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China’s Growth Slows to 7.4 Percent in First Quarter

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 22:09

(BEIJING) — China’s economic growth slowed to 7.4 percent in the first quarter, raising the risk of job losses and a potential impact on its trading partners.

The figure reported Wednesday by the government was down from the previous quarter’s 7.7 percent. It came in below the full-year official growth target of 7.5 percent announced last month.

Beijing is trying to guide China to slower, more sustainable growth based on domestic consumption rather than trade and investment following a decade of explosive expansion.

Growth in retail sales, factory output and investment also slowed, raising the possibility of politically dangerous job losses.

Chinese leaders have signaled they are willing to tolerate growth below the official target so long as the economy keeps creating enough jobs to avoid potential unrest. In a sign of concern about employment, they launched a mini-stimulus in March of higher spending on construction of railways, low-cost housing and other public works.

In a speech last week, Premier Li Keqiang, the country’s top economic official, said the economy still faced “downward pressure” but ruled out additional stimulus. He said Beijing would focus on “long-term efforts to achieve sustainable and healthy development.”

The latest growth is the weakest the third quarter of 2012, when growth tumbled after an unexpected decline in demand for Chinese exports while the government was tightening controls on lending and investment to cool inflation.

Weaker growth could have global repercussions, hurting Asian economies and others such as Australia and Brazil for which China is the leading market for commodities and industrial components.

Chinese imports suffered an unexpectedly sharp contraction of 11.3 percent in March in a sign of weak raw materials demand from manufacturing and construction.

“A hard landing in China’s economy is one of the biggest risks clouding the outlook for the rest of emerging Asia,” said Capital Economics in a report this week.

Categories: Magazines

The Armed Rebellion on a Nevada Cattle Ranch Could Be Just the Start

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 22:02

It could have been a catastrophe. For several days last week, hundreds of angry protesters faced off with federal workers on an arid ranch near Bunkerville, Nev. Militiamen squatted among the sagebrush and crouched on a highway overpass, cradling guns and issuing barely veiled threats at the government officials massed behind makeshift barricades. The specter of a violent standoff hung over the high desert.

The hair-trigger tension seemed at odds with the arcane origins of the dispute. Twenty years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decided to clear privately owned cattle off this patch of public land to protect the endangered Mojave Desert tortoise. Dozens of ranchers left. Cliven Bundy stayed.

Rancher Cliven Bundy poses at his home in Bunkerville, Nevada, April 11, 2014. Jim Urquhart—Reuters

Bundy, 68, has refused to recognize federal authority over the land, or to pay the feds for allowing his cattle to graze there. Those accumulated fees and fines now total more than $1 million, according to the government. Armed with fresh court orders, the government moved last week to impound a few hundred of the rancher’s cows.

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Bundy balked, and the far right-wing media sounded a clarion call for his cause, casting the standoff as a flashpoint in a broader struggle against federal oppression. A cavalry of patriots arrived, bearing weapons and a seemingly bottomless grudge against the government.

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On April 12, BLM retreated, abandoning the round-up amid “serious concerns” over the safety of federal employees. The cattle “gather is over,” BLM spokesman Craig Leff says. No shots were fired; no blood was spilled. Bundy declared victory in the Battle of Bunkerville. His supporters festooned a nearby bridge with a hand-lettered sign reading: “The West Has Now Been Won!”

For the government, it is not yet clear what was lost. The decision to de-escalate the situation was a wise one, according to officials familiar with the perils posed by such confrontation. “There was no need to have a Ruby Ridge,” says Patrick Shea, a Utah lawyer and former national director of BLM, invoking the bloody 1992 siege at a remote Idaho cabin, which became a rallying cry for the far right. Shea praises BLM’s new director, Neil Kornze, for defusing the conflict and skirting the specter of violence. There are plenty of ways for the government to recoup the money Bundy owes, Shea says, from placing liens on his property to collecting proceeds when the cattle go to slaughter. When you have been waiting a generation to resolve a dispute, what’s another few weeks?

But prudence may also set a dangerous precedent. Having backed down from one recalcitrant rancher, what does BLM do the next time another refuses to abide by the law? “After 20 years and multiple court orders to remove the trespass cattle, Mr. Bundy owes the American taxpayers in excess of $1 million,” Kornze said in a statement. “The bureau will continue to work to resolve the matter administratively and judicially.” A BLM spokesman would not say what those remedies might be, and declined to make officials available to explain how the agency may treat similar situations in the future.

The government’s legal case against Bundy is strong. It has been winning courtroom battles against the rancher since 1998, and over the past two years has obtained court orders requiring Bundy to remove his cattle from public lands. This month’s roundup was a long-threatened last resort, and Bundy’s success in spurning it could spark copycat rebellions.

“I’m very concerned about that, as I’m sure others are,” says Bob Abbey, a former BLM director and state director for Nevada. Nearly all ranchers whose animals graze on public land are in compliance with federal statutes, Abbey says. But “there always is a chance that someone else may look at what happened with Mr. Bundy and decided to take a similar route.”

Especially since Bundy has become something of a folk hero for people who resent federal control of the old American frontier. The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of land, including about 60% of the territory across a swath of 12 Western states. About 85% of the land in Nevada is managed by the feds.

Bundy, whose ancestors have inhabited the disputed land since the 19th century, rejects this arrangement. The rancher, whose family did not respond to multiple interview requests from TIME, says he does not recognize federal authority over Nevada’s public land. “I abide by all state laws,” he said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “But I abide by almost zero federal laws.” He has warned that the impoundment of his cattle would spark a “range war,” and said in a court deposition that he would attempt to block a federal incursion, using “whatever it takes.”

Likeminded libertarians in the West have resurrected the spirit of the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a 1970s-era movement to transfer control of federal lands to the states. Demar Dahl, an Elko County, Nev., commissioner and longtime friend of Bundy, says the rancher is willing to pay the back fees he owes (though both dispute the amount) to the county or to the state, but not the federal government. “He says the federal government doesn’t have the authority to collect the fees,” Dahl says. “You can call him bullheaded. He’s a strong and moral person. He decides what needs to be done and how, and where he stands.”

To Bundy’s supporters, the legal proceedings are nothing but a land grab. And some of them believe government invoked the protection of the desert tortoise as a pretext. This line of thinking holds that Nevada Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader whose former aide, Kornze, now runs the BLM, wants to requisition the land so that his son and Chinese investors can build a lucrative solar farm. At the same time, the left sees in the resistance the ubiquitous hand of the Koch brothers, whose main political outfit, Americans for Prosperity, has rallied support for Bundy.

