Greetings, fellow Coppertops! This week’s journey through the Fortean Matrix will bring us new animal species, attempts to explain near death experiences & copper rings around our planet. And as we try to assess the validity of conspiracy theories involving the death of a journalist, we’ll make a quick trip to the land of dreams hidden in plain sight in the Nevada desert. But just because we’re going to Nevada doesn’t mean we have time to hit a Vegas casino, ok??
Our first Red Pill is something of a sad announcement: NASA has confirmed the Kepler space probe, which has proven so valuable in the search of new exo-planets –some that even orbit around their sun’s habitable zone– is beyond repair, and thus its planet-hunting career is over. Still, NASA scientists are confident they can find something useful for the space telescope to do on its golden years, aside from watching old re-runs of The Cosby Show & filling crossword puzzles.
Fare thee well, Kepler. You’ve certainly earned your retirement.
9 It seems finding planets has become the new sport of XXIst-century Science, whereas 100 years ago finding new animal species was still one of its main pastimes. And even though we may think there is hardly anything more to discover in the animal kingdom, the finding of a new species of carnivore in the jungles of Ecuador proves our planet is bigger than we think, and still full of surprises.
Becoming the first carnivore species to be found on the Western hemisphere in the last 35 years, the discovery of this real-life Pokemon actually started a decade ago, in the drawers of the Field Museum of Chicago, where Smithsonian zoologist Kristopher M. Helgen stumbled upon the pelt of an animal he’d never seen before. After making sure this was in fact a potential new species of olingo –animals related to raccoons living in the trees of the Andean forests– Helgen organized a week-long expedition to Ecuador in 2006, to look for a live specimen.
Among the treetops, the team confirmed the existence of four distinct subspecies of olinguito. With its findings, the team in the following years mapped out the animal’s predicted geographic distributions, reorganized the raccoon family tree using DNA sequencing, and peered into every nook and cranny of their bones. Finally, the team introduced the newly named creature on Thursday.
The story of olinguito’s discovery makes you wonder: what else might be hidden away inside the undisplayed collections of American museums? Skulls of giants, perhaps?
8 Olinguitos are so damn cute, I almost feel ashamed to admit I’d like to see one of them at the Chapultepec zoo –although I’m sure the lil guy would prefer to stay free in its Ecuadorian forest. Zoos have become something of a controversial issue: on one hand we’re learning more about the intelligence of those ‘inferior species’ we keep imprisoned for the enjoyment of visitors, and the stress the constant intrusion of those peering humans cause to them; but on the other hand without a first-hand experience of those incredible creatures, it’s very difficult to raise awareness of habitat conservation to the next generations. How would a child learn to care about the state of the African savannah, if he’s never heard the barks of a lion with his own ears?
…Say that again??
Hong Kong (CNN) — A zoo in China has angered visitors by trying to pass off a hairy dog as a lion, Chinese state media reported.
A visitor, surnamed Liu, told the state-run Beijing Youth Daily she discovered the fraud when visiting a zoo in a park in Louhe, a city in the central province of Henan, with her son.
As they approached the cage marked “African lion,” they were shocked to hear the beast inside emit a bark.
It was a Tibetan mastiff — a large, hairy breed of dog.
“The zoo is absolutely trying to cheat us,” Liu said. “They are trying to disguise dogs as lions.”
Other species in the park were similarly mislabeled, the newspaper reported, with another dog in the wolf cage, and a white fox on display in the leopard enclosure.
The head of the park’s animal department, Liu Suya, told CNN that the animals had been substituted for various reasons, and would be back in their rightful place soon.
7 Just as this infamous owner seriously underestimated the intelligence of the average zoo visitor, for decades we humans have been underestimating the intelligence of our extinct cousins, the Neanderthals. But not only were the original inhabitants of Europe smarter & more skillful than we used to give them credit for, but it also seems they even taught us some of those skills.
