Author Archive | majestic

The Return of Harry Potter (At The 2014 Quidditch World Cup Finals)

J. K. Rowling 2010

J. K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling just can’t leave her iconic character Harry Potter alone: She’s posted a new story about Harry on her Pottermore site, a report on the (not quite so) young magician’s appearance at the 2014 Quidditch World Cup Finals. NBC’s Today is running an exclusive excerpt in the form of a report from the (fictional) Daily Prophet:

Dumbledore’s Army Reunites at Quidditch World Cup Final

By the Daily Prophet’s Gossip Correspondent, Rita Skeeter

There are celebrities – and then there are celebrities. We’ve seen many a famous face from the wizarding world grace the stands here in the Patagonian Desert – Ministers and Presidents, Celestina Warbeck, controversial American wizarding band The Bent-Winged Snitches – all have caused flurries of excitement, with crowd members scrambling for autographs and even casting Bridging Charms to reach the VIP boxes over the heads of the crowd.

But when word swept the campsite and stadium that a certain gang of infamous wizards (no longer the fresh-faced teenagers they were in their heyday, but nevertheless recognisable) had arrived for the final, excitement was beyond anything yet seen.

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The Assassins, Arms Dealers, and Bandits Running Russian Military Intelligence

Gru_emblemLabeling them as “Putin’s secret weapon,” Foreign Policy magazine describes Russia’s highly effective GRU Military Intelligence unit as “assassins, arms dealers, and bandits”:

There are two ways an espionage agency can prove its worth to the government it serves. Either it can be truly useful (think: locatinga most-wanted terrorist), or it can engender fear, dislike, and vilification from its rivals (think: being named a major threat in congressional testimony). But when a spy agency does both, its worth is beyond question.

Since the Ukraine crisis began, the Kremlin has few doubts about the importance of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence apparatus. The agency has not only demonstrated how the Kremlin can employ it as an important foreign-policy tool, by ripping a country apart with just a handful of agents and a lot of guns. The GRU has also shown the rest of the world how Russia expects to fight its future wars: with a mix of stealth, deniability, subversion, and surgical violence.

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Magic mushrooms expand your mind and amplify your brain’s dreaming areas – here’s how

Dried CubensisDefinitely safer than synthetic drugs, but still not for the faint of heart, here’s how magic mushrooms expand your mind, expounded by Robin Carhart-Harris, Post-doctoral Researcher, Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, at The Conversation:

Psychedelic drugs alter consciousness in a profound and novel way that increases the breadth and fluency of cognition. However, until recently, we were unable to offer an explanation for how the brain was altered to account for these effects.

In a new study, published in Human Brain Mapping, we scanned the brains of volunteers who had been injected with psilocybin – the chemical found in magic mushrooms which gives a psychedelic experience – and a control group who hadn’t, and discovered two key things: that psilocybin increased the amplitude (or “volume”) of activity in regions of the brain that are reliably activated during dream sleep and form part of the brain’s ancient emotion system; and that psychedelics facilitate a state of “expanded” consciousness – meaning that the breath of associations made by the brain and the ease by which they are visited is enhanced under the drugs.

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Psychonauts Explore Unknown World of Legal Highs

Spice drug“No sooner are they banned than rogue labs tweak formulae to create new drugs, with terrifying results for those trying them out,” writes Sarah Bosely at the Guardian:

Daniel, until recently, was a researcher, using his bedroom as a laboratory. His apparatus was his own brain. He bought chemical compounds labelled “not for human use” on the internet, ingested them and waited to see whether he was headed for heaven or hell. At times he wondered if he was going to die.

He was experimenting with novel psychoactive substances – so-called legal highs. These are usually based on banned drugs, such as MDMA or ecstasy, and cannabis. Variations in the formula enable them to be sold legally, but nobody can be sure what effect they are going to have on the user’s mind or body – and the doctors dealing with the casualties in A&E have no idea what the substance is that has done the damage or how to treat the patient in distress before them.

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Inside Monsanto, America’s Third-Most-Hated Company

BBW_cover_070714Well no surprise that the spinmeisters at America’s third-most-hated company, Monsanto, chose Bloomberg Businessweek to depict them as unjustly and unreasonably reviled, but nonetheless it’s interesting to review their take on just why we shouldn’t hate the corporate bad guys du jour:

…In a Harris Poll this year measuring the “reputation quotient” of major companies, Monsanto ranked third-lowest, above BP  and Bank of America and just behind Halliburton. For much of its history it was a chemical company, producing compounds used in electrical equipment, adhesives, plastics, and paint. Some of those chemicals—DDT, Agent Orange, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)—have had long and controversial afterlifes. The company is best known, however, as the face of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

On May 24, cities worldwide saw the second annual “March Against Monsanto.” In New York City, a couple thousand protesters gathered in Union Square, next to a farmers’ market, to hear speakers charge that the company was fighting efforts in states all over the country to mandate the labeling of GM foods; that organic crops were being polluted by GM pollen blown in on the wind, only for Monsanto to sue the organic farmers for intellectual-property theft; that Monsanto had developed a “Terminator” gene that made crops sterile.

