Signs of the Times
A review of Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are by Robert Plomin. MIT Press (November 2018) 280 pages.
In Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are Robert Plomin makes the case that genetic differences cause most variation in psychological traits - things like personality and cognitive abilities. The way your parents raise you, the schools you attend - they don't have much effect on those traits. Children are similar to their parents, but that similarity is due to shared genetics, rather than shared family environment.
Obviously the thoughts in your head, the facts you know, are not the same as your great-great-grand-father's - we learn those things. But how easily you learn those facts, how well you remember them, how optimistic or pessimistic you are - those are largely set by your genes. Almost every psychological trait has significant heritability, even political leanings. To a significant degree, you're either born a little Liberal or else a little Conservative, to quote Gilbert and Sullivan.
And to the extent that your personality is not set by your genes, it's apparently influenced by poorly-understood random factors, rather than your upbringing or social circumstances.
Before getting down to brass tacks, let me say that I loathe penning articles like this; loathe writing about myself or in the first person, because a reporter should report the news, not be the news. Yet I grudgingly make this exception because, ironically, it happens to be newsworthy. To cut to the chase, it concerns Anglo-American financier Bill Browder and the Sergei Magnitsky affair. I, like others in the news business I'd venture to guess, feel led astray by Browder.
This is no excuse. I didn't do my due diligence, and take full responsibility for erroneous information printed under my name. For that, I apologize to readers. I refer to two articles of mine published in a Cypriot publication, dated December 25, 2015 and January 6, 2016.
Browder's basic story, as he has told it time and again, goes like this: in June 2007, Russian police officers raided the Moscow offices of Browder's firm Hermitage, confiscating company seals, certificates of incorporation, and computers.
Browder says the owners and directors of Hermitage-owned companies were subsequently changed, using these seized documents. Corrupt courts were used to create fake debts for these companies, which allowed for the taxes they had previously paid to the Russian Treasury to be refunded to what were now re-registered companies. The funds stolen from the Russian state were then laundered through banks and shell companies.
The scheme is said to have been planned earlier in Cyprus by Russian law enforcement and tax officials in cahoots with criminal elements. All this was supposedly discovered by Magnitsky, whom Browder had tasked with investigating what happened. When Magnitsky reported the fraud, some of the nefarious characters involved had him arrested and jailed. He refused to retract, and died while in pre-trial detention.
On Saturday, a terrorist attack at a military parade in Ahvaz, Iran killed at least 29 individuals, around five dozen others injured, many seriously, military personnel and innocent civilians targeted.
Mostly civilians were harmed, including women and children, the death toll likely to rise.
The terrorist attack was reportedly carried out from outside the parade perimeter - from a park overlooking the observation platform.
According to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) spokesman General Abolfazl Shekarchi, four terrorists were involved in the incident, affiliated with the anti-Iranian (Arab separatist) Al-Ahwaz group, three killed, the other arrested but died of his wounds.
Both Ahwaz and ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. Shekarchi said terrorists involved were trained by the US (the CIA and/or special forces) and Israel's Mossad in two Persian Gulf states, likely Saudi Arabia and the UAE if the report is accurate - both countries militantly hostile toward Iran, along with Washington and Israel.
In this hardscrabble Rust Belt city with deep Catholic roots, the Catholic Church's top official is facing calls for his resignation over his handling of sexual abuse allegations against priests.
Documents obtained by CNN suggest Bishop Richard J. Malone did not sanction priests accused of sexual abuse and concealed the identities of alleged "predator priests" from the public. In a preemptive move in March, Malone released a list of 42 priests in the Buffalo diocese who had left the priesthood after facing accusations of sexually abusing minors. "The diocese of Buffalo is committed to correcting the mistakes and sins of the past," he said at the time. But a trove of secret diocesan records, first reported by CNN affiliate WKBW and obtained by CNN, show the number of accused priests could be up to 200.
The records are stashed by diocese officials in what they call the "Secret Archives" -- confidential files of living priests who are still being monitored -- or "the Well," which contains case files that are to be shredded. Part of the trove comes from a thick black binder kept in a closet next to a vacuum cleaner, according to a source familiar with the matter. The source told CNN that the binder is a 300-page briefing book prepared by the dioceses' attorneys for Malone when he became bishop in 2012. It contains "pending matters" in "anticipation of litigation," and lists the names of dozens of accused priests as well as a number of victim accounts.