This amazing realization is evidenced by a specialized bone tool used to prepare animal skins, found at sites that are between 45,000 & 51,000 years old –older than the established arrival of ‘modern’ humans to Europe– similar to tools still used to this day among hunter-gathering cultures. So, unless H. Sapiens arrived to Europe earlier than our previous estimates –a tantalizing notion for many MU fans I’m sure– or humans came up with these types of tools by their own, there’s a distinct possibility that humans copied the Neanderthal bone-shaping skills during the few thousands of years when both species shared the continent.
The idea that technologies or traditions passed from Neanderthals to humans has been raised before, says Chris Stringer at the Natural History Museum in London. “For example, it is not clear which population first started the tradition of burial of the dead.”
Joao Zilhao at the University of Barcelona in Spain, meanwhile, has argued that the fashion among early humans for wearing pendants of animal bone and teeth originally came from Neanderthals. He says he has no problem, in principle, with humans learning new tool technologies from our extinct cousins.
And how did we thank our teachers? by wiping them all out. Maybe we do deserve the Robot Apocalypse after all.
6 The idea that we learned how to bury our dead from the Neanderthals is fascinating. Could it be they also taught us the first notions of religion too?
Of course, nowadays religion is being accused as a blight that hampers not only the evolution of the human race, but even its very survival. That’s why I’m sure many fans of Richard Dawkins were probably thrilled to learn about a new scientific study, showing atheists are on average smarter than religious folks.
The research, conducted by a team lead by Miron Zuckerman of the University of Rochester, consisted of a review of 63 scientific studies stretching back over decades, concluded that intelligent people tend to be more successful in life & more likely to be married, which –they think– might be the reason why they have less use for the ‘comfort’ religious beliefs provide.
The paper, published in the academic journal Personality and Social Psychology Review, said “Most extant explanations (of a negative relation) share one central theme—the premise that religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable and, therefore, unappealing to intelligent people who “know better.”
The answer may, however, be more complex. Intelligent people may simply be able to provide themselves with the psychological benefits offered by religion – such as “self-regulation and self-enhancement,” because they are more likely to be successful, and have stable lives.
I for one would like to know if these studies included people with non-denominational spiritual beliefs –those who might shun away from Sunday services, but nonetheless remain open-minded about the possibility of an afterlife. I also take issue with the idea that Intelligence=Success (as in material wealth) because some of the greatest geniuses & thinkers in history suffered a life of poverty & deprivation –if you don’t believe me, just ask Micah Hanks, who’s asking for donations to help him cover the expenses of a recent cyber-attack to his webpage.
And finally, let me offer you the words of Tom Chivers, columnist for The Telegraph & a self-proclaimed atheist:
[…]There no doubt is a tendency for there to be more atheists towards the top of “intelligence space”. But it’s nowhere near strong enough for us to be able to make any inferences about the specific religious individual in front of us.
TL;DR: while you and I might be atheists, and atheists might be more intelligent (on average) than religious people, that doesn’t mean that you and I aren’t thick as four short planks. Just try to bear that in mind.
Another reason why I don’t consider atheists to be particularly bright, is because most never bother to study the literature & scientific research which might challenge their belief system. Take for example near death experiences: It seems that every month or so there comes a new scientific paper proclaimed as ‘definitive proof’ that NDEs have a purely physiological explanation. Such is the case of a new study conducted on euthanized rats, showing a heightened state of neural activity just when the rats were about to die:
High-frequency neurophysiological activity in the near-death state exceeded levels found during the conscious waking state. These data demonstrate that the mammalian brain can, albeit paradoxically, generate neural correlates of heightened conscious processing at near-death.
But just as Greg pointed out at The Daily Grail, this is hardly the final nail in the NDE’s coffin. First of all, we can’t really say for sure what those rats are experiencing during those final moments. And even if their brains are showing more electrical activity, similar patterns haven’t been observed on the EEGs of human patients during cardiac arrest.
