Thursday Reads

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Good Morning!!

Another missing plane story tops the news right now. This time it’s an Algerian that has disappeared in Mali. According to the Wall Street Journal: Air Algérie Flight Reported Missing With 116 on Board.

Air Algérie lost contact with Flight 5017 after takeoff from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, as the jetliner headed to Algiers with 116 people on board, Algeria’s state news agency and the plane’s operator said Thursday.

French Secretary of Transport Frédéric Cuvillier told reporters the plane disappeared over Northern Mali, where Islamist militants are fighting the Malian government and French forces. Numerous French nationals were probably aboard the missing plane, Mr. Cuvillier said.

Contact with the Boeing Co. BA -0.95%MD-83, carrying 110 passengers and six crew members, was lost at about 1:55 a.m. local time, 50 minutes after the jet had taken off, the Algerian government’s official news agency said in a statement. “Air Algérie launched [an] emergency plan,” the agency added. It gave no other details.

An official at the directorate of Ouagadougou Airport said there had been an incident, “but for the moment we don’t know anything more.” He refused to give his name because he wasn’t authorized to speak to reporters.

Was this plane shot down like Malasian Airlines Flight MH17 in Ukraine?

The flight path of the missing Algerian jet isn’t yet clear but the FAA has warned airlines to be extra vigilant when flying over Mali.

There is no indication the jet was shot down and no confirmation of a crash.

Still, amid questions by airline executives and regulators over whether MH17 should have been flying over eastern Ukraine, the Air Algérie jet’s flight path will be closely scrutinized.

The FAA has banned U.S. carriers of flying over Mali at lower altitudes. The FAA cited “insurgent activity,” including the threat of antiaircraft missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and rockets. Apart from worries about insurgent threats in Mali, the Algerian government has been keeping a close watch on airspace on its eastern border, where violence in Libya has led to flight bans there.

The missing plane was owned by Swiftair, a Spanish charter company. NBC News reports: Air Algerie Jet Chartered by Spain’s Swiftair Vanishes in Africa.

Air Algerie Flight AH5017 vanished about 50 minutes after it left Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, according to the Algerian Press Service. The jet took off at 1:17 a.m. local time (9:17 p.m. ET on Wednesday) bound for Algiers, Algeria.

 In a statement, Madrid-based Swiftair confirmed it had chartered the missing McDonnell Douglas MD-83. Swiftair said 110 passengers and six crew were aboard the jet. It had been due to land in the Algerian capital at 5:10 a.m. local time (12:10 a.m. ET). The flight was missing for hours before the news was made public….
Issa Saly Maiga, the head of Mali’s National Civil Aviation Agency, told Reuters that a search was under way for the missing flight. “We do not know if the plane is Malian territory,” he added. “Aviation authorities are mobilised in all the countries concerned – Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Algeria and even Spain.”
UPDATE: Algerian officials say the plane has crashed, but the crash site has not yet been located–see in a comment below.

dog and cat reading

Updates on Malaysian Airlines MH17

There is some new information on the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 over Ukraine. According to an article in Corriere Dela Sera, reporter di Lorenzo Cremonesi learned from “pro-Russian militiamen” that they were told by “superiors” that the plane carried Ukrainian paratroopers.
“We thought we were going to fight but instead we found dead civilians”
“We thought we would have to fight baled out Ukrainian pilots but instead we found dead civilians. All those poor people with baggage that certainly wasn’t military”. We spoke to a militiaman from the Oplot (stronghold) combat unit at midday yesterday on the concrete platforms of Torez railway station. He was standing beside five rail wagons – four refrigerated and the fifth with the refrigeration unit’s diesel geneerators – containing the human remains collected among the sunflower fields in pro-Russian separatist-held Ukraine. His words are revealing because he spoke them quite naturally, without reflecting, after telling us about the international representatives’ recently completed inspection of the bodies and his unit’s orders to stand guard over the wagons. In its innocence and simplicity, the story is significant. In fact, it could provide new evidence for those who blame the pro-Russians for mistakenly launching the fatal missile under the impression that their target was a Ukrainian military aircraft.
Read the rest at the link.
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And from The Guardian, MH17: Ukraine separatist commander ‘admits’ rebels had Buk missile system . . . and then “changes his story.
A top rebel commander in eastern Ukraine has reportedly said that the armed separatist movement had control of a Buk missile system, which Kiev and western countries say was used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane last week.

