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Tag Archives: election
Posted: February 20, 2017 at 7:49 pm
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Posted: February 18, 2017 at 4:42 am
The early weeks of the Trump administration have widened divides between liberal and conservative Jews, setting off quarrels over anti-Semitism, Israel and the Holocaust.
Well before the 2016 election, discussion over Israel had become so barbed among Jews that Jewish groups began organizing civility training so relationships and holidays wouldn’t be ruined. But those disputes have erupted with a new intensity since Donald Trump won the presidency.
They were on display most prominently this week, during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first visit to the Trump White House and a pair of news conferences during which the president would not directly address questions about anti-Semitism. On Thursday, in one of the most remarkable moments of a riotous back-and-forth with reporters, Trump shut down a Hasidic reporter from an Orthodox magazine who had taken pains to preface his question by saying he knew Trump wasn’t anti-Jewish.
Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish civil rights group that has been highly critical of Trump, called the president’s response “mind-boggling.”
But Mort Klein, president of the hawkish Zionist Organization of America, who has championed Trump as a great ally of Israel, said Trump must have been frustrated by the “relentless and outrageous allegations” of anti-Semitism against him and his White House strategist Steve Bannon. “If there was a hint of anti-Semitism, I would be at their throat,” Klein said.
American Jews have been especially on edge because of a surge of anti-Semitic harassment over the course of the presidential campaign and continuing this year. Last month, Jewish community centers and other institutions in 27 states and Canada received what is being investigated as a coordinated series of telephone bomb threats over a period of days, according to the Secure Community Network, formed by Jewish organizations to protect their institutions.
Many Jewish groups and others had seen animus in the White House statement last month on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that did not mention Jews. The president’s aides defended the statement as “inclusive” of all who were killed by the Nazis.
At a news conference with Netanyahu last Wednesday, Trump opened by calling Israel a symbol of “survival in the face of genocide.” But when an Israeli reporter asked Trump about the rise in anti-Semitic harassment during the campaign and since his election, he responded by touting his Electoral College total and promising “peace in this country.” Netanyahu then took up the question, saying he had known the president, his family and some of his aides for many years and “there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump. I think we should put that to rest.”
The response rankled some American Jews. Alana Newhouse, editor-in-chief of Tablet, the online Jewish magazine, addressed the prime minister: “I won’t tell you what to be afraid of in your country, and you don’t tell me what I should fear in mine.”
The next day, a confirmation hearing was held for David Friedman, the combative attorney Trump chose as U.S. envoy to Israel. Friedman, who has deep ties to the Israeli settler movement, had said the Anti-Defamation League sounded like “morons” for accusing Trump of anti-Semitism, and he had called supporters of the dovish pro-Israel lobby J Street “worse than kapos,” a reference to Jews who helped the Nazis imprison fellow Jews during the Holocaust.
At the hearing, Friedman apologized for using inflammatory language in the past, and said he regretted not expressing his views of J Street in a more respectful manner. Greenblatt said he had spoken with Friedman about his remarks regarding the ADL and had accepted his apology.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, the largest American Jewish movement, said he met for 90 minutes with Friedman at the nominee’s request, “He simply wanted to have a conversation directly,” Jacobs said in a phone interview. “He knows how offensive it was.”
On Friday, Reform Jewish leaders announced they opposed Friedman’s nomination, the first time the movement had ever opposed a president’s choice for the position. The ZOA’s Klein, meanwhile, said Friedman has “the potential to be the greatest U.S. ambassador to Israel ever.”
Jewish issues came to the fore again in a remarkable way during Trump’s question-and-answer session on Thursday.
The reporter from the Brooklyn-based Orthodox Ami Magazine, Jake Turx, sporting curly sidelocks and a skullcap embroidered with his Twitter handle, rose to ask his question. While Hillary Clinton won 71 percent of the Jewish vote, Orthodox Jews who backed Trump have taken comfort in his support for Israel, his many Jewish friends and advisers, and especially his Orthodox Jewish daughter, Ivanka, who converted, and her husband and close presidential aide Jared Kushner. Turx opened his question to Trump by noting the president was a “zayde” which is Yiddish for grandfather then started to ask about the increased reports of anti-Jewish harassment and hate crimes.
But Trump quickly interrupted, saying “not a fair question,” and when Turx tried to continue, said “quiet, quiet, quiet … I find it repulsive. I hate even the question.”
The internal Jewish debate will likely rage on in the coming weeks as Trump’s policies on Israel, refugees and immigration take shape.