There are further reasons to be careful in jumping to conclusions. Firstly, the ‘correlation is not necessarily causation’ argument – is this the brain generating the last moments of ‘mind’ before it perishes completely, as most people (or at least, newspapers and science journalists) probably assume, or is this ‘mind’ interacting with the brain as it leaves the physical body for the last time? People will generally read in whichever conclusion suits their particular reality tunnel.
Secondly, as near-death experience researcher Bruce Greyson explained to me recently, explaining the NDE isn’t as simple as just finding a neural mechanism for the reports of a bright light, or the tunnel experience. Too often, he told me, skeptics completely ignore other evidential features of the experience, such as accurate out-of-body perception and encounters with deceased individuals not known to be dead. There is no shortage of both types of case, and these are truly what constitute a major part of the mystery of the NDE.
Bottomline we just don’t know yet, hence we need to investigate further, even though all those studies conducted from a purely neurological perspective suffer from a bias that might cause them to miss relevant information. I just love the comment made by one TDG member: “a possible analogy would be to characterise the function of a theatre by measuring the loud sound of the applause at the end —From outside the theatre.“
4 Yes, NDE research needs thinking outside the box. And the same could be said about solving the problem of modern transportation. Last July we commented on Elon Musk’s planning to unveil his concept for an ultra-fast transport system called Hyperloop, and this week the founder & CEO of Tesla Motors & SpaceX released a PDF file explaining his concept, also making a call to anyone willing to step up & solve the details needed to bring this Futurama-esque idea into reality.
The Hyperloop (or something similar) is, in my opinion, the right solution for the specific case of high traffic city pairs that are less than about 1500 km or 900 miles apart. Around that inflection point, I suspect that supersonic air travel ends up being faster and cheaper. With a high enough altitude and the right geometry, the sonic boom noise on the ground would be no louder than current airliners, so that isn’t a showstopper. Also, a quiet supersonic plane immediately solves every long distance city pair without the need for a vast new worldwide infrastructure.
Consisting of small ‘pods’ resting on an air cushion & capable of transporting 6 passengers, the Hyperloop would travel on low-pressure tubes while being accelerated through magnets, just like a rail gun system. People living in San Francisco would be able to work in Los Angeles, reducing the time of their daily commute to just 30 minutes.
Furthermore, Musk claims Hyperloop would only cost around $6 billion to build. Only thing he needs to pull this off is to wear a skimmer hat.
3 Musk’s Hyperloop plan sounds Hyperloonie, but not as crazy as project West Ford, a plan conceived by the United States during the heyday of the Cold War. Basically the idea was to put a thin copper ring around planet Earth. This crazy-ass idea was born out of a fear that the Soviets could compromise long-range communications –in a time before modern satellites– so in 1958 someone in M.I.T. proposed the launching of 20 kilograms of tiny copper filaments, which would act as the mother of all radio antennas. All I can say that there must have been some serious grass passing around the M.I.T. campus back in those days!
What’s even crazier is that in October of 1961 the United States went ahead with the plan, though the first attempt failed, much to the amusement of the Russkies who wasted no time in making fund of the Yankees —““U.S.A. Dirties Space” read a headline in the Soviet newspaper Pravda. “
On May 9, 1963, a second West Ford launch successfully dispersed its spindly cargo approximately 3,500 kilometers above the Earth, along an orbit that crossed the North and South Pole. Voice transmissions were successfully relayed between California and Massachusetts, and the technical aspects of the experiment were declared a success. As the dipole needles continued to disperse, the transmissions fell off considerably, although the experiment proved the strategy could work in principle.
Concern about the clandestine and military nature of West Ford continued following this second launch. On May 24 of that year, the The Harvard Crimson quoted British radio astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell as saying, “The damage lies not with this experiment alone, but with the attitude of mind which makes it possible without international agreement and safeguards.”
Many of those filament coppers are still out there orbiting the Earth, clustered in clumps that could account for the first examples of space junk– and even though I’m highly skeptical of conspiracy theories re. chemtrails and large-scale climate geo-engineering, project West Ford is a sobering remainder that the US government can (and has) sometimes green-light risky unilateral plans, that could have potentially damaging repercussions to future generations –all in the name of National Security.