Alexander Khodakovsky, who leads the Vostok battalion – one of the main rebel formations – said the rebels may have received the Buk from Russia, in the first such admission by a senior separatist.

“That Buk I know about. I heard about it. I think they sent it back. Because I found out about it at exactly the moment that I found out that this tragedy had taken place. They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence,” Khodakovsky told Reuters.

Russian news agencies later said people close to Khodakovsky denied he made the admissions. Khodakovsky himself told Life News, a Russian news agency with links to Moscow’s security services, that he was misquoted and had merely discussed “possible versions” with Reuters. Khodakovsky said the rebels “do not have and have never had” a Buk.

As two further Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down, apparently by missiles fired from within Russia, Khodakovsky appeared to imply that MH17 was indeed downed by a missile from the Buk, assuming the interview with Reuters is confirmed. He blamed Ukrainian authorities, however, for allowing civilian jets to fly over its airspace when the rebels had such capabilities.

More details at the link.
Another article at BBC News quotes rebel “prime minister” Alexander Borodai as admitting to receiving support from Russia, and making a number of excuses for the ghastly treatment of the bodies from MH17, Ukraine rebel leader Borodai admits to Russia links.
Mr Borodai admitted that the rebels had received support from “the whole Russian people” in their fight against the Ukrainian government.

“Volunteers are joining us,” he told the Newsnight programme, describing himself as one of them – “a resident of the city of Moscow”.

“It just so happened that, instead of sitting in a trench with a rifle or a machine gun, I now have the post of prime minister. Well… that’s fate.”

He denied that he was a member of a Russian intelligence agency, as has often been alleged.

However, he admitted to having contact with other members of the secret services in Russia – as, he said, would anyone “who has dealings with the elite of society”.

On the treatment of the bodies,

“We wanted to collect the bodies from the very beginning,” said Mr Borodai.

“But we were under extreme pressure from the OSCE representative, who said to us: ‘I represent 57 countries. Don’t you dare touch the bodies of the dead. Under no circumstances. Or else all the 57 countries of the OSCE will do this and that to you.'”

“So we wait a day. We wait a second day. A third day. Come on! Not a single expert…. Well, to leave the bodies there any longer, in 30C heat, it’s absurd. It’s simply inhuman. It’s a scene from a horror movie.”

However, an OSCE spokesman told the BBC that the organisation had not warned the rebels against moving the bodies.

More obfuscation at the link. Thank goodness the bodies are now being returned to the Netherlands.

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Do Dogs Experience Emotions?

There’s a story in The New York Times about research on dogs and emotions with a somewhat cutsie headline and introduction, Inside Man’s Best Friend, Study Says, May Lurk a Green-Eyed Monster. Do dogs experience jealousy?

The answer, according to Christine Harris, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, is that if you are petting another dog, Roscoe is going to show something that Dr. Harris thinks is a form of jealousy, even if not as complex and twisted as the adult human form.

Other scientists agree there is something going on, but not all are convinced it is jealousy. And Roscoe and the rest of his tribe were, without exception, unavailable for comment.

Dr. Harris had been studying human jealousy for years when she took this question on, inspired partly by the antics of her parents’ Border collies. When she petted them, “one would take his head and knock the other’s head away,” she said. It certainly looked like jealousy.

But having studied humans, she was aware of different schools of thought about jealousy. Some scientists argue that jealousy requires complex thinking about self and others, which seems beyond dogs’ abilities. Others think that although our descriptions of jealousy are complex, the emotion itself may not be that complex.

Read more, including reactions from other scientists at the NYT.

Another researcher, Greg Berns of Emory University, has been examining the question of how dogs think and how they relate to humans.

“The more I study dogs and the more I study their brains, the more similarities I see to human brains,” Berns told WGCL-TV. “They are intelligent, they are emotional, and they’ve been ignored in terms of research and understanding how they think. So, we are all interested in trying to develop ways to understand how their minds work.”

