Author Archive: mrdsk

The End of UFOs?

Mark Jacobson writes for New York Magazine:

‘[...] While this year’s symposium attracted a reported 400 people, this was a far cry from the thousands who attended the MUFON conference in the late 1970s, after Close Encounters of the Third Kind introduced extraterrestrials to the mainstream moviegoer. That was at a time when a lot of people actually believed that these mysterious things from the sky represented the biggest single thing in history. Since then, despite the recent astronomical findings of the so-called “Goldilocks zone” that postulates sentient life is possible throughout the galaxy, ufology has apparently lost its grip on the public imagination, and has been demoted to a neo-cult status. For the populace at large space is no longer the place. Not that this mattered to those gathered at Cherry Hill. Used to marginalization, they were resolved to keep watching the skies.

[...] It is true that very little beyond a shadow of a doubt forensic proof of alien presence has come to light over the years, but there are a number of subsidiary reasons for the seeming twilight of the UFO moment. With voracious proliferation of vampires, New World Order conspiracies, and the unprecedented rise of evangelical Christianity, the simple flying disc from far, far away has become a quaint, almost nostalgic specter. The saucer may have been the post-war generation’s signifier of the strange, but even versions of the unknown outlive their usefulness. The end of the era may have commenced with William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which located the drama of the unknown inside the claustrophobic cyberspace accessible to the common keyboardist. Instead of the far-flung wonder to the universe, much of what falls under the rubric of contemporary ufology has become deeply interiorized, resigned to the viscous psych-sexual abduction phenomena described and popularized by people like Budd Hopkins, Whitley Strieber, and John Mack.’

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Top 5 Most Absurd Pretexts for War in Modern History

The five biggest threats to human existence

Anders Sandberg of the Future of Humanity Institute writes for The Conversation:

A nuclear bomb blast‘In the daily hubbub of current “crises” facing humanity, we forget about the many generations we hope are yet to come. Not those who will live 200 years from now, but 1,000 or 10,000 years from now. I use the word “hope” because we face risks, called existential risks, that threaten to wipe out humanity. These risks are not just for big disasters, but for the disasters that could end history.

These risks remain understudied. There is a sense of powerlessness and fatalism about them. People have been talking apocalypses for millennia, but few have tried to prevent them. Humans are also bad at doing anything about problems that have not occurred yet (partially because of the availability heuristic – the tendency to overestimate the probability of events we know examples of, and underestimate events we cannot readily recall).

If humanity becomes extinct, at the very least the loss is equivalent to the loss of all living individuals and the frustration of their goals. But the loss would probably be far greater than that. Human extinction means the loss of meaning generated by past generations, the lives of all future generations (and there could be an astronomical number of future lives) and all the value they might have been able to create. If consciousness or intelligence are lost, it might mean that value itself becomes absent from the universe. This is a huge moral reason to work hard to prevent existential threats from becoming reality. And we must not fail even once in this pursuit.

With that in mind, I have selected what I consider the five biggest threats to humanity’s existence. But there are caveats that must be kept in mind, for this list is not final.’

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What links Gaza, Iraq and Ukraine? US and NATO foreign policy

Chris Nineham writes for Stop The War:

NatoUN agencies and leading charities confirmed over the weekend what many people are thinking and feeling about the state of the world – we are witnessing  an unprecendented  level of global  turmoil and violence. The UN added a series of countries to its extreme crisis list and a senior foreign policy advisor at Oxfam briefed “I haven’t seen anything of this scale before…across the board, the humanitarian community sees this as one of the worst moments we’ve ever had to confront in terms of simultaneous, mostly man-made crises.” This follows a UN announcement a few weeks ago that for the first time since World War II, the number displaced people worldwide exceeded 50 million.

This is the disturbing context in which the leaders of the Western world will be coming to Newport in South Wales for a high-profile NATO summit. The crises in Gaza, Iraq, Eastern Europe and beyond tend to be reported as entirely separate cases with little or no investigation of either wider context or history.  Palestinian representatives – on the few occiasions have been given air time – have argued that the long history of Israeli expansionism backed by Britain and the US is key to comprehending current events. Invariably they have been brusquely brought up to date, told that ‘we are where we are’ and that they should concentrate on finding  solutions. But there is no prospect of solutions to any of these terrible crises without understanding what is driving them.’