2 And since we’ve touched the subject of conspiracy theories, one of the most popular right now is the one involving independent journalist Michael Hastings, who during the time of the freakish car accident that took his life, was working on a piece for Rolling Stone involving CIA director John Brennan.
Last month a source provided San Diego 6 News with an alarming email hacked from super secret CIA contractor Stratfor’s President Fred Burton. The email (link here) was posted on WikiLeaks and alleged that then Obama counter-terrorism Czar Brennan, was in charge of the government’s continued crackdown or witch-hunt on investigative journalists.
After providing the Stratfor email to the CIA for comment, the spymaster’s spokesperson responded in lightning speed. Two emails were received; one acknowledging Hastings was working on a CIA story and the other said, “Without commenting on information disseminated by WikiLeaks, any suggestion that Director Brennan has ever attempted to infringe on constitutionally-protected press freedoms is offensive and baseless.”
The emails also prompted a phone from CIA media spokesman Todd Ebitz. He said they were saddened by Michael’s death and reiterated their position that they had a cordial working relationship with the investigative reporter.
On the other hand, Stratfor, specifically Fred Burton, remains nonresponsive.
As for Hastings’ final story, his wife said Rolling Stone would publish the Brennan piece in an upcoming edition of the magazine.
The ‘source’ seems to be Kimberly Dvorak, who was the recent subject of a smear campaign on a recent article posted at Mother Jones –notice how Gavin Aronsen wrote Dvorak was an “independent journalist” in quotes. Aronsen also put in doubt the theory that Hastings’ car exploded before it hit a tree, which seems to be confirmed by a b/w surveilance video which has recently surfaced –and also a witness to the accident who gave his testimony to KTLA/Loud Labs.
The fact that Hastings’ body was allegedly cremated against his family’s wishes also fueled the fires of conspiranoia, yet this rumor was refuted by a family member who talked to Russ Baker, a writer for WhoWhatWhy. Still, since counter-terrorism tzar Richard Clarke told the Huffington Post that hijacking a modern car at a distance is not beyond the realm of possibility, it’s hard not to wonder: Was Hastings’ crash more than an unfortunate accident?
1 Cyberwarfare seems like the new frontier of the black-ops world, but back in the 80s & 90s stealth aircraft & revolutionary avionics was what most people associated to what is known as ‘special access programs’ (SAPs). And when you think of secret planes there’s one place that inevitably comes to mind: Area 51.
In what is undoubtedly the most commented news of last week, the Air Force recently declassified some once-secret documents through the Freedom of Information Act –“The Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and Oxcart Programs>” (PDF)– which finally acknowledge the existence of the most famous secret air base in the world.
In other startling revelation, the Air Force has also admitted that the sky is blue.
What made my blood pressure raise though, was how every major news outlet took the opportunity to mock UFO believers, since the Air Force stated that Area 51 was merely the testing ground of the U-2 & OXCART aerial surveillance programs (the OXCART was the precursor of the SR-72 Black Bird). CNN was all too happy to conclude that ALL UFO sightings around Area 51 were the result of UFO buffs watching these spy planes under the influence of some illegal substance –never mind that neither the U-2 nor the F-117 nor the Black Bird were capable of HOVERING, as reported (and recorded) by many witnesses.
So it may surprise the mainstream media to know we UFO buffs have known about the testing of stealth spy planes at Area 51 for quite a while. But there are two things they haven’t bothered to ask: WHY is the Air Force releasing this 1992 document now, and WHAT ELSE has the Air Force been testing in the Groom Lake desert since the retirement of projects U-2 & Black Bird?
Or perhaps Area 51 is now just used as a convenient public distraction, meanwhile all the really exotic technology is now tested in a still-unknown Area 52?
Until next time this is RPJ jacking out, reminding you the best place to keep a secret is in plain sight.