Ancient Greek fable and American raccoons’ intelligence


This February 2017 video is called The Surprising Intelligence of Raccoons.

From ScienceDaily:

Raccoons solve an ancient puzzle, but do they really understand it?

Study investigates whether mammals understand the principles of water displacement

September 29, 2017

Scientists have been using an ancient Greek fable written by Aesop as inspiration to test whether birds and small children understand cause and effect relationships. In “The Crow and the Pitcher“, a thirsty crow realises it should drop stones into a pitcher in order to raise the water level high enough so that the bird is able to drink it. A group of US scientists led by Lauren Stanton of the University of Wyoming have now extended this body of work to study raccoon intelligence. Their research in Springer’s journal Animal Cognition is the first to use the Aesop’s Fable paradigm to assess if mammalian carnivores understand the principles of water displacement.

The research team included Sarah Benson-Amram and Emily Davis from the University of Wyoming, as well as Shylo Johnson and Amy Gilbert from the USDA National Wildlife Research Center, where the experiments were performed. The scientists first tested whether eight raccoons (Procyon lotor) held in captivity would spontaneously drop stones into a clear fifty centimetre tube of water to retrieve floating pieces of marshmallow. They found that, similar to studies of birds, the raccoons did not spontaneously drop stones into the tube from the start.

Following previous studies on birds and human children, the scientists then trained the raccoons to drop stones into the tube. They did this by balancing stones on a rim on top of the tube. If the raccoons accidently knocked the stones in, this raised the water level high enough to bring the marshmallow reward within reach. Raccoons could then learn that the stones falling into the tube brought the marshmallow closer.

During training, seven raccoons interacted with the stones, and four raccoons retrieved the marshmallow reward after accidentally knocking the stones into the water. Two of the four raccoons that got the marshmallow during training then learned on their own to pick up stones off the ground and drop them into the water to get a reward. A third raccoon surprised the scientists by inventing an entirely new method for solving the problem. She found a way to overturn the entire, very heavy, tube and base to get the marshmallow reward.

The two raccoons that successfully dropped stones into the tube were then presented with different objects that they could drop into the tube to solve the problem, such as large versus small stones, and sinking versus floating balls. These experiments enabled the researchers to determine whether the raccoons really understood the problem. If the raccoons understand water displacement, they should select the objects that displace the most water, like the large stones and sinking balls.

The raccoons performed differently than birds and human children did in previous Aesop’s Fable studies, and they did not always pick the most functional option. Stanton, however, believes the raccoons’ performance is not necessarily a reflection of their cognitive abilities, but more so of their exploratory behaviour and the build of their dexterous paws.

“We found raccoons to be innovative in many aspects of this task, and we observed diverse, investigative behaviours that are unique to raccoons”, says Stanton, adding that the way in which the experiment was conducted might also have played a role. She explains that the raccoons had fewer opportunities to interact with the puzzle than did many of the birds that were tested in previous studies. Therefore, the performance of the raccoons might improve if they have more time to familiarize themselves with the stones and the water tube.

Despite the low success rates of the raccoons, Benson-Amram is optimistic about running more experiments with raccoons. As Benson-Amram explains “Our study demonstrates that captive raccoons are able to learn to solve novel problems and that they approach classic tests of animal cognition in diverse and exciting ways. We can’t wait to see what they do next.”

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London bomb abused for Internet censorship


This video says about itself:

UK Planning To Implement Further Internet Restrictions

25 May 2017

By Steve James in Britain:

Parsons Green bomb seized on to call for greater internet censorship

30 September 2017

An 18-year-old orphaned Iraqi asylum seeker, Ahmed Hassan, has been charged with attempted murder and causing an explosion following the September 15 failed “bucket bomb” attack on a packed underground train at London’s Parsons Green tube station.

Around 30 people were injured, either by the “fireball” which erupted from a builder’s bucket in a supermarket bag or the panicked crush that followed the explosion. One woman suffered severe burns and will require months of hospital treatment.

The attack was used by both the British and US authorities as an opportunity to call for extended internet monitoring and censorship, as the bomb’s design has been circulating on the internet for years.

In the event, it seems that only the detonator exploded. Had the device functioned as intended the impact would have been much worse. According to the prosecutor at Westminster Magistrates Court, the bomb contained “many hundred grams” of triacetone triperoxide [TATP], a highly unstable explosive substance that can be concocted with easily purchased ingredients, and “an electronic timer and several containers of quantities of metal shrapnel including knives, screws and similar items clearly designed to cause severe injuries and death to those nearby.”

