Daily Archives: February 28, 2012

Monkey controls robot hand through brain implants in Chinese lab

Image: China Daily China Daily Information Corp – CDIC/Reuters

newscientist.com | Feb 24, 2012

by Caroline Morley

Jianhui manipulates objects with his hands and gets a drink as a reward. Unknown to him, not far away a robot hand mirrors his fingers’ moves as it receives instructions from the chips implanted in his brain.

Zheng Xiaoxiang of the Brain-Computer Interface Research Team at Zhejiang University in Zijingang, China, and colleagues announced earlier this week that they had succeeded in capturing and deciphering the signals from the monkey’s brain and interpreting them into the real-time robotic finger movements.

The two sensors implanted in Jianhui’s brain monitor just 200 neurons in his motor cortex, Zheng says. However, this was enough to accurately interpret the monkey’s movements and control the robotic hand.

Humans have used electrodes to control prosthetic arms, but Zheng claims this research looks at the finer movements of the fingers.

“Hand moves are associated with at least several hundreds of thousands of neurons,” she said. “We now decipher the moves based on the signals of about 200 neurons. Of course, the orders we produced are still distant from the truly flexible finger moves in complexity and fineness.”

Out of the public eye, China cracks down on another protesting village

McClatchy Newspapers | Feb 27, 2012


PANHE, China — The old woman walked over to the door and peeked out from behind a blue curtain, looking slowly from one side of the street to other. “The police will come,” she muttered to those huddled in the room behind her.

The men, who were talking about officials stealing their land in Panhe, fell quiet. They knew what a visit would mean – threats, beatings and then getting dragged off by the police.

In December, a high-profile standoff between residents and Communist Party bosses in a fishing village called Wukan, about 450 miles southwest of Panhe, ended peacefully. That case had some observers wondering if Chinese officials had changed the way they dealt with the intertwined problems of land rights and corruption.

What happened here suggests otherwise.

Earlier this month, people in Panhe marched to protest what they said was the theft by local leaders of communal lands. The complaints were met by a crackdown. Police and plainclothes security men hauled away at least 30 people. Villagers said the roundup targeted the protest organizers they’d selected to negotiate with the government.

“The officials took away all of the young people who were getting on the Internet,” said one farmer, a 50-year-old man who like many interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of arrest.

Panhe has become another in a long list of Chinese villages where locals say corrupt officials and well-connected businessmen conspired to steal land or otherwise rob the poor.

When residents stage demonstrations in hopes of gaining justice, the main leaders are often whisked away in police cars. After the government makes perfunctory promises, all goes back to the way it was before.

Wukan was different. There, with a crowd of foreign journalists on hand, Chinese officials took another course. The village chief accused of corruption was deposed. A main figure in the uprising was named the local Communist Party secretary. New elections, heralded as unusually free and open, will be held Thursday to select Wukan’s leadership.

Wukan, however, has not turned out to be a model for the rest of the nation, at least so far.

A police checkpoint now sits at the entrance of Panhe, watching closely for who comes and goes. People interviewed inside the village say officials forced residents to post online notes saying the situation was resolved. State-controlled media in the region have tried to put the matter to rest, reporting that “the villagers are emotionally stable, the whole issue is being dealt with actively.”

“What happened after the demonstrations, with the government clamping down, has been painful,” said a 45-year-old farmer named Lu, a common surname in this area. “There’s nothing we can do. Everything is being controlled. All of the information is being controlled.”

Panhe and Wukan are similar in many ways. Both are low-slung hamlets on China’s coastline where locals rose up after so much land allegedly had been stolen that they began to worry there wasn’t enough left for them to make a living.

But when the villagers of Wukan fought off a police raid and erected barricades, provincial authorities reacted unexpectedly. Instead of sending in troops to deliver a crushing blow, they negotiated an outcome that some pointed to as a possible sign of budding political evolution.

Why that didn’t happen in Panhe is a matter of conjecture, hidden by the obscurities of an authoritarian regime.

China’s central leadership is thought to be divided on how to deal with land rights. It’s possible that one faction saw Wukan as a trial run for change but that others favor a tougher approach, and the disagreement is not yet settled.

Or the difference may be because of nothing more than the personality of the provincial leadership in Guangdong province, where Wukan sits. The Communist Party secretary of Guangdong, Wang Yang, has a reputation for being reform-minded. He is considered a contender this year for a seat on the nation’s Politburo standing committee, the very center of the regime’s power. Wang’s political ambitions could have been hurt by a messy operation, in full view of the world, to wrest control of Wukan by force.

