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European Salon de News, Discussion et Klatsch - 2 June

by afew Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 04:00:12 PM EST

 A Daily Review Of International Online Media 

Europeans on this date in history:

1740 - birth of Marquis de Sade, French author (d. 1814)

More here and here

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by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 12:31:30 PM EST
Spain, Netherlands demand compensation over mystery E.coli | EurActiv

Spain demanded compensation on Wednesday (1 June) after German scientists confirmed that Spanish cucumbers did not contain the lethal strain of E.coli, which has killed 15 Germans and a Swede and continues apace, baffling scientists.

Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, Spain's deputy prime minister, told popular Spanish radio station Cadena Ser: "We do not rule out taking action against authorities which have cast doubt on the quality of our produce, so action may be taken against the authorities, in this case Hamburg."

Juan Corbalán García, the Brussels delegate of Spain's Agri-Food Co-operatives, echoed the request, claiming that €200 million each week was being lost by the fruit and vegetable sector, which accounts for 40% of Spanish agriculture.

Commission officials confirmed that at the informal EU meeting of agricultural ministers held in Debrecen, Hungary, on Tuesday (31 May) ministers from the Netherlands, Greece and Ireland also indicated that their farmers have suffered lost vegetable sales since the outbreak surfaced.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 01:30:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dalli says bans on Spanish produce 'disproportionate' | European Voice
Commission looking at ways of helping farmers who have been hit by E. coli outbreak..

John Dalli, the European commissioner for health and consumer policy, today said that banning sales of Spanish fruit and vegetables in response to the E. coli outbreak was "disproportionate".

Dalli was commenting on the decision by German, Austrian and Swiss retailers to remove Spanish produce from the shelves in response to an E. coli outbreak that has killed nine people in Germany and one in Sweden.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 01:32:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Alarm spreads as E. coli cases rise sharply - The Local

The number of E. coli cases has risen dramatically in northern Germany, authorities announced Wednesday, with at least 180 new cases emerging in the past 24 hours in Hamburg and Lower Saxony alone.

The new figures came as doctors in Schleswig-Holstein reported that the bacterial illness was also causing unusual neurological effects including epilepsy.

Seventeen people - one in Sweden and the rest in Germany - have now died from the virulent form of enterohamorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), which can cause bloody diarrhoea and kidney failure known as haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS).

In the past day, the number of cases rose in Lower Saxony by 80 to 344, while in Hamburg another 99 cases were identified, bringing the total in the port city to 668.

"We are again seeing a clear rise in cases of people sick with EHEC and HUS," Hamburg's Health Minister Cornelia Prüfer-Storcks said. "The situation remains worrying and it is definitely too early to give any kind of all-clear."

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 03:09:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BBC News - Ratko Mladic trial: Charge sheet amended - Brammertz

Steps are being taken to speed up the forthcoming trial of former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic on genocide and war crimes charges, prosecutor Serge Brammertz has said.

He said the charge sheet had been amended to shorten the trial's length.

Gen Mladic is in UN custody in The Hague and is due to make his initial court appearance on Friday.

He is accused of atrocities committed during the 1990s Bosnian war, including the massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica.

Several war crimes trials at UN courts in The Hague have taken many years.

Asked how long the whole process could take, Mr Brammertz told reporters: "It is very difficult to say how long it will last.

"The problem will not be the prosecution, we have our updated charge sheet ready, it will be a question of how long the defence needs to prepare their case."

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 01:31:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Complicated dance between Orthodox Church, Serbian politicians (SETimes.com)

Analysts agree on one thing: the church maintains a connection with Serbian political parties.

The real question, they argue, is which partner leads in this dance? Which wields more power over the other?

Religion analyst Zivica Tucic believes the Serbian Orthodox Church's influence on politics is weaker than many assume, given the bishops' broad range of views.

"The bishops have very different political orientations, from right-wing conservatism to closeness to the left, as in the Socialist Party," Tucic told SETimes.

"However, the very 'top' of the church, that is the Holy Synod, respects the current government, which leads some to conclude the church leaders are close to [President Boris Tadic's] Democratic Party," he said.

That conclusion is simplistic, Tucic said. In reality, the Serbian Church is more interested in advancing its own interests than in specific political affiliations. In particular, he explained, it is intent on securing the return of church property nationalized after World War II.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 03:14:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Eurointelligence Daily Briefing: Moody's downgrades Greece to junk - default is now a couple of ticks away
Please note most newspapers in the core eurozone are closed today due to the Ascension Day holiday. The crisis, of course, continues.

Moody's downgraded Greek sovereign bonds to a near-default level of CAA1; rating agency says talk about voluntary restructuring of Greek debt had influenced the decision; the Greek finance ministry gave an angry response, blaming media rumours for the downgrade; there is progress in the Troika talks in Athens over a faster privatisation schedule, but no agreement on the liberalisation of labour contracts; EU finance officials have been discussing the possibility of securitised bond issues as a way to roll over Greek debt; Jürgen Stark says schemes could be acceptable to the ECB for as long as they do not constitute a credit event; Paul Taylor notes that the IMF's negotiating position has hardened since the resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn; Jyrki Kantainen's coalition talks with the Finnish Social Democrats collapsed: he is now seeking a coalition with the Centre Party; the Irish foreign ministers is calling for a diplomatic offensive to peddle the story that Ireland had overcome the crisis; eurozone inflation dropped unexpected in May, triggering a broad-based fall in inflation expectations; Lorenzo Bini-Smaghi, meanwhile, argues that core inflation is such a lousy indicator that central banks should scrap it.

Economics is politics by other means
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 04:08:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
FT.com: Intolerable choices for the eurozone (Martin Wolf, May 31 2011)
The eurozone, as designed, has failed. It was based on a set of principles that have proved unworkable at the first contact with a financial and fiscal crisis. It has only two options: to go forwards towards a closer union or backwards towards at least partial dissolution. This is what is at stake.