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UN rights chief Navi Pillay rebukes Security Council

BBC News reports:

‘UN’s human rights chief Navi Pillay has strongly criticised the UN Security Council for its failure to prevent conflicts around the world. “Greater responsiveness by this council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” she told a meeting of the 15-member body.

She said that national interest had repeatedly taken precedence over human suffering and breaches of world peace. Her briefing came just days before her six-year term comes to an end. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was milder in his criticism, but acknowledged that “it is the time for a new era of collaboration, co-operation and action from the Security Council”.’

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Chuck Hagel Goes Full Fearmonger: “ISIS Poses Greater Threat Than 9/11, Prepare For Everything”

Zero Hedge reports:

‘US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel talks about the “imminent threat” ISIS poses to the US and the World.. .and pulls no punches in his total fearmongery…”ISIL poses a threat greater than 9/11. ISIL is as sophisticated and well funded as any group we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology with a sophisticated strategic and tactical military prowess and they’re tremendously well-funded. This is way beyond anything we have seen. We must prepare for everything. Get Ready!” Time for some QE-funded deficit-busting war spending…’

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Interpol Urges World Response to Islamic State Extremists

The Associated Press reports:

‘Interpol says the killing of an American journalist kidnapped in Syria shows the need for a coordinated international effort against the stream of foreign fighters joining extremists in the Middle East. The international policy agency said in a statement Thursday that James Foley’s death shows the “depravity” of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq and “highlights the ongoing plight of other innocent people across the region.”

France-based Interpol is particularly concerned that a man who appears in a video of Foley’s death may be British. Interpol says this highlights “the need for a multilateral response against the terror threat posed by radicalized transnational fighters travelling to conflict zones in the Middle East.” More than a thousand radicals from Europe have joined militant fighters in Syria and Iraq.’

Islamic State: British fighters make up a quarter of foreign jihadists

Jonathan Owen reports for The Independent:

‘The brutal beheading of US journalist James Foley by a Briton fighting in the ranks of Isis, which calls itself Islamic State, is the latest – and most shocking – example of British jihadists committing atrocities in Syria and Iraq. Britain accounts for around one in four of all European fighters who have pledged their allegiance to Isis, with an estimated 500 Britons among 2,000 foreign fighters from across Europe.

One reason is the sheer ease with which people can get to Istanbul in Turkey, and then catch a bus to get into neighbouring Syria, according to Charlie Cooper, a researcher at the Quilliam Foundation. Isis wants to “show off” its foreign fighters as part of its propaganda, he added. And the unnamed man who beheaded Mr Foley “will have committed himself entirely to furthering the aims of the Islamic state” and “completely rejected his British nationality”.’

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Foley captors’ ransom demand revives debate over US no-pay policy

Ariel Zirulnick writes for The Christian Science Monitor:

‘The militant Islamist group that murdered freelance journalist James Foley had demanded a ransom from the US government before his beheading. But the US has a strict policy of not paying ransoms to terrorist groups, putting it at odds with several European countries who have paid in the past to free hostages. Mr. Foley’s death has revived the debate over the policy.The New York Times reported recently that ransoms have bankrolled Al Qaeda operations worldwide.

According to The New York Times, the self-declared Islamic State (formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) demanded a $100 million ransom for Mr. Foley, which the US refused to pay. (The Wall Street Journal cited a demand of 100 million euros.) IS has made a similar demand for Steven Sotloff, another American freelance journalist being held. The US attempted to rescue hostages in Syria in a special forces operation earlier this summer, but failed to do so.

Trading captives for payouts has become a routine way for militant groups to raise revenue, netting them at least $125 million in the last five years. “Kidnapping hostages is an easy spoil, which I may describe as a profitable trade and a precious treasure,” wrote Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The US refusal to pay may discourage the kidnapping of Americans, but it also makes it less likely that they would survive captivity.’