While the protesters have mostly dispersed, the standoff “isn’t over,” Reid declared Monday. And local officials know just how close they crept to a cataclysmic incident. “That was as close to a catastrophe as I think we’re ever going to see happen,” Dahl says.

The high drama seemed to stoke a sense of theatrics in the protesters. At a press conference on April 14, they invoked battles against the British and shouted quotes from the Scottish revolutionary William Wallace, memorialized in the Hollywood blockbuster Braveheart. The men who rode to Bundy’s defense got to play the hero in the movies of their minds; the threat is that the next climax doesn’t have a peaceful ending.

Bundy “would probably rather be a martyr than a profitable rancher,” says Shea, the former BLM director. “Eventually, you have to draw the line. We go through these sad episodes where fanaticism has to be brought under legal control. And inevitably, somebody is killed.”

Categories: Magazines

Reports: Ferry With 471 People Sinks Off South Korea

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 21:52

(SEOUL, South Korea) — A government office says a South Korean passenger ship carrying about 470 people has sent a distress call off the southern coast after it began leaning to one side.

South Korean media, including Yonhap news agency, say passengers were asked to jump overboard with life vests as the ship was on the verge of sinking. News reports say about 120 people have already been rescued.

The Busan Regional Maritime Affairs & Port Administration says in a statement that the ferry with 471 people was sailing to the southern island of Jeju when it sent a distress call Wednesday morning.

There are no immediate reports of causalities.

Agency officials say they have no further details. Calls to South Korea’s coast guard headquarters weren’t immediately answered.

Categories: Magazines

Neil Young on PonoMusic, the Third Biggest Kickstarter Project of All Time

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 21:46

Back in 2012, when legendary musician Neil Young started talking about Pono–his effort to build a portable player with an emphasis on audio quality above all else–it wasn’t particularly obvious that the idea had legs in the 21st century.

For a lot of us, after all, music has become something we listen to on our smartphone, streamed from a service such as Pandora, Spotify or Rdio at whatever quality the service in question chooses to give us. To riff on William F. Buckley’s memorable description of the conservative movement, Young seemed to be standing athwart tech history, yelling “stop!”

PonoMusic

Pono still hasn’t hit the market. The wedge-shaped touchscreen gadget–bigger than an iPod, but smaller than a Bluetooth speaker such as the Jambox–will sell for $399 when it shows up. (Once expected to ship last year, it’s now due this fall.) But enough people are excited about the concept to have made PonoMusic the third biggest Kickstarter project of all time. The campaign hit its goal of $800,000 in ten hours, then went on to raise a total of $6,225,354 from 18,220 backers, who pledged anywhere from $5 (for a thank-you) to $5000 (for an invitation to a VIP dinner and listening party, plus a Pono).

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I chatted with Young as the campaign was rocketing past its original target. He told me that idea that became Pono has been kicking around inside his head for years, and didn’t always involve a new portable player.

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“First of all, I thought this would be an Internet thing, then I realized that’s not going to happen,” he explains. “The bandwidth isn’t there. We’d have to go back to the original model of the iPod, but with really, really top quality.”

With typical services, he says, “music has been downgraded to ‘content,’ It’s a Xerox of itself. When you see the original art compared to the Xerox, the difference is startling. Whatever the artist creates is what you hear when you hear Pono.”

Although Young talks about Pono as a movement as much as a business enterprise, and sought grassroots funding through Kickstarter, it is in fact a company, with veteran executives and technologists on board. “I’m pretty much the vision of it,” Young says. “I drive the purity and the quality and the transparency of the original artists’ intent.”

Part of Pono’s Kickstarter success was due to its artfully managed campaign, which involved the ability for backers to reserve limited-edition PonoPlayers with the engraved signatures of musicians who back the concept: Everyone from Elton John to EmmyLou Harris to Foo Fighters to Herbie Hancock to Pearl Willie Nelson to Young’s own groups Buffalo Springfield and Crosby Stills Nash & Young.

“They get it immediately,” says Young of the response to Pono by other musicians. “There’s no learning curve. They’ve been waiting for something like this for a long, long time.”

But he says he’s aiming for mass-market success: “Anyone who thinks this is only for nerds and audiophiles is in for a surprise. Anyone can hear the difference. That’s why we’ve priced it low.”

The era of purely digital music got underway in the late 1990s with the arrival of apps such as Winamp and gadgets like the Diamond Rio, the first successful MP3 player. (I still have audio files I ripped from CD back then, opting for absurdly aggressive compression to conserve precious storage space on my 32MB Rio.) Today, some level of compression–the rate varies widely–is still standard practice for digital music. Which means that there are adults who may be largely ignorant of music in its pre-MP3 form.

Will those folks care about Pono? “The MP3 era is in for a shock,” Young says. “They’re going to realize what they’re missing when they hear this. 100 percent of the time it happens. They hear it and can’t believe it: ‘I’m hearing things I’ve never heard in songs I’ve heard many times before. How can it be?’”

Pono is not without its critics and skeptics. They argue that the platform’s use of super-high-resolution data–it uses lossless files in the FLAC format, at up to 192 kHz and 24 bit sampling–is a pointless exercise in specsmanship, because going beyond CD quality doesn’t result in a difference which human beings can actually hear. Even if that’s true, it doesn’t seem to me that it’s the last word on Pono, since focusing on audio quality might allow a company such as this to design hardware that’s capable of better audio reproduction than your average phone. And PonoPlayer will be able to work with CD-quality files as well as higher-resolution ones.

It’s no shocker that Young is dismissive of the Pono opponents, pointing out that they’ve reached their conclusions without having listed to the still-unreleased player. “They don’t have to waste their time. They can get another MP3 and keep on rocking.”

If Pono is erring on the side of lavishing music with more tender loving care than it may really need, that seems to me to be more admirable than giving it short shrift, as has often happened so far in this century. Other companies have tried to build a business on super-high-quality music and failed, such as MusicGiants; if nothing else, Young’s ambitious, high-profile effort should be the definitive test of whether there’s a market for this.

And it’s not just about the player and whatever music will be available at launch. He talks about, well, just about every song eventually being available for Pono: “The goal is to keep doing it until we’ve got it all—get the new stuff out there and the older stuff that’s still available to get.”

Young calls music “a window to the soul” and “a reflection of civilization.” Sounding like an archivist as much as a purveyor of hardware and software, he says that Pono’s mission “is to create an ecosystem that preserves the history of music for the world in its highest possible form. It’s something that the technological era we live in, the 21st century tech, is capable of delivering.”