The eurozone was supposed to be an updated version of the classical gold standard. Countries in external deficit receive private financing from abroad. If such financing dries up, economic activity shrinks. Unemployment then drives down wages and prices, causing an "internal devaluation". In the long run, this should deliver financeable balances in the external payments and fiscal accounts, though only after many years of pain. In the eurozone, however, much of this borrowing flows via banks. When the crisis comes, liquidity-starved banking sectors start to collapse. Credit-constrained governments can do little, or nothing, to prevent that from happening. This, then, is a gold standard on financial sector steroids.

Wait, by design the Eurozone was supposed to deliver depression in the deficit countries which already had lower wages and prices and higher unemployment?

Now look at the charts

(upper left) The size of the intra-EU central bank balances is analogous to what currency reserves would have been had there been no Euro. In particular, the bundesbank would have had to accumulate €325bn in non-DM Eurozone currency reserves in its effort to keep the DM's exchange rate down.

(upper right) Until the end of 2007 the "Euro reserve accumulation" required by the exchange rate regime was mostly in the private sector, also because the Euro fiscal rules prevented the public sectors from getting into debt at the rate that would have been necessary. But, since 2008, the private sector has been deleveraging resulting in the current central bank balances.

(bottom left) Note that Germany started accumulating other nations' liabilities in the latter part of 2007, before the public sector deficits blew up in response to the recession. This is the signature of the 2007 banking crisis.

(bottom right) Liabilities of the Central Bank are the result of runs on the respective private banking systems. They are an accumulated signature analogous to foreign currency reserves as a signature of exchange rate intervention.

Debt restructuring looks inevitable. Yet it is also easy to see why it would be a nightmare, particularly if, as Mr Bini Smaghi insists, the ECB would refuse to lend against the debt of defaulting states. In the absence of ECB support, banks would collapse. Governments would surely have to freeze bank accounts and redenominate debt in a new currency. A run from the public and private debts of every other fragile country would ensue. That would drive these countries towards a similar catastrophe. The eurozone would then unravel. The alternative would be a politically explosive operation to recycle fleeing outflows via public sector inflows.

Events have, in short, thoroughly falsified the premises of the original design. If that is the design the dominant members still want, they must remove some of the existing members. Managing that process is, however, nigh on impossible. If, however, they want the eurozone to work as it is, at least three changes are inescapable. First, banking systems cannot be allowed to remain national. Banks must be backed by a common treasury or by the treasury of unimpeachably solvent member states. Second, cross-border crisis finance must be shifted from the ESCB to a sufficiently large public fund. Third, if the perils of sovereign defaults are to be avoided, as the ECB insists, finance of weak countries must be taken out of the market for years, perhaps even a decade. Such finance must be offered on manageable conditions in terms of the cost but stiff requirements in terms of the reforms. Whether the resulting system should be called a "transfer union" is uncertain: that depends on whether borrowers pay everything back (which I doubt). But it would surely be a "support union".

Hindsight is 20/20, but the design of the Eurozone was pre-Gread-Depression macroeconomic nonsense.

Economics is politics by other means
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 08:36:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(Google link - not all the results may work)

Economics is politics by other means
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 08:41:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What is the difference with what happened through devaluations in the past?

From Jake

Inflation is a tax on net creditors and those wage-earners and benefits claimants that are in a weaker political position than they were when their wages and benefits were originally instituted (due to the high downward rigidity of nominal wages and benefits). It is a subsidy to net debtors and employers who are in a stronger bargaining position than they used to be. That makes it a net loss for the financial sector, lazy money and weakly organised labour, and a net gain for the industrial sector and homeowners.

Devaluation or depreciation is a tax on imports and a subsidy for exports. Overall that translates to a net benefit for people associated with primary or manufacturing industries and a net loss for people associated with the financial or service sectors.

Contractionary interest rate policy is a tax on the future and a subsidy to the present. Homeowners and the industrial sector lose, because they are capital intensive; lazy money and the financial sector win because they are capital-extensive.

Contractionary fiscal policies are a tax on labour and the industrial sector, both of which are sensitive to the state of demand.

Inflation and devaluation (which tend to go together) were bad for the financial sector (the domestic one, presumably) and good for price-sensitive export-oriented industries, but beyond that, we see that there's nothing that could not be dealt with through re-distributional policies - and with right wing (or equivalent) governments, devaluations also end up hurting labor.

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 09:05:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Devaluations are a recurrent feature of fixed exchange rate regimes without surplus recycling mechanisms.

The Euro is a currency union without a surplus recycling mechanism, and with the "no bailout, no default, no exit" clauses it is simply a macroeconomic impossibility.

The European Union's industrial policy is to deindustrialise accession countries to protect core industries, which only strengthens the trade imbalances and is the reverse of what a suplus-recycling mechanism would induce.

The Gold Standard failed, Bretton Woods failed, the European Exchange Rate Mechanism failed and the Euro has failed, all for the same reason. The refusal of gold bugs in surpus countries to countenance the idea that they, too, are responsible for setting up negative feedback loops on trade imbalances.

Critics of the Euro used to say it would not withstand an asymmetrical shock. The fact is that the Euro manufactures asymmetrical shocks and then fails to withstand them. So the Critics of the Euro were right all along.

Economics is politics by other means

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 09:26:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But the original sin was that Italy and the others begged to be let in.

Germany did not want them in, because the Germans did not expect the Italians and other peripherals to be able to live with the euro - and in that they were not wrong.

And even back then, more than 20 years ago, they were not willing to make the political arrangements that would have made a currency union with structural deficit countries possible.

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 09:44:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Italy and the others were already in the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

The poriphery's political commitment to European integration amounts basically to a Stockholm syndrome in the case of monetary policy.