At Friedman’s hearing, three young Jews who belong to the activist group IfNotNow, which opposes Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, stood up to interrupt the proceedings. They shook groggers, or noisemakers, used on the holiday of Purim to drown out the names of enemies of the Jewish people.
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Posted: at 3:57 am
A former senior official at the National Security Agency says the planned split between the nations digital spying outfit and its offensive cyber military arm will happen, though likely not for a while.
Prior to the election in November, the outgoing Obama administration had moved to split the NSA, which is focused on espionage and intelligence gathering, from U.S. Cyber Command, which can conduct offensive military operations in cyberspace. Since assuming office in January, however, President Donald Trump has struggled to fill key government positions, like the national security adviser, making any immediate bureaucratic overhauls unlikely.
I think everybody says its inevitable, John Chris Inglis, the former deputy director of NSA, told The Intercept during an interview in San Francisco.
The question is whether you do that now or you do that in a year or two, he continued.
Inglis spoke to The Intercept following a speech he gave on combatting insider threats, entitled How to Catch A Snowden, at the RSA Conference, one of the largest annual cybersecurity events. Inglis was at the NSA in 2013 when Edward Snowden leaked a massive trove of documents to journalists on the surveillance programs.
Currently, the two agencies are under one roof and one dual-hatted director: Adm. Michael Rogers, who has also suggested an eventual split between his agencies. Theres been a heated debate about the benefits and downsides of separating the two entities as Cyber Command grows and develops its parallel mission. Figures like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are vehemently against separating resources between espionage and attack in the digital space at least in the absence of clear policies from the White House.
Though Inglis tells The Intercept he believes the split is bound to occur, he says that President Trump and his White House have other fish to fry right now.
A separation in the coming months, especially with NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett retiring in the spring, might induce instability, Inglis said. And while Adm. Rogers has reportedly been no stranger to controversy and bad reviews facing sinking morale during a major NSA reorganization he doesnt appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
In the meantime, Cyber Command is still maturing. It was first formed under Gen. Keith Alexander and Ingliss leadership in 2009. Cyber Command in still early days needed the NSA, Inglis said. But the split makes sense in the long run, he argued.
The more they stay in that relationship, the less Cyber Command will need NSA, the more theyll be held back by NSA, and the less NSA will need Cyber Command, Inglis said. Its for both of their benefit to essentially give them on scene leadership that can focus entirely on what theyre supposed to do as agencies that are nominally independent but complimentary.
If that split were to happen, it might open the job of NSA director up to a civilian leader.At one point during the Obama administration, Inglis was regarded as a top candidate for the NSA job under the restructuring, though theres no indication hes currently under consideration.
Inglis tells The Intercept he would, if asked, accept a job in the Trump administration in a heartbeat.
Inglis is currently a managing director at Paladin Capital Group, a private equity firm that invests in companies around the world. He started as a computer scientist in the NSA, then worked in signals intelligence, and rose to become deputy director. He spent 41 years in the Department of Defense, nearly 30 of them at NSA.
Inglis would be a superb selection and it is no surprise that he would be willing to serve his country regardless of who was in office, Susan Hennessy, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former attorney at NSA, wrote in an email to The Intercept. He is trusted and respected both at NSA and within the government generally.
Describing the current situation as a tumultuous period, Hennessey said that the number of people qualified to lead the NSA is small. Inglis is one of the few people who would top anyones list for that role, Republican or Democrat, she added.
Having not been offered something, it would be inappropriate for me to say I want a job, especially if that job is now held by somebody, Inglis said, laughing.
Posted: February 17, 2017 at 1:53 am
Looming Black Swans Could Hurt 2017 Stock Market Forecast
The current social and political conditions could lead the world economy to disaster. The financial markets have never been more susceptible to disruptive events. Yet the stock market forecast for 2017 has not taken the biggest risk into account.
This is nobodys fault, because no stock market forecast can possibly foresee the biggest risk. Most everybody can make a correct market prediction, even without knowing a thing about a stock, but nobody can predict a black swan event. The very nature of a black swan is to elude everyone, including Nostradamus himself.
The black swan theory, or the theory of black swan events, is a metaphor. Its a term to describe the concept that a heavy-impact event comes as a surprise to the observer. Once that happened, the event is rationalized in retrospect. The theory was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to explain the weaknesses of such things as a stock market outlook or a stock market forecast.