Calling his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday "an unbelievable success," Donald J. Trump bragged that he "got much bigger laughs than Obama."
"When Obama spoke at the U.N. he did not get a single laugh-not one," Trump told reporters. "I feel sorry for the people who had to sit through his speeches. They weren't funny at all."
In contrast, Trump said, "I killed at the U.N."
A New York Times article scrutinizing inside jokes in the 1983 yearbook of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's Georgetown Preparatory School hid multiple problems with its claims, including that it was sourced to a rabidly anti-Trump politician in Maryland and his associate.
The article reveals inside jokes about a friend of Kavanaugh and his classmates named Renate Schroeder Dolphin. The classmates are featured in a picture with a caption "Renate Alumnius," which the Times' named and anonymous sources argue is bragging about sex. The classmates strenuously insist that the reference was nothing of the kind and that none of the men had sexual relations with the friend. They say that they attended each other's dances and prep school functions and maintained the friendship throughout the next several decades.
The original article published online on Monday night was quickly scrubbed of a reference to a "Mr. Madaleno." The Times uses full names on first references to sources and titles on second references, though it was the first time his name was mentioned in the article. The claim of sexual braggadocio is sourced earlier in the article to one named and one anonymous individual who claims to fear retribution. NewsDiffs, a site that tracks changes to articles at the New York Times, caught the rapid deletion of his name. Reporters Kate Kelly and David Enrich did not explain why it was removed.
You've read the headlines: quantum computers are going to cure disease by discovering new pharmaceuticals! They're going to pore through all the world's data and find solutions to problems like poverty and inequality!
Alternatively, they might not do any of that. We're really not sure what a quantum computer will even look like, but boy are we excited.
It often feels like quantum computers are in their own quantum state - they're revolutionizing the world, but are still a distant pipe dream.
We're really not sure what a quantum computer will even look like, but boy are we excited.
Now, though, the National Science Foundation has plans to pluck quantum computers from the realm of the fantastic and drop them squarely in its research labs. And it's willing to pay an awful lot to do so.
In August, the federal agency announced the Software-Tailored Architecture for Quantum co-design (STAQ) project. Physicists, engineers, computer scientists, and other researchers from Duke and six other universities (including MIT and University of California-Berkeley) will band together to embark on the five-year, $15 million mission.
The Russian Navy has test-fired a supersonic Onyx anti-ship cruise missile for the first time. It was launched from the Bastion missile-defense system, which was recently deployed to the Russian Arctic.
A video of the launch shows one P-800 Onyx missile, which can travel at speeds of up to 1,980mph, shooting up in the air and then gliding above the sea towards a mock target designed to simulate a group of hostile ships.
The Bastion launcher can carry two Onyx anti-ship missiles, which can engage targets at a range up to 300km with a high-low trajectory, or 120km with a low-low flight trajectory. Although designed to be deployed against ships, it can be used against ground targets as well.
Longtime ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, parliamentary leader Volker Kauder, has been send packing after a surprise vote in Germany's Bundestag. Opposition politicians see it as a start of a new political crisis.
It's actually the first time that Merkel's favorite, who was in office for 13 years, was challenged by another candidate. Kauder was challenged by his own deputy, Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) member Ralph Brinkhaus, who won the vote by narrow margin. Brinkhaus was supported by 125 MPs, while 112 backed Kauder.
Steamboat Geyser, the tallest active geyser in the world, erupted again Monday morning about 5:15 a.m.
This is the fourth time Steamboat has erupted this month, and people are flocking to Yellowstone, hoping to get a lucky break and be there when the highly sporadic feature goes off.
Park officials admit to MTN News that the eruption of Steamboat Geyser is really more of a social phenomenon than a geological event.
Wendy Stovall, a scientist at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory says the eruption is cool and somewhat unusual, but in geological terms, it's just part of what happens in Yellowstone.
Try telling that to someone who has never seen Steamboat erupt. They're flocking to Norris in the hope they'll be here when it goes off again.