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Study: A World Cup in Qatar’s Heat Won’t Be Safe for Players or Even Spectators

Ross Pomeroy writes for Real Clear Science:

‘Qatar is currently scheduled to host the FIFA World Cup in the summer of 2022. There are many reasons why this is a terrible idea, but for now, let’s just focus on one of them: the heat.

The average summer temperature in Qatar is 106 degrees Fahrenheit. In sweltering heat like that, nobody should be in direct sunlight for very long, let alone playing soccer at a world-class level for ninety minutes. But don’t worry, the Qataris have a plan for reducing the pitch temperature to a less frightening 87 degrees in all of their open-roof stadiums: giant fans… lots of them. Good luck with that, wealthy oil tycoons.

The simple fact is that playing soccer outdoors in a Qatari summer isn’t safe for players, and, according to a new report in the International Journal of Biometeorology, it might not even be safe for spectators.’

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Saudi Justice: 4 men beheaded for smuggling cannabis, 32 executions so far this year

Malta Today reports:

‘Four Saudi men have been beheaded by sword after being convicted of smuggling cannabis into the country, the interior ministry has said. The government-owned SPA news agency identified the Saudi men on Monday as two sets of brothers – Hadi and Awad al-Motleq, and Mufarraj and Ali al-Yami. They were beheaded in the southwestern city of Najran, found to have smuggled “a large quantity of hashish” into the country. The government did not say when the executions took place.

The beheadings raise to 32 the number of executions announced in Saudi Arabia so far this year, according to a tally by the AFP news agency. Rights watchdog Amnesty International denounced what it called a “disturbing surge” in executions in Saudi Arabia. “The Saudi Arabian authorities must halt all executions,” the group said, adding that the executions of the two sets of brothers came “reportedly on the basis of forced confessions extracted through torture”.’

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Washington think tank apologises for telling Amnesty to ‘suck it’

Shelley Hazen reports for Newser:

View image on Twitter

‘An intern at a Washington, DC, think tank was just supposed to monitor its Twitter account, not tell Amnesty International to “suck it.” The human rights organization was making a point about the uproar in Ferguson, Mo., over the shooting death of Michael Brown, tweeting yesterday: “US can’t tell other countries to improve their records on policing and peaceful assembly if it won’t clean up its own human rights record,” reports Talking Points Memo. Unfortunately, a Center for Strategic and International Studies intern thought he was using his own account when he expressed this opinion: “Your work has saved far fewer lives than American interventions. So suck it.”‘

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Amazing Satellite Photos That Will Change Your Perspective On Planet Earth

From Demilked:

Bourtange, Vlagtwedde, Netherlands

satellite-aerial-photos-of-earth-1

53.0066°N 7.1920°E. Bourtange is a village with a population of 430 in the municipality of Vlagtwedde in the Netherlands. The star fort was built in 1593 during the Eighty Years’ War when William I of Orange wanted to control the only road between Germany and the city of Groningen. Bourtange was restored to its mid-18th-century state in 1960 and is currently used as an open-air museum.

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Report: Hackers target information on MH370 probe

The Straits Times report:

‘The computers of high-ranking officials in agencies involved in the MH370 investigation were hacked and classified information was stolen. The stolen information was allegedly being sent to a computer in China before CyberSecurity Malaysia – a Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation agency – had the transmissions blocked and the infected machines shut down.

The national cyber security specialist agency revealed that sophisticated malicious software (malware), disguised as a news article reporting that the missing Boeing 777 had been found, was emailed to the officials on March 9, a day after the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane vanished during its flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Attached to the email was an executable file that was made to look like a PDF document, which released the malware when a user clicked on it.’

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Televangelist Preachers Living Like Rock Stars

Reports: Microbial life found living on the exterior of the International Space Station

James Vincent reports for The Independent:

‘A new report claims that Russian scientists have discovered traces of marine life living on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS).