Dr. Berns uses an MRI to test a dog’s brain.

“So, we’ve done experiments where we present odors to the dogs and these are things like the scent of other people in their house, the scent of other dogs in the house, as well as strange people and strange dogs,” Berns said. “And so what we found in that experiment is that the dogs reward processing center, so basically the part of the brain that is kind of the positive anticipation of things responds particularly strongly to the scent of their human.” ….

“Currently, we are trying to understand what dogs perceive about the world,” Berns said. “You know, what do they see when they see humans, dogs, other animals, cars, etc. so the idea is, at least in humans and even in certain chimpanzees and monkeys, there are parts of the brain specialized for visual processing of all of these things and so what we are trying to determine is whether a dog has that same kind of specialization.

Here’s Dr. Berns’ home page. He has written a book called How Dogs Love Us.

Anyone who has ever spent time with dogs (or cats for that matter) knows that pets express emotions through body language, facial expressions, and vocalizations; it’s nice to see there are some serious researchers trying to understand their emotions and thinking processes.

 dog reading to puppy

A couple more interesting reads . . .

At Talk to Action, the first two-parts of a three-part article on the influence of fundamentalist Catholocism on the Supreme Court by Frank Coccozelli: An Opus Focus on SCOTUS? A brief excerpt:

Beyond the creeping erosion of Roe, there is the disturbing reliance upon traditionalist Catholic teaching on grey area issues, such as a pregnancy endangering the life of the mother.  As Justice Ginsburg noted in here dissent:

Today’s decision is alarming. It refuses to take Casey and Stenberg seriously. It tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). It blurs the line, firmly drawn in Casey, between previability and postviability abortions. And, for the first time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception safeguarding a woman’s health.

Where does this leave a Jewish woman whose life is endangered by a pregnancy? By the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Carhart, the Jewish teaching of saving the mother’s life in such circumstances is not respected. Vatican teaching is completely different. Instead it prohibits any abortion procedure that would be required not only if the choice is between the life of the mother and the fetus, but also where if no procedure is performed, a stillborn would result. That is an extreme teaching that many mainstream Catholics reject outright.

Read Part one here and Part two here.

At Pando, Yasha Levine has a fascinating story about the bizarre and twisted interactions between the encryption service TOR and its most prominent employee Jacob Applebaum, the Department of Defense, the CIA, Edward Snowden, and Glenn Greenwald, Hall of Mirrors: Wikileaks volunteer helped build Tor, was funded by the Pentagon. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in the Snowden story. Also check out Levine’s earlier article, Almost everyone involved in developing Tor was (or is) funded by the US government.

Also for Snowden junkies, Michael Kelley at Business Insider writes about “An 11-Day Hole In Snowden’s Story About Hong Kong.”

Why doesn’t the mainstream media ask any serious questions about Snowden and his closest supporters?

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today?

 


Wednesday Reads: China, North Korea, France and Solomon Islands

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Last night a strong earthquake hit the Solomon Islands, triggering a tsunami.  This is the latest information at the time of this writing, according to the Sydney Morning Herald the tsunami warning was cancelled:

Tsunami Fear After Quake Off Solomons

Residents of islands from the South Pacific to Australia were preparing Wednesday for the possible effects of a tsunami set off by an 8.0-magnitude earthquake off the Solomon Islands, according to scientists and news reports from the area.

“Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said on its Web site.

The earthquake struck around 11 a.m. Australian time in the Santa Cruz Islands, part of the Solomon chain.The center said the tsunami warning was limited to the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Kosrae, Fiji, Kiribati, Wallis and Futuna.

Earthquake near Solomon Islands, Tsunami Alert Cancelled

A major earthquake registering at magnitude 8 has hit near the Solomon Islands, with early reports of villages destroyed.

A tsunami measuring 91 centimetres in height was recorded at Lata Wharf in Santa Cruz Islands, near the epicenter, and an 11-centimetre wave was recorded in Luganville, Vanuatu.

[…]

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said the tsunami may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake centre.

The quake struck at a depth of 5.8km at 11.07am AEDT on Wednesday, near the Santa Cruz Islands, which are part of the Solomon Islands nation.

