Politics / Society / The Week in Review / World News

What Did I Miss? The Week in Review #17

13 – 20 July 2015

by Marion Bouvier

The Week in Review is a weekly column that highlights some interesting, outraging, and heartwarming events and stories of the past week. Its ambition is not to be exhaustive or to recap major political events; it’s more of a personal take on news or stories that made the author react strongly.

Picture of the Week

Bronze Age gold spirals found in Boeslund, 900-700 BC. © Morten Petersen / Zealand Museum.

Bronze Age gold spirals found in Boeslund, 900-700 BC. © Morten Petersen / Zealand Museum.

These gold spirals, recently found by a team of archeologists in Boeslunde in Denmark, have become a yet-unsolved enigma. Dating back to the Bronze Age, these pure gold mini spirals are just 0.1 millimeter thick: in total, the 2000 artifacts weigh no more than between 200 and 300 grams. But what remains a mystery is why these delicately crafted coils were created in the first place.

The curator of the National Museum of Denmark, Flemming Kaul, believes that the answer may lie in the prevalence of sun rituals in prehistoric society. He explains: “The sun was one of the most sacred symbols in the Bronze Age and gold had a special magic. Maybe the priest-king wore a gold ring on his wrist, and gold spirals on his cloak and his hat, where they during ritual sun ceremonies shone like the sun.”

But in the absence of further proof supporting this theory, the mystery remains.

Long-awaited News of the Week

Former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré is welcomed by Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1987. Photo © Jean-Louis Atlan/Sygma/Corbis

Former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré is welcomed by Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1987. Photo © Jean-Louis Atlan/Sygma/Corbis

Former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré will finally be tried on July 20, when he will be charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture. The trial will take place in Senegal, where Habré had fled after being toppled in 1990 by current president Idriss Déby Itno. A Chadian Truth Commission had found Habré guilty of more than 40,000 political murders, and the dictator is also accused of implementing the systematic use of torture during the time he was in power, from 1982 to 1990. He could be sentenced to life in prison.

The trial is of great importance for two reasons: firstly because it took 25 years to bring the former dictator to face justice, and secondly because it is a crucial step for the victims to be recognized and for Chad to start healing its wounds.

To know more about the case and about Habré’s bloody reign, read the very informative Q&A put together by Human Rights Watch: https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/07/09/qa-case-hissene-habre-extraordinary-african-chambers-senegal

Or watch this video about the upcoming trial: https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/07/07/senegal-hissene-habre-trial-begin-july-20

Crazy News of the Week

In this research experiment from 2009 at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, a monkey activates a robotic arm through a brain-computer interface, a prelude to the ‘brain net’.

In this research experiment from 2009 at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, a monkey activates a robotic arm through a brain-computer interface, a prelude to the ‘brain net’.

This sentence from the New Scientist’s article says it all: “For the first time, a team has networked the brains of multiple animals to form a living computer that can perform tasks and solve problems.” We are talking about connecting brains together! To create more brainpower! I am torn between feeling flabbergasted at how far technology has come and the range of possibilities that this experiment is opening, and feeling appalled at the thought that we are considering linking brains to go beyond what a single brain can do.

Although the benefits of linking brains together are rather obvious, there are ethical questions raised when creating such ‘superorganisms’. Of course, the practical applications that scientists are thinking of at the moment are very meaningful: adding the separate capacities of operating surgeons to perform difficult operations, mathematicians coming together through the ‘brainet’ to solve complex problems, etc.

Yet no invention that deals with brain functions can and should be taken lightly, and this particular step towards the coordination of brainpower is no exception. Firstly, it could be the beginning of a new level of privacy invasion, with one brain manipulating others through the process. Putting together a network linking brains would indeed open the possibility for private thoughts or data (such as memories) to be ‘shared’ through the brainet.

Secondly, it should make us think twice about the type of future we want to shape: do we need to be always better stronger faster, live older and go beyond what we are capable of without the intervention of potentially invasive technologies into our bodies? We are not talking here about using technologies to help our bodies survive-as in the case of pacemakers or prosthetic limbs-, we are talking about linking several bodies to create a better machine, more powerful than what one can become even at their best.