High-impact events such as a black swan are not just rare and difficult, if not impossible, to predict. They play a disproportionate role compared to normal expectations in the context of history, science, technology and finance. A black swan event can only be recognized after the fact.
Heres what this means for where the stock market is headed. Geopolitics is key. Thus, it is important to increase the awareness of firms operating in international markets today, even more than in the past.
In 2017, the Venezuelan default and the growing tensions between the U.S. and Iran could be traumatic, leading to a potential collapse of oil prices and another war in the Middle East. Raw materials could be subject to extreme fluctuations in 2017.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran and the risk of a default in Venezuela may push up oil prices, possibly to unsustainable levels for emerging economies. Further, the situation in Ukraine and Russia is even more difficult to predict now.
During the Barack Obama presidential administration, it was clear that Washington sided with Ukraine, but President Donald Trump wants to improve ties to Moscow. That could encourage the latter to turn the situation back in its favor. Such tensions could boost the prices of industrial metals, given the strong role both countries have in mining.
Barclays Bank PLC has come up with a chart outlining some of the potential black swan events, as summarized below. Note, the threat type is what is affected by the potential black swan event. So, in the case of oil, its price would go up if the U.S. and Iran clash. The black swan in that case would be the spark that leads to the clash.
There is no way to assess the probability of such periodic rare events using scientific methods. By definition, a black swan event has a very low probability of occurring. Iteludes mathematics and statistics. Thus, an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center on September 1, 2001 was a black swan event.
Arguably, the discovery of how to make fire was a black swan, as was the big bang of the Big Bang Theory. In the purely financial context, black swans are rare. The 2007/2008 financial crisis was not a black swan, for example. It was all too predictable to those who had access to the information, or those willing to consider it.
Yet, most investors who work 40 hours a week have little time to check every detail that could affect their portfolios and retirement savings. To themthat is, to most peoplethe 2008 subprime crash certainly had the impact of a black swan. By stretching or altering the definition of black swan, we can analyze them to see where is the stock market headed.
A true black swan will make mincemeat of any stock market prediction. But the more liberally defined black swan event, described above as a heavy-impact event, can be very useful.
It turns out that 2017 will be a year dense with such heavy-impact events.
The first of these foreseeable black swans concerns the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It took years to negotiate and achieve, but it also took just one signature from Donald Trump to terminate the U.S.s participation. That was no black swan, however. Trump said he would scrap the deal during the election campaign.
The scrapping of the TPP will have consequences; it could spark a cascading chain of high-impact events. Given the global impact of these events, they will affect the stock markets. They can also produce a black swan, but we can only examine and predict events as the conclusion of ongoing processes.
To be clear, the end of the TPP is a hugedeal. Major investment banks like Goldman SachsGroup Inc (NYSE:GS)and the World Economic Forum (WEF)which just met at Davos a few weeks agofeared this. The reason for their worry is that, at the stroke of a pen, Trump has inaugurated a new era of protectionism.
Protectionism will be a major threat to the world economy in 2017. The risk that Trump would ditch the TPP agreement was well known months before the U.S. election. The TPP is such a threat because it compounds the effects of the Brexit which, while not a black swan per se, are unclear. Its not even clear whether the U.K. will go along with it.
The TPP and Brexit are mere reflections of the protectionist trend that should concern all investors. They reflect the fact that populist movements are strengthening. Yet, all the while, the migration crisis continues and the risk that many fear is another series of terrorist attacks. Again, these are not black swans in themselves, but they provide the basis for one.
Meanwhile in Asia, there is another known risk that could produce predictable and unpredictablehence black swanrepercussions. Chinas economy could implode because of unsustainable levels of debt. The Chinese debt bomb could slow Chinas economy and become an obstacle to global economic growth.
The geopolitical realm has within it the seeds of many risks for humanity in 2017. These include terrorist attacks and the inter-state conflicts resulting from the rising problems of regional and global ungovernability. International institutions will need to negotiate and work together to solve geopolitical and economic problems in 2017.
The geopolitical litany of risks with black swan potential is unprecedented in 2017. The closest period like this that comes to mind is World War 1. The worlds superpowers were experiencing a protectionist-fueled suspicion of each other. Meanwhile, rapidly changing technology on one hand and rapidly advancing revolutionary social movements on the other mixed to create economic and political TNT.
The black swan component that nobody could have predicted was a young man in Serbia called Gavrilo Princip. He murdered the archduke Franz Ferdinand, sending the spark that set off the TNT. That event on June 28, 1914 was unpredictable, and its timing and context produced World War 1, the risks of which had become rather obvious in the first decade of the 20th century.