Whatever the reason, few in Panhe seem optimistic.

The woman peering through the window at the door, a 73-year-old with short gray hair, said the police took her son on Feb. 15. “It was because he was going to the protests,” she said, asking to remain anonymous.

Police had released one of the men in the room just three days earlier. He’d been held four months after he and a group of villagers tore down a wall at a construction site in October.

The man said that until the wall went up, apparently for a factory, he and most others in Panhe didn’t realize the land had been sold.

“The police wanted me to agree to give our land to the officials,” said a farmer, 46, who also asked that his name not be used. “They wanted me to sign something saying that I agreed, but I wouldn’t do it.”

Officials maintain Panhe’s residents fundamentally misunderstood what happened. The land that was sold to a series of companies for development in the past several years – more than 100 acres by the most conservative estimate – included a series of tidal flats that residents had used to cultivate clams and other seafood.

The flats were state-owned, not the collective property of the village, officials told state media.

The compensation due to the village after the sales was used to improve roads and other infrastructure, the officials said.

Villagers disagree. They say the real estate in question included collectively owned farmland. Beyond how the land was classified, they say, the entire process was cloaked in secrecy between local officials and their cronies. That coterie, villagers allege, then grabbed the cash that should have gone to those who’d lost their property.

A McClatchy reporter who made it past the police early one recent morning was not the first outsider to reach here. A Dutch journalist who traveled to Panhe on Feb. 15 had his interviews interrupted by a large group of men who broke into the room and beat him and those he’d met with. On the way out of town, the Dutch journalist was reportedly pulled from a car and assaulted once more.

The next day, a French reporter was stopped after passing through a tollbooth some 12 miles outside of Panhe. After his car was hit by another vehicle, a mob beat his Chinese assistant in the face until his nose and forehead were bloody.

Government representatives later explained that the men were supporters of the Panhe administration who were upset about foreign journalists coming to the area, according to an account e-mailed by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China to its members.

One woman who met with McClatchy took down the reporter’s cellphone number on the back of a toothpaste box, which she then folded up to look like a piece of trash. She said that a protest leader would be in touch later in the day.

The person who called, a businessman surnamed Lu, knew that police had been monitoring cellphone conversations in the area but said he wanted to talk anyway.

“We petitioned at three levels of government but no one would listen to us,” said Lu. “The power of the county government is bigger than the law. The reason why we began demonstrating is that we had nowhere to turn.”

Lu said that he’d been a minor player in getting the protests together. Now, he’s one of the few still free.

“Our main organizers have been taken away,” he said. “The officials told us not to send text messages or get on the Internet to talk about this situation.”

The wife of one outspoken activist was assaulted by police and her legs had been badly injured, said Lu.

He wanted to arrange an interview between the wife and a reporter. When McClatchy tried contacting him later, though, Lu’s phone was turned off.

Police cover-up of phone hacking revealed to Leveson inquiry

John Prescott (left) and Brian Paddick revealed the full extent of the police cover-up of phone hacking in written statements to the Leveson inquiry. Photograph: PA

Detailed allegations presented by John Prescott and Brian Paddick suggest victims, politicians and judges were misled

guardian.co.uk | Feb 27, 2012

by David Leigh

Documents revealing the full extent of the Metropolitan police cover-up over phone hacking have been unearthed after legal discovery battles by News of the World victims.

The files’ contents were detailed on Monday to the Leveson inquiry in sworn written statements from the former deputy prime minister John Prescott and former Met deputy assistant commissioner Brian Paddick, who was himself a hacking victim.

Paddick used his insider knowledge to depict the existence of a widespread fear of the tabloids among senior police officers and what he called a general “culture of cover-up” at the Met.

But the detailed allegations he and Prescott make about the hacking affair are even more startling. According to the evidence, lies appear to have been told not only to individual victims, but to government ministers, parliament, the judges and the public.

Police attempts to undermine the Guardian’s reporting when it first disclosed the scandal in 2009 are shown to have been wrong. There had been a “conspiracy of silence”, Prescott said.

According to the evidence presented on Monday:

• Police knew from the outset that Prescott was a hacking victim, but told him the opposite.

• Police immediately identified hundreds of hacking targets in the seized files of the private detective Glenn Mulcaire, but later claimed they were unaware of them.

• Police never received key financial evidence or computers from News International (NI).

• Police “tipped off” Rebekah Brooks, the then editor of the Sun, about the scope of their investigation.

• Police discovered in Mulcaire’s files highly sensitive leaks from within their own ranks that could have endangered those with new identities.