Hassan is accused of having constructed the device in a garden shed at the home of his foster parents, having bought some bomb components from Amazon.

Only hours after the explosion, before anything was made public about the suspected attacker, the bomb’s design and apparently homemade character and before any arrests had even been made, US President Donald Trump tweeted his view of the perpetrators as “sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard [Metropolitan Police].”

He continued, “The internet is their main recruitment tool which we must cut off & use better!”

Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “working with the internet companies” to “deal with the terrorist propaganda, with the extremist propaganda, with the hatred that is put out across the Internet.”

Last week, May met with French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni at a meeting at the United Nations that included representatives of Google, Facebook and Microsoft. Speaking for the trio, Macron threatened to “name and shame” companies that do not comply with their demands.

May asserted, “Industry needs to go further and faster in automating the detection and removal of terrorist content online, and developing technological solutions that prevent it being uploaded in the first place.”

Former CIA director, General David Petraeus, told the BBC that governments had to look at “the tools and the authorities necessary to eliminate if possible and at the very least reduce very dramatically the way Islamists have been able to use cyberspace.” He called the internet a “whole new domain of warfare.”

May, Petraeus, Trump et al are calling for carte blanche censorship and powers to exclude whole sections of the population from internet use as and when politically convenient.

Ultimate responsibility for the attack lies with the ongoing neo-colonial occupation and destruction of swathes of the Middle East by the United States and its British and European allies.

The alleged attacker, Ahmed Hassan, is clearly a traumatised youth. He was orphaned when his parents were killed in Iraq. He arrived illegally in the UK in 2015 and applied for asylum. He has been followed carefully by the British authorities from the moment he set foot in the country. According to an unnamed immigration officer who “mentored” Hassan, he had also been tortured in Iraq and was suffering from post-traumatic stress. He is said to have expressed “anger at Tony Blair”, then prime minister who, in 2003, sent thousands of British forces into Iraq as a part of the US-led invasion and occupation.

After arriving in the UK, Hassan was placed by Surrey Council and Spelthorne Council with Penny and Ronald Jones—from all accounts a dedicated and caring couple from Sunbury, who have, over the years, fostered hundreds of vulnerable children. The retired couple, aged 71 and 81, had only returned to foster care a few months ago to deal with the influx of refugee children. The couple, said to be in “shell shock,” reportedly had severe problems with Hassan.

According to the Daily Mail, Hassan had already been referred to the government’s anti-Islamic Prevent programme, intended to identify young people in danger of being radicalised, “several months ago”, by Surrey County Council. Neighbours reported that police had visited the Jones’ house at least five times in the four weeks prior to the attack.

Trump’s statement that the attacker was known to the British authorities was borne out by a report in the Daily Mail. It cited neighbours of Ronald and Penelope Jones who said that Hassan (then unnamed) was detained by police at the same tube station days before the attack. Serena Barber said, “I know about two weeks ago he was arrested by police at Parsons Green, for what I don’t know, and returned back to Penny and Ron. After that Penny said she was going to have to stop caring for him, she couldn’t handle him.”

Hassan was arrested at the port of Dover the morning after the explosion. Over subsequent days another six people were arrested in Newport and Cardiff, South Wales, Sunbury, Surrey and in Hounslow, London. All have been released, having been held for days, without charge.

One Yahyah Faroukh, is a 21-year-old fast food worker from Hounslow, and a former foster child of the Jones couple. Faroukh too is a refugee, a Syrian who left Damascus in 2012. He was arrested the day after the attack and held for five days.

Faroukh was seized outside his workplace at a fast food restaurant by undercover police, who wrapped him in plastic to preserve forensic evidence before bundling him away. His picture and recent travel details were broadcast across the media. Faroukh’s mother suffered a heart attack following her son’s arrest and is now in a critical condition. The young man’s father also died recently. His employer has been subject to “abuse, threats, anger and hatred” and has demanded an apology from the Metropolitan Police.

Hassan and Faroukh’s circumstances have shed further light on the treatment of unaccompanied children, who arrive as asylum seekers in Britain, and their vulnerability. According to the Home Office, 11 percent of all asylum applications are from children who arrive in Britain alone. Between June 2016 and June 2017, 2,944 unaccompanied children applied for asylum. Most were from Libya and Syria. In 2016, 1,376 were from Syria. Unaccompanied children are placed in foster care until they become adults.

