Cairo’s Walls Of Freedom Demolished – Photo Document

Mohamed Mahmoud street graffiti thespeaker.co

Mohamed Mahmoud street, one of the most iconic locations of modern Egyptian history, famous for its walls graffitied by artists who gave color to the Revolution of 2011, is now being demolishing as part of a renovation project.

Online news website Ahram Online reported that the order for demolishing the walls of The American University in Cairo, where the most famous graffiti is located, came from the Cairo Governorate. The instructions also include tearing down the university’s science building.

The indignation of the the Egyptian youth was immediate. Many consider Mohamed Mahmoud Street’s graffiti to be a monument to the 2011 revolution, in which President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown after almost 30 years in power.

A meme has been circulating on social media showing President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi peeking behind the wall that is now being destroyed, raising questions about the leader’s responsibility for the demolition of the iconic revolutionary locale, right next to Tahrir Square.

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Image credit: Ahmed M. Tuni

A law that recently passed in Egypt dictates that any anti-government graffiti is now considered a criminal act. Many Egyptians have voiced opposition to the legislation, saying the law hits strongly against freedom of speech in the country.

 

With the destruction of the revolutionary graffiti wall, some fear that an era will sadly come to an end in Mohamed Mahmoud Street and the symbolic center of the Egyptian Revolution.

Text and photography by David A Córdova M.

Mohamed Mahmoud Street Graffiti

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When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too

At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.

When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.

The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.

The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.

“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”

“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”

The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”

Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550

The brain listens for things it is trying to predict

The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.

The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.

Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501

We have a particular way of understanding a room

When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.

The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.

Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y

Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies

Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.

‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.

The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.

Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035

WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account

WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.

Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’

The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,

‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’

Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.

The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.

Tiny House Leaves Room for Parking Below

northern gateway

Well prefab and modular home builders, have have ever considered building a tiny house that’s just a second floor? That’s what these guys did here, and it’s actually a somewhat common practice when it comes to certain building locations. Not only that, it has a few interesting benefits.

One is, especially if you’re building a tiny house — whether its a prefab or modular house or not — it’s not difficult to do. The foundation is just simple blocking but it’s posts, and the house is set up higher. Also, these elevated houses get good ventilation because of the wind they are exposed to. Then there’s the safety from flooding. And finally, they have the benefit of leaving room below the small house for storage, a social area in shade, or parking (like the picture). This can be a good benefit for those who have a small space to build on, but don’t want to miss out on having a certain amount of parking area.

Some of you out there might be wondering about the stairs, though. Not everyone wants to walk up and down stairs every time they enter or exit their prefab home or tiny house, right?

Actually, a read a woman writing about just this issue a while ago. She had a friend who had pets that were getting old (and the friend also planned to age in the house), and she had a house on stilts like the one in the photo. So she installed an electric stair lift. Her advice was that we don’t need to worry too much about limitations because we have ways of getting around them. That sounds quite a bit like the prefab house movement philosophy, too.

If you’re thinking of building a tiny house like this on a beach, make sure to check the local building inspector’s office (or whatever its called where you happen to live). In order to get insurance for a small house — even a prefab house in some cases — not all prefabs are set on wheels and classified as mobile homes — builders need to find out the guidelines for new constructions.

Also, some of you might have noticed, this picture shows what can be considered a tiny house in the same frame as, parked below it … a hummer, one of the more famous expensive gas-guzzling vehicles going. That’s because this house design is actually from Koa Campgrounds. They have beach house rentals, tent campgrounds, RV parks and other places (you can see what they have to offer and their locations by clicking here).

They actually built this design — not as a prefab but you can see how it would easily translate into a prefab or even a shipping container house design.

Tiny House Leaves Room for Parking Below (2)

When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too

At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.

When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.

The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.

The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.

“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”

“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”

The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”

Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550

The brain listens for things it is trying to predict

The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.

The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.

Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501

We have a particular way of understanding a room

When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.

The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.

Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y

Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies

Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.

‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.

The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.

Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035

WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account

WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.

Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’

The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,

‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’

Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.

The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.

This Tiny House Is Tinier Than It Looks

What would you guess for the square footage of this tiny home? Hint: It’s really a tiny home!

It might look bigger from the outside (in the photo above), but this tiny home is only 500 square feet. How could that be?

I was a bit surprised myself, but even though this house is tiny, it still has a lot of creature comforts and home furnishings. There’s antique timbers used in the construction, as well as pine beams.

A special feature is the old Civil-War era wood used for the floors. It’s plank flooring from a reclaimed ammunition factory from that war.

There’s also a desk area, a sleeping area (which is 50 square feet itself), a fireplace, and the whole thing is done in natural colors: brown, green and black.

This tiny home was built by a team of two companies: TKP Architects and Old Greenwich Builders. It’s called the “Mountain Cottage.”

To locate TKP Architects and Old Greenwich Builders, click here.

mountain cottage (3) mountain cottage (2) mountain cottage (4)

When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too

At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.

When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.

The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.

The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.

“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”

“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”

The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”

Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550

The brain listens for things it is trying to predict

The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.

The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.

Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501

We have a particular way of understanding a room

When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.

The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.

Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y

Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies

Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.

‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.

The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.

Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035

WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account

WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.

Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’

The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,

‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’

Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.

The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.

Indignation In Mexico Over Killing Of Photojournalist 

PUEBLA, México — A Mexican news photographer was among five people found dead in the middle-class neighborhood of Narvarte, Mexico City, July 31.

Rubén Espinosa, former member of Proceso and collaborator with the news agencies Cuartoscuro and AVC News was among five victims discovered by police beaten and shot in the head; a month ago, Espinosa claimed in interviews that he felt threatened by the governor of Veracruz state, Javier Duarte.

Veracruz is one of the most dangerous Mexican states for journalists, with a total of 13 killed under Duarte’s watch. Espinosa is the seventh journalist killed in Mexico this year. In total, 41 journalists have been killed since 2010 according to the journalism advocacy group Article 19.

The indignation of the country resulted in an almost immediate response, as hundreds of journalists, photographers, and activists gathered in the principal cities in Mexico such as Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Xalapa and Veracruz to demand Duarte resign. A major protest in Mexico City was held at the capital’s Angel of Independence monument, where many people holding signs and carrying masks with Espinosa’s face shouted for justice.

The 31-year-old photojournalist specialized in documenting social movements in Veracruz state. Many of his works were critical of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party with which Duarte and former president Enrique Peña Nieto are associated.

Nadia Vera, an activist killed alongside Espinosa, released a video days before the massacre. The clip, posted online, she said that if anything happened to her or her fellow activists, it would be the fault of Duarte and the state of Veracruz.

Following these events, the state of Veracruz and Duarte said little, and Mexicans in general do not expect much to come from the politician. The only statement to come from Duarte acknowledged that the murder happened in Mexico state and not in Veracruz, but said it was a matter for other branches of government to deal with.