“We wouldn’t have a museum where people listened to Frank Sinatra on MP3. It’s the 21st century’s most obvious idea.”

Categories: Magazines

Officials Charge Suspect for Dropping Suspicious Bags Near Boston Marathon Finish Line

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 21:00

Updated 2:40 a.m. E.T. on Wednesday

Authorities have charged a male suspect with disturbing the peace, possessing a hoax device and disorderly conduct after he left two unattended backpacks near the Boston Marathon finish line Tuesday, the Boston Police Department announced:

#BPDPublicSafetyAlert: #BPD confirming a male suspect in custody in connection to the unattended backpacks found at the Finish Line.—
Boston Police Dept. (@bostonpolice) April 16, 2014

Police evacuated the area Tuesday evening, and a bomb squad was called to investigate the scene. According to local news reports, one of the backpacks was allegedly left by a barefoot man shouting “Boston strong” before police removed him from the area.

Police spokesman David Estrada said there did not appear to be any evidence that the bags were explosive or dangerous but that police take reports of unattended bags very seriously, the Boston Globe reports. A nearby train station was also shut down.

The discovery of the bags occurred exactly one year after a bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon killed three people and injured 264 others.

Categories: Magazines

Ukraine Is Not Ready for the Consequences of Taking Russia’s Military Bait

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 20:50
MoreWhite House Backs Ukraine’s Eastern OffensiveNot Even the Threat of War in Europe Can Unite the E.U.Ukraine Powerless to Act as East Slips Under Russian Control

Like many of the leading men in Ukraine’s new military pecking order, Petr Mekhed wasn’t exactly ripe for the task of fending off a Russian invasion when he assumed the post of Deputy Defense Minister in February. His last tour of combat duty was about 30 years ago, during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, after which he reached the rank of colonel in the Red Army. When revolution in Ukraine broke out this winter, his wartime experience made him better equipped than most at defending the barricades of the Maidan protest camp in the center of Kiev. But it was not as useful in preparing him to lead his country into war. “For some issues I’ve had to sit down with a book and study up,” he says.

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His conclusion so far is an unsettling one for Ukraine’s political leaders. If they want to find a way out of their conflict with Russia, which edged closer on Tuesday to military confrontation in the eastern region of Donetsk, they have only one way to do it, Mekhed says, and that is to negotiate. “We’ll never get anywhere through the use of military force,” he tells TIME. It would be much more effective to undercut Russia’s support for the local separatists by meeting them halfway, Mekhed suggests, with an offer of more autonomy for Ukraine’s eastern regions. “Our chances of saving Donetsk are now in the hands of our politicians and their ability to sit down with the people there and talk to them.”

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But those politicians don’t seem to agree. On Tuesday morning, Ukraine’s interim President, Oleksandr Turchynov, launched the first military action against the pro-Russian gunmen who seized parts of Donetsk over the weekend. The assault, which the central government in Kiev termed an antiterrorist operation, reportedly involved more than a dozen armored personnel carriers, as well as helicopters and military trucks that faced off against 30 gunmen for control of an airport near the town of Kramatorsk.

So was Ukraine ready for that kind of standoff? Maybe. But some of its top military and intelligence officials highly doubt it that it is ready for the likely fallout, and whatever support Tuesday’s operation garnered from the White House will probably not translate into much military assistance from the West. More likely, it will provoke a Russian counterstrike, not from the small group of Russian special forces who have apparently been leading the separatists in Donetsk, but from the full weight of the Russian military. That would mean game over pretty quickly for Ukraine.

So far, its leaders seem to be enjoying their taste of victory. When reports came back to Kiev that Tuesday’s operation was a success — that the Ukrainian forces had managed to repel the separatist attack on the airport — Turchynov made a self-congratulatory statement to parliament. “I’m convinced that there will not be any terrorists left soon in Donetsk and other regions and they will find themselves in the dock — this is where they belong,” he said.

That did not go over well with Vladimir Putin. In a phone call on Tuesday night with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Russian President said the crisis in eastern Ukraine had “sharpened drastically” and stressed that the world “must clearly condemn these anticonstitutional actions.” The world, of course, did no such thing, nor has it done much to help Ukraine prepare for what’s likely coming.

In early March, when Russia had just begun its military occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Mekhed, a small, soft-spoken man with silver hair and a slight stutter, made his first official visit to Brussels to hold talks with the NATO alliance. He had no illusions about any of the Western powers coming to Ukraine’s defense, but he held out hope for some help with communications and intelligence. “We have problems with figuring out what forces are where,” he said, referring to the Russians. “On top of that, our weapons systems are by and large tied up with Russia, with cooperation with Russia.”

That makes upgrading those systems extremely difficult for Ukraine. In recent years, its military infrastructure has been “systematically destroyed” through the neglect, corruption and malfeasance of Ukraine’s former leaders, says Mekhed, but bringing them back to working order would require buying up spare parts from Russia, which Moscow has unsurprisingly refused to sell.

On Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before the clashes near the airport, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it was suspending all military supplies to Ukraine. “May I remind you that Russia has committed not to provide, or to show restraint in providing, weapons to conflict zones,” Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defense Anatoly Antonov said in a statement explaining the decision. (His caveat about “restraint” was apparently meant to make room for Russia’s ongoing sale of weapons to Syria during its civil war.)

In those conditions, Ukraine would be unable to repair much of its military hardware even if it had help from NATO; none of the members of that alliance use or produce the kind of kit that Ukraine needs. “The spare parts all come from Russia,” says Mekhed. “So we have to find new markets to find similar equipment to arm our troops, and not only weapons, but also training of the servicemen before we can put those weapons on the battlefield.”

That would take months or years, not to mention billions of extra dollars that Ukraine’s nearly bankrupt economy cannot spare. It is already having enough trouble with the relatively faster and cheaper task of bringing its intelligence services up to scratch. Much like the weakness of its military, Ukraine’s failures in the field espionage have a lot to do with its fraternal ties to Russia. “We even have an agreement on the books that forbids our [military intelligence] agencies from working against each other,” says Igor Smeshko, who served as head of Ukraine’s State Security Service from 2003 to 2005. “We could never have imagined that our Russian brothers would ever fight a war against us,” he says. “We could never have thought that just when we’d been bloodied from fighting our own tyranny here at home, that we would get a knife in the back from the Russians.”