It appears Germany of all countries has no political commitment to European integration, of which maybe France is to blame as they managed to prevail over Germany in the first EEC constitutional crisis, in which Germany was Federalist and France Nationalist.

Economics is politics by other means

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 10:02:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Homeowners and the industrial sector lose, because they are capital intensive

Homeowners are not capital intensive. Buildings are slowly turning capital and the production cost are low. Small apartment costs less than a small car.

by kjr63 on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 10:27:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They do austerity, too: PP leader tells new office-holders to scale back on public spending
After meeting with PP regional leaders, Rajoy said he ordered party members who will take office to introduce austerity measures in their regions or communities, including sharing official vehicles. Rajoy asked the central Socialist government to put together a fiscal and financial policy council and call a meeting of all the regional leaders so that public spending limits can be set.

Economics is politics by other means
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 10:43:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 12:32:01 PM EST
Jobs and factory slowdown add to recovery fears | Reuters

(Reuters) - Companies hired far fewer workers than expected in May and output in the manufacturing sector slowed to its lowest level since 2009, raising concerns that the U.S. recovery is running out of steam.

Economists slashed their forecasts for Friday's closely watched U.S. payrolls report after private-sector job growth tumbled to just 38,000, its lowest level in eight months.

Losses in U.S. stocks and the value of the dollar accelerated after the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its index of national factory activity fell to 53.5 in May from 60.4 the month before.

The reading missed economists' expectations for 57.7.

New orders, a barometer of demand ahead, fell to 51.0 from 61.7 in April, the lowest since June 2009.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 12:58:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Asia's factories feel the chill as U.S., Europe cool | Reuters

(Reuters) - Factory growth slowed in major Asian countries, surveys released on Wednesday showed, feeding concerns that the world's strongest economic engines are cooling down as the United States and Europe curtail orders.

China's official purchasing managers' index touched a 9-month low and a private survey hit its lowest mark in 10 months, held back by power shortages and a clamp-down on credit.

Business surveys for South Korea, India and Taiwan also showed the pace of manufacturing activity easing. U.S. and European figures later on Wednesday are expected to show a slowdown for May as well.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 01:01:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Germany home to growing 'super rich' class - The Local

Germany is now second only to the United States when it comes to "super rich" households worth more than $100 million (€70 million), according to a study published this week.

The Boston Consulting Group's eleventh annual Global Wealth report found that there are 839 ultra wealth families in Germany, beating evening oil-rich Saudi Arabia with only 826.

But the study confirmed America remains the land of the loaded and home of the bing, with 2,692 household classified as being super rich.

The findings might come as somewhat of a surprise, considering Germans do not dominate lists such as Forbes magazine's annual ranking of the world's most wealthy people. However, the BCG study showed Germany's riches are simply spread across more extremely wealthy households rather than concentrated in the hands of a few billionaires.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 03:11:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 12:32:23 PM EST
Arab revolts jolt Western intelligence

The toppling of the pro-Western rulers of Egypt and Tunisia in the Arab Spring upheavals, and the prospect that other authoritarian regimes in the Middle East may fall, has alarmed Western intelligence agencies that have relied on their help in fighting terrorism.

Given Washington's deteriorating relations with Pakistan, a vital partner in the war against al-Qaida, and its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate in particular, any major reduction in intelligence cooperation with key Arab states could be potentially disastrous for the West.

Jordan, a vital U.S. ally in the intelligence war, remains steadfast under King Abdullah II -- for the moment, at least -- as is Saudi Arabia, which has often been problematical.

But Western sources say there has been a marked drop in the flow of intelligence from North African allies in recent months.

This is particularly troublesome for the Europeans, who have hostile forces close by on their southern flank.

"It's fair to say that we're concerned that further instability could affect intelligence exchanges," one source observed.

Key states in this are Egypt and Yemen.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 12:52:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
TerraDaily: This is particularly troublesome for the Europeans, who have hostile forces close by on their southern flank.

<roll eyes>

by Bernard (bernard) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 04:18:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]


There's a macro for everything! (almost!)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 05:03:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Analysis: Could a cyber war turn into a real one for the U.S.? | Reuters

(Reuters) - The United States is warning that a cyber attack -- presumably if it is devastating enough -- could result in real-world military retaliation.

Easier said than done.

In the wake of a significant new hacking attempt against Lockheed Martin Corp, experts say it could be extremely difficult to know fast enough with any certainty where an attack came from. Sophisticated hackers can mask their tracks and make it look like a cyber strike came from somewhere else.

There are also hard questions about the legality of such reprisals and the fact that other responses, like financial sanctions or cyber countermeasures, may be more appropriate than military action, analysts say.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 12:59:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I love the idea of the US responding to a cyber attack by firing a missile "down their smokestack". So the next time a 13 year old in say DC wants to find out about UFOs from the Pentagon, they're gonna nuke Takoma Park.

Yea, that sounds measured and proportional

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 08:37:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Mubarak and sons to stand trial in August - Middle East - Al Jazeera English

Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president, and his two sons will go on trial starting August 3 in a Cairo criminal court for alleged graft and for their suspected role in killing protesters, Egyptian state news agency has said.

According to a court official, Mubarak would be tried on charges of corruption and intentionally killing protesters during the 18-day uprising that ended his 30-year rule on February 11, the Middle East News Agency reported on Wednesday.

Judge Ahmed Rifat would preside over the trial of Mubarak and his sons, Ala'a and Gamal, at the North Cairo criminal court, a judicial source told the AFP news agency.

Mubarak could face the death penalty if convicted on charge of "pre-mediated killing"- or having played a part in a crackdown that left more than 800 demonstrators dead, Egyptian justice minister said earlier this month.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 01:04:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
EGYPT: Popular Opposition Mounts to Camp David Deal - IPS ipsnews.net
CAIRO, Jun 1, 2011 (IPS) - Throughout ousted president Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule, the 1979 Camp David agreement served to keep the peace between historical foes Egypt and Israel. But since Mubarak's February departure, popular calls for the treaty's abrogation have grown louder.