That odd sensation that many investors get every day now reflects a similar scenario today. The next Black Swan event might be that one that sparks World War 3.
In 2016, Russia, South Africa and many other countries have withdrawn from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Meanwhile, China has refused to accept the ICCs verdict on the territories in the South China Sea.
Trump has threatened to terminate the contract with Iran. Even if an agreement is reached over Syria and ISIS is defeated, the sentiment that produced the latter movement and the tensions in Syria remains. It will not simply vaporize.
ISIS might be gone, but its ideology has the advantage that anyone can adopt it. The mixture of dissent and mistrust that is brewing among the world powers has already paralyzed the United Nations (UN).
Meanwhile, the European Union (EU), which was formed after World War 2to act as a guarantee that no such war could break out again, has began to disintegrate.
Among the factors contributing to geopolitical tension is a deficit of trust. Countries accuse each other of interfering in their internal affairs. Look no further than the allegations from the U.S. Democratic Party that Russia interfered in the November presidential election to ensure that Trump would win.
In effect, nobody has proven that Russia was behind the WikiLeaks release of the John Podesta e-mails. But the media, many Americans, and others around the world have blamed Russia, fueling the mistrust among nuclear superpowers. In such an atmosphere, any number of events could turn out to be black swans for the next major international conflict.
Black swan events would only reveal themselves in retrospect after analysis of the one cause that sparked it. That is, if any analysts live to study it. Such black swans may result from the socio-economic risks like mass migration, the critical increase in inequality, and the polarization of society along ethnic, religious and cultural factors that could seriously complicate the situation in 2017.
The results of the U.K. Brexit referendum and the U.S. presidential election have shown that such factors seriously affect the situations in different countries. Then there is an escalating arms race involving the United States, Russia and, now China.
The risk of a black swan in the arms race context could certainly play on the explosive geopolitical context. The current arms race involves military robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). Drones are merely an early generation of the military-technological evolution.
Robot soldiers are no longer the figment of a science-fiction writers imagination. In 2017, we are already bombarded by technological risks. Consider cyberattacks alone. These can take the form of fraud and data theft, defects in software that can cause a failure in the energy sector (nuclear reactor meltdown), transport, communications, etc.
Moreover, the rapid development of new technologies and robotics will make human labor increasingly obsolete. The fact that this coincides with an ever-growing population presents huge risks for unemployment and social instability. Therefore, it is the perfect storm for massive social unrest.
On top of that are otherrisks, such as natural disasters. These are virtually impossible to avoid. For all other risks, we can study processes and developments, trying to make sense of them. At best, we can predict what systems could be affected by a black swan event, although nobody knows what form this will take.
The very unpredictability of black swans is the stuff of intense philosophical debate. The unexpected is what moves the world forward (or backward). The advent of the Internet was a black swan. Designed as a military communications and security tool, nobody could have foreseen the role it has come to play in modern life and business.
Life rarely works exactly as you plan it. We must learn to live with uncertainties and deal with the unexpected. Black swans are reminders that, despite the combination of technological wonders, forecasting tools, and organizational devices, we are not able to defeat nature and chaos.
Therefore, its impossible to have an accurate stock market forecast based on black swans. But we can still analyze and pay attention to the kinds of risks from where black swans might arise, or where they may have an impact.
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Posted: at 1:47 am
Jakarta,Indonesia, held an election Wednesday to elect a new governor to succeed the current governor who is on trial after being indicted for violating blasphemy laws.
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok, is the first Christian and ethnically Chinese governor of Jakarta in the last 50 years, and is currently on trial for insulting Islam after accusing his opponents of using it as a means to mislead the electorate. He was elected in 2014 when then-governor Joko Widodo stepped down from the role to run for president.
Purnama was seen as the clear favorite to win re-election, until he was charged with blasphemy a criminal offense in Indonesia in late 2016. If convicted, Purnama faces up to five years in prison for his actions.
This election is seen as a test of religious tolerance in a country whose laws dont support the liberty to be blasphemous. Indonesias blasphemy laws were enacted in 1965,and in 2012 a public servant was imprisoned for two and a half years on the charge of outing himself as an atheist on Facebook.
If Purnama wins the election, this could be seen as an clear rejection of blasphemy laws, given that 85% of Indonesias population is Muslim. This election gives the people of Jakarta the ability to freely voice a rejection to these kind of laws that limit freedom of speech especially political speech and freedom of religion.