• An unknown police officer reversed a recorded decision to inform key victims, ensuring a cover-up.

Some of the most senior officers who handled the case have already testified to MPs on the Commons media committee. They are being recalled under oath by Lord Justice Leveson later this week.

These include the former assistant commissioner John Yates, who has resigned and is currently employed as a consultant by the ruling family in Bahrain; the former deputy assistant commissioner Peter Clarke; and the former assistant commissioner Andy Hayman.

Police investigations were “thorough and appropriate” to start with, said Paddick. The NoW’s royal reporter Clive Goodman was targeted in 2006 after members of the monarchy complained that their phones were being interfered with.

The documents reveal, however, that police realised from the outset that phone hacking was a potentially huge issue.

On 4 April 2006, Detective Superintendent Philip Williams wrote that the ability to intercept voicemails was “highly unlikely to be limited to Goodman alone” and could be too expensive to investigate by the royal security squad.

In May, after Mulcaire had been linked to the case, the case officer Mark Maberley wrote of “sophisticated and organised interception of voice messages”.

His senior investigating officer, Keith Surtees, proposed that “given the large number of non-royal victims” a better-equipped squad should take over. Paddick said he did not understand why this never happened.

The team then discovered that the then Labour cabinet minister Tessa Jowell was being hacked. When Mulcaire’s property was raided on 8 August 2006 they found that Prescott was also being targeted.

A transcript of Mulcaire’s interrogation on the following day was revealed on Monday. Prescott said he found the transcript “quite staggering” when it was eventually disclosed to him five years later.

The interrogator, DC Gallagher, was recorded saying: “Another page here has got the name John Prescott. There’s another name underneath, first of all it says adviser and then the name Joan Hammell. You’ve got her telephone numbers and DI numbers, password numbers and Vodafone passwords … and an address.”

Police regarded the Prescott allegation as so significant in 2006 that they included his name in a draft application for a search warrant for the NoW, which was never executed.

The draft said Mulcaire had been receiving extra payments of £250 a time “which appear to be linked to assistance given in relation to specific stories”. It added: “The details contained in these invoices demonstrate these stories involve individuals in the public eye such as … ‘Prescott’.”

The evidence police already held included two £250 bills Mulcaire presented to NI dated 7 May 2006 and 21 May 2006. One said: “Story – other Prescott assist – TXT” and the other: “Story: Other Prescott assist – TXT: Urgent”.

Other damning evidence which later came to light, and would have been discovered had police pursued inquiries at the time, included an internal NI email dated 28 April 2006. It was headed “Joan Hammell: adviser to Prescott”, gave instructions on how to access her voicemail box and said there were 45 messages to be listened to.

But police did not push ahead. There was a “tense standoff” at the News of the World offices when police arrived, according to the case officer. Stuart Kuttner, the managing editor, and the Farrers solicitor Julian Pike met police and allegedly “obstructed” them. The accounts department was not searched as intended, nor were Goodman’s safe and computer taken away.

Full Story

Upper classes ‘more likely to lie and cheat’

Psychologists suggested that the findings could help explain the origins of the banking crisis – with self-confident, wealthy bankers more likely to indulge in reckless behaviour Photo: REUTERS

Members of the upper classes are more likely to lie, cheat and even break the law than people from less privileged backgrounds, a study has found.

Telegraph | Feb 27, 2012

By John Bingham

In contrast, members of the “lower” classes appeared more likely to display the traditional attributes of a gentleman.

It suggests that the traditional notion of the upper class “cad” or “bounder” could have a scientific basis.

But psychologists at the University of California in Berkeley, who carried out the study, also suggested that the findings could help explain the origins of the banking crisis – with self-confident, wealthy bankers more likely to indulge in reckless behaviour.

The team lead by Dr Paul Piff, asked several groups of people from different social backgrounds to perform a series of tasks designed to identify different traits such as honesty and consideration for others.

Each person was asked a series of questions about their wealth, schooling, social background, religious persuasions and attitudes to money in an attempt to put them into different classes.

The tasks included asking participants to pretend to be an employers conducting a job interview to test whether they would lie or sidestep awkward facts in pay negotiation.

They were told that the job might become redundant within six months but were encouraged conceal this from the interview candidate.

There was also an online game involving rolling dice in which participants they were asked to report their own score, thinking they would be in line for a cash prize for a higher score – and that no one was checking.

Members of another group were given a series of made-up scenarios in which people spoke about doing something unethical at work to benefit themselves and then questioned to assess how likely they were to do likewise.