Vladimir Solovyev, the official in charge of Russia’s ISS segment, told the news agency Itar-Tass that tiny plankton and microscopic organisms had been discovered on the spacecraft’s exterior, describing the finds as “absolutely unique”.

However, the truthfulness of Solovyev s claim is unclear, with Nasa refusing to confirm the story. “As far as we’re concerned, we haven’t heard any official reports from our Roscosmos colleagues that they’ve found sea plankton,” Nasa spokesperson Dan Huot told Space.com.’

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U.S. bars all American airlines from flying over Syria

Reuters reports:

‘The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has barred all American airlines from flying over Syria, saying the ongoing conflict poses a “serious potential threat.” The FAA had previously warned American carriers to avoid flying over Syria. The new rule requires operators to contact the FAA before operating in the airspace.

The agency said the move was taken after “updated assessment of risk” and a lack of airlines wishing to fly in the airspace. “The ongoing armed conflict and volatile security environment in Syria poses a serious potential threat to civil aviation,” the FAA said in a statement.’

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U.S. Government’s Response To Snowden? Strip 100,000 Potential Whistleblowers Of Their Security Clearances

Tim Cushing writes for Techdirt:

‘The government has tried to assess the damage posed by Snowden’s leaks, but so far all it has come up with is vague proclamations that the released have caused grave and exceptional damage to US security and an even vaguer CIA report claiming that a bunch of documents Snowden theoretically has in his possession might severely harm the US if a) they are released and b) they exist.

Charlie Clark at Defense One has a fascinating article on the man tasked with handling the intelligence community’s post-Snowden world, Bill Evanina. [..] This means teaming up with the “‘most transparent administration” to help sniff out and stamp out so-called “insider threats.” This has always been a priority during Obama’s term and its efforts are now being redoubled. On one hand, the ODNI (James Clapper’s office) is dipping its toes in the transparency waters. (But mainly it’s trying to keep from being pushed into the transparency pool by a variety of litigants.) Evanina is working towards the “discussion” of security vs. privacy, but most of his efforts are focused on locking everything down.’

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Barber spends his Sundays cutting the hair of the homeless for free, because ‘every human life is worth the same’

Christopher Hooton reports for The Independent:

‘Hair stylist Mark Bustos works in an high-end salon in New York City during the week, but on Sundays gives back to the city by walking the streets in search of anyone who would appreciate a haircut.

Bustos approaches each person with the same introduction – “I want to do something nice for you today” – and if they’re interested sits down to give them a trim or a new style, cutting up to six people’s hair every Sunday and documenting them on his Instagram account.

This is no stunt though, Mark has been giving free haircuts since May 2012.’

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James Risen and the Crisis in Investigative Journalism

John Kendall Hawkins writes for CounterPunch:

‘Lots of people when they think of journalism have in mind the mum-and-pop variety —  car crashes and the latest gossip, local politics, sports, all the little details about “the time the doorknob broke,” to trot out an old Bob Dylan lyric. A step up from this layer of short and punchy news bits is that more ‘literate’ class of journalism traditionally associated with the New York Times and Washington Post, the so-called newspapers of record, which publish only the most polished, scrupulous pieces by the most ethical journalists. Or so the story goes.

But there is a third layer, the most important one, compared to which all other reportage is mere puff piecework, and this reified sphere is known as investigative journalism, often occupied by paunchy supermen and lithe linguists, such as Benjamin Franklin, H. L. Mencken, Martha Gellhorn, Jack Anderson, George Washington Williams, Seymour Hersh, Woodward and Bernstein, Hunter S. Thompson (if you quick-toke a doobie, this example will seem more obvious), Mike Tabibi, and even Ernest Hemingway – the list is long and legendary. What sets their work apart is its adversarial engagement, the refusal to take things at face value or as laid out by the spokespeople for the rich and powerful, the relentless willingness to dig deeper and deeper until the truth is exposed.