The results of the election are expected some time during late February.ccr
Some voters have spoken out in favor of Purnamas re-election despite the controversy.I am a devout Muslim but I dont care about the religion of our leaders, said Lip Purwantara, a voter I am voting for someone who can make our city greener, cleaner and better place to live.
BBC reportsthat they witnessed people telling those queuing to make sure they vote for a Muslim, before being warned by officials not to intimidate voters.
Despite the controversy, Purnama has been credited with many successful policy decisions, including efforts to improve the the citys traffic situation, tackling corruption, turning a red-light district into a public park, and favoring greater education and healthcare access.
Private exit polls suggested that Purnama still maintained a slight lead overformer education minister Anies Baswedan, but doesnt have enough support to reach the required 50% threshold to win. This suggests the likely possibility of a run-off election, which would occur some time in April.
Photo Credit:Kompas / Kurnia Sari Aziza
This post was written by Nicholas Amato.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.
Nicholas Amato is the News Editor at Being Libertarian. Hes an undergraduate student at San Jose State University, majoring in political science and minoring in journalism.
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Posted: at 1:45 am
Members of Parliament spent most of Thursday debating racism and discrimination in Canada as the Liberals and Conservatives battled over a private members motion that condemns Islamophobia.
The Tories introduced their own anti-racism motion in response to Liberal MP Iqra Khalids motion M-103, which calls on the government to condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and to study the issue at the heritage committee and make recommendations.
Conservative MP David Andersons motion doesnt specifically mention Islamophobia, a term the Tories say is not well-defined and could stifle freedom of speech. The House of Commons, including Conservatives, has already unanimously condemned all forms of Islamophobia in an NDP motion last fall, although it wasnt a recorded vote and its unclear how many MPs were in the chamber.
The Conservative motion condemns all forms of systemic racism and discrimination against Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and other religious communities, which Mr. Anderson said is more inclusive. For procedural reasons, the Conservative motion will be voted upon in the coming days, while the Liberal motion will be dealt with in April.
Heritage Minister Melanie Joly called the Tory version weakened and watered down and said the government would not support it.
The Conservatives have brought this motion forward in a cynical attempt to serve their political purposes and avoid addressing the real issue concerning Islamophobia, she told reporters even before the debate began.
In a speech in the Commons, Ms. Khalid read out some of the 50,000 hate-filled responses she said shes received about her motion, and said shes not backing down on the language used.
I have asked my staff to lock the office behind me, as I now fear for their safety. I have asked them not to answer all phone calls, so they do not hear the insults, threats and unbelievable amounts of hate shouted at them and myself, she said. lslamophobia is real.
Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu told the House she was also the subject of online attacks during the election campaign for being a Christian.
My point is that hate crimes and these attacks are happening across different faiths, she said.
She added that MPs need clarity on the definition of Islamophobia, which she said is different around the world. If I think of myself, I am afraid that if ISIS jihadists came over, they might cut my head off and rape me. Is that Islamophobia? I do not know.
Most Tory leadership hopefuls, including Kellie Leitch, Maxime Bernier, Andrew Scheer, Brad Trost, Chris Alexander, Kevin OLeary and Erin OToole, say they disagree with the wording of Ms. Khalids motion. Michael Chong is the only candidate who said he will support it.
Ms. Leitch, who started a website called Stop M-103, told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday that many Canadians are worried their freedom of speech will be stifled.
Ms. Joly told the Commons it boggles the mind that members who have put their names forward to lead political parties, would try to capitalize on fear and division for their own benefit.
Former Liberal MP and justice minister Irwin Cotler, who put forward an anti-Semitism motion in 2015 using an agreed-upon definition, said the Liberals could change the term Islamophobia to anti-Muslim bigotry in order to get all sides on board.
Has anybody spoken with them about the use of the terminology of anti-Muslim bigotry, which amounts to the same thing but is more specific and does not have what for some is seen to be a confusing term? he told reporters.
Ms. Khalid said Wednesday Islamophobia is the irrational hate of Muslims that leads to discrimination.
The NDP have signaled they would support both motions, but NDP MP Jenny Kwan told the Commons the party also wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to denounce U.S. President Donald Trumps immigration ban.
Follow Laura Stone on Twitter: @l_stone
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Posted: at 1:03 am
There will be no military cooperation with Russia and Vladimir Putins government must show that it is ready to abide by international law, Americas Defence Secretary has declared, as he accused the Kremlin of interfering in a series of elections in democratic states.