In retrospect, that abundance of trust looks painfully naive, but it goes far in explaining why Ukraine let its intelligence work lapse in recent years, particularly near the border with Russia. That mistake has left it particularly ill equipped to deal with the current phase of the conflict with Russia. Over the past few days, the troops who have been seizing police stations and other government buildings borne all the hallmarks of Russian special forces who have removed the insignia from their uniforms — the same tactic Russia used during its conquest of Crimea.

The most effective way for Ukraine to counter that kind of semiclandestine invasion, says Smeshko, would be to deploy small, mobile teams of special-operations troops, the kind that Ukraine’s intelligence services should have at their disposal, to isolate and arrest the Russian saboteurs. “Only special forces can go up against special forces,” he says.

Instead, the government in Kiev seems to be employing a mix of Interior Ministry police and military troops, and on Tuesday morning, it also sent its first batch of national guard volunteers, with little or no apparent training, to help fight separatism in eastern Ukraine. “The troops have a high fighting spirit,” said Andrey Parubiy, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, in dispatching them to the east. “It’s not easy over there,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “But I’m sure we will win, because with us is God and Ukraine.” (Before assuming one of his country’s most senior military posts in February, Parubiy had zero military experience of any kind other than his work protecting the protest camp in Kiev this winter. His Russian counterpart, Nikolay Patrushev, is a hardened 17-year veteran of the KGB who oversaw Russia’s scorched-earth conquest of Chechnya in 1999–2000.)

The mismatched forces now facing off in eastern Ukraine also present a potential risk to the locals. In the past few days, the pro-Russian separatist troops have proved adept at blending in among mobs of civilians, who have done the heavy lifting in the occupation of numerous government buildings across Donetsk. The military forces Ukraine has now sent to evict them are not trained to pick out the organizers of those attacks from among the throngs they use. “And that is the one thing our strategic opponent is waiting for, a picture of mass bloodshed,” says Smeshko.

Considering how little room for error Ukraine has in this operation, Mekhed should perhaps feel lucky to be focusing on a different part of the battlefield. Russia’s annexation of Crimea left thousands of Ukrainian servicemen marooned on that suddenly foreign peninsula, and Mekhed has been in charge of securing their return to mainland Ukraine. At the briefing he gave to reporters on Tuesday in Kiev, he focused mostly on all that this effort entails, such as the purchase of sleeping bags, sleeping mats and camouflage netting for all the displaced troops.

“We have to evacuate all of our servicemen and equipment from Crimea, to save what we could salvage from there, to set up new garrisons, and all of that is a whole lot of work,” he told me after the briefing at a Kiev hotel. “So believe me, Russia’s actions have already set us back years.” And that may just be the beginning.

Categories: Magazines

Miley Cyrus Cancels Concert After Hospitalization

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 20:10

Miley Cyrus canceled a concert in Kansas City, Mo. on Tuesday after being hospitalized, a spokeswoman said.

Cyrus, 21, had a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics. A statement from Cyrus’ publicist reported that the “Wrecking Ball” singer is on “medical rest” at the advice of her doctors.

She sent emoji-filled tweets to fans saying she was in “good care” thanks to some “amazing” doctors.

Kansas I promise Im as

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NYPD Nixes Muslim Spy Unit

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 19:49

The New York Police Department has shuttered a program designed to spy on Muslim communities, the department announced on Tuesday.

The surveillance initiative, which began in 2003 and was once known as the Demographics Unit, sent detectives into neighborhoods with Muslim populations to eavesdrop on conversations and record detailed information about where and how Muslims spent their time. The decision to end the program signifies a reevaluation of the department’s post-9/11 intelligence policies by new commissioner William J. Bratton, the New York Times reports.

The department’s activities attracted both criticism from the FBI and civil rights organizations as well as multiple federal lawsuits.

“The Demographics Unit created psychological warfare in our community,” Linda Sarsour of the Arab American Association of New York told the Times. “Those documents, they showed where we live. That’s the cafe where I eat. That’s where I pray. That’s where I buy my groceries. They were able to see their entire lives on those maps. And it completely messed with the psyche of the community.”

The NYPD has admitted that its tactics never generated a lead about possible terrorist activity.

[NY Times]

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The Devil Dogs Turn Pavlovian

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 19:31

The top enlisted Marine called for a little bit of sacrifice by his fellow devil dogs last week that has set off a firestorm that’s still raging. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., asked Sergeant Major Micheal Barrett what would be the impact of slowing the rate of growth in military compensation. He responded:

Marines don’t run around and ask and what’s on their mind is compensation, benefits or retirement and modernization. That’s not on their minds…Hey, you know what? Out of pocket, you know what, I truly believe it will raise discipline and it’ll raise it because you’ll have better spending habits, you won’t be so wasteful.

The independent Marine Corps Times newspaper lit the fuze with its headline on a story about the decorated combat vet’s comments:

Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Barrett: Less pay raises discipline

That led him to issue a clarifying letter:

Recent reporting of my testimony may have left you with a mistaken impression that I don’t care about your quality of life and that I support lower pay for servicemembers. This is not true.

In fact, despite the headline, no one is talking about cutting troops’ pay. But like Pavlov’s dogs—trained to salivate at the ringing of a bell—some troops pounce at any suggestion of scaling back military compensation.

“If you consider the benefits military members exorbitant like the Sgt Maj does that’s your right, bought and paid for with the blood of the millions you think are overpaid,” said one commenter who said he earned $40,000, including combat pay, for the year he spent in Sarajevo during the Balkan wars. “It boggles my mind that anyone can justify that as well compensated considering I was working minimum 13 hr days at that time, living in a shared space with 17 other guys sharing a single bathroom and even in a fairly friendly (as war zones go) environment was shot at twice and almost stepped on a landmine,” he said. “Pardon me if I have a tough time considering that equal to managing a Kinko’s, working as an intern or selling cars.”

“Enlisted troops are rather well compensated for their education/experience level,” a second poster noted. “Not saying they deserve a pay cut by any means, but for someone in their early 20s to gross 45-55 thousand a year is nothing to sneeze at.”

“Enlisted troops are paid better than some civilian counterparts,” a third countered. “But the fact their life is on the line, there isn’t enough pay. If you didn’t serve, shut the heck up!”

A common theme among posts by readers of the Times story is that those who didn’t serve in uniform don’t have the bona fides to discuss military compensation. That, of course, is what has happened on Capitol Hill. With fewer veterans in Congress, lawmakers—perhaps feeling just a tad guilty—routinely have boosted annual military pay raises beyond what their commanders and Pentagon civilians have recommended.

