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Analyzing the Conspiracist Firestorm over Notre Dame – New Ideal

Posted: October 16, 2019 at 5:05 pm

From truthers and birthers, and from Flat Earthers to QAnon, so-called conspiracy theorists have been garnering more and more attention, especially because President Donald Trump himself has been known to promote this kind of baseless speculation. While it is hard to find evidence that more people than usual have been engaging in such speculation, this doesnt make the phenomenon, or its effect on the level of rational discourse, any less of a concern.

I have been a critic of conspiracy mongering in various forums. Ive argued that one flaw with the practice is that it explains events by reference to hidden agendas of nefarious agents when appealing to the conventional motives of ordinary public figures can do the job. But Ive often been asked, how can we tell when theres something irrational about a given conspiracy theory? Dont conspiracies sometimes really happen? How can we know when were dealing with conspiracy mongers?

These are good questions, and Ive wanted for some time to answer them by doing an in-depth case study of a single, prominent case of baseless speculation about conspiracies. But often the cases are so wacky that it would insult peoples intelligence to dwell on them. So I wanted to find a seemingly plausible example, preferably one about a recent, well-known event. It would be even better if we could watch the speculation happen in real-time as the event unfolded.

Unfortunately, I knew I would have the right case study when the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris caught fire six months ago, on April 15, 2019. An iconic landmark was burning, and immediately I myself wondered if it would turn out to be terrorism. Especially because Paris has been the target of some brutal Islamist terrorist attacks in the last seven years (notably including the 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan), I knew that some people would leap to the conclusion that this was another such case.

Indeed, as I watched commentary about the event pour in on social media, I began to see some posters conclude that it was not only possibly but even probably or certainly an act of Islamist terrorism. Their commentary, which spread as quickly as the fire itself, displayed all the hallmarks of the conspiracist mindset. In what follows Ill illustrate how people with this mindset fixated on one imagined scenario, and how they twisted logic to do it. Ill also draw some general lessons about how to avoid this mindset.

Breitbart.coms first article reporting on the fire became a repository of commentary on the event by readers, racking up a total of almost 24,000 comments. There are many other sites I could have looked at, but after many dispiriting months of reading Breitbart comment sections, I knew this would be a tinder-dry environment for conspiracist sparks to catch.

The intellectual monstrosities constructed without attention to the evidence that are often dubbed conspiracy theories are nothing of the sort. They dont even qualify as valid hypotheses.

Even now, six months after the event, no one is in a position to be certain about how this fire started. But French investigators have been working diligently and have not found evidence of foul play.4 A recent in-depth piece by the New York Times brings us up to date: we now know that a security guard paid to check fire alarms rushed to the wrong section of the building, giving the fire nearly 30 minutes to spread in the main attic of the church where it had actually started. The main possibilities being considered are an electrical short in the bell tower or in an elevator for workers, or cigarettes from workers. Even Breitbart has now reported this much, but the conspiracists in the comment section are unimpressed.

I want to be very clear: I am not claiming that the fire was an accident. The investigation is still ongoing. Evidence of foul play can sometimes emerge only late in an investigation. But such evidence has not yet emerged. Even if it eventually does, this will not validate the breathless claims about Islamist terrorism that emerged immediately after the fire.

It is important to distinguish real theories and real hypotheses from what are commonly called conspiracy theories. A theory is a sophisticated, systematic organization of evidence, a real intellectual achievement. Even to form a valid hypothesis about a matter, you first need to know a lot. The intellectual monstrosities constructed without attention to the evidence that are often dubbed conspiracy theories are nothing of the sort. They dont even qualify as valid hypotheses.

READ ALSO: An Alternative to Conspiracism's Foolish Illusions

But baseless claims about conspiracies tend to attract crackpots precisely because they are claims about secret plots. It is all too easy to claim that the reason there is no evidence for a conspiracy is that the conspirators have worked to cover it up. When claims about secret plots or coverups spread quickly, before there is time for the evidence to come in, its a good early sign like smoke where theres fire that the claims spreading are mere conspiracism. This is the proper pejorative term to describe the phenomenon of asserting baseless claims about the existence of conspiracies.