The combative stance taken by General James Mattis at a Nato summit in Brussels appeared to contradict that of Donald Trump, who has declared that he wanted to cooperate with Mr Putin, a man he has repeatedly praisedon counter-terrorism, especially against Isis in Syria.
The US President has only belatedly acknowledged that Moscow carried out hacking operations in the election which brought him to power, after a long period denying that was the case.
Mr Putin raised the issue of security today, stating that it was vital to have cooperation with the US and Nato. Its in everyones interest to resume dialogue between the intelligence agencies of the United States and other members of Nato. It is absolutely clear that in the area of counter-terrorism all relevant government departments and international groups should work together,said the Russian President.
Speaking soon afterwards, Mr Mattis made it clear that there was a trust deficit with Moscow. Asked whether he believed that Russia interfered in the American presidential elections, Mr Mattis answered: There is very little doubt that Russia has interfered, or attempted to interfere, in a number of elections in democracies. On joint military action with Moscow in Syria, he was adamant: We are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level.
Political talks will take place, said the US Defence Secretary, to seek a way forward where Russia, living up to its commitments, will return to a partnership of sorts here with Nato.
But, Russia is going to have to prove itself first, he said.
The Nato summit hosted discussions on counter-terrorism, but most of the agenda was designed to counter alleged Russian aggression ranging from conventional military to cyber attacks.
Several member states in eastern Europe have said they have been targeted in hacking operations. Earlier in the week, Ciaran Martin, the head of the UKs new National Cyber Security Centre, revealed that political parties in Britain asked for help following cyber attacks during the 2015 UK general election and the hacking of Democratic Party emails in the US elections.
Nato military units are continuing to be deployed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland and the naval presence will be increased in the Black Sea region. Russia has complained that the build-up of troops at its borders is in breach of past pledges by the alliance, and spurious threats were being manufactured in the Black Sea region to justify an enlarged Western presence there.
Natos Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, insisted at the summit: Our aim is to prevent conflict, not to provoke it. We will not match Russia soldier for soldier, tank for tank, plane for plane. Our deployments are defensive and measured. Our presence in the Black Sea will in no way aim at provoking any conflict or escalating tensions.
Mr Mattis has demanded that Nato raise their defence spending to alleviate the disproportionate contribution being made to the alliances budget by the US. This would, in part, help Nato to negotiate from a position of strength, he held.
This led to another spat with the Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, saying that attempts to build a dialogue with Russia from a position of strength would be futile. The US Defence Secretary hit back: I have no need to respond to the Russian statement at all. Nato has always stood for military strength and protection of the democracies and the freedoms we intend to pass on to our children.
However, dialogue wastaking place with the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, meeting in Germany, and the military chiefs of the two countries, USmarine General Joseph Dunford and the Russian General Valery Gerasimov in Azerbaijan. Mr Lavrov repeated Russias denial of hacking during the American election. You should know we do not interfere in the domestic matters of other countries,he said.
The Kremlin continued to refuse to comment publicly on the turmoil which has enmeshed the Trump administration, with Michael Flynn, the Presidents national security advisor, being forced to resign over clandestine contact with the Russian ambassador to the US and an investigation under way into links between the Trump election team and Russia.
But Konstantin Kosachyov, the head of the international affairs committee in the Duma, protested that even a readiness for a dialogue with Russians is seen in Washington as a thought crime. Either Trump has not found an independence he was looking for, and is being gradually cornered, or Russophobia has infected the new administration top down.
Originally posted here:
US officials adopt combative tone on Russia at Nato summit – The Independent
Posted: at 12:41 am
This might be another way of saying that the idea of living forever is as influential as the actual possibility of living forever. Immortality is a long shot. But why is it such big business now?
The future, as a concept, has always been lucrative; the more abstract, the better. Though OConnell doesnt focus strictly on Silicon Valleytranshumanists dot the globetranshumanism is a distinctly Californian project. The state has a long legacy of self-improvement programs, exercise crazes, and faddish diets, amounting to a unique brand of bourgeois spirituality. California is a pusher for freedom. Lifestyle is supreme.