"Egypt's march towards liberation that began with the Jan. 25 Revolution will not be complete until this dishonourable agreement is scrapped," Mohamed Mahmoud, founding member of the Cairo-based Arab/Islamic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (A/IFLP) told IPS.

Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), in one of its first official announcements on Feb. 12, declared that Egypt remained committed "to all regional and international obligations and treaties." Most observers saw the statement as a specific reference to the Camp David peace agreement.

The SCAF, which has vowed to hold free parliamentary and presidential elections within one year, has governed the country since Mubarak's ouster on Feb. 11.

But despite the ruling council's assurances, Egyptian opponents of the peace treaty with Israel have become increasingly active in recent months.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 01:18:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dozens killed in overnight clashes in Sanaa - Middle East - Al Jazeera English

At least 41 people have been killed overnight in ongoing street fighting between government forces and opposition tribal fighters in Yemen's capital.

Mohamed al-Qadhi, a Yemeni journalist, told Al Jazeera that Tuesday night's fighting was the worst since armed clashes between the two sides began in Sanaa late last month. 

Medical workers said that fighters from both sides were among the dead.

Al-Qadhi said there was "heavy gunfire and blasts at the heart of [Sanaa] targeting the tribal fighters of [Hashed tribal leader Sadiq] al-Ahmar in the Hasaba district".

"We could see also last night flames coming from one of the government buildings which we believe was hit by a mortar shell after being controlled by al-Ahmar fighters."

More than 350 people have been killed in Yemen since nationwide protests calling for Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president, to end his 33-year rule started about four months ago, inspired by the popular uprisings that ended the reign of the long-standing rulers of Tunisia and Egypt.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 01:04:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yemen's Saleh defies opponents, and the world | Reuters

(Reuters) - To his U.S., British and Gulf mediators and benefactors, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh says he is ready for a peaceful exit from power.

To his close circle of aides he sneers at a Western-backed agreement to end his 33-year reign.

On the ground, he is engaged in a war with the country's most powerful tribe. And those of us who have met him in the past week are left with the clear impression he has no plans to step down, or to relinquish power willingly.

A master with words, he talks about the future of Yemen with the confidence of a leader with every intention of staying.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 01:07:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
YEMEN: Living With an Endless Revolution - IPS ipsnews.net
SANA'A, Jun 1, 2011 (IPS) - It was during moments on our rooftop earlier this week - seeing flashes in the air and hearing the heavy pounding of gun fire - when we realised that Yemen's capital city Sana'a was no longer as safe as we had hoped.

Violent killings were spreading fast and bloodshed was no longer contained within areas where anti- government protesters clashed with security forces.

Opposition parties, their supporters and apolitical protesters had mostly called for a "peaceful revolution" since mid-January. Their tactic has been to place pressure on Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh to leave the office he has held onto since 1978. This week's battles were a clear message that the fight to eliminate the 69-year-old leader of the Arab world's poorest and most unstable nation had taken a new direction.

The shootings all apparently started because of a roadblock. Gunmen aligned to tribal leader Sadiq al- Ahmar and government troops clashed when military roadblocks closed in too near the al-Ahmar compound.

Day-after-day of shootings in the al-Hasaba neighbourhood where al-Ahmar lives have plunged the city into further instability.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 01:18:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Media War Blurs Picture in Syria - IPS ipsnews.net
BEIRUT, Jun 1, 2011 (IPS) - Since pro-democracy protests began over two months ago, Syria has been engaged in a fierce media war - with journalists arrested and international press banned from entering the country. This has severely curtailed the flow of information out of the country.

"There is no independent press in Syria," says Human Rights Watch Director Nadim Houry. "And journalists apprehended by authorities are held in complete isolation and forced to remain incommunicado," he told IPS in Beirut.

The deteriorating state of journalism in Syria has placed the country among the worst in the world - in terms of freedom of the press. As a result of the information vacuum, the media is forced to depend on eyewitness accounts and second-hand reports.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), about 20 local and international journalists have been physically assaulted, detained, or expelled from Syria since the start of the country's popular uprising on Mar. 15.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 01:17:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Syrian opponents say Assad's amnesty offer not enough

ANTALYA, Turkey, June 1 (Xinhua) -- The general amnesty granted by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to political detainees was too late and not enough for the opposition, said Syrian opponents at a meeting in south Turkey on Wednesday.

"This step is not enough for us. We demanded this amnesty several years ago. But now it's too late," Abdel Razak Eid, head of Damascus Declaration, told Xinhua at the "Change in Syria Conference" held in the Mediterranean city of Antalya.

"People want the removal of the regime and all those committed crimes should be accounted for," he said.

Around 300 exiled Syrian opponents gathered in Antalya Wednesday to discuss ways of a regime change, a day after al-Assad decreed an amnesty for political prisoners.

"The objective of the meetings is to set a road map for the future of a democratic Syria," Molhem al-Drobi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood delegation at the Antalya meeting, told Xinhua.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 03:00:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
MEDIA-PAKISTAN: What Price Truth - IPS ipsnews.net
KARACHI, Pakistan, Jun 1, 2011 (IPS) - When journalist Umar Cheema, 35, first heard of the death of his colleague Syed Saleem Shahzad, considered an expert on Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, on May 31, he could not help but relive his day-long captivity with one of Pakistan's intelligence agencies last year on Sept. 4.

Shahzad, 40, was Pakistan bureau chief for Asia Times Online and also contributed to an Italian news agency Adnkronos International (AKI).

His book `Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11' was launched last month. But observers say it was the first part of his May 27 article about Al-Qaeda infiltration in Pakistan's navy, following the May 22 attack on a naval base in Karachi, that may have ruffled a few feathers.