Conspiracism thrives on mysteries. It posits explanations for events that are actually difficult to explain, but it does not actually engage in the painstaking effort of gathering evidence in the way that scientists do. Case in point: Notre Dame conspiracists have failed to offer a scintilla of evidence that is actually relevant to establishing the claim that the fire was due to Islamist terrorism or even just arson.

When claims about secret plots or coverups spread quickly, before there is time for the evidence to come in, its a good early sign that the claims spreading are mere conspiracism.

Whats more, if the French government knows that there was arson and is lying about it, this is an allegation that itself would need evidence. There have in fact been crimes by Muslims that various European police agencies have suppressed, as in the 20152016 New Years Eve sexual assaults in Germany. We know about that because evidence of conflicting internal reports emerged. No such evidence has emerged in connection with Notre Dame. Until specific evidence of distortion or equivocation on behalf of the French police arises, this speculation is baseless.

Very typically, conspiracists will take the difficulty of explaining an event as a sign of foul play. They cant understand how an iconic structure could burn by accident: wouldnt authorities have taken precautions against this? But the absence of an explanation is simply ignorance, and ignorance per se isnt evidence of anything. Usually, conspiracists lack context and understanding because they dont have the relevant expertise, or they dont realize that certain kinds of knowledge even require expertise. Conspiracism all too often results from an indefensible antipathy to the very idea of specialized knowledge.

Conspiracists will often point to real facts and claim that these form evidence for their views. But evidence for a claim is a fact that in logic tends to support that claim. The facts conspiracists point to tend to bear only an illusion of relevance to their conclusions, an illusion driven by wishful thinking.

An elegant example of this conspiracist habit is the widely circulated claim that a mysterious figure in Muslim garb could be seen in grainy video footage moving through the Notre Dame bell tower as the fire raged.5 The claim is odd enough for assuming that a terrorist would stay on the scene of the crime dressed for evening prayers even as firefighters were swarming about. As usual, a much better explanation turned out to be available: Americans are unfamiliar with the uniform of French firefighters. Later, less grainy footage revealed it to be exactly that.6

Usually, conspiracists lack context and understanding because they dont have the relevant expertise, or they dont realize that certain kinds of knowledge even require expertise.

Most of the apparent evidence that Notre Dame conspiracists mustered in the first place concerned not specific facts about the scene of the fire, but facts about the surrounding context of European life. They point to the indisputable fact that there is a problem with Islamist terrorism in Europe. And there have been real incidents of Muslim attacks, and other planned attacks, on French churches. But there are many fires in France, and doubtless many accidental ones at old churches especially at those that lack fire suppression systems and are having to lay off security staff due to budget problems.7,8 What do such general facts help prove about the fire at Notre Dame?

To defend the claim that there is reason to think the Notre Dame fire was an Islamist attack, the web site Jihad Watch pointed to a story at Breitbart claiming that there is an average of three church attacks per day in France. Within a certain timeframe, that was true. But in a display of the conspiracist mentalitys lack of concern for the facts, one commenter on the Jihad Watch post jumps from this statistic (which included many cases of mundane vandalism) to the claim that there were as many attacks on churches in France due to the religion of peace [i.e., Islam]. In point of fact, nowhere in the Breitbart story or its French source are the perpetrators of these acts of vandalism identified.9

Perhaps sensing the need for some specific evidence, web sites like Alex Joness conspiracy-mongering Infowars relayed the news that a journalist had tweeted that a friend of his who works at Notre Dame had told him that other staff at the cathedral told him that the fire was intentional.10 Aside from the fact that this does not specify who is supposed to have set it intentionally, it is readily classifiable as hearsay about hearsay, so it is no surprise that the journalist eventually deleted the unreliably sourced tweet.

The closest thing there is to specific evidence of anything like foul play at Notre Dame is a fact very few of the conspiracist commenters saw fit to reference. It is true that several Muslims were arrested in 2016 on the suspicion of plotting an attack against Notre Dame. One of them, a woman who aspired to join ISIS, was sentenced just days before the Notre Dame fire itself.11

READ ALSO: Bayer and Ghate Chat on Rands View of Conspiracy Theories

In the meantime, without such evidence, looking at statistics about attacks by Muslims in France and seeing a case for Islamist terrorism at Notre Dame is little better than squinting at grainy footage and seeing the vague outlines of a mysterious figure in Muslim garb.