The director at Lata Hospital on the main Santa Cruz island of Ndende said it was believed villages had been destroyed by the quake.

“The information we are getting is that some villages west and south of Lata along the coast have been destroyed, although we cannot confirm this yet,’’ the director said.

I will post updates in the comments.
There has been some wild news out of North Korea, check out the latest propoganda, which was posted on Youtube: North Korea video shows city resembling New York under missile attack
The video is shot as a dream sequence, with a young man seeing himself on board a North Korean space shuttle launched into orbit by the same type of rocket Pyongyang successfully tested in December.As the shuttle circles the globe — to the tune of “We Are the World” — the video zooms in on countries below, including a joyfully re-unified Korea.In contrast, the focus then switches to a city — shrouded in the US flag — under apparent missile attack with its skyscrapers, including what appears to be the Empire State Building, either on fire or in ruins.“Somewhere in the United States, black clouds of smoke are billowing,” runs the caption across the screen.“It seems that the nest of wickedness is ablaze with the fire started by itself,” it added.The video ends with the young man concluding that his dream will “surely come true”.

“Despite all kinds of attempts by imperialists to isolate and crush us… never will anyone be able to stop the people marching toward a final victory,” it said.

Video is at the link.

There are more calls from the UN regarding investigations of human rights in North Korea: UN Official Urges Human Rights Probe of North Korea

A report by a special U.N. investigator is calling for the United Nations to open an inquiry into North Korea for possible crimes against humanity.

In his report Tuesday, U.N. special rapporteur Marzuki Darusmanwants the Human Rights Council to authorize a probe into North Korea’s “grave, widespread and systematic” human rights violations.

He said an inquiry by the Geneva-based body should examine the responsibility of government and individuals in alleged abuses.

North Korea denounced the report before it was made public.

Meanwhile, a court decision is making headlines, this time a ruling in a Chinese Court that has granted an American woman a divorce….In China, a victory for women’s rights and the power of social media

Kim Lee, an American woman who used social media to go public with accusations of domestic violence against her wealthy and famous husband, Li Yang, has just scored a major victory for women’s rights and the rule of law in China.

As reported by Didi Kirsten Tatlow at the New York Times, Lee made history this weekend after a Beijing court granted her divorce on the grounds of abuse and issued a three-month protection order against her ex-husband, a first in the nation’s capital.

“It’s a very important case. All of society was paying attention,” Guo Jianmei, a lawyer, told the Times. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

And although censorship remains widespread in China, Lee’s court victory is also a testament to the growing power of social media to share information and avoid direct control by government censors. After Lee posted photos and an account of her experience of domestic violence on Sina Weibo, a microblogging service similar to Twitter, it quickly went viral.

Sticking with world news a bit longer, BBC news is reporting: France: Hundreds of Islamist militants killed in Mali

“Several hundred” Islamist militants have been killed since France launched an offensive in Mali last month, the French defence minister has said.

Jean-Yves Le Drian said they had been killed in airstrikes and direct combat with French troops.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said that France may begin pulling out of Mali as early as March.

Back in the US, Anti-Abortion Ideology Trumped Science In Weld County Decision To Stop Providing ‘Morning After’ Pill

When Weld County commissioners decided to stop providing emergency contraception to county patients, concerns rooted in anti-abortion politics trumped scientific facts and testimony provided by the county’s medical chief, according to documents obtained by The Colorado Independent.

Board meeting minutes from the summer of 2010 detail how members led by Commissioner William Garcia were concerned that the popular “Plan B” contraception drugs dispensed at the county’s low-income Title X family-planning clinics prevented pregnancy by destroying fertilized eggs, or inducing abortions, as they put it. Garcia cited reports he found on the Internet to bolster his case and, echoing rhetoric made popular over the last four years by abortion opponents battling health-care reform, he said the board should eliminate Plan B from the county’s services because the law of the land bars tax funding for abortions.

Same old crap…yes? “Reports on the internet.”

Dr. Mark Wallace, who directs the county’s health department, explained to commissioners on at least three separate occasions that summer that Plan B contraception can not abort a fertilized egg. He recommended Weld County continue to dispense Plan B, and he objected to Garcia’s proposal to include any language in the county’s Title X contract that would suggest Plan B was an abortion drug.