We are already doing that, cooperating to go beyond previously established limits, and that’s something that is at the root of the concept of society. But again, this is different in that this process physiologically alters what we are to outperform who we are. Maybe it’s the future, and maybe it will turn out to be an ineluctable evolution of humanity. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think twice about the implications of wanting to play gods. Maybe we can think of how to improve what’s inside of us first-or at least at the same time-, rather than trying to reach always further outside.

Encouraging News of the Week

A mountain lion in Griffith Park. © Steve Winter/Getty Images/National Geographic

A mountain lion in Griffith Park. © Steve Winter/Getty Images/National Geographic

A team of scientists working with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) launched a very promising initiative to build a large overpass spanning 10 freeway lanes for mountain lions (also called cougars) in the Los Angeles area.

The project, called ‘Save LA Cougars’ has been extensively studying the mountain lions population living around Santa Monica and is now raising funds to start building this vital passage that should greatly contribute to the mobility of the animals; indeed, the freeways confine cougars to a reduced territory, increasing the likeliness of inbreeding and deaths: both because of fights for domination between males who do not have enough territory to settle, and because of road kills when cougars try to cross the highway.

Out of the planned $4m funding, a bit less than 1/3 of the money has been secured, and the team hopes to manage to obtain the rest in time to get the construction of the overpass started in 2018.

You can learn more about Save LA Cougars and donate here: http://www.nwf.org/What-We-Do/Protect-Wildlife/Protecting-Mountain-Lions.aspx

Bullshit News of the Week

Picture source: News Corp Australia

Picture source: News Corp Australia

I assume that every levelheaded person out there knows that Tony Abbott, Australia’s current Prime minister, is a joke and an embarrassment for his country (if you don’t know much about the man, get a good introduction by reading some of his memorable quotes).

But Mr. Abbott is not yet done proving his poor understanding of the world we live in. This week, the Prime minister decided to expand the scope of coal extraction in Australia, declaring that [gasp] “Coal is good for humanity”. He therefore gave the green light to the development of several coal mines in Queensland, which would produce enough gas emissions to equal the total greenhouse gas emissions of Germany. The production of coal is not aimed solely at fueling Australia’s new for energy, but also at supplying coal-hungry countries like China… That is indeed the best way to help China deal with its huge pollution problem!

Mr. Abbott’s baffling decision comes as even more of a shock considering that he’s making unsustainable moves both economically and politically,: although China is currently in high-demand for coal, it may not be so in the coming decades, as the severity of air pollution has made the Chinese government rethink its energetic mix, and commit to curb its greenhouse emissions. Politically, the Australian parties and general public are less and less inclined to support fossil fuels extraction, and only 17% of Australians (according to a recent survey conducted by the Lowy Institute) think that coal should be the primary energy source in the next decade.

Interesting Read of the Week

The Guardian takes down the myth according to which a grand solar minimum could contribute to cooling the Earth and thereby decrease the impact of global warming. As is clearly explained in the article’s conclusion:

[…] The difference between the Little Ice Age and current warming period comes down to volcanoes, carbon dioxide, and magnitude. The previous cool period was quite small, likely caused mostly by volcanic activity. And of course, humans weren’t pumping over 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year in the 17th century, as we are now.

The bottom line: even the grandest solar minimum would have a minor impact on global temperatures compared to the rapid warming stemming from human carbon pollution.

Read the whole article here: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2015/jul/16/no-the-sun-isnt-going-to-save-us-from-global-warming

Video of the Week

New Horizons, the NASA space probe launched in January 2006, has finally reached Pluto, its dual planet Charon, and their four moons, 9 years after leaving Earth. This week, the first pictures were released and showed that scientists are still far from knowing even the basics of the furthest planet-like object of our solar system. Indeed, among other surprises, the photos taken by New Horizons strongly suggest that both Pluto and Charon are still geologically active: on Pluto, the photographs show a wide range of 3,500-meter-high ice mountains, and no sign of recent crater bombing of the surface, two signs that ongoing geological activity is reshaping the planet.

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