One additional hallmark of conspiracists disregard for the pursuit of the truth is that their claims have no clear identity. The content of their assertions shifts as new evidence comes in, sometimes in a way that blatantly contradicts their previous claims.

For instance, consider the idea that the French authorities would not disclose the fact that Muslim terrorists were responsible for the fire even if they actually did discover indisputable evidence of an Islamist attack. At the same time, when conspiracists want to show that some Muslims have planned or executed church attacks in France, they appeal to the reports of French authorities.12

The facts conspiracists point to tend to bear only an illusion of relevance to their conclusions, an illusion driven by wishful thinking.

The standards shift and the claims contradict because their source is not evidence, but imagination. It is easy to hear the reports of an investigator and simply imagine, what if theyre lying? A similar use of the imagination is the attempt to explain how a proposed arson might have occurred. How was the fire started? It could have been workers, they say, because we can imagine workers starting fires. Were any of the workers Muslims? We can imagine the companies being pressured to hire a group of diverse workers, they say.14 What if all of the workers claim to be Catholics? We can imagine they are lying, and they are secretly Muslim.15 How could the arson have been carried out if the workers werent present? We can imagine it was incendiary balloons!16 Or even better, we can imagine an improvised incendiary drone!17

The use of arbitrary possibilities is one of the most classic hallmarks of conspiracism. Even to say maybe with a serious face, in the manner that a detective identifies and investigates the suspect of a crime, requires at least a little bit of specific evidence, otherwise it too is arbitrary. Arbitrary possibilities devised by the imagination in defiance of the need for evidence are the stock-in-trade of the conspiracist. They are what allow any fact to be evidence of anything the conspiracist would like, allowing their claims to shift with the wind. They are, in particular, what allows the conspiracist to insulate his case from refutation. The authorities say there is no evidence of terrorism? Maybe they are lying. But this is the argumentation of a shyster lawyer, not an investigator who is serious about the truth.

What creates the conditions for conspiracism to spread? There are many factors, but one should be highlighted in particular.

In the case of the Notre Dame fire, we have already seen how some European authorities have been less than transparent about the challenge of the recent influx of Muslim immigrants into the region after the Syrian civil war. Much of the Western press has aided and abetted this reticence: it has under-covered the extent of the problem with Islamist terrorism both in Europe and around the world. Several publications even insisted that French authorities had ruled out arson and terrorism.18 But the most the Paris prosecutor Rmi Heitz said was: There is no indication that this was a deliberate act.19 This only means that no specific evidence was found pointing to terrorism or arson, not that these had been ruled out.

Arbitrary possibilities devised by the imagination in defiance of the need for evidence are the stock-in-trade of the conspiracist. This is the argumentation of a shyster lawyer, not an investigator who is serious about the truth.

But as one commentator recently put it:

Progressive bias in the mainstream media is quite real and has been getting markedly worse in recent years. . . . But this does not justify claiming that the New York Times or CNN are just as bad as Alex Joness conspiracy site, Infowars, or embracing the pro-Trump camps assertions that mainstream coverage of the Trump/Russia story amounted to a hoax.

Even as we must be willing to identify non-objective reporting, we must not fall for the siren song of conspiracism as the alternative. The only acceptable alternative is to be objective about our interpretation of the news.

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frag/men/t: Artist Dan Gladden explores the queer posthuman form – OUTinPerth

Posted: August 25, 2017 at 3:31 am

Spectrum Project Space will host an exhibition by artist Dan Gladden this September, featuring works that explore the idea of the posthuman from a romanticised and imagined queer perspective.

Gladdens work primarily focuses on body image and masculine beauty, exploring merging, diving and mirrored forms from the idea of a gay clone the idealised, muscle-bound visage of a Western male body.