More demonstrations and protests are scheduled for next week, and a photo exhibit will be on display in a gallery in Mexico City to commemorate the work of Espinosa.

This next series of pictures is from a demonstration held in Puebla city.

Text and Pictures by David A Córdova

 

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sin título-6443-11

When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too

At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.

When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.

The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.

The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.

“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”

“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”

The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”

Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550

The brain listens for things it is trying to predict

The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.

The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.

Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501

We have a particular way of understanding a room

When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.

The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.

Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y

Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies

Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.

‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.

The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.

Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035

WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account

WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.

Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’

The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,

‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’

Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.

The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.

Secret exchanges and informal interactions: new report shines light on lobbying in the EU

lobbying in the EU

What is the state of lobbying in Europe? How transparent is it? Is there a clear and enforceable code of conduct for lobbying activities? How diverse are the voices affecting decision making?

In their latest report Lobbying Europe: Hidden Influence, Privileged Access Transparency International (TI) answers these very questions.

The study looks at the practice of lobbying and its regulations within 19 EU national governments and the three main EU institutions: the European Commission, the EU Parliament, and the EU Council.

It is underpinned by three research criteria:

  1. Transparency – are interactions between lobbyists and public officials transparent and open to public scrutiny?
  2. Integrity – is there a clear and enforceable code of behaviour that ensures lobbying is conducted ethically?
  3. Equality of access – how diverse is the range of voices affecting decision-making, how accessible is the political system to a wide range of citizens?

With some 15-30 thousand lobbyists regularly walking in the corridors of EU institutions, the lobbying industry in Europe is not just thriving but is becoming increasingly sophisticated. It includes professional lobbyists, corporations, private sector representatives, trade unions and law firms, and also NGOs, think-tanks, academics and faith-based organisations.

Underpinned by transparency, integrity and equality of access, lobbying can be a democratic tool, as multiple views can help shape the political debate and agenda in ways that are richer and fairer to the millions of people who will be ultimately impacted by the decisions taken. Legislation on food labeling, pesticide use, carbon emissions, smoking bans, recycling targets, and gay marriage are all examples of lobbying as a force for good.

However, in their latest report TI show us why the practice often still has a rather seedy ring to it.

The study finds ineffective and piecemeal lobbying regulations across EU countries and institutions overall. It finds that only seven (Austria, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia and the United Kingdom) of the 19 countries investigated have some kind of lobbying regulation in place, but even then regulation is either poorly designed or not properly implemented.

When measured against international standards and best practices, the 19 EU countries and EU institutions together only scored an average 31 percent for the quality of their promotion of transparency, integrity and equality of access in lobbying.

For the three EU institutions alone the score is slightly higher at 36 percent, but still well below the ideal mark.

At 55 and 53 percent respectively, Slovenia is the only country and the EU Commission is the only institution to surpass the 50 percent mark. In both, whereas transparency and integrity measures are found to be relatively solid, the measures’ reach, implementation and enforcement are, however, found to be lacking.

The study finds that only 10 of the 19 countries assessed have some form of lobbying register.

In six (Austria, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, the United Kingdom), this is a national mandatory register. Yet while mandatory, lobbying, its targets and activities are found to be too narrowly defined – indeed none of the 19 countries are found to have adequate definitions across the board.

The UK Lobbying Act (2014), for example, is estimated by the Association of Professional Political Consultants to only be able to capture around one per cent of those who engage in lobbying activities – this is due to its narrow targets focus on ministers, permanent secretaries and special advisers – but not on members of parliament or local councillors, the staff of regulatory bodies, and private companies providing public services.

In 14 countries, voluntary registers may apply only to select institutions, such as the National Assembly and Senate in France, in the Netherlands, and the EU Transparency Register, or to target sub-national level institutions, such as the Italian regions of Tuscany, Molise and Abruzzo, or Catalonia in Spain.

These registers’ voluntary nature fails to fully and accurately capture the real extent of lobbying, and through use of non-user-friendly data formats and through weak or non-existent oversight and sanctions, their potential as transparency, integrity and equality of access tools is further hindered.

Another finding of the report is that much of the influence in Europe is exercised through informal relationships away from the public eye, such as through corporate hospitality events, all paid expense business trips, gala dinners, or quiet drinks in parliamentary bars.

Lobbyists in Hungary told of their travels alongside international business delegations and visits to football matches. Lobbyists in Milan told of how they catch politicians in the Alitalia’s lounge in Linate’s Airport, while they wait to catch their flight to Rome.

Below the radar by design, such interactions are likely to fall through any regulatory net.

The study highlights also how particular groups enjoy privileged access to decision makers. With the largest sums of money spent, the pharmaceutical, finance, energy and telecoms sectors tend to dominate the lobbying landscape. In 2012, the official figure for spending by the pharmaceutical sector alone was 40 billion Euros, however the study suggests a more realistic number for the sector would be 91 billion Euro.

Transparency International
Click to enlarge

That Goldman Sachs recently increased their declared lobbying expenses does seem to corroborate that official figures tend to err on the conservative side.

The study also warns that with an increasingly intertwined relationship between politics and business, known as the ‘revolving door’ between public and private sectors, is posing serious risks of regulatory and policy capture.

Although a cooling-off period before former public officials can lobby their former colleagues is in place in most countries, the report finds that none of the 19 EU countries have effective monitoring and enforcement of such revolving door provisions.

One example cited is that of France. Since 2013 French legislation requires a three-year cooling-off period between the end of a public service mandate and a role within a company that the official previously had interactions with as part of his or her mandate.

In practice, effective monitoring is likely to be impeded by the very limited resources available to monitoring bodies, such as the Public Service Ethics Commission, versus the scope of their monitoring responsibilities – for the Public Service Ethics Commission this is over some 5.5 million public officials. And with MPs also being exempt from such cooling-off period, such legislation shows room for improvement.

When it comes to equality of access to decision makers, in 17 of the 19 EU countries assessed public officials are required to promote citizens’ participation through consultations, indicating that public engagement is paramount.

Yet although formal mechanisms to collect a variety of voices do exist, none of the countries are found to have measures in place that can show whose voices decision makers ultimately take into account. Measures that ensure a balanced composition of advisory groups — key in preventing cases like this – are only found in Portugal.

The report however does also praise some regulatory improvements that have occurred, such as the recently adopted lobbying law in Ireland, and the progress made in a number of countries — namely Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Slovakia and Spain — towards regulating not just lobbying but also its parallel act of political financing.

Yet, while such developments are positive and welcome steps in the right direction, the study warns that transparency, integrity, and equality of access remain overall rather elusive in lobbying regulation in Europe, and that while many voices seek a chance to shape political debates in ways that take their own interests into account, when it comes to influencing decision makers it is the well-resourced corporate interests that reach the most ears.

Overall, a lack of a EU-wide mandatory lobbying register on one side, and the presence of mostly voluntary and generally poorly designed, implemented and/or enforced national codes of conduct on the other, are enabling lobbying to continue to take place below the radar, so that we don’t really know who is lobbying whom, for what, and with what resources.