His body was found two days after he went missing on Sunday May 29. Human Rights Watch said it has credible information that Shahzad was in the custody of Pakistan intelligence.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 01:23:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Go to Joshua Frens for a news round-up on HONDURAS.  And the far right wing has a hissy fit over Mel Zelaya's return.

El Salvadoran Government & Social Movements Say No to Monsanto: On Friday, officials representing the Ministry of Agriculture and the local governorship accompanied President Funes in inaugurating a new plan aimed at reactivating the country's historically ignored rural economy and reversing El Salvador's growing dependence on imported grains. (...) Over the last three months, the Ministry of Agriculture has been working closely with the Mangrove Association and other campesino organizations to develop what may represent the new program's greatest break from past governments' agricultural policies: a goal that by 2014 all corn and bean seed needed for agriculture be produced by Salvadoran farmers, rather than purchased from multinational seed companies, namely Monsanto, as has been the case in recent years..

Colombia in the Spotlight:
Colombia Reports: President Juan Manuel Santos reported that FARC leader Guillermo Enrique Torres Cueter, alias "Julian Conrado," has been caught in Venezuela. (...) Santos thanked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez via Twitter for his help in capturing the FARC guerrilla, adding that Chavez has already decided to extradite Conrado to Colombia to face justice.

El Espectador's Interview with Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguín: Times, as the government, have changed. From 7 August, 2010 until today, the outlook for Colombia's foreign policy has shifted so radically as it is striking. In Venezuela, the breakdown of relations was replaced by the discourse of friendship and cooperation, with Ecuador, after almost two years, a fully restored embassy in Bogota and Quito, and in the region, Colombia, no longer about ostracism, has assumed a leadership stance. The examples are obvious: the signing of the agreement in Cartagena for the return of Manuel Zelaya of Honduras after being overthrown and the general secretariat of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which is now exercised by María Emma Mejía.

Colombia Reports: Chiquita Brands International is facing a mass lawsuit filed on behalf of the family members of over 4,000 victims of paramilitaries, alleging that the banana corporation is liable due to payments it made to the FARC and the AUC. Over 100 lawyers representing the victims' families officially filed the mass lawsuit in Florida, where U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra will rule on whether the cases make it to trial.

Death and Drugs in Colombia: Uribe's presidency has provided Washington what it needs to counter the pessimism those other situations inspire: a success story. (...) The story is impressive. But it is largely untrue. Uribe's success in diminishing the power of the FARC was real, albeit marred by egregious human rights violations, and contributed to a dramatic drop in the national homicide rate. But the account of his deal with the AUC was fundamentally false, especially the notion that it was a new, improved version of the settlements other governments had made with armed political groups. In fact, what the deal more closely resembled was the one Colombia had made a decade earlier with the man who was then its most powerful and feared crime boss: Pablo Escobar.

Reuters: Mexico's state-run oil company Pemex is suing 11 U.S. companies for buying up to $300 million of fuel stolen by drug gangs and smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border, court documents showed.  Pemex's exploration and production (PEP) unit filed the suit on Sunday in a U.S. district court in Texas, claiming some of the companies conspired with Mexican criminals to forge documents and smuggle the hijacked natural gas condensates.

U.S. Drug-War Policy Planting the Seeds of Civil-Society Destruction: The rising death toll, more than 40,000 lives to date, in Mexico's drug war has clearly been inflamed by President Felipe Calderon's U.S.-appeasing militaristic policies, but many of the weapons fueling that war were put on the ground years ago via the vast quantities of arms shipped into Mexico and Central America, often covertly, during the civil and proxy wars waged in Latin America during the Cold War.  Evidence of that assertion is now beginning to surface in spades, through leaked State Department cables and congressional testimony deemed classified even until this day.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The mayor of a large city in the Haitian capital region has begun clearing out camps set up after last year's earthquake, evicting hundreds of people amid heavy rains and the start of the hurricane season on Wednesday.  Mayor Wilson Jeudy of Delmas city says the settlements -- densely packed clusters of wooden shanties and tarps -- have become staging areas for robberies, rapes and other crimes. But panicked residents say they have nowhere else to live or seek shelter. The area has seen weeks of punishing rain.

MercoPress: The Bolivian Government asked Iranian Defence Minister Ahmad Vahídi, accused by Argentina of masterminding the Buenos Aires AMIA terrorist attack in 1994, to leave the country after an Argentine attorney asked Interpol to arrest him, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman said.

The Guardian: Chile is to investigate whether Augusto Pinochet's regime murdered the Nobel prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda after it seized power in a bloody 1973 coup. A judge, Mario Carroza, will examine claims that agents injected poison into Neruda's stomach while he was treated in Santiago's Santa Maria clinic for prostate cancer, which until now was blamed for his heart failure

SANTIAGO, Chile - U.S. monitors say a magnitude-6.4 earthquake has struck just off the shore of central Chile, affecting the same area where last year's much larger earthquake set off a devastating tsunami.  Chile's emergency office says Wednesday's quake was a 6.3 and that no damage to people or buildings has been reported.

[USA] Huffington Post: On May 26, the Census released what an official at the bureau described as "the latest, most up to date data on the Hispanic population in the United States." The numbers, culled from its 2010 survey, tell a remarkable -- albeit anticipated -- story: The Hispanic population is growing at a rate much faster than any other demographic.

Ricardo Stein, a Guatemalan intellectual and human rights advocate who became one of the key architects of the 1996 peace accords ending the country's long civil war, has died of cancer. He was 62. Stein spent much of his life fighting rights abuses in Guatemala and neighboring El Salvador during a dark era of dictatorships and death squads in Central America. Trained in mathematics and physics in his homeland and the United States, Stein received a doctorate in education from Boston University.
Also, The Crisis Group's report on the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.

Weekly news round-up by Americas Society.