Gladden explores this notion of the posthuman by taking contemporary media representations of masculinity and projecting an imagined future of superhumans based on these ideals of beauty.

We caught up with Gladden to find out more about what motivated the work, the Western image of the ideal man and the notion of the posthuman.

Was there a particular moment or scenario that inspired this series?

There was no particular moment that kick started the works in the exhibition, however I have been addressing similar themes in my practice since uni, where i examined gay male identity and body image as a marketable commodity.

The works in frag/men/t further elaborate on this theme but have merged into a much stranger space where bodies and forms morph, merge and melt into new bodily creations and beings, like some bad cloning experiments gone wrong.

I guess what also influenced me is the insanely increasing technological advances especially in terms of designer genetics.

Why did you choose to represent this idea of the posthuman?

The post-human is a concept of what the next state of being human could or will be. I think we are entering into strange, uncertain and interesting times and Im often overwhelmed by the idea of an apocalypse, especially considering the state of the world at the moment.

I wanted to explore the idea of a not-too-distant imagined yet romanticised world where humans have become explicitly designed for pleasure. There is a definite Margaret Atwood/Oryx and Crake influence.

Im conscious that the types of bodies gay men in particular are consistently exposed to in the media are the same, white, muscular perfect symmetrical men so I wanted to develop ideas of this gay clone further into weirdly grotesque yet supposedly beautiful ideals.

You mention the notion of the gay clone also the idealised Western male Ive seen this first hand at Mardi Gras. Do you think this is an issue our community doesnt address thoroughly enough?

Absolutely although I would hope that given the increasing interconnectedness of online social spaces it has become a bit easier to find groups you may align yourself with, however I still see the dominant media representation as being a Eurocentric image of ripped muscular clones.

Some people can look like that, but its unrealistic for many, which can lead to feelings of isolation, anguish and insecurity.

What can we do to dispel this idea of the perfect Western man?

I dont really have the answer to what we can do but I would hope that we can just further embrace difference as beautiful (by difference i mean different to the medias representation of the male body).

The works Ive created have really pushed the boundaries of perfection by exaggerating typical representations and morphing into something grotesque.

Hyper-masculinity is something Ive seen discussed more in queer circles, but still too often dismissed. Have you seen real examples of its effects?

Absolutely. Its a tough road being gay already with society telling gay men they are not real men. I think of online profiles and all the cliches of masc4masc and the casual (sometimes blatant) racism and internalised homophobia. Its bullshit. Its damaging. It can completely destroy peoples confidence, ability to relate or be themselves.

I say be who you are, embrace it, push it, work it. Just be true to yourself, whether youre masc, femme, large, skinny, green hair, no hair, or anywhere in between. We are a diverse community of so many incredible types of people and this is where our strengths lie.

Dan Gladdens frag/men/t will be at Spectrum Project Space at Edith Cowan University Mount Lawley from Thursday August 31st Wednesday September 13th.

Leigh Andrew Hill

Thanks for reading OUTinPerth. We can only create LGBTIQA+ focused media with your help.

If you can help support our work, please consider assisting us through a one-off contribution to our GoFundMe campaign, or a regular contribution through our Patreon appeal.

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West Nile virus found in human-biting mosquito, detected in 20 towns – New Haven Register

Posted: at 3:31 am

West Nile virus found in human-biting mosquito, detected in 20 towns

NEW HAVEN >> The risk of people contracting West Nile virus may be rising, as a mosquito species that is more likely to bite humans has been found to carry the disease, according to Philip Armstrong, medical entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

As of last week, mosquitoes carrying the virus had been found in 20 towns, more than at this point in 2016, including six in Greater New Haven and seven in Fairfield County. But the West Nile-carrying mosquitoes have been found farther afield, in Hartford and New London counties, Armstrong said Thursday.

The most common species to carry West Nile is the northern house mosquito, Culex pipiens, which feeds mainly on birds, Armstrong said. However, whats really most alarming, he said, is that were also detecting the virus in human-biting mosquitoes. That species is Culex salinarius, a common mosquito, but whats unusual is that its picking up the virus, Armstrong said.

This is the peak period of risk right now, Armstrong said, although no human cases have been reported this year.