The study calls for lifting such veils of secrecy and the opening of lobbying to public scrutiny as the first steps towards promoting a fairer system in which a plurality of voices have equal access to political agenda-setting, and in which decisions ultimately are made so that people are put before profits.

Analysis by Annalisa Dorigo

Images from the Transparency International report

When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too

At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.

When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.

The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.

The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.

“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”

“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”

The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”

Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550

The brain listens for things it is trying to predict

The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.

The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.

Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501

We have a particular way of understanding a room

When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.

The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.

Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y

Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies

Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.

‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.

The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.

Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035

WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account

WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.

Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’

The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,

‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’

Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.

The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.

Corso Krymská Street Festival – Photo document by Michaela Škvrňáková

Corso Krymská is known as one of the best street festival in Prague. The third annual took place this weekend in Prague Vršovice. The centerpiece was the world-famous Krymská street, which has been compared to such sites as Montmartre in Paris, Kreuzberg in Berlin and Camden Town in London.

Saturday’s festival was attended by 36 enterprises. The main events took place in the streets of Krymská, Francouzská, Donská, Černomořská, Sevastopolská, Petrohradská and Slovenská. These streets began to fill in around 11 a.m. and the outside entertainment lasted until 10 p.m., when everyone moved into the bars.

During the day festival-goers had the opportunity to taste lots of delicious food. Besides many excellent vegetarian specialties you might find homemade burgers, spring rolls, bread with lard, homemade pancakes and much more.

When browsing the street people visited the exhibitions, wrote poems, listened to bands, DJs or literary readings, danced the tango, visited workshops, and took in theater, but the main point was to have fun, relax and get to know your neighbors.

By Michaela Škvrňáková

Photos: Michaela Škvrňáková

Sběrné suroviny Corso Krymska Corso Krymska Strojovna Corso Krymska Corso Krymska Corso Krymska The Solution The Solution Šťastný domov Café Sladkovský Corso Krymska Corso Krymska the poet Corso Krymska café V lese spring roll _DSF5119 Corso Krymska Corso Krymska Café Sladkovský Corso Krymska

When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too

At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.

When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.

The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.

The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.

“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”

“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”

The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”

Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550

The brain listens for things it is trying to predict

The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.

The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.

Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501

We have a particular way of understanding a room

When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.

The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.

Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y

Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies

Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.

‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.

The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.

Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035

WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account

WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.

Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’

The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,

‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’

Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.

The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.

Antimatter created by thunderstorms — NHU physicists — mystery continues

Large amounts of antimatter have been detected in the midst of thunderclouds, according to University of New Hampshire physicists who have been working on the problem for several years. The original observation of positron signatures — six years ago when Dr. Joseph Dwyer accidentally flew through several thunderclouds in a research plane – caused the scientists such skepticism that they refrained from publishing their findings.

“Thunderstorms are very strange places that we have only begun to explore,” lead researcher Dwyer, who is also a professor and head of the University of New Hampshire’s Physics and Space Sciences program, told The Speaker.

Antimatter created by thunderstorms -- NHU physicists -- mystery continues (1)
Dr. Joseph Dwyer

“The signatures of the positrons were very clear in the data.  However, because the observations were so strange, we were hoping that further observations or modeling would give us some insight into what was going on.  Eventually, we gave up and decided we needed to publish the observations, even though we couldn’t explain them.“

Familiar to most people, intense electric fields are created within thunder clouds, which producing lighting, but the clouds also create less well-known phenomena such as positrons, a form of antimatter.

Antimatter – composed of antiparticles – is a very rare material because it is annihilated as soon as it encounters the particles of matter.

Antimatter created by thunderstorms -- NHU physicists -- mystery continues (3)“Of course thunderstorms are made up mostly of normal stuff, e.g. water and ice,” explained Dwyer. “Occasionally they can make more exotic particles such as positrons. We are not certain how they manage to do this.”

Dwyer’s data shows that thunderclouds produce antimatter, as well as the Y-rays — highly energetic photons — he was studying when he flew his Gulfstream V jet through a group of thunderstorms in 2009.

The pilots of the plane were aiming for what they mistakenly thought was the Georgia coast. When they entered what was actually a line of thunderstorms, the plane rolled back and plunged downwards.

“I was in the back with the instrument,” said Dwyer. “For most of it, I had my eyes closed. When I did look, it was cloud and I couldn’t see very far.”

During the ordeal, the particle detector fitted to the plane picked up Y-ray spikes at an energy of 511 kiloelectronvolts. The energy level is that of the annihilation of antimatter particles.

“These were large enhancements that appeared to happen without the things that we would normally expect to occur, such as gamma rays,” commented Dwyer. “This makes is very hard to explain where the positrons came from.

“The positrons and gamma rays that we recorded make up a very small part of the storm. There are some models, however, that suggest that they may sometimes get numerous enough to discharge the cloud like lightning.”

The team continues to search for answers in fresh data collection. Scientists are sending balloons into storms to collect data. Additionally, the US National Science Foundation is planning to send an anti-tank tough A-10 Warthog into such storms.

By Sid Douglas

When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too

At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.

When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.

The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.

The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.

“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”

“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”

The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”

Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550

The brain listens for things it is trying to predict

The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.

The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.

Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501

We have a particular way of understanding a room

When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.

The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.

Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y

Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies

Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.

‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.

The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.

Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035

WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account

WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.

Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’

The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,

‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’

Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.

The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.

Bloody spring in Macedonia

Macedonia

BELGRADE, Serbia — Early Saturday morning the Macedonian town of Kumanovo was awakened by a major shootout and grenade explosions. According to local media reports, police officers were attacked by an armed group, estimated to be 70 fighters strong.

TV NOVA morning news reported that one whole part of the town was blocked by strong police forces, and many more of Macedonian army and police units were arriving from other places.

Unofficial reports confirmed three police officers had lethal injuries, while another 11 were wounded and were receiving care in hospitals.

Police action is in progress, and results are yet to be seen. There are unconfirmed reports of casualties on the other side as well.

makedonija 2Kumanovo is a small town in northern Macedonia. This state is widely known for its long-lasting dispute with Greece, which has been unwilling to recognize their name due to historical reference.

With a mixed Christian and Muslim (Albanian) population, Macedonia has not been excluded from violence based on ethnic or religious grounds.

In 2001, Albanian paramilitary groups took control of a region close to Kumanovo, claiming their right to independence. Many months later and after the loss of hundreds of lives, Macedonia prevailed and peace talks resulted in wide democratic rights for the Albanian minority.

However, one month ago a strong group of the armed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) took control of a police outpost on the border between Macedonia and Kosovo and sent a message to the Macedonian government that they will fight for Great Albania. This, in general, reflects the wish of some Albanians to unite all of the nation in a single state, along with the territories where they live now. This 18th century idea affects all neighboring countries — Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro.