Such investigative journalists are the vanguard of the so-called Fourth Estate, bearing the formidable task of watchdogging the other three estates – the Executive, Judiciary and Legislative – to ensure that they remain ‘checks and balances’ to each other in their assigned constitutional tasks of maintaining the Democratic Republic’s integrity and vibrancy.  While such journalists are often associated with a ‘paper of record’, their work is so crucial that sometimes some separation even from their publisher is necessary, since publications are owned, and owners have political agendas, and those agendas may conflict with the findings of deep journalism.’

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Congress Members Who Approve Militarization of U.S. Police Receive 73% More Money from Defense Industry

From Washington’s Blog:

‘Americans of all stripes oppose the militarization of U.S. police forces.

For example:

  • A new Pew research poll shows that a plurality of people think that the police have gone too far in Ferguson, Missouri

So why does Congress continue to approve militarization? For the same reason that Congress members vote for NSA spying on Americans and go easy on Wall Street criminals: money.’

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Satire is dying because the internet is killing it

Arwa Mahdawi writes for The Guardian:

‘Forget self-driving cars or virtual reality nano-technology algorithms, the newest innovation to emerge from Silicon Valley is square brackets. Facebook is testing a “satire tag” that will clearly label fake news stories from well-known satire sites like the Onion as [satire]. No longer will you need to rely on outdated technology such as common sense to realise that content like Area Facebook User Incredibly Stupid is [satire], the square brackets will do it for you.

It should perhaps be noted that Facebook isn’t introducing the satire tag because it thinks we’re all morons, but rather because it knows we’re all morons. In a statement, the social network explained that it had “received feedback that people wanted a clearer way to distinguish satirical articles from others”.’

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Militarized Cops and Donuts by John Cole

Charles Eisenstein: Stories That Once Offered My Life Meaning No Longer Satisfy

Charles Eisenstein, author of ‘The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible’, writes:

‘[...] And as my horizons broadened, I knew that millions were not supposed to be starving, that nuclear weapons were not supposed to be hanging over our heads, that the rainforests were not supposed to be shrinking, or the fish dying, or the condors and eagles disappearing. I could not accept the way the dominant narrative of my culture handled these things: as fragmentary problems to be solved, as unfortunate facts of life to be regretted, or as unmentionable taboo subjects to be simply ignored.

On some level, we all know better. This knowledge seldom finds clear articulation, so instead we express it indirectly through covert and overt rebellion. Addiction, self-sabotage, procrastination, laziness, rage, chronic fatigue, and depression are all ways that we withhold our full participation in the program of life we are offered. When the conscious mind cannot find a reason to say no, the unconscious says no in its own way. More and more of us cannot bear to stay in the “old normal” any longer.

This narrative of normal is crumbling on a systemic level too. We live today at a moment of transition between worlds. The institutions that have borne us through the centuries have lost their vitality; only with increasing self-delusion can we pretend they are sustainable. Our systems of money, politics, energy, medicine, education, and more are no longer delivering the benefits they once did (or seemed to). Their Utopian promise, so inspiring a century ago, recedes further every year. Millions of us know this; more and more, we hardly bother to pretend otherwise. Yet we seem helpless to change, helpless even to stop participating in industrial civilization’s rush over the cliff.’

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Wall Street’s hot new scam: Shady banking consultants absolve the banks that pay them!

David Dayden writes for Salon:

‘On Monday, New York’s top banking regulator, Benjamin Lawsky, announced an enforcement action against PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the venerable auditing firm you might know from its work tabulating votes at the Academy Awards. But when it’s not ensuring fairness in the best supporting actress race, PwC makes its money engaged in one of the most insidious practices in the financial industry – operating as a third-party “consultant” for major banks, with far more loyalty to the firms that hire them than the truth.

Over the past several years, one way banks have devised to get themselves out of trouble is to hire consultants to head up “independent” investigations into their operations. Because state and federal regulators often don’t have the resources for such an intense inquiry, the consultants often step in as a shadow regulator, performing the work of bank examiners. Regulators increasingly require independent consultant reviews as part of their enforcement actions. However, these consultants are typically handpicked and paid for by the bank they intend to examine.