"We see these communities of people that are there, excited to see an eruption, and if it happens, there's just sheer joy and excitement," said Yellowstone National Park spokesperson Morgan Warthin.
An eruption of Steamboat is pretty special and worth seeing. Steam eruptions are more common, but are still a spectacle, shooting more than a hundred feet into the air at times.
Delta Air Lines passengers across the US were left stranded for over an hour on Tuesday evening, after a technical issue forced the carrier to ground all domestic flights.
Customers of the Atlanta-based top-tier US airline took to Twitter to report the major system outage, which left incoming planes sitting on taxiways waiting for gates to open, and outbound flights unable to depart.
More twisters confirmed to have hit western Quebec on Friday
Environment Canada has confirmed that three additional tornadoes touched down in western Quebec on Friday - bringing the day's total number of twisters in the Ottawa-Gatineau area to six.
At around 3:30 p.m. ET, a tornado touched down about 30 kilometres from Mont-Laurier, Que., near the Baskatong reservoir, the weather agency said Tuesday.
It likely travelled about 10 kilometres through the wooded area, snapping trees and downing power poles as it went, Environment Canada said.
About 90 minutes later, another touched down near the Val-des-Bois, Que, area, about 90 kilometres north of Ottawa.
That twister travelled east-northeast for about 13 kilometres, damaging buildings and snapping trees before dissipating near the town.
Satellite images also allowed the agency to confirm a third tornado touched down roughly 25 kilometres north of Otter Lake that day and cut a three-kilometre swath through the forested area.
All three twisters were likely EF-1 tornadoes, Environment Canada said, meaning they had wind speeds between 135 and 175 km/h.
With the 45+ eruptions at Krakatoa in Indonesia over the weekend and the Minbu Mud Volcanoes in Myanmar starting to uptick, makes you wonder what is happening under the plate and if it is on regular cycles that can be mapped because volcanic eruptions are one event that occurs during Grand Solar Minimums.
An embattled Brett Kavanaugh on Monday said he won't be "intimidated into withdrawing" his nomination to the Supreme Court, as he called accusations he sexually harassed and assaulted women decades ago while in high school and college "smears" in a new letter to top lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process," Kavanaugh wrote in the letter. "The coordinated effort to destroy my good name will not drive me out. The vile threats of violence against my family will not drive me out. The last minute character assassination will not succeed."
The largest mobile telecommunications provider in the US, Verizon Wireless, has been experiencing massive outages. East Coast and south of the country have been reportedly hit the hardest by the disruption.
"Verizon Wireless is currently experiencing an intermittent voice, text and data services interruption for customers in some markets in the south. Our engineers are aware of the issue and are working diligently to resolve it," the telecom giant's Support service posted on Twitter.
The programming, priming and outright brainwashing induced by social media and its use on smart phones is spelled out horrifically, humorously and incontrovertibly by Paul Joseph Watson.
Russia has decided to send to Syria its S-300 VM system and has started delivering the Krasukha 4 radar systems jammer and other related military equipment. These installations indicate the low level of relations between Moscow and Tel Aviv. Israel's capacity to destroy the new Russian system in Syria is not at issue. Israel may find a way to do so. Nevertheless, any such move will be a direct challenge to Russia's superpower status.
Russia has repeatedly shown strategic patience: when two of its planes were shot down (first by Turkey in 2015), when the US launched 59 cruise missiles above its head, and when the US bombed Syrian positions and Russian contractors in Deirezzour. The latest of many Israeli provocations risks making Russia look weaker than it is. In this way, Israel has forced Russia to make an aggressive response.
The Russian decision to deliver these advanced missiles system, capable of neutralising any enemy target with a range of 200 km, doesn't mean Syria will start operating them tomorrow and will thus be able to hit any jet violating its airspace and that of Lebanon. Russia is known for its slow delivery and will have to be in control of the trigger due to the presence of its Air Force in the air together with that of the US coalition.
Washington DC lobbyist Jack Burkman is offering a $25,000 reward for incriminating evidence on Judge Brett Kavanaugh's accusers Christine Ford, Deborah Ramirez and the other woman who accused Kavanaugh of gang-rape.
