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First experimental signs of a New Physics beyond the Standard Model

The Standard Model, which has given the most complete explanation up to now of the universe, has gaps, and is unable to explain phenomena like dark matter or gravitational interaction between particles. Physicists are therefore seeking a more fundamental theory that they call "New Physics", but up to now there has been no direct proof of its existence, only indirect observation of dark matter, as deduced, among other things, from the movement of the galaxies.

A team of physicists formed by the professor of Physics at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) Joaquim Matias, Javier Virto, postdoctoral researcher at the same university, and Sebastien Descotes Genon, from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) / Université Paris-Sud, has predicted that New Physics would implie the existence of deviations in the probability of a very specific decay of a particle, the B meson. Detecting these small deviations through an experiment would be the first direct proof of the existence of this fundamental theory.

On 19 July of this year, at the EPS 2013 international conference on particle physics in Stockholm, scientists at the LHCb detector, one of the large experiments being conducted by the CERN's LHC accelerator, presented the results of the experimental measurements of the B meson decay. The measurements showed deviations with respect to the predictions of the Standard Model that were previously calculated by UAB and CNRS researchers. The team of scientists have proved that all these deviations show a coherent pattern and that has allowed them to identify their oringin from a unique source.

The results of their analysis point to a deviation from the Standard Model prediction of 4.5 sigmas. If confirmed, this is a major event, since scientists regard 3 sigmas as "scientific proof" of New Physics and 5 sigmas as a "discovery".



Federal Judge: Catholic Church Has A Constitutional Right Not To Compensate Victims Of Sex Abuse


A federal judge in Wisconsin handed down an opinion yesterday granting the Catholic Church — and indeed, potentially all religious institutions — such sweeping immunity from federal bankruptcy law that it is not clear that it would permit any plaintiff to successfully sue any church in any court. While the ostensible issue in this case is whether over $50 million in church funds are shielded from a bankruptcy proceeding triggered largely by a flood of clerical sex abuse claims against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Judge Rudolph Randa reads the church’s constitutional and legal right to religious liberty so broadly as to render religious institutions immune from much of the law.

The case involves approximately $57 million that former Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan transferred from the archdiocese’s general accounts to into a separate trust set up to maintain the church’s cemeteries. Although Dolan, who is now a cardinal, the Archbishop of New York and the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has denied that the purpose of this transfer was to shield the funds from lawsuits, Dolan penned a letter to the Vatican in 2007 where he explained that transferring the funds into the trust would lead to “an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.”

The issue facing the court is, essentially, whether the funds that Dolan split off into a separate trust can now be reabsorbed into the archdiocese’s assets in order to enable sex abuse victims and other creditors to be paid out of these assets. In holding that these funds cannot be so absorbed, Randa relies on a law that limits the federal government’s ability to “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion,” Randa cites to the current Archbishop of Milwaukee’s statement that “the care and maintenance of Catholic cemeteries, cemetery property, and the remains of those interred is a fundamental exercise of the Catholic faith,” and concludes that this statement alone is enough to shield the church’s funds. As Randa explains, “if the Trust’s funds are converted into the bankruptcy estate, there will be no funds or, at best, insufficient funds for the perpetual care of the Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries.”

And Randa does not stop there. He goes on to argue that senior church officials get to unilaterally decide what constitutes a “substantial burden” on their faith for purposes of federal law — “Archbishop Listecki’s declaration stands unopposed, and on the issue of religious doctrine, it is unassailable. Moreover, the issue of substantial burden is essentially coterminous with religious doctrine.” In this case, an archbishop declared cemetery funds to be untouchable in a bankruptcy proceeding, but Randa’s reasoning could extend much farther. Nothing in his opinion would prevent a church’s officials from declaring that every single line in every single ledger kept by the church is mandated by the sacred word of God — and therefore every single dollar owned by the church is untouchable so long as the church engages in the kind of accounting gymnastics Dolan allegedly performed.