By Miroslav Velimirovic

When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too

At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.

When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.

The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.

The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.

“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”

“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”

The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”

Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550

The brain listens for things it is trying to predict

The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.

The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.

Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501

We have a particular way of understanding a room

When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.

The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.

Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y

Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies

Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.

‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.

The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.

Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035

WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account

WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.

Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’

The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,

‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’

Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.

The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.

Former Uruguayan president José Mujica recieves award at School of Economics

Former Uruguayan president José Mujica recieves award at School of Economics

Current Senator and former President of Uruguay José “Pepe” Mujica was awarded a diploma distinguishing him as a Doctor Honoris Causa of the Universidad de Buenos Aires School of Economics last night.

The ceremony took place at the UBA School of Economics despite a minor disturbance earlier that day in which university students cut off the street and demonstrated after a new dean was appointed despite “irregularities” in the voting process.

The ceremony began with a spirited introduction by the dean of UBA’s School of Social Sciences, Glenn Postolski, who spoke of Senator Mujica’s struggles during the Uruguayan dictatorship (1973-1985) and accomplishments throughout his political career. The crowd erupted in applause when Postolski mentioned the fact that Mujica legalized marijuana in an effort to combat drug trafficking during his time in office.

Following Postolski´s introduction, Mujica spoke briefly to the audience about Latin American unity and the need for a new system in order to confront the economic and political issues of the region today. “We lack the political will to integrate ourselves. Let´s face the facts,” affirmed Mujica in regards to regional affiliation.

The senator also called for the integration of Latin America’s universities, stating, “If we don´t start by integrating intelligence, we aren´t going to integrate a goddamned thing.”

“I know my language isn’t very academic,” added Mujica to the crowd’s amusement.

Mujica stressed the importance of “fighting to live,” saying that a human “is the only animal capable of taking its life into its own hands.”

In the end, Mujica, surrounded by a sea of smartphones and cameras, obliged the press by answering some questions and signing autographs before departing the university through the side garage in a silver Toyota.

By Joe Siess

When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too

At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.

When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.

The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.

The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.

“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”

“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”

The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”

Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550

The brain listens for things it is trying to predict

The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.

The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.

Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501

We have a particular way of understanding a room

When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.

The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.

Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y

Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies

Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.

‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.

The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.

Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035

WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account

WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.

Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’

The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,

‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’

Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.

The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.

The story behind the image: Homeless in Paris

Homeless in Paris

Photo document by Paris photographer Andrea Peter Fly

The French Charity “Les Morts Dans La Rue” (the Dead in the Streets) recently announced that during 2013, 454 homeless individuals died in France. Contrary to common belief, as many of those deaths occurred in the summer as in the winter.

Between 2001 and 2012 the number of individuals living on France’s streets increased by 50 percent. The estimated total number of homeless in 2012 was 141,500; of whom 10–15, 000 reside in the Paris region.

Why does homelessness happen to certain people? Is it their own fault or even their choice?  Is a homeless person weaker? Less intelligent? Less fortunate?  Is their homelessness a consequence of substance abuse that’s gotten out of hand? A consequence of illness? Or divorce? Could this actuality happen to any one of us? Are these people regular human beings, with the same fundamental needs and desires as our own, or are they in some way different?

Now that we are familiar with the statistics, why not let us engage the individuals concerned and listen, without judgment or preconceptions, to what they have to say about their pasts and their terrifying present.

Here are their stories.

 

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Ali, 40 years old

“Life gives us three options; be a blind sheep, try to create your own path or give up. That homeless guy you see on the metro, with a bottle in his hand, he’s just a man who has given up. He doesn’t even have the strength to stay clean. It’s just a guy who is waiting for death, nothing else. Personally I’d prefer to die standing up than live kneeling down.”

Law graduate and former manager at Leroy Merlin on a salary of 3700€/month, Ali became homeless after his divorce. Ali’s situation came about somewhat by choice. Following his divorce he decided to leave his apartment and belongings to his ex-wife and son, allowing them to stay in Paris and affording him the opportunity to continue seeing his child. This was three and half years ago, and he has remained homeless ever since.

In January Ali managed to find a new job and has now been working for three months. Receiving a salary statement, he hopes to soon be able to begin his search for an apartment.  Ali’s new employer decided to give him a chance, presenting him with at what is both a great challenge and a responsibility that he hopes to honour. Just the fact of his having a job has already provided Ali with a sense of dignity.

Having a family that is supportive and helpful is a good thing when things are going well, but Ali doesn’t want any help. His situation is his own responsibility and no one else’s. He put himself here and now he needs to find a solution on his own.

“We only learn in fear. When you find yourself on the street without any distractions, like money, TV, or anything else, the only thing you have left is yourself. It’s like looking in the mirror naked. You need to take a look at what you have and work out what you can do with it. A complete searching of the soul”.

Those passers-by on modest monthly salaries of €1000-€1500 are fully aware of the fact that they are just one step away from Ali’s present situation. Their life too is a struggle. Sometimes a homeless individual who receives the Active Solidarity Income has more money at the end of the month than a working individual who’s paying the bills. “This is the main reason why they avoid us, they don’t want to see what might happen to them one day.” Destruction is easier and faster than construction. You can fall in a second. Rising up takes time.

In Ali’s day-to-day life, solitude is the heaviest burden. He doesn’t visit the various public shelters anymore. “its just not safe and often brings more problems such as fighting, theft and a lack of respect from employees of the shelter”. Neither the state nor the masses are really interested in the points of view of Ali and those like him. Unfortunately most homeless are not ready to raise their voices and be heard. This is why “SDF” (sans domicile fixe) takes the sole form of numbers and statistics; that people may avoid for as long possible.

Ali’s dream is to start his own association representing the homeless with a figurehead who is themselves homeless. One who knows what they are talking about, who lives it, who can be a united voice and communicate with the media and government. He also wishes that people could look more with their hearts instead of their eyes, have a bit more empathy, reaching out a hand is always better than taking a hand.

Ali stays positive and hopeful. He has to. If he loses faith then it’s over, the beginning of the end, where you end up like that drunk smelly guy on the metro with a bottle in his hand, who just doesn’t care anymore.

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Henok, 25 years old

“I knew that there are a lot of black people here in Paris, that’s why I came here.”

Henok is of Ethiopian origin and has been in France for five months.  He is one of the 500 refugees living in a tent outside the train station Gare du Nord, in the central of Paris. All refugees in this “illegal camp” are of African heritage: Algeria, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Libya, Sudan and so on. As most others he came by boat: from Sudan to Libya, Libya to Italy and by bus to Paris where he, like many others, was dropped off at Gare du Nord.  Some refugees choose London as a destination others come to Paris. The main reason to why he chose Paris, is he thought he might feel more at home here, as Paris is known for it’s African population.  Henok is hoping to get a permanent residence permit so he can stay; going back home is not even an option.  Being part of the Oromo population, a population ruthlessly targeted in Ethiopia, returning equals dying.  Being homeless in Paris is not easy, and not what he expected or imagined, but he has no other choice. He is grateful for every second he gets to spend in France, and tries to have a positive outlook. The extreme lack of accommodation in a country as well-developed as France, one of the most powerful states in the world, is for Henok incomprehensible. The French population is not to be blamed, he says. “People do come and try to help, but mainly French Arabs. They come with food, clothes, sometimes even money, and white French people usually bring us tea.”

