feel more powerful than others. Studies have shown that there are certain behaviors and cognitions that are activated when a person feels powerful, even when he or she just recalls feeling powerful. People in powerful roles or those who recalled the experience of power behaved and thought differently. They took more frequent action, made a first offer in negotiations, took more risks, and even thought more abstractly.
However, power originates from and is expressed through another source, namely bodily postures. Both animals and humans exhibit powerful and powerless postures by either taking up more space or taking up as little space as possible. As examples: the puffer fish pumps water into its stomach and triples in size when defending itself against predators. The jay bird in defending its nest positions itself in a manner that greatly enlarges its body, with feathers erect, wings or tail spread out slightly (or fully in more threatening situations), and bill open. Chimpanzees who wish to convey their dominance raise their arms, push out their chests and stand up in order to appear larger, sway their limbs, and jump up and down repeatedly. Upon encountering a dominant chimpanzee, submissive chimps lower their bodies, constrict themselves, take up less space, and make themselves appear smaller and nonthreatening so as not to provoke an attack.
This is also true for humans. Powerful individuals stand up, spread their legs and arms outward and expand in space. A submissive person might sit with head bowed, hands held close to the body, and legs together. Indeed, several studies have shown that people who stand or sit in powerful poses and expand in space are perceived by others as being more powerful.
Dana Carney and Andy Yap of Columbia University and Amy Cuddy from Harvard University examined whether powerful postures influence how powerful we ourselves feel. They divided subjects into two groups. A “power” pose group (whose participants were asked to stand and later sit with their hands spread out on the table and legs apart), and a "low-power" group (whose participants were asked to be seated and later stand with their hands wrapped around their bodies or between their knees, legs close together, limbs closed). Those who displayed high-power poses reported feeling more powerful, took more risks and gambled more than those in the low power group. Furthermore, this difference was evidenced on a physiological level as well. Those who assumed powerful postures exhibited increased testosterone levels and a decreased level of cortisol. Testosterone positively correlates with dominant (i.e., powerful) behavior while cortisol is a stress hormone. So just standing in the appropriate expanded pose influences how powerful we feel and consequently how we behave while at the same time seems to reduce stress.
Well, that's different...
The Litigious Society
A columnist for the Egyptian newspaper Al-Yawm Al-Sabi proposed in March that Egypt sue Israel in international court for reparations for the 10 Biblical plagues cast from Hebrew curses, including boils, lice, locusts and turning the Nile River into blood. Ahmad al-Gamal asserted that Israelites swiped gold, silver and other precious items as they began their legendary desert wandering. Al-Gamal also wants reparations from Turkey (for the 16th-century Ottoman invasion), France (for Napoleon's invasion in 1798), and Britain (for 72 years of occupation).
Bill Moyers and Company:
Is Net Neutrality Dead?
Democracy loses if the Internet’s sold to the highest bidder — and that may be exactly what’s about to happen.