Harvard creates brain-to-brain interface, allows humans to control other animals with thoughts alone

By Sebastian Anthony on July 31, 2013 at 7:45 am

Researchers at Harvard University have created the first noninvasive brain-to-brain interface (BBI) between a human… and a rat. Simply by thinking the appropriate thought, the BBI allows the human to control the rat’s tail. This is one of the most important steps towards BBIs that allow for telepathic links between two or more humans — which is a good thing in the case of friends and family, but terrifying if you stop to think about the nefarious possibilities of a fascist dictatorship with mind control tech.

In recent years there have been huge advances in the field of brain-computer interfaces, where your thoughts are detected and “understood” by a sensor attached to a computer, but relatively little work has been done in the opposite direction (computer-brain interfaces). This is because it’s one thing for a computer to work out what a human is thinking (by asking or observing their actions), but another thing entirely to inject new thoughts into a human brain. To put it bluntly, we have almost no idea of how thoughts are encoded by neurons in the brain. For now, the best we can do is create a computer-brain interface that stimulates a region of the brain that’s known to create a certain reaction — such as the specific part of the motor cortex that’s in charge of your fingers. We don’t have the power to move your fingers in a specific way — that would require knowing the brain’s encoding scheme — but we can make them jerk around.

Which brings us neatly onto Harvard’s human-mouse brain-to-brain interface. The human wears a run-of-the-mill EEG-based BCI, while the mouse is equipped with a focused ultrasound (FUS) computer-brain interface (CBI). FUS is a relatively new technology that allows the researchers to excite a very specific region of neurons in the rat’s brain using an ultrasound signal. The main advantage of FUS is that, unlike most brain-stimulation techniques, such as DBS, it isn’t invasive. For now it looks like the FUS equipment is fairly bulky, but future versions might be small enough for use in everyday human CBIs.



incredible and horrible

The dubious distinction of China’s newest cancer village: its residents were poisoned by soil

For decades, China’s economic development model emphasized cheap industrial growth at all costs. Those costs are now becoming apparent, at least in terms of the human toll from water and air pollution. But the consequences of soil pollution, which the government deems a “state secret,” have been less clear.

That’s finally starting to change. A news report out today signals just how lethal soil contamination is likely to turn out to be. In the last four years, at least 26 people in Shuangqiao, a village in Hunan province (link in Chinese), have been poisoned to death by cadmium run-off from a chemical plant. Of those, 20 died of cancer.

Soil samples from the village showed levels of cadmium, a heavy metal that has been shown to cause cancer in animals (pdf), at 300 times the legal standard. Health officials found that one-sixth of the 3,000 villagers tested positive for cadmium toxicity. The China Youth Daily account reported that, in addition to the high mortality rate, children were also born with deformities, as well as having irreversible effects of lead poisoning among five children, including nerve damage and mental retardation. Though the plant was shuttered in 2009, industrial waste was never cleaned up, and a toxic odor lingers still today, says the South China Morning Post (paywall).

This comes on the heels of Guangdong Province’s unexpected public announcement that 28% of the soil in southern China’s Pearl River Delta (link in Chinese) exceeded limits on heavy metal pollution. That report also revealed that 50% of Guangzhou’s and Foshan’s soil was excessively contaminated. Perhaps other provinces will be inspired by Guangdong’s lead.



The Sexist Attacks on Janet Yellen Have to Stop

Guess what 'gravitas' is code for

A few weeks ago, Ezra Klein wrote about the "subtle, sexist whispering campaign" against Janet Yellen, but I didn't really believe it. (Hey, I'm a white guy). Yellen, the current Fed number two, is so obviously qualified and respected that I thought it was pretty much a given that she'd get nominated for Fed Chair. It's not. And it's getting harder not to think that doesn't have something to do with gender.