The camp is usually quite calm, no fights, and no problems. The police never come, some charity organizations every now and then, and of course the media. The media is extremely present, and non-wanted, as despite their constant attempts to approach the refugee “camp” (often ruthlessly and with disrespect), nothing ever changes.

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Constantin, 70 years old

“I’d rather live on the streets of Paris than return to Romania.”

Constantin receives no pension from Romania, despite having worked there as a driver in the agricultural sector for 38 years. It’s for this reason that he chose to come and try his luck on the streets of Paris. Having no family, Constantin arrived in France three months ago and hopes to stay for as long as possible.

To survive, Constantin begs for money. He also receives alms from the local churches as well as charity from Emmaus; a French nationwide solidarity movement against poverty started in Paris.

On account of his age, and lacking a firm grasp of the language, Constantin cannot work.  He harbors no wish to depart. Difficult as life in Paris may be, it is better than life in Romania. His only wish is to be able to stay for as long as possible.

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Frédérique Nghiem, 45 years old (L’un et L’autre)

“You must never lose hope.”

Frederique is accommodated by Chapsa (the largest homeless shelter in the Ile de France region), where the atmosphere is not always pleasant and the organization itself is quite strict. For almost 10 years, she has been visiting the association L’un et L’autre (Porte de Villette, Paris) for her daily meal, as she has no other option to feed herself. Being under public care, she receives €80/week from the French government for which she is extremely grateful. She considers herself lucky.

Following a life-threatening illness and more than eight operations, she has never been able to adapt to a working life.  If she has somehow retained the strength to go on, staying positive and believing in a better future, it’s all thanks to her man.  “My little man,” she calls him with a big smile on her face.

Despite her difficulties, Frederique remains optimistic and positive; believing in a better world for everyone. “You must never lose hope.”  Her great regret, is that of having a family who want nothing to do with her. If there is one thing she could wish for, it’s to one day make peace with her mother and sister, and be accepted just the way she is.

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Helmut, 59 years old

“It’s my choice, this is what I want.”

Herman is of German origin. He is divorced and has a son. Having obtained several degrees, his two main professions in the past were that of mechanic and slater. Today he is a street artist, painting and drawing on the streets of Paris. A year and a half ago he decided to sell his studio and apartment to buy a caravan, in which he’s been living since. It’s a mode of life he is very content with; without difficulties, but to the contrary, evoking a sensation of freedom.

Helmut can be found at Palais Royale in Paris, where he spends his days painting. He doesn’t accept any financial aid from the government, nor from the various associations in Paris. He lives off the money he makes from his art and doesn’t complain; he appreciates the generosity of his clientele. His plan is to make enough money to be able to afford a house one day, whilst continuing to create his works, painting in the streets.

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Hrisw, 57 years old

“How do you feed four children with €10 a month?”

Of Bulgarian origin and nationality, Hrisw had resided in France for 3 months, and was sent back to Bulgaria on March 20, 2014.

He came to France because of the Bulgarian mafia and the poverty this causes in his country. A father of four children, he finds it impossible to support and feed his family with the € 10/month he earns back home.  The streets of Paris remain more profitable.

As a construction worker in Bulgaria, he doesn’t earn enough to survive himself, let alone enough to support a family. Despite a willingness to work for an income, this remains difficult in France; impossible even without the language skills necessary or a fixed address.

Hrisw spent three months in Paris begging for money on the street. Now he returns home with the money he’s gained to try to help his family.

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Janous, 33 ans

“I don’t go to the public shelters anymore, mainly because of religious conflicts. As a catholic why don’t I have the same right to practice and express my religion, as a Muslim has?”

Of Polish origin, a painter, Janous has been in France for five years now, also homeless for five years. Arriving in France, he lost all his documents, passport, everything, and has never taken care of it.  To survive, he gets his daily hot meal at Soupe Populaire. In the daytime he picks up out-of-date products from the local super market and goes through the garbage. To cope psychologically he drinks constantly. It has become a way to survive, and to sleep. Sleeping not being drunk is not even imaginable. The heaviest burden in his every day life is the rain. He doesn’t mind the cold, as he usually sleeps on the grid, which keeps him warm, even burns his hand sometimes, but nothing protects against the unpleasant rain.  The shelters are mostly dangerous and create problems more than anything else. Janos doesn’t go there anymore, and the main reason being religious conflicts with Muslims. If a Muslim can pull out a rug to pray on whenever and wherever why isn’t he allowed to put his cross up on the wall? This being a regularly occurring issue, he has chosen to avoid the shelters, and sleep outside.

Despite the fact that each problem has a solution, Janous is skeptical about the future.

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Laure, 19 years old

“We’re all human beings. It’s extremely rare that you hear of a homeless person committing serious crimes: theft, physical attack, rape or whatever it may be. It’s often also the reason to why a person becomes homeless, because they refuse to walk down that path. If we say hello to you, the least you can do is smile or respond — we’re not evil and we don’t deserve to be treated like we’re invisible.”

The daughter of an alcoholic mother, Laure spent her childhood in 21 foster homes. At the age of 18 she found a non-declared waitress job. When they let her go, not being able to pay rent, she was thrown out despite the fact that the apartment belonged to an association. Laure called out to her friends on Facebook to find a place to sleep until she got back on her feet, but she was left stranded. She has been homeless since October 2014. Dangerous as the streets may be, especially for a young girl, she considers herself lucky to have found friends in the same situation who help and support her no matter what. At the age of 19, she has already gone through a phase dealing with drug addiction, but realized that this path would only stop her from ever evolving and moving forward. Alcohol has never been an issue, due to her experience with an alcoholic mother, whose footsteps she does not wish to follow. In France, under the age of 25 one has no right to any financial aid. Her social worker, as well as all the different associations in France, they do provide a help, to survive from one day to the other, with clothing, food or a bed for the night. Unfortunately no one can or will help you to advance, mover forward, finding a job or a flat.

To survive, she begs for money, and often finds people’s generosity quite limited. There is more of a curiosity, and if they give money or not depends on how much her story moves them.  The worst moments in her everyday life are often represented by the way people behave, react and look at her. When you’re homeless you feel invisible, as people won’t even respond when you say hello or even look at you to recognize your existence. Laure stays positive and certain that her luck will turn around. After having hit rock bottom, one needs to rise, but respecting all the different stages, and not too fast, if not a relapse is inevitable.