Last month, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he wants to take the $2.1 billion a year saved by modest trims in compensation and invest it in training and weapons. Those are the changes Barrett was discussing. Here’s what Hagel said:

We need some modest adjustments to the growth in pay and benefits…First, we will continue to recommend pay raises. They won’t be substantial as in the past years—as substantial—but they will continue. Second, we will continue subsidizing off-base housing. The 100% benefit of today will be reduced, but only to 95%, and it will be phased in over the next several years. Third, we are not shutting down any commissaries. We recommend gradually phasing out some subsidies, but only for domestic commissaries that are not in remote locations. Fourth, we recommend simplifying and modernizing our three TRICARE programs by merging them into one TRICARE system, with modest increases in co-pays and deductibles for retirees and family members, and encourage using the most affordable means of care. Active-duty personnel will still receive health care that is entirely free.

The firefight suggests just how tough it is going to be to tame military spending. After all, the Marines have the largest share of first-termers among the four services, many of whom stay for only a single four-year hitch before moving on with their lives. If words from the senior enlisted leatherneck can set off such a storm among his troops, it’s likely to be even tougher to convince soldiers, sailors and airmen that they may be forced to relax their webbed belts a little more slowly than they had planned.

But this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The fealty the nation has shown its warriors since 9/11 has put it into this predicament. Granted, it is impossible to place a price on the blood U.S. troops have shed on behalf of the 99% of the citizenry who elected not to serve, nor on the mental wounds more than a decade of war has inflicted on many of them.

But it’s also true that U.S. troops—all volunteers—earn more than 90% of their civilian counterparts with similar education and experience.

“In my 33 years, I have never seen this level of quality of life ever—we have never had it so good,” Barrett told the Senate panel. “If we don’t get a hold of slowing the growth, we will become an entitlements-based, a health-care-provider-based corps, and not a warfighting organization.” Those are words you often hear in private, but rarely out in the open.

In some quarters, the military is increasingly sounding less like a service, and more like a guild.

Categories: Magazines

Study: New Technique Predicts Consciousness of Brain-Damaged Patients

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 18:58

End-of-life questions are complicated by the uncertainty of whether a patient in a deep vegetative state will ever regain consciousness or recover, and doctors have been baffled by patients who they thought were all but dead coming back to life after an extended period of unconsciousness.

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For those cases where patients do seem to wake from the dead, it’s most likely that they were in a minimally conscious state, where there is some awareness or response to stimuli. Such patients have a better chance of recovery than those in a vegetative state, where there are no signs of awareness or response to stimuli.

Diagnosing consciousness is tricky; oftentimes brain activity can be observed, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into consciousness on the part of the patient. The most well-known and standard test for determining awareness is the Coma Recovery Scale-Revised (CSR-R), a behavioral test. Now researchers have discovered that a particular type of brain imaging, positron emission tomography, may be able to determine which vegetative patients will recover.

In a study out Tuesday, scientists looked at 126 patients who had experienced severe brain damage. Researchers from the University of Liége in Belgium tested whether using PET with the imaging agent fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) or another imaging technique called functional MRI (fMRI) could distinguish between a vegetative and a minimally conscious state.

Overall, the FDG-PET combination was better than the fMRI method at distinguishing between the two states. FDG-PET was also 74% accurate at predicting recovery within the next year. Additionally, 12 of the patients in the study group who showed some brain activity on the FDG-PET scan were diagnosed by the CSR-R method as behaviorally unresponsive, but 9 of them later recovered some consciousness.

“We confirm that a small but substantial proportion of behaviourally unresponsive patients retain brain activity compatible with awareness,” says study leader Professor Steven Laureys from the University of Liége in Belgium.

But diagnosing consciousness through brain imaging is far from an exact science. It’s often unclear how to interpret brain activity. In 2011, researchers from the University of Western Ontario reported that they had successfully used an electroencephalogram (EEG) to record brain signals that suggested awareness in patients in a vegetative state. However, when a team of scientists from Weill Cornell Medical College tried to replicate their data a few years later, they discovered that the original researchers didn’t account for false-positives. When they went back over the data, accounting for interfering factors like muscle activity and EEG blips, they were unable to replicate the results.

What the study does indicate, though, is that PET may be needed for confirmation of consciousness. “Our findings suggest that PET imaging can reveal cognitive processes that aren’t visible through traditional bedside tests, and could substantially complement standard behavioural assessments to identify unresponsive or ‘vegetative’ patients who have the potential for long-term recovery,” Laureys said in a statement.

Categories: Magazines

Calgary’s ‘Worst Mass Murder’ Leaves 5 Students Dead

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 18:54

A 23-year-old man will likely face murder charges after allegedly stabbing and killing five University of Calgary students at a party Tuesday.

After arriving at a party shortly after midnight on Tuesday, the suspect — who was an invited guest and is a also a student at the university — allegedly targeted other students individually, according to Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson. “The suspect arrived at the party, obtained a large knife and targeted the victims one by one, stabbing them,” said Hanson.

Calling the incident “the worst mass murder in Calgary’s history,” the chief identified the arrested suspect as Matthew de Grood, a University of Calgary student.

Hanson said de Grood had no prior history with the police and was likely not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time. Police believe he brought a weapon directly from his place of work to the party, but used knife found at the party to stab his victims.

“The suspect arrived at the party, obtained a large knife and targeted the victims one by one, stabbing them,” Hanson said.

The victims were four males and one female. Two of them have been identified as Josh Hunter and Zackariah, members of the Calgary band Zackariah and the Prophets, which just put out a debut album on Saturday.

[CBC]

Categories: Magazines

Twitter’s Got Talent

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 17:51

Twitter shares rose more than 11% Tuesday after the company announced a key new hire and acquired a social data company.

Daniel Graf, who previously headed up Google Maps project, will be Twitter’s new vice president of consumer product. Graf oversaw Google’s popular Maps app on the iPhone after Apple introduced a rival product in 2012.

Twitter also announced the purchase of Gnip, which it paid an undisclosed sum for, Reuters reports. The Colorado company already works closely with Twitter as one of its “Certified Partner Products,” mining the microblogging service’s massive amounts of data.

Twitter shares have slumped since December, when they hit $73 a share. Even with the latest bump, the social media company is still more than 43% below that price.

The acquisition of Gnip suggests Twitter is investing in, among other priorities, its advertising services, CNBC reports.