Here's the Cliffs Notes case for Yellen. She's been at the Fed for much of the past 20 years, and she's been on the right side of almost every debate during that time. She talked Alan Greenspan out of an ill-conceived zero percent inflation target in the mid-1990s, raised concerns about the housing bubble in the mid-2000s, and highlighted the danger of a credit crunch in 2007. Not only that, but the Wall Street Journal calculates that she has the best forecasting record of any Fed member going back to 2009. Oh, and she's been the architect of the Fed's unconventional policies.

But that isn't good enough for some reason. And that reason sounds pretty sexist. Indeed, as Klein notes, one of the criticisms he's heard of her is that she lacks a certain ... "gravitas" (or is it a Y chromosome?) to be Fed Chair. It's an interesting word choice that's come up again. Here's what Albert Hunt of Bloomberg View says he's heard about who Obama might pick to lead the Fed:

The president, according to people familiar with his thinking, believes Summers has the experience and expertise to succeed Ben Bernanke. No one doubts Yellen's credentials as an economist, but questions have been raised, mainly by those in the Summers camp, about whether she has the gravitas to manage a financial crisis.

I'm going to put this as politely as I know how: This is bullshit. Yes, there have been more absurd attacks on Yellen -- that she'd be a PC-pick or usher in the era a "gender-backed dollar," whatever that means -- but this is plenty absurd too. Offensively so. Look, Ben Bernanke was also a soft-spoken academic with no Wall Street experience before he became Fed Chair, but that didn't stop him managing the financial crisis about as well as anybody could have. (At least the actual panic, not the run-up to it). Did Bernanke, who hired a public speaking coach to help conquer his voice quaver, have gravitas? I don't know. That judgment probably depends on how much you like his beard.



Think The Sochi Olympics Are A Human Rights Disaster? Things Are Going To Get A Lot Worse

Get ready for Qatar 2022.
by Ben Mathis-Lilley

You may have heard about the anti-LGBT laws passed last month in Russia, which criminalize gay “propaganda.” You may specifically have heard about these laws in reference to next year’s Sochi Winter Olympics. Sochi is in Russia, and some advocates believe that athletes (as well as other Russian institutions) should boycott the games to protest the laws. Not every activist agrees on that point, but either way, in a sports world that is increasingly LGBT-friendly, the Russian laws — and the wisdom of rewarding a civil rights-hostile country with a prestigious prize like hosting the Olympics — will continue to be a huge issue.

A huge issue — but perhaps only a small preview of what’s coming. The Winter Olympics are a relatively minor sporting event, and these repressive laws were passed recently enough as to make the idea of moving the Olympics impractical. But Russia is set to host the World Cup in 2018. And the World Cup after that is slated to take place in Qatar, where homosexuality is punishable by seven years in prison. Those will be much larger events than Sochi in terms of worldwide audience, in-person attendance, and scope. The Olympics are a two-week event in one location, but World Cups last a month and take place in several cities at once. That means fans and players spending more time in more places.

Which gets at perhaps the central problem that Russia and Qatar have, and a way in which their events could differ from past Olympics and World Cups held under politically controversial circumstances. Because political controversy itself is nothing new for global competitions, of course. Critics of the decisions to hold the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa had plenty to complain about in China’s human rights and labor records and the South African government’s decision to spend huge sums on stadium construction and other preparation in a country with serious poverty issues. The mothers of “disappeared” and murdered dissidents protested in public when Argentina’s military regime hosted the 1978 World Cup. The USSR and United States were considered inappropriate Olympic hosts in 1980 and 1984, and boycotted by giant and mutually exclusive blocs of world governments.

What all those political issues had in common, from Beijing to Los Angeles, is that they did not present any imminent threat to the well-being of athletes or spectators. When the Chinese, American, Argentinian and Soviets acted as hosts, they downplayed their own internal conflicts and charmed their guests. They were trying to win the respect of international visitors, even those from countries with hostile governments. The Cold War-era United States was happy to host Soviet athletes and citizens permanently if they so chose. The Chinese created an impressive, borderline-sublime mass spectacle of an Opening Ceremony as if to make a point to visitors about the benefits of subsuming oneself to society.