The potential for abuse in that relationship is clear. If your promise of future work depends on a continued positive relationship with your employer, you’d be the last person willing to rat them out to the federal government for misconduct. And third-party consulting has become big business indeed, as well as a way station for ex-regulators wanting to make real money out of government.’

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Corporate Tax Burden in U.S. Not as Heavy as It Looks, Report Says

Andrew Ross Sorkin writes for The New York Times:

‘For years, chief executives have complained bitterly about the United States corporate tax code, arguing that it is too complicated and that rates are too high. The issue has reached a near boiling point this summer as many large American companies have sought to buy smaller foreign rivals so they can renounce their United States corporate citizenship and reincorporate overseas to lower their tax bills. Others are considering the move, known as an inversion.

Again and again, we hear that these deals are being driven by an effort to make our companies more competitive globally and that unless we “reform” our tax system — which is code for “lower our corporate tax rate” — we will lose business to foreign rivals. It is a compelling narrative. But it may be wrong. Edward D. Kleinbard, a professor at the Gould School of Law at the University of Southern California and a former chief of staff to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, makes a captivating argument in an academic paper that the United States tax code — counter to the conventional wisdom — is not impeding global competitiveness. In fact, the opposite is true.’

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The Government-Industry Conspiracy that Promotes Crap Food in School

Michele Simon writes for Al Jazeera America:

‘People often ask me, “How does lobbying work?” Last week it was with fat and sugar, when the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) hosted its 32nd annual Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party. Some 6,000 bowls of ice cream were served up to Sen.Tom Harkin, Reps. Pete Sessions, Robert Aderholt, Jeff Denham, John Shimkus, Ron Kind and Lamar Smith, among others, according to Politico.

Dairy lobbyists are ever present in Washington, and their efforts usually pay off. For example, last year when the IDFA implored the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to give dairy foods a pass in the new snack food guidelines for schools, the agency capitulated, opening school doors to even more junk food, such as YoCrunch Lowfat Yogurt with M&Ms.

This is just one of many examples I uncovered in a report I published last month, “Whitewashed: How Industry and Government Promote Dairy Junk Foods” (PDF). The dairy industry, propped up by government, has convinced us of the health benefits of milk and other dairy products. The assumption that eating dairy is essential to the diet has obstructed our ability to criticize federal government support for unhealthy dairy products, of which there are many.

One of the most important forms of government support is the federally mandated collection of industry fees for checkoff programs that promote milk and dairy.’

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Are We Turning Our Babies Into Real Life Tamagotchis?

Brandy Zadrozny writes for The Daily Beast:

140806-zadrozny-fitbit-embed‘Driving my two-day-old son home from the hospital, I was struck with a terror familiar to most new parents. How was it possible, I wondered, that I could care for this little person on my own?

Time did not breed confidence. As the weeks went on, I spent late nights poring over The Baby Book and Googling “Why does my baby ______?” I glued my eyes to a Blair Witch-style monitor for any sign of distress and yes, I even felt under his nose to make sure he was still breathing. I wanted answers to the big questions about eating, sleeping, crying, weight gain, breathing, pooping, and teething. But all my research boiled down to one concern: Was my newborn’s behavior, and the panic it inspired, normal?

Now big data claims to have the answer, or at least the start of one, but is the quest for more information making parenting easier, or chipping away at our instincts and turning our babies into Tamagotchis?’

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After the Flood: Mines and Mass Graves in Bosnia

‘An estimated 120,000 landmines still litter the Bosnian countryside since the end of the war there in 1995, making daily life a challenge for hundreds of thousands of people. In May, the worst floods in over a century dislodged countless mines and deposited them in new locations, from farm fields to the back yards of local residents. The flooding also unearthed previously undiscovered mass graves, making some citizens hopeful that they may finally be reunited with the remains of their lost loved ones. VICE News traveled to northern Bosnia to tag along with the team in charge of de-mining the countryside, and met residents still reeling from the horrors of war.’ (VICE News)

Independent Autopsy Shows Michael Brown Shot SIX Times in the Front