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Marcel, 63 years old

“There is nothing worse than when you daughter passes you in the street and is so ashamed that she won’t even say hello.”

Back in the days when life was good, when he had lots of money, lots of friends, Marcel was a cabinet-worker. The descent began after his divorce, which was caused mainly by the difference of social status within the couple, and which over time widened the gap between him and his ex-wife to the point where he felt he had to leave to survive. followed by 10 years of being homeless, alcoholism, mental break down, even attempted suicide.  Today all of this is behind him, and he has a roof over his head. With his pension he pays his rent, and begs for money to cover other expenses, like food. Begging for money is nothing to be ashamed of. Back in the 17th century this was a proper profession. His two children laugh with him, except for the 3rd child, a daughter who is so ashamed she won’t greet him on the street, which is his biggest grief in life.  In general he finds people are generous, interesting and quite pleasant, which helps him to stay positive for the future, not losing hope. If he can give one advice to others, he would ask everyone to listen to their children and their hearts. There is nothing more important in life, than that.

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Marcel, 66 years old

“Having a social life and staying active is essential to survive.”

Salesman and building painter, he has been retired for 6 months now. Marcel’s pension is 417.33 €/month, which is even less than the French Active Solidarity income that everyone of age of 25 has a right to for five years.  His rent is 125 €/month, an apartment he received thanks to his persistence at the town hall.  After having spent one year and three months on the streets. His situation unraveled after his wife’s death. The family, her family, blocked their joint account, and he was asked to leave the apartment.  The day of the ruling his social worker was sick, so, with no one to defend him, he became homeless. Being out of work at the same time, rising from this situation became extremely difficult.  Still today, he does need to make some sacrifices to be able to survive with his limited resources, with water and electricity being the most important elements to save money. In the morning he takes a cold shower, and reuses the same water to flush the toilette. Some days he still has to go through the garbage. The association La Soupe Populaire provides him with his daily meal, and has done so for quite a few years now. Having a social life, staying active, having someone to talk to is what gives him the force and motivation to go on.

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Pascal, 52 years old

“Don’t look at me with such contempt. Yesterday I was in your shoes, with money, a house, everything you have, and tomorrow you might find yourself in mine. There are no guarantees in life.”

A former military officer, homeless for three months now, Pascal is waiting for his Active Solidarity Income papers to be able to launch the administrative procedures for a professional reconversion.  At his age, it’s not easy, and the procedures are long and tiring. His situation is a result of a separation. He quit the army so he could invest in his home life and started working for his father in law. Unfortunately, when the relationship fell apart, so did his job. He found some temporary labour positions, but after his accident, hurting his knee, he was no longer able to do the same physical work. Despite his savings, after a while he couldn’t pay rent and became homeless, the downfall went almost from one day to the other, extremely quickly. Thanks to different associations, like Action Froid, who reclaim expired products from supermarkets, he manages to survive. With his tent mates and from the other tent down the street, they help each other as much as they can. The city provides public showers, toilets and laundry mats.
They never had any trouble with the local police; the tent is registered. As long as the neighbours don’t complain they are left alone. To go on, to survive, one has to take the best of each day and nourish it, even if the condemning looks of certain ignorant strangers are not always easy to bear. Pascal stays positive and puts all his hope in the hands of the city of Paris, to help him advance and progress.

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André, 55 years old

“I’ve never seen such charitable acts anywhere else as can be found in France. It’s really beyond me that people accuse the French of being racists. Helping others in need is not what I would call racism.”

André is a lawyer of Guinean origin who has been in France since November 2014 with a pending asylum request. He came to France to be closer to his two daughters. His ex-wife left him suddenly in 2003 to come live in France. Today, the older daughter is living with a foster family, where the authorities placed her after having been abused and beaten by her uncle. The younger daughter is still with her mother, but with a social worker. André is very grateful to the judicial tribunal for always keeping him informed concerning his girls. Not having been able to come sooner for legal reasons, he currently has the right to stay in contact with his girls via phone calls and visits.  Meanwhile he has a roof over his head for three months in a shelter, and is nurtured through the association L’un et L’autre. He has nothing but gratitude for the French government for letting him come here and fight for his family. After having spent five years in Belgium, he insists on accentuating on the fact that there is no other European country with such beneficence as the one in France. No where else will you see thousands of people in need, being fed, for free, or marauding, where people will circle the streets looking for others in need, to help, which is something absolutely remarkable. This beneficence is what saved his life and what keeps him away from hunger, as well as giving him hope for the future. To not be able to work, spending the days doing nothing is his greatest challenge, but André stays positive and is eager to see the day when he can exercise his profession, as well as going back to University to earn his Ph.D.

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André, 68 years old

“After having survived 40 years on the street, I don’t care what others think. Everyone thinks whatever they want.”

A former metallurgist, André has travelled the world. He has been homeless for 40 years now, and in Paris for four years.  André doesn’t receive governmental aid, but unlike many others it’s his choice. The association Action Froid does provide him with clothing and alimentary aid. He regularly asks for books to read.  Even though he dreams of having a roof over hid head one day, his life has brought a sensation of freedom. André feels liberated, of everything: others’ opinions, the state, and the daily obligations.  When asked, what brought him into his current situation, he stresses the fact that it doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is that he is still alive, remaining positive.

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Raphael, 50 years old

“The main problem here is the state, not the people. No comparison to the Canadian system, where citizens in need are really helped and protected.”

Of Canadian origin, former tourist guide, Raphael came to Paris in 2006.  Having gone through a burn out, he decided to travel, arrived in France after a short visit in Switzerland. Arriving, he lost all his official documents, his passport, his birth certificate, everything, which subsequently resulted in depression and a life without a roof over his head.  Ever since then, he has never had the force to deal with the French administrative process to obtain a new passport. For a new passport he needs a birth certificate, and the process is just too complicated and tiring, even though his single wish is going back home. Being a foreigner, without papers, officially Raphael doesn’t exist anymore, and has no rights whatsoever, just one of many who don’t show up in the statistics. He goes to Soupe Populaire for his daily meal, and his one and single pleasure remains smoking a cigarette, when he is lucky to get one, tiny glimpses of pleasure to help bear with the cold and the noise from the street.

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Stéphane, 42 years old

“I would never beg for money, trying to keep my dignity. I would much prefer having a job and be working.”