[Re/code]

Categories: Magazines

Judge Blocks Massachusetts Ban On Painkiller

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 17:51

(BOSTON) — A federal judge has blocked Massachusetts from banning the powerful new painkiller Zohydro.

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U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel on Tuesday issued a preliminary injunction after the maker of the drug, Zogenix, argued in a lawsuit that the ban ordered by Gov. Deval Patrick last month is unconstitutional.

Zobel said in issuing the injunction that Massachusetts appears to have overstepped its authority in banning the prescription medication, which had been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, and that Zogenix was likely to succeed in its pursuit of a court order to lift the ban permanently.

The San Diego-based drugmaker hailed the ruling, saying that allowing states to essentially overturn decisions of the FDA would “set an alarming precedent.”

The ban is believed to be the first attempt by a state to block a federally approved drug, according to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.

Patrick ordered the ban after declaring a public health emergency in light of a surge of drug overdoses and overdose deaths in the state. The state argued that Zohydro would “exacerbate a severe public health crisis” because the narcotic can be easily crushed, then snorted or injected to create an immediate and potentially lethal high.

Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz said Tuesday the administration is reviewing the ruling.

In her decision, Zobel noted the FDA’s approval of the drug in October and said federal law pre-empts Patrick’s emergency order.

“When the Commonwealth interposed its own conclusion about Zohydro ER’s safety and effectiveness by virtue of the … emergency order, did it obstruct FDA’s Congressionally-given charge? I conclude that it did,” Zobel wrote.

She said allowing the ban would “undermine the FDA’s ability to make drugs available to promote and protect the public health.” She said Patrick’s suggestion that the ban might be lifted if Zogenix created a non-crushable “abuse-resistant” version of the prescription medication would force Zogenix to return to the FDA to seek approval for a drug different from the one that the FDA has already deemed safe.

Zogenix has also been able to show injury to its reputation by the highly publicized ban, Zobel said.

The judge said the state’s concerns can’t trump the legitimate use of the drug.

“Although the ban may prevent someone from misusing the drug, the ban prevents all in need of its special attributes from receiving the pain relief Zohydro ER offers,” she wrote.

Roger Hawley, chief executive officer of Zogenix, called the decision “a positive step forward for Massachusetts patients.”

“We invite concerned officials to engage with us to discuss fair and appropriate safeguards for pain medications like Zohydro ER rather than seeking to ban or restrict one specific treatment,” Hawley said in a written statement.

Lawyers for the state had argued that the Massachusetts ban wouldn’t affect the federal approval process or the company’s ability to sell the drug elsewhere in the United States, but simply represented “another hurdle” the company must surpass in order to market the drug in Massachusetts.

Categories: Magazines

GM’s Plan to Prevent Another Recall Debacle

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 17:19

General Motors has created a new “global product integrity” group in the wake of a major, widely criticized recall earlier this year, CEO Mary Barra announced at the New York Auto Show on Tuesday. She did not provide details on how the unit would operate, but acknowledged that it should not take 1o years to address a known problem like the ignition-switch failures, which led to at least 13 deaths.

“We know the world is watching,” Barra said at the annual car show. “And we know we’ll be judged by our actions.”

GM recalled 2.6 million cars in February for an ignition switch problem that was detected as early as 2004, CNNMoney reports. Barra, who became the company’s first female CEO in January, testified in front of Congressional committees this month about the mishandled recall. She has also met with and apologized to some of the families of the drivers who died as a result of the flaw.

[CNNMoney]

Categories: Magazines

Hate Crimes May Be Down, But Anti-Semitism Is Still Malignant

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 17:12

The killings of three people near Jewish Community Centers in Kansas City on April 13 were senseless, but investigators have gathered the alleged shooter’s intention was clear. The Southern Poverty Law Center said that suspect Frazier Glenn Miller, who went by the alias Frazier Glenn Cross when he was arrested, was a former grand dragon in the Ku Klux Klan and “raging anti-Semite” who spent the past several decades advocating for the extermination of Jews.

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Miller spewed hate in over 12,000 posts on the anti-Semitic, white supremacist website the Vanguard News Network, using slurs to refer to Jews and blacks and calling the U.S. federal government the JOG, or the Jewish Occupied Government.

Thankfully, America is not teeming with Frazier Glenn Millers. Hate crime overall is declining in the U.S., according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations. In 2012, law enforcement agencies reported 5,796 total hate crime incidents, accounting for 6,718 offenses, down from 6,222 incidents of hate crime and 7,354 offenses in 2011.

But despite that downturn, anti-Semitic sentiments still make up the bulk of religious-bias crimes in the U.S. Nearly 60% of the 1,166 anti-religious hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2012 were anti-Jewish. Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center and editor of their journal the Intelligence Report, says Miller’s April 13 shooting spree is a reminder of a minor but notable undercurrent of anti-Semitism in American society.

“Overall the level of anti-Semitism in society in dropping, but there is a significant and scary underworld of people out there who really hate Jews; who see them as the evil behind all other evils,” Potok says. “It is not usually shown to most Americans, but it is steaming right along.”

The SPLC says the election of the nation’s first African American president in 2008 propelled the emergence of hate groups and pro-Patriot groups concerned about the loss of a white majority in America. The center estimates there are 939 neo-Nazi, white nationalist, and black separatist hate groups operating across the country. Though these groups are often associated with anti-black racism, Jack Levin, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University and an expert on hate crimes, says anti-Semitic sentiment is much more prevalent among white supremacists.

“Assault against black Americans, people of color, seems to be more physical and personal,” Levin says, “But if you listen to the ideology of white supremacy you’ll see that Jews are despised much more than blacks are.” Levin says white supremacists see Jewish Americans not only exerting control over the government and the media, but also being aligned with the devil. That sentiment was made clear upon review of some of the messageboard threads on Vanguard News Network, of which Cross was an active participant.

But while anti-Semitic sentiment remains virulent, the Anti-Defamation League, which keeps track of attacks on Jews, says anti-Semitic attacks are down. A 2013 report by the ADL showed there was a slight increase in the number of violent anti-Semitic crimes reported to its call centers in 2013. But, Levin says, acts of violence against Jews are rare. Far more violent attacks are carried out against people based on race and sexual orientation, according to the FBI. Hate crimes against Jews more often involve the desecration of property. According to the ADL report, there were 315 acts of vandalism reported to their call centers in 2013, compared to 31 acts of violence.

The reason? Levin says it’s as simple as hate-mongers having a hard time identifying people based on their religion when they’re not in church. Sadly, the evidence of that was all too clear after Sunday’s shooting. Not one of the three people killed—neither Teresa Lamanno nor Reat Underwood, nor William Corporon—was Jewish.