"Beware of the man who does not talk, and the dog that does not bark." Cheyenne

by maracatu on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 07:21:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 12:32:49 PM EST
High risk of Parkinson's disease for people exposed to pesticides near workplace

In April 2009, researchers at UCLA announced they had discovered a link between Parkinson's disease and two chemicals commonly sprayed on crops to fight pests.

That epidemiological study didn't examine farmers who constantly work with pesticides but people who simply lived near where farm fields were sprayed with the fungicide maneb and the herbicide paraquat. It found that the risk for Parkinson's disease for these people increased by 75 percent.

Now a follow-up study adds two new twists. Once again the researchers returned to California's fertile Central Valley, and for the first time have implicated a third pesticide, ziram, in the pathology of Parkinson's disease. Second, instead of looking just at whether people lived near fields that were sprayed, they looked at where people worked, including teachers, firefighters and clerks who worked near, but not in, the fields.

They found that the combined exposure to ziram, maneb and paraquat near any workplace increased the risk of Parkinson's disease (PD) threefold, while combined exposure to ziram and paraquat alone was associated with an 80 percent increase in risk. The results appear in the current online edition of the European Journal of Epidemiology.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 12:46:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
jeez, does anyone still use paraquat ? I thought it had been banned since forever

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 08:39:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Experts create first legal roadmap to tackle local ocean acidification hotspots

Coastal communities hard hit by ocean acidification hotspots have more options than they may realize, says an interdisciplinary team of science and legal experts.

In a paper published in the journal Science, experts from Stanford University's Center for Ocean Solutions and colleagues make the case that communities don't need to wait for a global solution to ocean acidification to fix a local problem that is compromising their marine environment.

Many localized acidification hotspots can be traced to local contributors of acidity that can be addressed using existing laws, they wrote.

In addition to Stanford University, the team of experts drew from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, and Oregon State University.

"Since an acidification hotspot can negatively impact a community, its causes need to be tackled quickly," said Melissa Foley of the Center for Ocean Solutions, a lead author of the paper. "We identified practical steps communities can take today to counter local sources of acidity."

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 12:47:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
'Perfect storm' looms for world's food supplies: Oxfam

Oxfam called on Tuesday for an overhaul of the world's food system, warning that in a couple of decades, millions more people would be gripped by hunger due to population growth and climate-hit harvests.

A "broken food system" means that the price of some staples will more than double by 2030, battering the world's poorest people, who spend up to 80 percent of their income on food, the British-based aid group predicted.

"The food system is buckling under intense pressure from climate change, ecological degradation, population growth, rising energy prices, rising demand for meat and dairy products and competition for land from biofuels, industry, and urbanization," Oxfam said in a report.

It added: "The international community is sleepwalking into an unprecedented and avoidable human development reversal."

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 12:52:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Biofuels boom in Africa as British firms lead rush on land for plantations | Environment | The Guardian
Controversial fuel crops linked to rising food prices and hunger, as well as increased greenhouse gas emissions

British firms have acquired more land in Africa for controversial biofuel plantations than companies from any other country, a Guardian investigation has revealed.

Half of the 3.2m hectares (ha) of biofuel land identified - in countries from Mozambique to Senegal - is linked to 11 British companies, more than any other country.
There are no central records of land acquisitions in Africa, but research by the Guardian revealed the scale of the biofuels rush in sub-Saharan Africa - 100 projects and 50 companies in more than 20 countries.

Crest Global Green Energy has the largest recorded landholding, 900,000ha in Mali, Guinea and Senegal. Tom Stuart, the chief executive, said: "It is true in some cases [that biofuels displace food], but in our projects we 'inter-crop', planting as much food as biofuel on the marginal land we have brought into agricultural use. There is a large social element to our projects, with all the local people needing to be in agreement, and that's normally written into contracts at government level."

Another UK company, Sun Biofuels, leased 8,000ha in Tanzania where it grows Jatropha curcas, a non-edible plant whose oil-rich seeds can be processed into biodiesel. "We'll start harvesting and producing in two years," said Peter Auge, office manager in Tanzania. "The main attraction for us is exporting to Europe."
James Smith, professor of African and Development Studies at Edinburgh University, said: "Private investment is running far ahead of our knowledge of the impacts of biofuels, such as land dispossession. This action is eroding the UK's position of enlightenment on development issues."

Unpublished research by the charity ActionAid, seen by the Guardian, confirms the picture of scores of projects amassing millions of hectares on the east and west coasts of Africa. "I suspect the estimates are actually quite conservative," said Smith.

"L'homme fut sûrement le voeu le plus fou des ténèbres " René Char
by Melanchthon on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 04:52:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Global food crisis: Palm rush proves costly for Guatemala's small farmers | Global development | guardian.co.uk
The area of Guatemala given over to palm plantations to produce agrofuel increased by 146% between 2005 and 2010, according to estimates by the National Institute for Agrarian and Rural Studies in Guatemala City. This huge expansion has been largely unregulated.
The new palm frontier is in the north of the country, where protected tropical forests have been cleared for plantations. Land grabs here for the oil rush often involve dispossession of peasant farmers. Smallholders have given frequent accounts to Oxfam of agribusinesses sending land agents to negotiate buying or renting their farms. If they refuse, the agents tell them they "will return later to negotiate with your widow". Land deeds are often unclear, and in many cases only those with money for lawyers have been able to register their claims. Claims made by businesses often go unchecked.

Palm producers sometimes lease land for 10 years for plantations, since that is the period over which the monocrop cultivation is expected to exhaust the soil.

"L'homme fut sûrement le voeu le plus fou des ténèbres " René Char
by Melanchthon on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 05:00:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Biofuels are driving food prices higher | Tim Rice | Global development | guardian.co.uk
There are numerous causes to the recent price rises, but biofuels remain a significant piece of the puzzle. About 40% of US corn goes into biofuels. Today, 18% of biofuels now used in the UK are made from wheat and corn that are staple foods in the developing world. Yet just over a year ago, the UK hardly used either of these.