The scientists also carried out a series of observations at a traffic junction in San Francisco.

Different drivers’ social status was assessed on the basis of what car they were driving as well as visible details such as their age.

Those deemed to be better off appeared more likely to cut up other drivers and less likely to stop for pedestrians.

Overall the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that those from richer or powerful backgrounds appeared greedier, more likely to lie in negotiation and more likely to cheat.

Being in a higher social class – either by birth or attainment – had a “causal relationship to unethical decision-making and behaviour”, they concluded.

Dr Piff concluded that having an elevated social rank were more likely to display “self focused” behaviour patterns than those from more modest backgrounds, were less aware of others, and were less good at identifying the emotions of others.

He said that the findings appeared to bear out the teachings of Aristotle, Plato and Jesus that greed is at the root unethical behaviour.

“On the one hand, lower-class individuals live in environments defined by fewer resources, greater threat and more uncertainty,” he said.

“It stands to reason, therefore, that lower-class individuals may be more motivated to behave unethically to increase their resources or overcome their disadvantage.

“A second line of reasoning, however, suggests the opposite prediction: namely, that the upper class may be more disposed to the unethical.

“Greater resources, freedom, and independence from others among the upper class give rise to self-focused social cognitive tendencies, which we predict will facilitate unethical behaviour.

“Historical observation lends credence to this idea. For example, the recent economic crisis has been attributed in part to the unethical actions of the wealthy.

“Religious teachings extol the poor and admonish the rich with claims like, ‘It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven’.”

Study: Hundreds of millions of people are descendants of elite tyrants and despots

A young girl walks amongst horse statues built as a tribute to Genghis Khan, whose unmarked tomb is claimed to be nearby, in the city of Ordos, Mongolia. Source: AFP

Emperors and elites took control of all wealth, including access to young women.

How despots and conquerors changed the genetic makeup of the world

theaustralian.com.au | Feb 26, 2012

by Jonathan Leake

DESPOTS and tyrants may have changed the course of human evolution by using their power to force hundreds of women to bear their children, new research says.

It shows that the switch from hunter-gathering to farming about 8,000-9,000 years ago was closely followed by the emergence of emperors and elites who took control of all wealth, including access to young women.

Such men set up systems to impregnate hundreds, or even thousands, of women while making sure other men were too poor or oppressed to have families.

It means such men may now have hundreds of millions of descendants, a high proportion of whom may carry the genetic traits that drove their ancestors to seek power and oppress their fellow humans.

“In evolutionary terms this period of human existence created an enormous selective pressure, with the guys at the top who had the least desirable traits passing on their genes to huge numbers of offspring,” said Laura Betzig, an evolutionary anthropologist.

She has studied the emergence of the world’s first six great civilisations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, Mexico and Peru.


No wonder there’s so much violence in the world! Hundreds of millions of people are related to despots, claims study

In each she found that emperors created systems to “harvest” hundreds of the prettiest young women and then systematically impregnate them. Ms Betzig has studied the records left by the six civilisations to work out how many children wore born to emperors.

“In China they had it down to a science. Yangdi, the 6th-century Sui dynasty emperor, was credited by an official historian with 100,000 women in his palace at Yangzhou alone,” she said.

“They even had sex handbooks describing how to work out when a woman was fertile. Then they would be taken to the emperor to be impregnated.

“It was all organised by the state so the emperor could impregnate as many women as possible. And they had rules, like all the women had to be under 30 and all had to be attractive and symmetrical. This was the system in China for more than 2,000 years.”

Others relied on violence. One genetic study showed that Genghis Khan, the 13th-century Mongol warlord, who was renowned for sleeping with the most beautiful women in every territory he conquered, now has about 16m male descendants. This compares with the 800 people descended from the average man of that era.

Ms Betzig also studied primitive societies. She found that the small bands of hunter-gatherers were the most egalitarian, with men and women able to have the number of children they wanted.

“This freedom is probably because they were so mobile. If their group got taken over by a big guy who tried to control resources, the others could simply leave and find somewhere else,” she said.

This system broke down when the world’s first civilisations emerged about 8,000 years ago based on farming. All began on fertile river plains surrounded by mountains or deserts that made it difficult to leave. Such situations were perfect for the emergence of elites and emperors.

In a paper just published in the journal Evolution & Human Behavior, Ms Betzig has catalogued the same trend in each of the great early civilisations. In Egypt, carvings on the tomb of Rameses the Great, who lived about 3,200 years ago, suggest he had about 200 children. Papyruses record the exploits of another, Snefru, who lived about 4,600 years ago, describing how he went for a row on his lake taking 20 women “with the shapeliest bodies, breasts and braids”.