Categories: Magazines

Florida Bill Would Allow Concealed Weapons Without Permit During Emergencies

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 17:10

Florida state lawmakers want to let residents carry concealed weapons without a permit during evacuations because of hurricanes and floods, though some law enforcement officials say the idea would create more chaos in already turbulent situations.

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A bill introduced by Republican Rep. Heather Dawes Fitzenhagen of Ft. Myers, Fla. would allow legal gun owners who lack concealed carry permits to carry their weapon on their person during evacuations triggered by government-declared states of emergency. Under current law, Florida residents can carry their weapons during an emergency evacuation only if they’re stored in a container or vehicle.

Fitzenhagen told TIME her bill is a common-sense proposal for a state that was hit by nearly half of all hurricanes that have made landfall in the U.S. since 1851 and where nearly 870,000 firearm background checks were performed in 2013 alone. Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement wasn’t able to provide the number of citizens who own a gun or guns but lack a concealed carry permit.

“This bill would allow residents to evacuate as quickly and safely as they can,” Fitzenhagen said. “It provides protection for someone who does not have a concealed weapons permit, but is told they need to evacuate.”

Fitzenhagen’s colleagues agree — her bill passed Florida’s House of Representatives 80-36 last Friday. Among the bill’s other supporters is the National Rifle Association, which has been lobbying for it and other gun bills making their way through the Florida legislature this session.

However, some law enforcement officials are raising questions about Fitzenhagen’s bill. Grady Judd, president of the Florida Sheriff’s Association and a Polk County Sheriff, for example, is concerned that if a person with a gun leaves a jurisdiction where an evacuation has been ordered and enters one where it has not, that person could be subject to arrest.

“Florida stretches from Key West to Pensacola,” Judd said. “What happens when they evacuate from the declared emergency counties? Are you illegally carrying a gun?”

Judd’s group is seeking clarification on that point. Meanwhile, others are concerned unclear language in one provision of Fitzenhagen’s bill could make it legal for citizens to carry concealed weapons without a permit during riots. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualitieri told the Miami Herald last week the bill “would give me pause, as sheriff, in declaring a state of emergency.”

“If I know cops would have to deal with god knows what, I now have to worry about making a situation worse,” Gualitieri told the Herald.

Fitzenhagen, however, said Gualitieri’s fears are unfounded.

“We aren’t proposing carrying guns in a riot,” Fitzenhagen said. “Local governments may declare a state of emergency, but residents still must be in the act of evacuating in order for the law to take effect. We’re not simply saying that because there’s a state of emergency people are allowed to walk around with a weapon on them.”

Despite Fitzengaen’s reassurances, the state Senate stripped the unclear riot-related provision from its version of the bill, which has not yet passed. Even still, some Democrats have other concerns about Fitzenhagen’s proposal. Rep. Victor Torres, an Orlando Democrat, told Reuters after the House passed the bill that he’s worried it would allow Floridians to carry weapons into evacuation shelters.

“You are talking about introducing concealed firearms into an environment that is already teeming with tension,” Torres said after the House bill was passed. “I hope that tragedy will not be a byproduct of our decision here today.”

Categories: Magazines

The KKK Tries to Make A Comeback

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 17:07
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The Ku Klux Klan was once a major force in America, with a membership of nearly 4 million that regularly included mayors, chiefs of police and other grandees of segregated regions, especially in the South and Midwest. It’s been decades since the Klan held that sort of mainstream sway, but Sunday’s deadly rampage at two Jewish community facilities in Overland Park, Kan. serves as a reminder that the nation’s best known white supremacy organization has not completely disappeared.

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Frazier Glenn Cross, who was charged with murder Tuesday for the shooting death of three people in the Kansas City suburb, is a prominent white supremacist whose long resume in the movement included founding the Carolina Knights of the KKK. Those sorts of regional groups are the basis of the current Klan, which exists only as a decentralized collection of dozens of regional organizations devoted to white nationalism. The total membership is between 5,000 to 8,000, a fraction of its peak, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

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“The Klan has become marginalized, even among more mainstream racist groups,” says Paul Ortiz, a professor of history at the University of Florida. “The organization itself is a hodgepodge. It’s no longer a mass movement. There’s no nationally recognized leader, and even the language is much more splintered.”

Even Klan leaders recognize the changed landscape. “I like to think I’m in charge,” says Thomas Robb, the national director for the Knights of the KKK, which was founded by the politician David Duke. “You know how that goes, though.”

As the Klan has become more diffuse, many of the splinter chapters are working hard to bolster their ranks. On April 18, the KKKK, an Arkansas-based branch, plans to launch an online radio station featuring a 24-7 stream of Klan news, updates of classic radio segments and children’s programs. The Maryland-based Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan recently held a rally on the battlefield at Gettysburg to capitalize on the attention generated by 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s famous address.

In North Carolina, the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan—the group that was reconstituted from the now-defunct Carolina Knights of the KKK founded by Cross—has spent the last few months distributing fliers with messages like “The KKK Wants You!” in parts of Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, Texas and Virginia.

The aim of all of these efforts is to enlist new devotees to the cause of what they call “white genocide,” a catch-all term for the belief that white Christians are being cast to the margins of American society.

Robert Jones, the imperial klaliff of the Loyal White Knights, says the organization has tripled in size since President Obama’s election, though he would not divulge membership totals. That growth is consistent with the uptick in hate groups around the nation, which the SPLC estimates has risen from 602 in 2000 to 939 in 2013. Heidi Beirich, who leads SPLC’s Intelligence Project, says the higher numbers can be traced directly to the 2000 U.S. Census showing that the country would become a majority minority nation by 2043. “They started freaking out,” she says of white supremacy organizations.

Jones says he kept in touch with Cross and described him as a “good Christian man who spoke out for what he believes in.” He says they last last spoke a couple months ago. “I think he’s just fed up with the way the world’s going. I can see why he is the way he is to an extent. A lot of white people are getting fed up with what people are doing.”

Other Klan leaders were quick to distance their groups from Cross. “He had no credibility in the white nationalist movement,” says Robb. “There are people who use the name Klan, put on a Klan robe, put some crazy thing on YouTube and say they’re going to exterminate all non-whites. That becomes a statement from the Klan. It’s not. It’s some loser that lives in a little world of Hatesville.”