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The Persecution of Witches, 21st-Century Style

HorowitzThe erudite Mitch Horowitz, a stalwart of intellectual New York book publishing, has been given op-ed space in today’s New York Times to highlight a new worldwide wave of violence against witches — and how to end it:

Most people believe that the persecution of “witches” reached its height in the early 1690s with the trials in Salem, Mass., but it is a grim paradox of 21st-century life that violence against people accused of sorcery is very much still with us. Far from fading away, thanks to digital interconnectedness and economic development, witch hunting has become a growing, global problem.

In recent years, there has been a spate of attacks against people accused of witchcraft in Africa, the Pacific and Latin America, and even among immigrant communities in the United States and Western Europe. Researchers with United Nations refugee and human rights agencies have estimated the murders of supposed witches as numbering in the thousands each year, while beatings and banishments could run into the millions.

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It’s Official: McDonald’s Burgers Are The Worst In The USA

(C) Consumer Reports. Click for graphic showing Sandwiches/Subs, Burritos and Chicken.

(C) Consumer Reports. Click for graphic showing Sandwiches/Subs, Burritos and Chicken.

Well, if you consider Consumer Reports‘ verdict to be official, then McDonald’s, probably to no one’s surprise, serves the worst of the worst mass market burgers:

We asked subscribers this direct question: On a scale of  1 to 10, from least delicious to most delicious you’ve ever eaten, how would you rate the taste? We heard about 53,745 burger chains’ burgers, chicken chains’ fried or roasted chicken, Mexican chains’ burritos, and sandwich chains’ sub—or heroes, hoagies, grinders, or wedges, depending on where you call home. (Click on the image above to see an expanded view of the the taste tables.)

The tables reveal that some signature dishes came close to our readers’ benchmarks for excellence. But many of the biggest names earned significantly lower scores for the foods that made them famous, notably McDonald’s. The chain, which serves flash-frozen patties made with 100 percent USDA-inspected beef, touts them as free from  “preservatives, fillers, extenders, and so-called pink slime.” Such a pledge might be comforting, but it’s hardly a rousing endorsement.

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Quantum State: It’s A Thang!

Quantum bouncerPhysicists are finally plucking up the courage to think that quantum mechanics might actually represent reality, and is not just a useful theory, suggests Chris Lee at Ars Technica:

At the very heart of quantum mechanics lies a monster waiting to consume unwary minds. This monster goes by the name The Nature of Reality™. The greatest of physicists have taken one look into its mouth, saw the size of its teeth, and were consumed. Niels Bohr denied the existence of the monster after he nonchalantly (and very quietly) exited the monster’s lair muttering “shut up and calculate.” Einstein caught a glimpse of the teeth and fainted. He was reportedly rescued by Erwin Schrödinger at great personal risk, but neither really recovered from their encounter with the beast.

The upshot is that we had a group of physicists and philosophers who didn’t believe that quantum mechanics represents reality but that it was all we could see of some deeper, more fundamental theory.

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Facebook’s Secret Emotional Psychology Test on YOU

dislikeYes, that’s right, Facebook is conducting psychological tests on its users. Or at least it was until details of the experiment leaked and they decided it was bad publicity. From the Telegraph:

Over 600,000 Facebook users have taken part in a psychological experiment organised by the social media company, without their knowledge.

Facebook altered the tone of the users’ news feed to highlight either positive or negative posts from their friends, which were seen on their news feed.

They then monitored the users’ response, to see whether their friends’ attitude had an impact on their own.

“The results show emotional contagion,” wrote a team of Facebook scientists, in a paper published by the PNAS journal - Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists of the United States.

“When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred.

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Hobby Lobby Ruling: Employers Don’t Have to Cover Birth Control

HobbyLobbyStowOhioIt’s a kick in the teeth to the promoters of “ObamaCare,” but this narrow limitation of the Affordable Care Act is really just a minor hiccup compared to the large number of people now enrolled. NBC News reports on the US Supreme Court ruling in the so called Hobby Lobby case:

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a limited decision, ruled Monday that closely held, for-profit companies can claim a religious exemption to the Obamacare requirement that they provide health insurance coverage for contraceptives.

For-profit corporations — including Conestoga Wood of Pennsylvania, owned by a family of Mennonite Christians, and Hobby Lobby, a family-owned chain of arts and crafts stores founded on Biblical principles — had challenged a provision of the Affordable Care Act.

It requires companies with more than 50 employees to cover preventive care services, which include such contraceptives as morning-after pills, diaphragms and IUDs.

The court’s ruling Monday was 5-4, written by Justice Samuel Alito, and the decision appeared to be extremely limited.

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