Author Archive | majestic

Shell ‘Art’ Made 300,000 Years Before Humans Evolved

The geometric pattern on Pseudodon DUB1006-fL. Click for more images at Nature.

The geometric pattern on Pseudodon DUB1006-fL. Click for more images at Nature.

One of the main themes of Graham Hancock’s bestselling book Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind was that the emergence of painting some 40,000 years ago marked a shift in human consciousness, possibly brought about via consciousness expanding substances. Now a clam shell buried between 430,000 and 540,000 years ago with artwork etched onto it has emerged, reports New Scientist. What might this mean?

The artist – if she or he can be called that – was right-handed and used a shark’s tooth. They had a remarkably steady hand and a strong arm. Half a million years ago, on the banks of a calm river in central Java, they scored a deep zigzag into a clam shell.

We will never know what was going on inside its maker’s head, but the tidy, purposeful line (pictured above right) has opened a new window into the origins of our modern creative mind.

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Stephen Hawking Warns Artificial Intelligence Could End Mankind

Stephen Hawking in CambridgeNot to be outdone by Silicon Valley superhero Elon Musk who recently warned that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is “our biggest existential threat,” British genius Stephen Hawking tells BBC News that AI could spell the end of mankind:

Prof Stephen Hawking, one of Britain’s pre-eminent scientists, has said that efforts to create thinking machines pose a threat to our very existence.

He told the BBC:”The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

His warning came in response to a question about a revamp of the technology he uses to communicate, which involves a basic form of AI.

But others are less gloomy about AI’s prospects.

The theoretical physicist, who has the motor neurone disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is using a new system developed by Intel to speak.

Machine learning experts from the British company Swiftkey were also involved in its creation. Their technology, already employed as a smartphone keyboard app, learns how the professor thinks and suggests the words he might want to use next.

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Dear Evangelicals: You’re Being Had

Jakob Jordaens 002.jpg

Rabbi Jay Michelson asks Evangelical Christians “Why are you trying to solve a cultural problem with a political solution?” and suggests his own answer: “Because the Republican Party is using you.” His full address to the Evangelicals is at Daily Beast:

Dear Conservative Evangelicals,

I drive a Prius, enjoy Vanilla lattes, and am married to a man. I know it’s unlikely for me to be writing you this letter, and even more unlikely for you to read it.

But unlike most of my Obama-loving, liberal friends, I am no longer afraid of you. It’s clear to me that “your side” is losing the battle for public opinion, and I know that many of you agree with that assessment.

So why am I writing you this letter? Because, also unlike my liberal friends, I’m actually on your side, in some ways. I’m an ordained rabbi, and someone deeply concerned with the vulgarization and sexualization of our society.

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Zahi Hawass Cleared Of Corruption Charges

HawassIn what is bound to be unpleasant news to the likes of alternative Egyptologists Robert Bauval and Ahmed Osman, but perhaps unsurprising given that charges relating to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s various crimes have been dropped, his former Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass has also been cleared of corruption, reports AhramOnline:

Egypt’s leading prosecutor for public funds cases has cleared world-renowned Egyptologist Zawi Hawass on charges of wasting public money and illicit gains.

Hawass, who served as antiquities minister under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, was also accused by former colleagues of neglecting Egypt’s heritage sites and sending unique artefacts abroad, such as two Tutankhamun exhibitions in 2008.

Further complaints alleged that Hawass was guilty of illicit gains through his clothing line, which features photos of himself and Egyptian artefacts.

However, after two years of investigations into the complaints, Ahmed El-Bahrawi, First Attorney-General for Public Funds Prosecution, decided on Tuesday to dismiss the allegations.

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Real World Contradicts Right-Wing Tax Theories

“California raised taxes, Kansas cut them. California did better,” writes David Cay Johnston at  Al Jazeera America:

Ever since economist Arthur Laffer drew his eponymous curve on a napkin for two officials in President Richard Nixon’s administration four decades ago, we have been told that cutting tax rates spurs jobs and higher pay, while hiking taxes does the opposite.