Fostering and adoption agencies, along with refugee support groups have expressed concerns that the May government will also use the bombing as a pretext to create further obstacles to settling child refugees within the UK.

Earlier this year, the British government dropped the so-called “Dubs amendment,” which committed the government to accepting 3,000 unaccompanied minors. Home Secretary Amber Rudd claimed “The specified number of 350 children … reasonably meets the intention and spirit behind the provision.” The British government excused its filthy evasion by claiming that the programme could “incentivise” children to travel to Europe.

Officially, there are around 300,000 unaccompanied child refugees worldwide, although this is acknowledged to be only a fraction of the real figure.

Euro Birdwatch 2017 Dutch results


This video shows a bathing meadow pipit. One of many bird species now on autumn migration in the northern hemisphere.

Today was Euro Birdwatch 2017.

According to BirdLife in the Netherlands, 194.581 birds were counted, of 194 species.

The Top 10 of bird species was:

1. Starling 66,723 birds
2. Chaffinch 22,820
3. Meadow pipit 17,903
4. Grey lag goose 11,860
5. Great cormorant 11,714
6. Northern lapwing 9,027
7. Linnet 4,677
8. Black-headed gull 4,167
9. Curlew 3,972
10. Wigeon 2,501

Trump administration attacks United States civil liberties


This video from the USA says about itself:

Feds Demand Facebook Info On Anti-Trump Supporters

29 September 2017

According to the ACLU, the Justice department obtained a warrant to search three Facebook accounts that organized Inauguration Day protests against Trump.

By Trévon Austin in the USA:

US Justice Department demands Facebook turn over information on anti-administration activists

30 September 2017

The US Department of Justice has issued warrants demanding that Facebook turn over private account information on three individuals described by their attorneys as “anti-administration activists” who “are generally very critical of [the Trump] administration’s policies.” The private account information on thousands of Facebook users could be funneled to the government as a result of the warrants.

Facebook received the warrants in February, but was until recently under a gag order barring it from making the warrants known to the targeted individuals or the public. The social media giant has not said whether it has, or plans to, comply with the search warrants.

One of the targeted Facebook users, Emmelia Talarico, operated the disruptj20 web page where protests against Trump’s inauguration were organized and discussed. Approximately 6,000 individuals visited the site, and the Department of Justice would have access to their identities should Facebook hand over the information sought in the warrants.

Talarico says that if the authorities are able to obtain her account information, they will have access to her “personal passwords, security questions and answers, and credit card information,” as well as “the private lists of invitees and attendees to multiple political events sponsored by the page.”

This follows a similar warrant issued to the web provider DreamHost, in which the government demanded that the company turn over all data on disruptj20.org, including visitor logs and IP addresses for 1.3 million people who visited the site. The warrant also demanded access to emails, photos and other data of those involved in contributing to and producing the site.

These warrants are part of a massive attack by the Trump administration on freedom of speech and political expression, focused on the Internet and social media. It is aided and abetted by a McCarthyite campaign led by the Democratic Party and the intelligence agencies, with bipartisan support from congressional Republicans, casting all political opposition to the policies of the government and to the growth of social inequality and poverty as the result of Russian “fake news” and media manipulation. The aim is to criminalize social opposition and political dissent and brand them as anti-American and treasonous activity.

Such sweeping demands for private information are in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures” and states that warrants must be based upon “probable cause…particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

They also violate the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech and the press, and the right to peacefully protest.

Washington DC Superior Court Judge Robert Morin largely granted the Justice Department’s request to collect vast sets of records, including the emails of Facebook users and membership lists.

Yet this flagrant attack on democratic rights and assertion of police-state powers has evoked no significant protest from either the political or media establishment. Not a single leading Democratic politician has issued a statement opposing the warrants.

The other two Facebook users named in the warrants are Lacy MacAuley and Legba Carrefour. In court filings against the search warrant for his account, Carrefour said it “contains a significant amount of private material concerning my personal life.” He added in a statement that the warrants are “part of a pattern of prosecutorial overreach in the repression of Inauguration Day protesters.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), representing the three Facebook users, filed a motion to invalidate the three warrants. ACLU lawyers said the warrants were too broad and would reveal private information about those not involved in alleged violence during the inauguration protests.

“We are deeply concerned about the government engaging in a fishing expedition,” said Scott Michelman, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of the District of Columbia.

Of particular concern, Michelman said, is that the government search would disclose “anti-administration dissident activities that would then be investigated by the very administration that they are protesting.”

The Trump administration claims the warrants are part of a criminal investigation into the January 20 demonstrations in the capital in which more than 200 protesters were arrested.