These days, this utopian futurism can take the shape of New Age management philosophy, corporate wellness, or the annual conference Wisdom 2.0, which brings together tech luminaries and the spiritual leaders of industry, from Eileen Fisher and Alanis Morissette to the CEOs of Slack and Zappos. Recent years have seen an uptick in venture capitalbacked products that carry the promise of not just a better, more productive you, but a better life overall. From Soylent (a meal-replacement drink) to nootropics (capsules that purportedly level-up ones cognitive ability), investors are pursuing extended youth, neurological enhancement, and physical prowess.
Of course, much of this is less new than it feels. In Silicon Valley, there are no new ideas, only iterations. Soylent looks a lot like SlimFast, a protein drink marketed to dieting women since the 1970s. Nootropics tend to contain ingredients like l-theaninefound in green teaand caffeine. These companies web design has a lot to do with this illusion of newnesssexy front-end design signals trustworthiness and hints that there is something technologically impressive happening on the back end. Their products get a boost from their association with work-addicted engineers, who turn to them as high-tech solutions to self-created high-tech problems. But this promise is bigger than Silicon Valley, and carries with it a distinctly Californian air of self-improvement, of better living through technology.
It is tempting to see transhumanism, too, as merely the latest rebranding of a very old desire. Many of OConnells subjects specialize in the hypothetical. Aubrey de Grey is a biomedical gerontologist who sees death as a disease to be cured. Anders Sandberg, a neuroscientist working on mind uploading, wishes literally to become an emotional machine. He is also an artist who creates digital scenes resembling early-web sci-fi fan art, and gives them dreamy names such as Dance of the Replicators and Air Castle. Zoltan Istvan, a former journalist who claims to have invented the sport of volcano-boarding, ran a presidential campaign that saw him travel across the country in a coffin-shaped bus to raise awareness for transhumanism. He campaigned on a pro-technology platform that called for a universal basic income, and promoted a Transhumanist Bill of Rights that would assure, among other things, that human beings, sentient artificial intelligences, cyborgs, and other advanced sapient life forms be entitled to universal rights of ending involuntary suffering.
Then theres Max More, a co-founder of Extropianism, who runs the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona. Alcor is a cryopreservation facility that houses the bodiesor disembodied heads, to be attached at a later date to artificial bodiesof those hoping to be reanimated as soon as the technology exists. The bodies, OConnell writes, are considered to be suspended, rather than deceased: detained in some liminal stasis between this world and whatever follows it, or does not. Alcor is the largest of the worlds four cryopreservation facilities, and houses 149 patients, nearly 70 percent of whom are male. (Alcor also cryopreserves pets.) Its youngest patient is a two-year-old who died due to a rare form of pediatric brain cancer; her case summary, posted on Alcors web site, shares that her parents, both living, also intend to be cryopreserved. No doubt being surrounded by familiar faces of loving relatives will make the resumption of her life . . . easier and more joyful, the case summary ends hopefully, heartbreakingly. To date, science has not suggested that reanimation will ever be possible; the dream of re-uploading ones mind into a new, living body, at a yet-to-be-determined date, remains just that: a dream.
Those working on immortality are long-term thinkers and fall, broadly, into two camps: those who want to free the human from the body, and those who aim to keep the body in a healthy condition for as long as possible. Randal Koene, like Max More, is in the first group. Instead of cryonics, he is working toward mind uploading, the construction of a mind that can exist independent of the body. His nonprofit organization, Carboncopies, aims for the effective immortality of the digitally duplicated self. Koene compares mind uploading to kayaking. It might be like the experience of a person who is, say, really good at kayaking, who feels like the kayak is physically an extension of his lower body, and it just totally feels natural, he tells OConnell. So maybe it wouldnt be that much of a shock to the system to be uploaded, because we already exist in this prosthetic relationship to the physical world anyway, where so many things are experienced as extensions of our bodies.
Aubrey de Grey is in the second, body preservationist group, whose efforts tend to be slightly more modest: Rather than solving death, they focus on extending life. His nonprofit, Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, focuses on research in heart disease and Alzheimers, and other common illnesses and diseases. (SENS, like many organizations the transhumanists are involved with, has received funding from Thiel.) De Greys most mainstream contribution is the popularization of the concept of longevity escape velocity, which OConnell explains as such: For every year that passes, the progress of longevity research is such that average human life expectancy increases by more than a yeara situation that would, in theory, lead to our effectively outrunning death. One might dismiss such transhumanist visions as too extreme: so many men, so much hubris. And yet, at a time of great cynicism about humanityand the future were all barreling towardthere is something irresistible about transhumanism. Call it magical thinking; call it radical optimism.