Burkman says discrepancies in both stories have cast doubt on both Ford and Ramirez, making the case near impossible to weigh on without investigation.
WASHINGTON D.C. - After allegations of sexual assault stalled the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Jack Burkman, a D.C.-based lawyer and lobbyist, is offering a $25k reward for information on Kavanaugh's three accusers.
As rumors regarding the timing and potential of political motivation swirl, Burkman hopes to uncover the truth and supply the public with more details on this case.
"The stakes of these allegations are like no other," said Burkman. "Kavanaugh is an esteemed professional hoping to fulfill his duties in the highest judicial position available. This case deserves no stone left unturned out of fairness to all parties involved. There's too much at risk."
Democrats have made "believe women" their rallying cry when it comes to Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, but not when it comes to the woman accusing Rep. Keith Ellison of domestic abuse.
A Minnesota Star Tribune/Minnesota Public Radio poll of likely state voters released last week found only 5 percent of Democrats said they believed that Mr. Ellison "committed an act of domestic violence" against his ex-girlfriend, Karen Monahan.
Meanwhile, 42 percent of Republicans surveyed said they did believe Ms. Monahan, whose allegations of "emotional and physical abuse" went public Aug. 12.
Thirty percent of Democrats said they did not believe her, versus 15 percent of Republicans. The rest were undecided.
The findings, first reported by Mediaite, suggest that Democrats are more willing to believe women when their abuse allegations are leveled against Republicans.
"The hypocrisy here is stunning," said HotAir's Ed Morrissey.
"Back in the heyday of the old Soviet Union, a phrase evolved to describe gullible western intellectuals who came to visit Russia and failed to notice the human and other costs of building a communist utopia. The phrase was "useful idiots" and it applied to a good many people who should have known better. I now propose a new, analogous term more appropriate for the age in which we live: useful hypocrites. That's you and me, folks, and it's how the masters of the digital universe see us. And they have pretty good reasons for seeing us that way. They hear us whingeing about privacy, security, surveillance, etc., but notice that despite our complaints and suspicions, we appear to do nothing about it. In other words, we say one thing and do another, which is as good a working definition of hypocrisy as one could hope for."-John Naughton, The Guardian
"Who needs direct repression," asked philosopher Slavoj Zizek, "when one can convince the chicken to walk freely into the slaughterhouse?"
In an Orwellian age where war equals peace, surveillance equals safety, and tolerance equals intolerance of uncomfortable truths and politically incorrect ideas, "we the people" have gotten very good at walking freely into the slaughterhouse, all the while convincing ourselves that the prison walls enclosing us within the American police state are there for our protection.
Call it doublespeak, call it hypocrisy, call it delusion, call it whatever you like, but the fact remains that while we claim to value freedom, privacy, individuality, equality, diversity, accountability, and government transparency, our actions and those of our government rulers contradict these much-vaunted principles at every turn.
For instance, we claim to disdain the jaded mindset of the Washington elite, and yet we continue to re-elect politicians who lie, cheat and steal.
We claim to disapprove of the endless wars that drain our resources and spread thin our military, and yet we repeatedly buy into the idea that patriotism equals supporting the military.
We claim to chafe at taxpayer-funded pork barrel legislation for roads to nowhere, documentaries on food fights, and studies of mountain lions running on treadmills, and yet we pay our taxes meekly and without raising a fuss of any kind.
We claim to object to the militarization of our local police forces and their increasingly battlefield mindset, and yet we do little more than shrug our shoulders over SWAT team raids and police shootings of unarmed citizens.
And then there's our supposed love-hate affair with technology, which sees us bristling at the government's efforts to monitor our internet activities, listen in on our phone calls, read our emails, track our every movement, and punish us for what we say on social media, and yet we keep using these very same technologies all the while doing nothing about the government's encroachments on our rights.
This contradiction is backed up by a Pew Research Center study, which finds that "Americans say they are deeply concerned about privacy on the web and their cellphones. They say they do not trust Internet companies or the government to protect it. Yet they keep using the services and handing over their personal information."
Let me get this straight: the government continues to betray our trust, invade our privacy, and abuse our rights, and we keep going back for more?
Sure we do.