The official positions of Russia and Qatar toward LGBT rights make no room for charm or persuasion; a gay man visiting and making his identity known in either of those countries can simply be considered a criminal and prosecuted as such. Even a few years ago, this did not seem, to the relevant authorities in soccer’s governing body, to be a problem at all. (FIFA president Sepp Blatter, asked in 2010 about Qatar’s laws, answered glibly that gay World Cup fans should simply avoid having sex during their time in the country.) And why should it have? Not long ago the official laws of even a relatively LGBT-friendly country like the United States prohibited gays and lesbians from marrying or serving in the armed forces. The idea of a world-class gay athlete was only theoretical. To hide one’s identity for a month in Russia or Qatar — what’s so absurd about that, if Americans serving in the army had to do the same thing every day? The reasoning was disappointing, but understandable.



Guns Are for White People

By Francis Wilkinson Jul 30, 2013 10:13 AM ET

Everybody's white. That's the conclusion from a survey of gun magazines I bought the other day. The survey, I admit, was not conducted in accord with the best research practices: I asked the guy at the subway kiosk for as many gun magazines as he could give me before the #4 train pulled in. He handed me three for $17.

All the magazines have ads for, well, guns, and loads of accessories (love the "Sneaky Pete" concealment holster). Naturally, they have stories on guns -- whether "intimidating, big-muzzle looks" or a "Tank-tough Recon Tactical with added strength and reliability for patrol." In addition, there are features on gun life, such as columns in Guns Magazine called "Campfire Tales" and "Odd Angry Shot."

There are pictures of guys with guns, gals with guns, animals with guns, ammo with guns and guns with guns. Curiously absent are pictures of black people with guns, brown people with guns or Asian people with guns. The good guys are white. The bad guys are white. In the Gunworld depicted in these pages, pretty much everyone is white.

This point was so striking, in fact, that I decided to count the faces in the ads and stories, figuring arithmetic would refute a lazy first impression. Including illustrations and photos, here's my tally:

Combat Handguns Magazine, November 2013
Whites: 92
Blacks: 1
Hispanics: 1
Asian: 1

Interestingly, both the (light-skinned) black guy and the Hispanic guy are wearing uniforms -- don't worry, folks, they're on our side! The Asian is dressed in a suit and tie and is clearly presented as a law enforcement or high-end security professional.


The Onion Predicts Real Life: Republicans Block NASA's Asteroid Plan

—By Asawin Suebsaeng|

President Obama's plan to have NASA lasso an asteroid, tow it toward Earth, place it into the moon's orbit, and claim the space rock for the United States of America has hit a congressional snag. The New York Times reports:

NASA wants to launch an unmanned spacecraft in 2018 that would capture a small asteroid — maybe 7 to 10 yards wide — haul it closer to Earth, then send astronauts up to examine it, in 2021 or beyond.

But the space agency has encountered a stubborn technical problem: Congressional Republicans...[T]he science committee in the Republican-controlled House voted to bar NASA from pursuing that faraway rock. In a straight party vote — 22 Republicans for, 17 Democrats against — the committee laid out a road map for NASA for the next three years that brushed aside the asteroid capture plan, the centerpiece of the Obama administration's agenda for space exploration. The plan, instead, included new marching orders, telling NASA to send astronauts back to the Moon, set up a base there and then aim for Mars (and to do so with less money than requested).

Not only would the asteroid-lasso initiative have astronauts travel to the space rock to conduct mining operations and test technology for missions to Mars—it would allow NASA to research strategies for deflecting future, potentially world-ending asteroids.

In a way, the Times got scooped on this story. By the Onion. More than two years ago:



Wednesday Toon Roundup 3- The Rest







Wednesday Toon Roundup 2- Pope Springs Eternal

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