The virus will amplify or will peak in the mosquito population usually before we have human cases, he said. There often are delays in diagnosis and reporting of these cases oftentimes weeks after the date of onset.

There was just one human case of West Nile reported in 2016, compared with 21 in 2012, according to the state Department of Public Health. There have been 131 human cases of West Nile, including three fatalities, since 2000, according to Agricultural Experiment Station.

Armstrong said hot weather increases the mosquito population, so with West Nile virus, typically when you have these prolonged heat waves . the population will increase and biting will increase, Armstrong said.

The bottom line is we are seeing a substantial increase in the risk just in the last week or two and hopefully this is the peak, he said. However, the risk for acquiring West Nile virus will still extend until the first hard frost.

Dr. Richard Martinello, medical director for infection prevention at Yale New Haven Hospital, said, Most people who get exposed to West Nile virus dont have any symptoms at all. It may be 10 to 20 percent who get infected [who] may experience signs and symptoms.

Those include headache, body ache, joint pain, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. Theres a whole multitude of different infections that may present the same way, including enterovirus, said Martinello, who is also associate professor of internal medicine and infectious diseases at the Yale School of Medicine. Less than 1 percent can have a serious infection due to West Nile, such as meningitis and encephalitis.

As of Tuesday, the Agricultural Experiment Station had tested 148,154 mosquitoes from 91 trapping sites throughout the state and had found 55 mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus. The towns where West Nile-carrying mosquitoes have been found are Branford, Bridgeport, Darien, Farmington, Glastonbury, Greenwich, Guilford, Middlefield, New Canaan, New Haven, North Branford, North Stonington, Orange, Plainfield, South Windsor, Stamford, Stratford, West Hartford, West Haven and Westport.

The mosquito-trapping program had also identified 21 mosquitoes with Jamestown Canyon virus in the towns of Canaan, East Haven, Meriden, Milford, New Britain, North Haven, North Stonington, Plainfield, Ridgefield, Shelton, Wethersfield and Willington.

We pick it up every year, Armstrong said of Jamestown Canyon virus. Its not really a significant public health concern. Theres been one documented human case of James Canyon virus in the state of Connecticut since the mosquito program began, he said. The symptoms are mild.

There have been no reports of the more serious Eastern equine encephalitis virus found in mosquitoes this year, according to the Agricultural Experiment Station.

Man dies of babesiosis

A tick-borne disease caused by a parasite, babesiosis, was responsible for the death of Michael Yoder, 55, of New Milford on Aug. 8, according to the Associated Press.

Babesiosis symptoms are similar to the flu, although severe cases can cause anemia that leads to organ failure. There was one death each from the disease in 2015 and 2016, the AP reported.

The Centers for Disease Control reported an increase in babesiosis cases in Connecticut from 74 in 2011 to 205 in 2014.

Call Ed Stannard at 203-680-9382.

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Hall Center for the Humanities events to explore the posthuman condition – KU Today

Posted: August 22, 2017 at 11:25 pm

LAWRENCE The Hall Center for the Humanities Fall Faculty Colloquium is designed to enliven the intellectual atmosphere of the University of Kansas and contribute to the interdisciplinary training of faculty. This fall, four KU faculty members and four graduate students will convene under the leadership of directors Allan Hanson, professor emeritus of anthropology, and John Symons, professor of philosophy, to explore the topic of The Posthuman?

The faculty participants in the colloquium are Jennifer Foster, lecturer inSpanish & Portuguese; James Gunn, professor emeritus of English; Christopher Ramey, assistant professor of psychology, and Paul Scott, associate professor of French. The graduate student participants are Ramon Alvarado, philosophy; Anthony Boynton, English; Aaron Long, English, and Christina Lord, French & Italian.

The group will explore the question of whether we are morphing into something beyond the human. Today's bewildering onslaught of technology supplements and often replaces what were once defining features of humanity. Or is the whole idea of the posthuman misguided? Artificial intelligence may be fundamentally different from human intelligence, a supplement rather than a competitor. All current technological developments may signal nothing other than an unfolding actualization of what it is to be human.In a word, this colloquium raises the question of whether a posthuman condition exists. If not, why not? If so, what is it (or will it be) like?