This demand can do nothing but drive food prices higher. And the demand is only set to grow. The EU alone is planning to more than double the amount of biofuels it uses in the next 10 years.

It's not just NGOs such as ActionAid that have raised the alarm. Recently, 10 international organisations - among them five UN agencies, the IMF, the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) - warned that biofuels will exert considerable upward pressure on food prices in the future. This is unacceptable when around 1 billion people go hungry every day.

"L'homme fut sûrement le voeu le plus fou des ténèbres " René Char
by Melanchthon on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 05:02:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Russia lacks personnel to dismantle nuclear sites

Russia is experiencing an acute shortage of personnel to ensure the decommissioning and dismantling of nuclear facilities, state-run nuclear corporation Rosatom officials and experts warned on Friday.

Russia is to decommission and dismantle 42 nuclear facilities by 2015 and 188 by 2020, Rosatom department head Yevgeny Komarov said, adding that 10 facilities were decommissioned last year.

No college or university in Russia currently trains such specialists, he said, proposing that special training programs be set up under Rosatom's umbrella.

These should include not only technical personnel, but also project managers and IT specialists, he said, adding that it took five to six years to fully train such personnel.

His view was echoed by Sergei Liventsov, deputy director of the Institute of Physical Technology at Tomsk Polytechnic, who said there was a need to intensify specialist training for the entire nuclear power industry.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 12:55:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BBC News - Deadly E. coli infections still rising in Germany

German researchers are still trying to identify the source of a deadly E. coli outbreak after Spanish cucumbers were found not to have the lethal strain.

About 470 patients - mostly in north Germany - have the most severe and potentially fatal symptoms.

The E. coli has killed 16 people - 15 in Germany and one in Sweden.

The reprieve for the Spanish cucumber came too late for growers, who were forced to destroy tonnes of freshly harvested vegetables in southern Spain.

Shoppers in northern Germany are even boycotting locally grown vegetables, the German newspaper die Welt reports.

Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has advised people not to eat raw vegetables, especially in northern Germany.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 01:28:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
IAEA: Japan underestimated nuclear plant tsunami risk - JAPAN - FRANCE 24

REUTERS - U.N. atomic safety experts said Japan underestimated the threat from a killer wave to its crippled Fukushima power plant and urged sweeping changes to prevent a repeat of the crisis that triggered the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

In a report presented to Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Wednesday, an 18-member team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called for a rethink of the way nuclear facilities are built, run and regulated.

Officials have been criticised for failing to plan for a tsunami that would overrun the 5.7-metre (19 ft) wall at the plant in the northeast of the country, despite forecasts from the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co's scientists that such a risk was looming.

The wave that crashed into the plant after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake of March 11 has been estimated at around 14 metres (46 ft), nearly two-and-a-half times the height of the wall.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 02:55:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Blimey, they had a commission to establish the bleedin' obvious.

Next from Japan ; building a nuclear power plant right on top of a dangerous fault line may not be their most sensible planning decision

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 08:42:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Argentina accuses world's largest grain traders of huge tax evasion | Business | The Guardian

The world's four largest grain traders, responsible for the vast majority of global corn, soya and wheat trading and processing, have been accused of large-scale tax evasion in a landmark series of cases being brought against them by the Argentinian government.

In an interview with the Guardian, Ricardo Echegaray, the head of Afip, the Argentine revenue and customs, has given a detailed account of the charges his department is bringing against ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Dreyfus.

"These companies have gone into criminality," Echegaray said. "2008 was when agricultural commodities prices spiked and was the best year for them in prices, yet we could see that the companies with the biggest sales showed very little profit in this country."

The Guardian has learned from separate sources that Afip is seeking to claim $476m (£290m) for what is says are unpaid tax and duties from Bunge, $252m from Cargill, and $140m from Dreyfus. The companies have all denied all the allegations and have said they will defend themselves vigorously.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 03:17:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How palm oil jeopardises global efforts to reduce emissions | Caroline Lucas | Environment | guardian.co.uk
Environmentalists and social activists have long expressed grave concerns about the negative impact of palm oil on communities and habitats around the world. High-profile campaigns from WWF and Greenpeace in recent years have exposed the extent to which palm oil production often comes at the expense of tropical forests and carbon-rich peat lands. Unsustainable practices have disastrous consequences on critically endangered species, harm local people and lead to massive deforestation - thereby setting back the global effort to reduce carbon emissions.

A lack of transparency in the food industry means it isn't often visible - but palm oil is everywhere. During the industrial revolution, it was a highly sought-after commodity for British traders, used as an industrial lubricant for machinery. Now, palm oil is the world's cheapest and most common vegetable oil, found in close to half of all top-selling grocery brands across Europe. Research from 2008 showed that 43 out of the 100 best-selling branded products in UK supermarkets contained the oil.

"L'homme fut sûrement le voeu le plus fou des ténèbres " René Char
by Melanchthon on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 04:56:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 12:33:08 PM EST
Mobile phones could cause brain cancer, WHO says - Health - FRANCE 24

AFP - Mobile phone users may be at increased risk from brain cancer and should use texting and hands-free devices to reduce exposure, the World Health Organisation's cancer experts said.

Radio-frequency electromagnetic fields generated by such devices are "possibly carcinogenic to humans," the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced at the end of an eight-day meeting in Lyon, France, on Tuesday.

Experts "reached this classification based on review of the human evidence coming from epidemiological studies" pointing to an increased incidence of glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, said Jonathan Samet, president of the work group.

Two studies in particular, the largest conducted over the past decade, showed a higher risk "in those that had the most intensive use of such phones," he said in a telephone news conference.