The disclosure of the Justice Department warrants coincided with an announcement by tech giant Apple that in the first half of 2017, it received its highest ever number of US government national security letters requesting data. According to Apple’s transparency report, it received between 13,250 and 13,499 requests affecting between 9,000 and 9,249 accounts.

On Thursday, Google also released its transparency report. It received up to 499 requests for data, affecting between 1,000 and 1,499 accounts.

These developments in the US are part of an international attack on political dissent. Just last month, the German government raided the homes of the alleged administrators of the left-wing website “linksunten.indymedia.org” and shut the site down. The German government has also passed a law requiring social media companies to remove “violent extremist” material.

The issue of illegal and unconstitutional domestic spying in the US, including the pervasive National Security Agency surveillance exposed four years ago by Edward Snowden, has been completely dropped by the media and the political establishment. The Obama administration defended the NSA and blocked any rollback of government spying on electronic communications or legal action against those who organized it. It set the table for the Trump administration by prosecuting more whistleblowers for exposing classified information than any previous administration.

Technology and information monopolies such as Facebook and Google are complicit in the ruling class attack on freedom of speech and access to information. The World Socialist Web Site has exposed the political blacklisting of left-wing and antiwar websites by Google, which has implemented algorithms that, in the name of demoting “low-quality content,” slash search referrals to left-wing sites. The WSWS has been most heavily impacted by this censorship.

In response to political pressure, Facebook has turned over to Congress a list of 3,000 accounts, supposedly connected to Russia, which the company claims made $100,000 in ad purchases to “sow divisions” during the 2016 US election. Twitter is facing similar demands that it crack down on ads from Russian users such as the Russian English-language news outlet RT.

This video from the USA says about itself:

ICE Raids “Sanctuary City” in Santa Cruz, CA | Undocumented America

31 March 2017

Residents in ‘sanctuary city’ Santa Cruz, CA were shocked after an ICE raid to catch gang members also rounded up people for being undocumented. “My daughter, her crime is to have been undocumented. But she has no crime here.”

By Evan Blake in the USA:

ICE arrests nearly 500 immigrants in raids on “sanctuary cities” across US

30 September 2017

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency announced Thursday that it carried out a sweeping, nationwide crackdown on immigrants living in so-called “sanctuary cities.” The campaign, dubbed “Operation Safe City,” involved the arrests of 498 individuals over a four-day period ending Wednesday.

Major metropolitan areas across the US were targeted in the latest ICE raids, including Los Angeles County (167 arrests), Philadelphia (107), Denver (63), New York (45), Seattle (33), Baltimore (28), Cook County, Illinois (30), San Jose (27), Washington, D.C. (14) as well as the entire state of Massachusetts (50).

The immigrants abducted in these raids represent a broad swath of the world’s population, coming from 42 countries.

In their press release, ICE details ten sensationalized stories of the crimes for which some of these immigrants have been accused. They then claim that 317 of those detained had prior criminal convictions, implying that 181 had no criminal record whatsoever. The most common offense cited by ICE was drunk driving, for which 86 of the undocumented immigrants have been detained and face deportation.

Any crimes they may have committed are a product of the diseased social relations of capitalism and can largely be attributed to the impacts of poverty and desperation that have driven them to leave their home countries to come to the US, where they face ostracism and demonization by the government and media.

The ICE press release states, “Operation ‘Safe City’ focused on cities and regions where ICE deportation officers are denied access to jails and prisons to interview suspected immigration violators or jurisdictions where ICE detainers are not honored.”

The term “sanctuary city” refers to those cities that, due to public pressure stemming from sizable immigrant populations, restrain their local police from fully complying with ICE agents’ deportation requests.

These cities are largely overseen by Democratic politicians, who have offered the most tepid response to the assault on immigrants being carried out by the Trump administration. The sweeping ICE raids themselves expose the lie that there is the possibility for any kind of “sanctuary” to exist under the current economic and political system.

The press release quotes ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan as saying, “Sanctuary jurisdictions that do not honor detainers or allow us access to jails and prisons are shielding criminal aliens from immigration enforcement and creating a magnet for illegal immigration. As a result, ICE is forced to dedicate more resources to conduct at-large arrests in these communities.”

He continued, “ICE’s goal is to build cooperative, respectful relationships with our law enforcement partners to help prevent dangerous criminal aliens from being released back onto the streets. Noncooperation policies severely undermine that effort at the expense of public safety.”