Similarly, in Peru the Inca rulers appointed commissioners to collect attractive women who were sent to “houses of virgins” to await impregnation.

“In the generations before the 16th-century Spanish conquest, the emperor Pachakuti had 300 or 400 children by various women and the emperor Thupa Yupanki had 300 children,” Betzig said.

Such systems arose in Britain as well, especially in the feudal era. “Lords then had sexual access to hundreds of dependent serfs … with up to a fifth of the population ‘in service’,” Betzig said.

She is to publish a book, The Badge of Lost Innocence, exploring why that era has ended. “The European discovery of the Americas changed everything,” she said.

“Along with the emergence of democracy it offered millions of people the chance to emigrate or get rid of despotic regimes. The literature of that time shows people wanted to have families of their own and for the first time in thousands of years they had that chance.”

U.S. airports under pressure to scrap multi-million-dollar iris scanners since they are SLOWER than manual checks

Scanner inspection: British Home Secretary Charles Clarke tries out one of the new scanners in 2005 as they were hailed by Ministers as a key weapon in the fight against terrorism and fraud

Airports in UK have concluded machines are worse than traditional methods

Daily Mail | Feb 28, 2012

Eye scanners which are meant to slash queues at airport passport control are coming under scrutiny after airports around the world started to scrap the costly machines.

In the UK, the scheme was introduced at a cost of $14billion but is now quietly being rolled back after officials concluded that the machines were slower than checking passports manually.

Now the U.S. airports which have used the technology will have to reconsider their reliance on expensive electronics over human expertise.

The last British government claimed that the iris scanners were capable of processing travellers in as little as 12 seconds.

But after 385,000 passengers submitted their details, the scanners have been ditched at Birmingham and Manchester airports, and they are expected to vanish from Heathrow and Gatwick after the Olympics.

Some irate travellers even ended up getting trapped inside the scanning booths when they malfunctioned.

When the then immigration minister, Des Browne, unveiled the Iris Recognition Immigration System, known as Iris, in 2004, he claimed it would provide a ‘watertight’ check of identities as well as cutting queues. It was targeted at foreign passport holders resident in the UK or who regularly travel here and wanted to avoid lengthy queues. They had to undergo a free 15-minute registration to record the unique pattern of their iris every two years.

Plans to use the technology for UK passports and even an ill-fated ID cards scheme were dropped after it emerged that up to one in ten travellers was wrongly rejected by the scanners.

They then had to wait for manual checks to be performed.

Subsequently, facial recognition technology has been developed with the new generation of biometric passports which can be used at automated ‘e-gates’.

These chip-enabled passports are not held by travellers from outside the European Economic Area, however, and they have remained dependent on iris recognition.

Lucy Moreton, deputy general secretary of the Immigration Service Union, said the Iris scheme had been beset with problems from the beginning. She added: ‘Iris scanners are prone to throwing up false alerts when genuine travellers try to use them. We welcome the decision to phase them out.’

James Baker, of privacy group No2ID, said: ‘This is recognition that iris scanning is an expensive failure. The money would be better spent employing more trained staff to use their initiative and check passports manually.’

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We are phasing out Iris and will be replacing it with other types of gates that non-EU passengers will be able to use.’

Suspicion mounts concerning Mitt Romney and Ron Paul conspiracy

Ron Paul has attacked Rick Santorum 20 times in the debates, but never gone after Mitt Romney. Credit: Getty Images

Looking at their respective policy positions, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul should be fierce enemies.

examiner.com | Feb 27, 2012

by Ryan Witt

After watching the last few debates, many analysts and casual observers are beginning to wonder whether Mitt Romney and Ron Paul have formed some sort of secret alliance to benefit each other.  The two men have gone relatively easy on each other during the primary season, while attacking other candidates like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich with a great deal of vigor.  Using a Survivor-style strategy the two men may be teaming up to eliminate all of their competitors.  The only problem is that Paul’s supporters believe they are trying to elect Ron Paul president.  However, if a conspiracy between Paul and Romney really does exist, Paul’s supporters may, in fact, be working to elect Mitt Romney president.

At this point Paul has virtually no chance of winning the Republican nomination for president.  Romney has won three contests in New Hampshire, Florida, and Nevada.  Rick Santorum has won in Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado.  Newt Gingrich won South Carolina.  Paul, on the other hand, has no victories and is currently not polling anywhere near Romney or Santorum on the national level.

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