Some individuals tracked in the studies had used their phones for an average of 30 minutes per day over a period of 10 years.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 02:54:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ancient hominid males stayed home while females roamed, study finds
ScienceDaily (June 1, 2011) -- The males of two bipedal hominid species that roamed the South African savannah more than a million years ago were stay-at-home kind of guys when compared to the gadabout gals, says a new high-tech study led by the University of Colorado Boulder.

The team, which studied teeth from a group of extinct Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus individuals from two adjacent cave systems in South Africa, found more than half of the female teeth were from outside the local area, said CU-Boulder adjunct professor and lead study author Sandi Copeland. In contrast, only about 10 percent of the male hominid teeth were from elsewhere, suggesting they likely grew up and died in the same area.

"One of our goals was to try to find something out about early hominid landscape use," said Copeland, who also is affiliated with the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. "Here we have the first direct glimpse of the geographic movements of early hominids, and it appears the females preferentially moved away from their residential groups."

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 03:03:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is another truly interesting insight spoiled by a truly shitty headline.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 06:33:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Air-rage fight over reclining seat forces United Airlines flight to return home | World news | The Guardian

As the 144 passengers on the United Airlines jet bound for Ghana from Washington on Sunday settled in for the overnight flight tempers boiled over when one man reclined his seat into the lap of the other.

According to witnesses a fight broke out not long after the 10:44pm takeoff, forcing a flight attendant and another passenger to jump in between the men. The pilot took the decision to return to Dulles, because of fears about terrorism, it is believed.

The plane was escorted by a pair of F-16 fighter jets, and was forced to circle Dulles for 25 minutes to burn off fuel and decrease its weight - jets can take off with a full tank, but not land.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 03:21:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Reclining seats are  hazard when the space is so restricted.

I had it happen when a guy reclined his seat into my face and when I objected his response was "why do they design them to recline if I'm not supposed to do it ?".

I'd ban 'em.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 08:46:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
10 differences between your brain and a computer

I've summarised and adapted the top ten list from an absolutely fascinating post by Chris Chatham on the Developing Intelligence blog that debunks all those metaphors about how the brain is just a wetware computer.

It's not.

Chatham points out that: "Although the brain-computer metaphor has served cognitive psychology well, research in cognitive neuroscience has revealed many important differences between brains and computers. Appreciating these differences may be crucial to understanding the mechanisms of neural information processing, and ultimately for the creation of artificial intelligence."

  • Brains are analogue; computers are digital
  • Computers access information in memory by polling a memory address, brains search memories using cues
  • The brain is a massively parallel machine; computers are modular and serial

...read on...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 03:24:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Computers are analogue (unless you want to get all quantum, but at that level human brains are the same). We've just built digital bits on top of the analogue base.

Anyhow, is there really a large group of scientists that believe the brain works literally like a digital computer?

Comments have a good debate.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 04:15:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't think of any respected neuroscientists that directly compare a brain to a digital computer in the gestalt sense, but there are overlaps when considering individual neuronal responses.

An understanding of one system in comparison to another can reveal insights about either. So it's not a subject to be avoided.

Both systems process information in some form. Both exhibit 'behaviours'. In my understanding, the real difference is that the human brain is self-aware, but only because of the emergent complexity of simultaneous sensory terminations that form what we call consciousness.

There is a case to be made that, at the neuronal level, a given patterned level of dendritic input while cause a neuron to fire axonically, and the signal of which will be sent to neighbouring neurons in the network, where it may be part of a patterned level of dendritic input that causes the recipient neuron to fire - or not fire. And so on through the network.

(cont. P 92)

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 05:46:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, computers aren't analogue. An abacus can be made out of wood, people, coffee mugs, transistors, beans, or virtual objects on a screen. What matters is reliable abstraction, not implementation.

The point of digital design is to build abstractions that are absolutely deterministic, with no analogue fuzz at all.

In physical analogue design, the implementation matters. In digital design it only matters if it breaks the abstraction.

A digital design is a concept, not a lump of stuff. The concept doesn't change at all if you build it out of different stuff.

So the point of the brain = computer line is that if computers are deterministic, brain states should be too. You should be able to copy them, back them up and restore them, and move them to a different substrate, with no data loss or degradation.

This isn't possible if brain states are analogue. You can't save and restore the state of an analogue computer with absolute precision. (Or with any precision at all, some of the time.)

As for digital prophets - Ray Kurzweil famously seems to think neuron = transistor, and if you pack enough transistors into a space and connectify them with a bit of hand waving and a dead chicken or two, a mind magically appears. Some of the older AI crowd seem to agree with him.

Modern AI is more interested in building machines that do useful stuff than in copying how human brains think, so it seems to be less of an issue.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 05:54:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BBC News - Global war on drugs 'has failed' say former leaders

The global war on drugs has "failed" according to a new report by group of politicians and former world leaders.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy report calls for the legalisation of some drugs and an end to the criminalisation of drug users.

The panel includes former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the former leaders of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, and the entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.

The US and Mexican governments have rejected the findings as misguided.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 04:47:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe, but judging by the parade of prejudice and stupidity on display on the Radio 4 Today show this morning, there will be no changes anytime soon.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 08:53:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't doubt it, The US government have already come out and said that the campaigners are just "wrong"

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 10:40:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 12:33:33 PM EST
Blatter wins final FIFA term | Reuters

(Reuters) - Sepp Blatter was re-elected unopposed as FIFA president on Wednesday, promising to use his final term to radically reform football's ailing world governing body.

Blatter won the backing of 186 of the 203 voting delegates after brushing aside a late challenge when federations agreed to let the election go ahead despite the lack of a rival and a series of scandals that have damaged the organisation's credibility.

Even as he returned to the hall to receive flowers and the applause of the majority of voters, Blatter was facing fresh problems after Germany's influential Football Association called for an investigation into the process that saw Qatar awarded the 2022 World Cup.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 01:01:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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