Now, thanks to recent tax cuts in Kansas and tax hikes in California, we have real-world tests of this idea. So far the results do not support Laffer’s insistence that lower tax rates always result in more, better-paying jobs. In fact, Kansas’ tax cuts produced much slower job and wage growth than in California.The empirical evidence that the Laffer Curve is not what its promoter insists joins other real-world experience undermining the widely held belief that minimum wage increases reduce employment and income.

Laffer-Curve.svg

“Laffer-Curve” by Vectorisation by Vanessaezekowitz (CC)

The Laffer Curve refers to a theory of marginal effects of tax rates on tax revenues, which goes back hundreds of years, at least to a 15th Century Muslim scholar named Ibn Khaldun.

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Treating Depression With Magic Mushrooms

Psilocybe semilanceata 6514.jpg

Psilocybe semilanceata 6514. Photo by Arp (CC)

When the New York Times runs an op-ed seriously suggesting the use of psilocybin (a/k/a magic mushrooms) for treatment of depression, one suspects a tipping point may have been reached in the struggle for psychedelics to be taken seriously as having medical worth:

I tried magic mushrooms out of curiosity and in middle age. I’d been on the amateur mycological circuit for a couple of years, but hallucinogenic species were rarely mentioned at the foraging expeditions and conferences I attended. It’s almost as if they were the black sheep of mycology: embarrassing to serious taxonomy jocks. I read some books on the subject, but most were tripper’s guides that didn’t utilize, um, specific language or current science. Psychoactive mushrooms had been in a kind of scientific ghetto ever since they were criminalized in 1968. But now the drug derived from the mushroom, psilocybin, is finally being re-examined for its medical applications.

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White People: Bet You Don’t Have Any Black Friends

If you’re white and in America, this would be a fairly safe bet, with Wonkblog reporting that 3/4 of white people don’t have any non-white friends:

“All my black friends have a bunch of white friends. And all my white friends have one black friend.”

That’s the memorable punchline of a Chris Rock bit from 2009 on interracial friendships. And according to some recent number-crunching by Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute, there’s a good deal of truth to that statement.

Let’s consider the average white American and the average black American, and let’s say, for simplicity’s sake, that each of them have 100 friends. If you were to break down their respective friend networks by race, they would look something like this.

black-friends-white-friends

In a 100-friend scenario, the average white person has 91 white friends; one each of black, Latino, Asian, mixed race, and other races; and three friends of unknown race.

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The Peer-Review Scam

In the world of academic journals, peer review of submissions is the gold-standard. However, all that glitters in academe is apparently not gold as this report in Nature reveals:

Most journal editors know how much effort it takes to persuade busy researchers to review a paper. That is why the editor of The Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Medicinal Chemistry was puzzled by the reviews for manuscripts by one author — Hyung-In Moon, a medicinal-plant researcher then at Dongguk University in Gyeongju, South Korea.

The reviews themselves were not remarkable: mostly favourable, with some suggestions about how to improve the papers. What was unusual was how quickly they were completed — often within 24 hours. The turnaround was a little too fast, and Claudiu Supuran, the journal’s editor-in-chief, started to

In 2012, he confronted Moon, who readily admitted that the reviews had come in so quickly because he had written many of them himself.

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Why I Hate Thanksgiving

What’s your take on Thanksgiving, American disinfonauts? Do you love all that overeating and American Football on TV, not to mention time spent with family? Mitchel Cohen (writer, activist, poet, former chair WBAI-FM Local Board (2008-2012), Brooklyn Greens, Red Balloon Collective, rabble rouser) isn’t buying into the wholesome American holiday and he explains exactly why not at his blog:

On Thanksgiving morning 2003, George W. Bush showed up in Iraq before sunrise for a photo-op, wearing an Army workout jacket and surrounded by soldiers. He cradled a platter with what appeared to be a golden-brown turkey. Washington Post reporter Mike Allen wrote that “the bird looks perfect, with bunches of grapes and other trimmings completing a Norman Rockwell image that evokes bounty and security in one of the most dangerous parts of the world.”

Bush-Thanksgiving-turkey

As the world was soon to learn (but quickly forgot), the turkey platter was a phony, a plastic decoration that Bush posed with for the cameras.

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