The crackdown on “sanctuary cities” is intended to cultivate authoritarian sentiments within Trump’s far-right base of support, as well as embolden the fascistic agents and operatives within ICE itself.

During his presidential campaign—which was launched with a viciously xenophobic diatribe against Mexican immigrants—Trump repeatedly denounced “sanctuary” cities, and upon his election signed an executive order curbing funding to such cities. In late April, California District Court Judge William H. Orrick blocked the executive order, arguing that Trump overstepped his presidential authority.

The latest ICE raids coincide with Trump’s issuance of a new, indefinite travel ban targeting the citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad, North Korea and Venezuela, which was signed by Trump on Sunday night. The new ban is being implemented after the 90-day lifespan of the initial Supreme Court-sanctioned ban elapsed.

Further escalating the clampdown on immigration, Trump announced on Friday in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the number of refugees allowed into the US next year would be capped at 45,000, the lowest number since 1980. It also came to light this week that the Department of Homeland Security is expanding a major operation to collect and analyze the social media accounts of all those who seek to immigrate to the United States and apply for citizenship.

On Thursday, Politico released a report compiling State Department data on the cumulative impact of the two previous travel bans implemented via executive orders signed by Trump this year, dubbed the “Muslim ban” for targeting majority-Muslim countries. Politico found that the monthly average of visitor visas granted to the countries affected by the bans has fallen by 44 percent compared to annual data for 2016. These visas are issued primarily to business travelers, tourists and students.

Overall, the Politico report found that “non-immigrant visas to people from all Arab nations fell 16 percent and the number issued to people from the world’s nearly 50 majority-Muslim countries fell 8 percent, even as the number issued to people from all nations was virtually unchanged.”

In response to the latest travel ban, the ACLU has filed an amendment to its existing lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s previous travel ban. In a statement, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said, “President Trump’s newest travel ban is still a Muslim ban at its core, and it certainly engages in discrimination based on national origin, which is unlawful.”

Flying insects, new study


This video from Lund University in Sweden says about itself:

27 September 2017

A tobacco hawkmoth flies at different speeds in a wind tunnel.

(Video: Kajsa Warfvinge)

From Lund University in Sweden:

New study changes our view on flying insects

September 29, 2017

For the first time, researchers are able to prove that there is an optimal speed for certain insects when they fly. At this speed, they are the most efficient and consume the least amount of energy. Corresponding phenomena have previously been demonstrated in birds, but never among insects.

Previous studies of bumblebees have shown that they consume as much energy in forward flight as when they hover, i.e. remain still in the air. New findings from Lund University in Sweden show that this does not apply to all insects.

Biologist Kajsa Warfvinge, together with her colleagues at Lund University, has studied the large moths known as tobacco hawkmoths or Manduca sexta. The results show that these moths, like birds, consume different amounts of energy depending on their flight speed. Flying really slowly or really fast requires the most effort.

The discovery may help other researchers who study how insects migrate from one environment to another.

“I imagine that our results could be used indirectly to predict how well different species respond to changing temperatures in view of global warming. By knowing how much energy is needed to fly at different speeds, we can calculate how far and fast the animals can travel given a certain amount of energy,” says Kajsa Warfvinge.

The experiments were performed in a wind tunnel. Using a specially developed technique known as tomographic PIV, the researchers can record the way the air moves in three dimensions when the tobacco hawkmoth flaps its wings. The vortices left in the air can be seen as the insect’s aerodynamic footprint. The vortex strength reflects the amount of kinetic energy added by the insect, which in itself is a measurement of how exerting it is to fly at different speeds.

The results show that classic aviation theory can be applied also to tobacco hawkmoths; that is, it takes a lot of energy to fly slowly (one metre per second), since it is difficult to create lift at these speeds. The same applies when insects fly fast (four metres per second), but here it is the air resistance that makes the flight less efficient from an energy perspective.

“We demonstrate that moths have the same U-shaped relationship between speed and power as birds and aircrafts do. Flying slowly or fast is exhausting and requires more energy. You could say that flying at a moderate speed is optimal. The most energy-efficient speed for these moths is 2-3 metres per second,” says Kajsa Warfvinge.

However, the aim and purpose of the flight determines which speed is most beneficial. If the moths want to stay in the air for as long as possible, they should preserve their energy and maintain a speed of about 2.5 metres per second. If the goal is to fly far, they should increase their speed to about 4 metres per second. Despite the air resistance and the fact that they are unable to fly for the same amount of time, this is the optimal speed for long distances.