Robb has led an effort to soften the Klan’s image, changing the name of the organization’s top position from “imperial wizard” to “national director” and requiring members to wear business suits instead of the trademark white robes at Klan functions and public rallies. The Montana-based United Klans of America recently tried a similar tack when it met with the NAACP, likely the first between the two organizations.

The Klan’s messaging may have changed, but experts say the substance remains the same.

“For the most part, they still have nasty websites. They still preach hate about immigrants. They still preach hate about black folks. It’s basically a bunch of squabbling, infighting factions who don’t like each other,” says the SPLC’s Beirich. “Some groups do try to position themselves to say they’re just fighting for white rights, that they’re not racist. But that’s absurd. It’s just racism dressed up in a new language.”

Categories: Magazines

Recreational Pot Use Harmful to Young People’s Brains

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 17:00

For those young people—and their parents—who think that smoking pot in moderation isn’t harmful, it’s time to think again.

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A study being released this week by researchers from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School has found that 18- to 25-year-olds who smoke marijuana only recreationally showed significant abnormalities in the brain.

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“There is this general perspective out there that using marijuana recreationally is not a problem—that it is a safe drug,” says Anne Blood, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and the co-senior author of the study, which is being published in The Journal of Neuroscience. “We are seeing that this is not the case.”

The scientists say theirs is the first study to examine the relationship between casual use of marijuana in young people and pot’s effects on two parts of the brain that regulate emotion and motivation. As such, it is sure to challenge many people’s assumptions that smoking a joint or two on the weekends is no big deal.

It has certainly challenged mine. In a piece earlier this year, based on other research from Northwestern on the effects of heavy marijuana use, I suggested that young people should hold off on smoking pot as long as possible because their brains are still developing and the earlier the drug is taken up, the worse the effects. That remains good advice. Yet the truth is, I’ve not only been telling my own 16-year-old son to hold off, I’ve also been counseling him that should he ever decide to use pot, he should do so with temperance.

This “everything in moderation” mantra has always struck me as more realistic than preaching total abstinence. Baked into my message, meanwhile, has been the implicit belief that smoking a little weed on the weekends is no worse than having a few beers—a notion that many Americans apparently share.

A nationwide NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll conducted last month found that only 8% of adults think that marijuana is the most harmful substance to a person’s overall health when lined up against tobacco, alcohol, and sugar. Forty-nine percent of those surveyed rated tobacco as the most harmful on the list, while 24% picked alcohol. Notably, even sugar (at 15%) was considered more harmful than pot.

The new Northwestern-Harvard study punches a hole in this conventional wisdom. Through three different methods of neuroimaging analysis, the scientists examined the brains of 40 young adult students from Boston-area colleges: 20 who smoked marijuana casually—four times a week on average—and 20 who didn’t use pot at all.

Each group consisted of nine males and 11 females. The pot users underwent a psychiatric interview to confirm that they were not heavy or dependent marijuana users.

“We looked specifically at people who have no adverse impacts from marijuana—no problems with work, school, the law, relationships, no addiction issues,” says Hans Breiter, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School and co-senior author of the study.

The scientists examined two key parts of the brain—the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala, which together help control whether people judge things to be rewarding or aversive and, in turn, whether they experience pleasure or pain from them. It is the development of these regions of the brain, Breiter says, that allow young people to expand their horizons, helping them to appreciate and enjoy new foods, music, books, and relationships.

“This is a part of the brain that you absolutely never ever want to touch,” Breiter asserts. “I don’t want to say that these are magical parts of the brain—they are all important. But these are fundamental in terms of what people find pleasurable in the world and assessing that against the bad things.”

Breiter and his colleagues found that among all 20 casual marijuana smokers in their study—even the seven who smoked just one joint per week—the nucleus accumbens and amygdala showed changes in density, volume, and shape. The scientists also discovered that the more pot the young people smoked, the greater the abnormalities.

The researchers acknowledge that their sample size was small and their study preliminary. More work, they say, needs to be done to understand the relationship between the changes to the brain they found and their impact on the day-to-day lives of young people who smoke marijuana casually.

“The next important step is to investigate how structural abnormalities relate to functional outcomes,” says Jodi Gilman, an instructor at Harvard Medical School who collaborated on the study.

This is especially important, she and her colleagues add, in light of the growing push to legalize recreational marijuana use across America.“People think a little marijuana shouldn’t cause a problem if someone is doing OK with work or school,” Breiter says. “Our data directly says this is not so.”

Categories: Magazines

This Animated GIF of a 3D Bear Has a Secret

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 17:00

I’ve become obsessed with the below animated GIF, which I discovered over at Amid Amidi’s Cartoon Brew. Stare at it, and you might be obsessed, too, at least for 30 seconds or so.

Blue Zoo

It looks like something I might have seen as part of a 3D animation demonstration by a computer scientist when I attended the SIGGRAPH conference back in 1989. But here’s the remarkable thing: It isn’t computer animation. That bear may be made out of polygons, but he isn’t made out of bits. He’s a physical object–or, more precisely, 50 of them.

Two London-based companies, DBLG and Blue Zoo, created the animation, Bears on Stairs, which did begin with a computer-designed ursine protagonist. But rather than just rendering a bunch of frames, the companies printed out the sequence as 50 models. Then they photographed them as a stop-motion sequence, using the same basic technique studios such as Rankin/Bass used long before computers had anything to do with animation.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes video:

As Amid points out, the idea of using 3D printing to meld computer and stop-motion animation isn’t new. Laika (the studio behind Coraline and the upcoming Boxtrolls) is already doing it. But normally, the goal is for it all to be so seamless that the viewer doesn’t know or care that computers were used. What’s clever about “Bears on Stairs” is that it evocatively flaunts its use of computers–so much so that almost anybody would assume that it was a purely digital production.

Categories: Magazines

Paul Walker’s Surprising Replacement in Fast & Furious 7

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 16:48

Filming on Fast & Furious 7 will continue with Paul Walker’s brothers filling in for the late actor.

A statement published on the official Fast & Furious Facebook page revealed that Caleb and Cody Walker have helped the production complete the action scenes that were not shot before Paul Walker died in a car accident in November. Walker, 40, completed most of his filming before his death.

“We came together and all felt the only choice was to continue,” the statement reads. “We believe our fans want that, and we believe Paul would want that too. Paul had already shot his dramatic scenes and most of his action for FAST & FURIOUS 7, and it’s among the strongest work of his career.”

Universal Pictures suspended production on Fast & Furious 7 in December following Walker’s death. According to The Hollywood Reporter, his character will retire in the upcoming film, not be killed off.

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