A quest for immortality may be the ultimate example of overpromising and under-delivering, but it will still deliver something. Indeed, plenty of the Extropian dreams of anti-aging have already been realized, though these accomplishments now look less futuristic than we previously imagined. Thanks to improved health care, sanitation, and education, we are living longer than our ancestors could have imagined. We sleep with our cell phones. Prosthetics have become increasingly personalized and affordable. Roboticized microsurgery blurs the lines between human and machine skill. In more staid quarters (where most of the money is), the quest for transhumanism is simply biotech.
OConnells focus is on the more extreme transhumanists, those committed to eternal life. But he also meets a few of the transhumanists taking this more incremental approach, edging us closer to longer and healthier lives. Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroscientist working on brain-machine interface technology, created a robotic exoskeleton that can be controlled by brain activity. He exhibited it at the 2014 World Cup, to give a sense of how human and robot might work together in the future. A clear practical application of his work would be to help paraplegics increase their mobility and activity. Its technology that doesnt demand that we radically overhaul our idea of reality. It allows us to make minor adjustments.
Nicolelis does not seem to share the technologists passion for scalability; though he has proven that brain activity can be translated into dataand that data can be translated into movementhe is not drawn to large-scale projects like whole-brain emulation. I dont think we will ever be able to broadcast from one brain to another the essence of the human condition, he told Popular Mechanics last year. We love analogies, metaphors, expecting things, and predicting things. These things are not in algorithms.
As transhumanism gradually alters the length and quality of human life, it will also alter political and cultural life. If the average human life were to span 100 healthy years, then society, the economy, and the environment would be drastically transformed. How long would childhood last? What would the political landscape look like if baby boomers were able to vote for another 50 years? OConnells foray into transhumanism comes at a moment when our democratic institutions look weaker than ever. Wealth is increasingly concentrated among a small group of people. The future, while always uncertain, looks, for many, particularly bleak. Envisioning a future in which transhumanisms wildest desires are realized is a heady thought experiment, one that quickly devolves into a vision of dystopia: too little space, too many bodies, andif brains are uploaded from centuries pastobsolete software.
As exciting, ambitious, fantastical, or practical as the transhumanists aims may be, they neglect to offer a fully fledged vision for society should they be successful. It would hardly be the first time that actors in Silicon Valley, with an emphasis on speed and scale, innovated firstthen scrambled to address the repercussions after they had already arrived.
This is both a core promise and the fundamental problem of transhumanism: It exempts those involved from their debt to the present. As Bill Gates put it in an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit, It seems pretty egocentric while we still have malaria and TB for rich people to fund things so they can live longer. OConnell finds it odd, too, that billionaire entrepreneurs are more interested in developing AI than in eradicating grotesque income inequality in their own country. Of course, experimentation is essential to progress, and researchers claim their work will benefit all of humanity in the future. But it raises the question: What future and for whom?
There is something deeply sad about transhumanism, tooa yearning, one that perhaps harks back to the self-improvement doctrines that have so colored California since the halcyon days of the midcentury. The promise of a better worlda better youis hard to turn away from these days. We are not more than human; we have not found a way to transcend. In the weeks between the election and the inauguration, our collective visions of the future adjusted to accommodate the possibilities of rampant corruption and the rapid perversion of constitutional freedoms, among many other things. It feels indulgent to fantasize about a future in which humanity is optimized for immortality; it feels indulgent to fantasize about a future at all.
Yet I cannot fault the transhumanists for wanting more: more from life, more of life itself. In How We Became Posthumanpublished in 1999, and now a touchstone of writing on transhumanismthe literary critic N. Katherine Hayles detailed her ideal version of a posthuman world:
If my nightmare is a culture inhabited by posthumans who regard their bodies as fashion accessories rather than the ground of being, my dream is a version of the posthuman that embraces the possibilities of information technologies without being seduced by fantasies of unlimited power and disembodied immortality that understands human life is embedded in a material world of great complexity, one on which we depend for our continued survival.
To focus on the extremes of posthuman ambition is, it seems to me, to miss the point. As a species, we are slowly nudging along a spectrum. Hayless vision is solidly in the middle with its mortality and fallibility, rendered not obsolete but more manageablemore human.
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Only Human – New Republic
Posted: February 15, 2017 at 9:24 pm
Letter to the editor: Political correctness has influenced minds
Inherent in the output of some of the favored, perennial guest writers, is how much political correctness has influenced the minds of many. Much of the radicalism that has attended the election is based on programmed ignorance and/or misinformation in …
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