The colloquium directors determine the theme, provide intellectual leadership and guidance, act as coordinators and facilitate feedback to participants on their presentations. The participants each present a paper and contribute to the discussion. Past colloquia have covered topics on global citizenship, colonizing knowledge, imagining the modern and future city, and consciousness.

Although the colloquium participants will guide the readings and responses, faculty and staff interested in the topic are invited to attend meetings. Starting Aug. 25, the Posthuman colloquium will meet at 10 a.m. most Fridays in the Hall Center Seminar Room. A detailed schedule of each meeting is available on the Hall Center website calendar and in the weekly e-bulletins.

In addition to the regular meetings, the colloquium will host guest speaker Katherine Hayles, James B. Duke Professor of Literature at Duke University. She teaches and writes on the relations of literature, science and technology in the 20th and 21st centuries. She will present a public lecture at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13 in the Adams Alumni Center. Her talk is titled A New Mode of Orientation: Planetary Cognitive Ecologies. The next day, Nov. 14, she will meet with a special session of the colloquium.

For more information about the Fall Faculty Colloquium, please contact the Hall Center at hallcenter@ku.edu or call (785) 864-4798.

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Hundreds confess to eating human flesh in South Africa – New York Post

Posted: at 11:25 pm

Hundreds of people allegedly confessed to eating human flesh given to them by one of four men facing cannibalism charges in South Africa, reports say.

The four accused cannibals Nino Mbatha, 32; Lindokuhle Masondo, 32; Sthembiso Sithole, 31, and 30-year-old Lungisani Magubane appeared in court on Monday in Estcourt to face charges of murder and conspiracy for allegedly raping, killing, mutilating and then eating the body of a woman, The Witness reports.

One of the suspects allegedly walked into a police station in the central South African town on Friday while holding human body parts, including a leg and a hand, and confessed to being tired of eating human flesh, according to the newspaper.

Police found more body parts at a home in the Rensburgdrift section of Estcourt, a town in the countrys KwaZulu-Natal province.

Col. Thembeka Mbhele, a police spokesman, said Mbatha one of the accused cannibals who also acts as a traditional healer known as a nyanga was arrested in Amangwe, where more body parts were found.

Meanwhile, ward councilor Mthembeni Majola, who held a community meeting Monday after the suspects appeared in court, said roughly 300 residents confessed to visiting Mbatha and knowingly eating human flesh.

Majola said the practice was not limited to Estcourt and that Mbatha had links across Uthukela, one of the 11 districts of the larger KwaZulu-Natal province.

Mbatha had apparently worked as a practicing healer in Ladysmith before fleeing to Rensburgdrift earlier this year after another nyanga was reportedly attacked and killed, Majola said, although that killing has not be confirmed.

We dont know what to do or who to trust, Majola told the newspaper. This has happened within our community. Families, people we know and live with, have now confessed to eating this woman.

Some residents even confessed to personally digging up graves at Mbathas direction before giving him the recovered remains.

Villagers said during the meeting that Mbatha told them that exhuming the graves would protect them from harm, make them stronger and bring them wealth if they handed them over to the nyanga.

The provincial Occult-Related Crime Unit is now investigating the claims, Mbhele said.

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US holds up military aid to Egypt over human rights concerns – Washington Post

Posted: at 11:25 pm

The State Department is withholding $195 million in military aid for Egypt and has completely withdrawn almost $96 million in other aid for the impoverished country as a sign of displeasure over human rights concerns and a new law placing strict restrictions on aid groups working in the country.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who signed papers related to the funding this week, notified Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry of the decision in a phone call Tuesday, according to State Department officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the internal discussion.

The largest chunk of funding is $195 million in military aid, which is supposed to help Egypt fight domestic security threats and terrorism. That unspent money would be returned to Congress at the end of the fiscal year next month. Instead, Tillerson authorized it to be put in a separate account and held in reserve until Egypt shows some progress on key priorities such as human rights abuses and the new law that many nongovernmental organizations say makes their charity work illegal. Egypt should get the money eventually, the officials said.