Never having had a family, being an orphan, Stephane still managed to obtain several degrees as well as found and manage companies. The last one was specialized in electricity, plumbing and ironwork. Due to a professional error on his part, not having paid the VAT for the company, he went bankrupt with compulsory liquidation.  In less than one year, he lost everything and became home less.  Homeless for three years now, and fully aware that this is purely a consequence of his errors. This does not stop him from trying to re-launch his professional activity, with the assistance of a lawyer. Not having a roof over his head does not make it easier, neither does his alcohol abuse. After a heavy period of drinking, a bottle of vodka a day, he is trying to pull it together. Realizing that despite the momentary psychological relief that alcohol brings and the simple fact that it helps to keep warm during cold weather, as long as his consumption stays intensive it will restrain him from moving forward in any way.  As the shelters with 300 beds are dangerous more than anything else, with fights and thefts, he prefers staying outside.  Thanks to the association La Soupe Populaire, he gets his daily warm meal. Stéphane stays positive, hopeful, and does not want to lose his dignity. He would never allow himself to beg for money — it’s not a profession. The social worker in charge can help him with meal coupons or with a place in a shelter but unfortunately she does not have the capacity to provide him with assistance that would help him get off the streets or progress in any way.

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Sylvain, 31 years old

“I may be an addict, but I’m not a squealer.”

Former mechanic at Mercedes Benz, currently a seasonal winemaker, he has been homeless for 12 years. The first two years he spent on the streets, and has managed to squat for 10 years.  Sylvain has a truck that he uses for his work, but that currently is being repaired, so to survive he has no choice but to beg for money, he doesn’t accept any governmental aid.  The family he has doesn’t bring any help in his every day life. Twelve years ago Sylvain was a mechanic at Mercedes Benz, where he also sold drugs to the other employees, including all his bosses. One day he was asked to denounce other employees committing theft in the company. As he refused, he was forced to resign, either that or be reported to the police as a drug dealer. Not having an income, or not having the right to unemployment benefits as he resigned, he couldn’t pay his rent and became homeless three months later.

Psychologically, his two dogs are a great support, but don’t recompense for the frustration, distress and anxiety of spending his days doing nothing.  A day of begging for money on the street usually results in 10-20€.  Raphael doesn’t understand the lack of help from the state, all those empty apartments nation wide — why aren’t they used to house and help people in need? Because there is no money in it. At Troyes, where he spends most of his time, begging for money on the street is fined with 35€. All he is hoping for is to one day having a “normal” life, with a job, a girlfriend, just an ordinary life like everybody else. Sylvain stays hopeful, but is losing faith in humanity, more and more for each day. As people pass him on the street, he sees on an every day bases the lack of empathy, mercy and just a growing selfish self-centred mentality, which he doesn’t understand. After all, we are all just human beings.

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Wenceslas, 46 years old

“The government tries to save 1,700,000 € by retaining the Active Solidarity Income from people who are entitled to it.  The number of people who never manage to obtain it is absolutely ridiculous.”

Wenceslas is a former warehouseman, salesman, plumber and fire security guard, unemployed and homeless since 2008.  He was dismissed from his last position due to the merger/integration of Lagardère, also partly responsible for the collapse and bankruptcy of Virgin Megastore. As his apartment building changed owners, not having the resources to purchase, he became homeless.

To survive, he collects out-of-date product from supermarkets, always in limited quantity.  He tries to keep busy, by working out in sport facilities that are free.  His petition at the European Court of Human Rights is something that keeps him busy and motivated. This is the second petition, in the last eight years. The first one was a victory, “The Winter Plan,” obtaining the right to spend nights in different indoor arenas, as well as a cessation of chase by police officers.  Unfortunately the Minister of Housing reactivated the chase.  With his second petition he hopes to be able to put an end to this unfortunate chase, which is one of the greatest challenges of not having a home. In winter the cold weather and rain requires more belongings to be able to stay warm. Belongings they can’t hide or put aside, so getting chased by the police as you’re trying to wash up is not very pleasant.  Unfortunately, Wenceslas doesn’t even receive his Active Solidarity Income despite having gone through all the trouble of respecting the different administrative procedures. This defeat and challenge won’t stop him; Wenceslas will continue his battle for his human rights no matter what.

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Xavier, 49 years old

“The solitude is unbearable.”

Xavier describes himself as “a sick man walking the streets.”  He suffers from a mental illness, where he feels condemned without knowing why. He is a prisoner of language, a prisoner who has always been excluded from a social life, starting from his childhood, especially with his brother. The streets of Paris have been “his home” for almost 30 years now. Losing his apartment, feeling rejected, excluded from society, he gave up all hope and didn’t follow through with his plan to work with the elderly. Xavier’s whole life is described as a long journey of pain, suffering, and a full exclusion.  His living hell continues on the streets, with loneliness so profound it’s almost unbearable.  No one talks to him, he feels invisible. Xavier is not receiving any help from the different association nor the government. With his illness, he has no hope for the future, the only thing he hopes for, dreams of, is to have more human contact, on regular bases, someone to talk to every now and then.

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L’un est L’autre

“One is the Other” in English, L’un est L’autre is a non-profit organisation feeding people in need. Their main purpose is to serve lunch Saturday and Sunday every week to more than 1,200 people. Donors and the state fund the association with a yearly budget of 60,000€, which is divided between the two. This amount corresponds to 1€/meal. As clearly indicated by the name, the approach is that “the other,” the one who is suffering, is just another version of our selves; all human beings are equal. The association consists of 60 volunteers, and the budget restricted to 600 meals served/day, but the goal is to improve the quality of service, by serving proper home cooked meals and being able to increase the number of beneficiaries. This requires an important increase of budget, meaning a greater need of donations and stately subventions.

 

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La Soupe Populaire

Translated, Soup Kitchen is a term which has existed since the 18th century, but became more prominent in the 20th century during the Great Depression.  Masses of unemployed workers were fed for free in Europe and in the United States to prevent mass death. About 100 years ago, in Paris each arrondissement had it’s own Soup Kitchen, 20 in total, today there is one left, in the 6th.

This soup kitchen serves hot meals, with soup, based on natural products, 6 days a week, Monday through Saturday. The association is supported solely by donations from citizens and local merchants.  Thanks to their generosity, 33,000 meals are served each year, at a cost of 11,500€, which comes down to 3.5€ per meal. Even if the number of beneficiaries increase each year, 800 more in 2014 than in 2013, the amount of donations decrease at the same time, 5,000 € less in 2014 than in 2013. Volunteers serve the meals — about 40 individuals that come to give a helping hand on regular bases.

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Action Froid

A non-profit organisation, translated as “Cold Action,” launched in 2012. It was initially created to provide homeless people with supplies to keep warm and stay alive during the winter season. The association was created by Lauren Eyzat, using social media — in particular Facebook — to launch the organisation, with saw an immediate response and action from other citizens. The first action on the field, the streets of Paris, was taken on the day of foundation. In three years it has developed into a nationwide organisation with more than 100 volunteers in Paris as well as in other French cities. Citizens and companies contributed to a budget of 18,000 € for 2014. Thanks to free publicity, the association has already reached its financial target for 2015. All the funds go to the homeless, providing them with the supplies they need: food, covers, clothing and even books. The beneficiaries have the opportunity to “pass an order,” and if possible have their needs met. There is a clear increase in the number of beneficiaries, but also of the association’s budget — which means more help to more people. The distribution takes place Saturday night every week, when a large team divided into approximately 8-10 cars cover the whole city. As the volunteers are present on a regular bases, they manage to have closer and more personal contact with the people on the street.