“Dr Wallace stated he has a strong professional opinion that Plan B does not disrupt established pregnancies,” the record of the July 12 meeting reads (pdf). “[Wallace] stated the language placed in the agreement regarding Plan B should be medically accurate and should not refer to [PlanB] as an abortive agent.”

Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer–the only woman on the five-member board–was concerned that Garcia’s proposals would put funding at risk and bring popular county family-planning services to an end.

Here it comes…

An anti-abortion Republican, Kirkmeyer was sympathetic to her colleagues’ concerns, but she felt the research cited to support Garcia’s proposals was unproven.

“Plan B is basically a high-dose birth control pill,” she argued, according to the minutes from a May 24 meeting (pdf). “Why is there concern with [Plan B] and not standard forms [of birth control]?

“A lot of women have and will benefit from this type of counseling,” she said.

Despite Wallace’s testimony and initial pushback from Commissioner Kirkmeyer, Garcia’s motion carried unanimously. After roughly a decade providing emergency contraception, Weld County’s clinics stopped dispensing Plan B pills. Conservative Weld and El Paso are the only two counties in Colorado where official policy is to not offer Plan B. Instead, the counties refer patients asking for emergency contraception to other low-cost providers, mainly to Planned Parenthood.

Then the next step is to defund Planned Parenthood, as they have in Texas.

MoJo has an article about the mass shootings of late, What We Still Don’t Know About Mass Shootings

Late last week Megan McArdle of the Daily Beast posted an online interview she did with criminologist James Alan Fox, in part taking issue with our mass shootings investigation at Mother Jones. I was glad to see McArdle continue the conversation with Fox; as he and I agreed in a recent exchange, mass shootings deserve continuing inquiry.

Give that a read.

A new study is out, Mentally Ill Smoke 30% of All Cigarettes.

Federal survey results indicate that smoking intensities as well as smoking rates are dramatically higher in the mentally ill compared with other Americans, officials said Tuesday.

A joint “Vital Signs” report from the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicated that, among adults who reported symptoms consistent with a recognized mental illness, 36.1% were current smokers, compared with 21.4% of the rest of the population.

The report, based on data from the 2009-2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, also found that 30.9% of all cigarettes consumed in the U.S. were smoked by the mentally ill. In part, this disproportion reflects heavier smoking in the mentally ill, with an average of 331 cigarettes per month compared with 310 in the rest of the smoking population.

Individuals classified as mentally ill in the study represented 19.9% of the sample surveyed after weighing to reflect the general population’s demographics.

I wonder if the subject of this next and last article link would be able to smell a smoker from 100 feet. Evidence moles can smell in stereo

Most mammals, including humans, see in stereo and hear in stereo. But whether they can also smell in stereo is the subject of a long-standing scientific controversy.

Now, a new study shows definitively that the common mole (Scalopus aquaticus) – the same critter that disrupts the lawns and gardens of homeowners throughout the eastern United States, Canada and Mexico – relies on stereo sniffing to locate its prey. The paper that describes this research, “Stereo and Serial Sniffing Guide Navigation to an Odor Source in a Mammals,” was published on Feb. 5 in the journal Nature Communications.

“I came at this as a skeptic. I thought the moles’ nostrils were too close together to effectively detect odor gradients,” said Kenneth Catania, the Stevenson Professor of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University, who conducted the research.

What he found turned his assumptions upside down and opened new areas for potential future research. “The fact that moles use stereo odor cues to locate food suggests other mammals that rely heavily on their sense of smell, like dogs and pigs might also have this ability,” Catania said.

Catania describes how he did it…

He created a radial arena with food wells spaced around a 180-degree circle with the entrance for the mole located at the center. He then ran a number of trials with the food (pieces of earthworm) placed randomly in different wells. The chamber was temporarily sealed so he could detect each time the mole sniffed by the change in air pressure.

“It was amazing. They found the food in less than five seconds and went directly to the right food well almost every time,” Catania said. “They have a hyper-sensitive sense of smell.”

That is a good start for this Wednesday morning, what are you up to today?