By Andrea Peter Fly

 

When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too

At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.

When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.

The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.

The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.

“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”

“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”

The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”

Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550

The brain listens for things it is trying to predict

The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.

The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.

Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501

We have a particular way of understanding a room

When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.

The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.

Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y

Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies

Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.

‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.

The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.

Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035

WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account

WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.

Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’

The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,

‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’

Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.

The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.

Coastal dune life depends on restoration of disturbance — WU Research

science

Disturbance is a condition depended on by the species indigenous to coastal dunes, according to Washington University researchers who just completed a study putting numbers to claims that the restoration of such conditions is necessary for the variety and vibrancy of the West Coast’s dune life.

“Disturbance is actually a good thing in many ecosystems – in some places disturbance is supposed to be there and it’s actually required for the survival of important community members,” Dr. Eleanor Pardini, assistant director of environmental studies at St. Louis’s Washington University, told The Speaker.

Dr. Eleanor Pardini
Dr. Eleanor Pardini

“Some ecosystems are adapted to experience frequent disturbance, such as regular flooding along a river, or hurricanes and tidal changes in wetlands, or wind and wave action on dunes. These ecosystems can provide valuable ecosystem services, such as absorbing storm surge or absorbing storm water or high water during floods. If the early successional species actually need the disturbance to thrive, and if the communities need both early and late successional species to be diverse and intact, and we value these ecosystems for their function, then there is a compelling reason to restore historic disturbance regimes.”

Such a restoration of disturbance is what is necessary for the vitality of certain coastal dune species, according to recent research completed by Pardini and colleagues Kyle Vickstrom and Dr. Tiffany Knight. The research provides numbers that demonstrate the necessity of disturbance for germination of Tidestrom’s lupine and beach layia, which, Pardini noted, play a role in the ecosystem of the dunes.

“Coastal dunes are dynamic places,” explained Pardini. “They move in response to wind and wave action. The wind action creates undulating dune topography with ridges atop the dunes and low-lying areas between dunes. Some of these low-lying swales or slacks can collect water and host aquatic communities.”

The life that thrives in such areas thrives in a naturally disturbed environment, she continued.

Tidestrom's lupine
Tidestrom’s lupine

“In ecological terms, a disturbance is a relatively discrete event that changes the physical environment and disrupts the community or ecosystem in some way,” stated Pardini. “Disturbances include things like hurricanes, floods, wind storms, fire, or grazing by elk, bison, or cattle, or in the case of dunes, frequent wind and wave action. Disturbance events often remove some vegetation, and open up space, light, or resources. This is what we call ‘early successional habitat’ Some species do particularly well in these environments – maybe they are good dispersers that can arrive to an area and utilize resources, or they germinate well in the low competition environment.”

The recent study measured plant germination on coastal areas at which European beachgrass had been introduced in the 1880s in order to hold the sand in place. The success of the project led to a beachfront that mounted higher and steeper, and which prevented sand from moving inland, but which aversely affected the species that had been habiting the dunes.

“In the case of the dunes at Point Reyes, federally endangered plant species like Tidestrom’s lupine and beach layia thrive in early successional habitat. Threatened western snowy plovers nests in open sandy areas at the front of the dunes near the beach. They can’t nest or forage in high foredunes where sand is locked into place by introduced grasses.

Western snowy plover
Western snowy plover

She directed us toward the National Park Service’s ongoing project to restore the original habitat of the dunes at Point Reyes.

“Restoration of the historic disturbance regime is accomplished by removing introduced grasses, which can be done with a combination of mechanical removal, herbicide, fire, and hand-pulling, depending on the location. Different methods are chosen for different areas based on the local and adjacent plant and animal communities, soil substrates, and community concerns.”

The report, “Early Successional Microhabitats Allow the Persistence of Endangered Plants in Coastal Sand Dunes,” was completed by Eleanor A. Pardini, Kyle E. Vickstrom, and Tiffany M. Knight, and was published online in PLOS One.

By Justin Munce

When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too

At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.

When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.

The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.

The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.

“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”

“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”

The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”

Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550

The brain listens for things it is trying to predict

The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.

The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.

Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501

We have a particular way of understanding a room

When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.

The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.

Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y

Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies

Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.

‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.

The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.

Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035

WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account

WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.

Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’

The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,

‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’

Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.

The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.

Sentencing of Christians in China increases 10,000% in less than a decade, rights group reports

Christians in China

In China, Christian citizens sentenced for their faith increased 10,517 percent between 2007 and 2014, according to rights watch group China Aid, which also speculated that the trend towards greater persecution could continue for some time.

“All aspects of Chinese society will continue to be subjected to increased suppression, including the denial of religious freedom and related human rights,” stated China Aid’s report.

The number of Christians convicted for various offences in China rose from 12 to 1,274 between 2013 and 2014, according to the report. Persecutions of Christians represented the biggest jump in the report, but religious persecution in China increased across the board.

Overall, persecutions increased 300 percent between 2013 and 2014, from 143 cases involving 7,424 people to 572 cases involving 17,884 people.

“In 2014, Christians and practitioners of other faiths in China experienced the harshest persecution seen in over a decade, including draconian measures taken by Xi Jinping’s administration to eliminate all religious, political, and social dissent,” the report stated.

Of particular note with regard to the increased Christian persecutions in recent years, according to China Aid, is the incidence of large-scale government campaigns which purport to be acting against what the Chinese government considers to be cults.

The government acts under the Chinese criminal code to deal with “cults and sects using superstition to undermine law enforcement” to justify the destruction of Christian property, China Aid found.

The destruction of crosses and churches occurred in four provinces last year. In the province of Zhejiang, over 30 churches were demolished as part of the campaigns of Chinese President Xi Jinping. One thousand crosses were removed and over 1,300 Christians detained or arrested during the same campaign.

According to complaints received by China Aid, actual figures are expected to be much higher. The organization pointed to local reports that perhaps 50 churches were demolished and 1,000 crosses removed

The China Aid report corroborates the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2014 report, which found that conditions for religious practitioners in two of China’s restless provinces, Tibet and Xinxiang, “are worse now than at any time in the past decade.”

The U.S. State Department considers China to be grouped along with North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other rights violators as “countries of particular concern” with regards to religious freedom.

U.S.-based human rights organization Freedom House also found that repression has increased in China since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012. Their most recent report also indicated strong religious repression, in addition to repression of political dissidents, NGOs, human rights lawyers and protesters.

By James Haleavy

When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too

At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.

When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.

The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.

The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.

“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”

“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”

The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”

Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550

The brain listens for things it is trying to predict

The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.

The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.

Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501

We have a particular way of understanding a room

When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.

The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.

Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y

Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies

Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.

‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.

The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.

Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035

WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account

WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.

Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’

The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,

‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’

Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.

The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.