In separate action authorized by Tillerson, the administration decided to take away from Egypt another $65.7 million in military aid and $30 million in economic aid, and give it to other countries instead. The new recipients have not been determined.

We wanted to send the message were not happy at the lack of progress in human rights and the NGO law, a State Department official said. We want to see improvements.

U.S. officials, whenever they have met with their Egyptian counterparts, have for a long time made a point of mentioning their concerns about human rights abuses in Egypt. They were particularly worried about the impact of the NGO law passed by parliament late last year and ratified in late May by President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi.

The new law gives the government the power to decide who can establish an NGO and what kind of work they do. It also requires that donations of more than about $550 be preapproved. Failure to inform the government in a timely fashion potentially carries penalties of up to five years in jail and $55,000.

Many rights groups say the law in effect prohibits them from doing their job, because it bans them from engaging in anything deemed harmful to national security, public order or morals a vague definition that they say is intended to stifle dissent.

The government has accused human rights groups of trying to undermine the social order, and some are being investigated over the source of their funds.

A State Department official said the United States thought Egypt had in effect made a promise this year that the law would never take effect. When Sissi signed it, diplomats thought they had been misled.

Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid since it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. It has received $80 billion in military and economic aid over the past 30years. In 2013, President Barack Obama froze the supply of military equipment after the Egyptian army overthrew President Mohamed Morsi. When aid was resumed, Congress required that the secretary of state certify that Egypt was making progress in governing democratically.

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US Slaps Egypt on Human Rights Record and Ties to North Korea – New York Times

Posted: at 11:25 pm

While Mr. Sisi approved the new law almost two months after his meeting with Mr. Trump, concerns over Egypts human rights record and its relationship with North Korea have been percolating for years.

Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the conflicting messages from the Trump administration were surprising.

It is unusual that the Trump administration would take a punitive measure against Egypt, given the presidents outreach to President Sisi and his general embrace of this Egyptian government, Mr. Satloff said. I would not say reports of difficulties with Egypts human rights situation or its connection with North Korea are new.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillersons top priority has been to increase North Koreas economic and diplomatic isolation, and he has asked foreign leaders in almost every meeting that they cut ties with Pyongyang.

Egypt has been close with North Korea since at least the 1970s. North Korean pilots trained Egyptian fighter pilots before the 1973 war with Israel, and Egypt was later accused of supplying Scud missiles to North Korea, said Daniel Leone of the Project on Middle East Democracy.

This year, United Nations investigators said they acquired evidence of North Korean trade in hitherto unreported items such as encrypted military communications, man-portable air defense systems, air defense systems and satellite-guided missiles in the Middle East and Africa, among other locations.

In 2015, a United Nations panel said that Egypts Port Said was being used by North Korean front companies and shipping agents engaged in weapons smuggling.

Successive American administrations have privately raised the issue of North Korea in talks with Cairo, but with little success. The United States may be pressuring Egypt over its civilian and military links to North Korea. One of Egypts richest men, Naguib Sawiris, owns Orascom Telecom Media and Technology, the telecommunications company that helped set up North Koreas main cellular telephone network in 2008.

Another factor in the decision to limit funding to Egypt is the draconian law regulating aid agencies particularly those funded by Western governments and organizations which was signed into law by Mr. Sisi in late May. Several Egyptian groups, including those working with victims of police torture, said the law will make it impossible for them to continue their work and may force them to shut down.

The Trump administration has proposed significant cutbacks in foreign aid and has promised to demand greater accountability from aid recipients.

But Tuesdays actions were not as tough as they might have been. By pausing the provision of $195 million in military funding, the Trump administration saved the money from expiring entirely on Sept. 30. This way, Egypt could eventually get the money if its record on human rights improves.

Gardiner Harris reported from Washington, and Declan Walsh from London.

A version of this article appears in print on August 23, 2017, on Page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: U.S. Curbs Aid to Egypt, Citing Human Rights Record and North Korean Ties.

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Human remains found in caiman may belong to missing man – New York Post

Posted: August 20, 2017 at 5:45 pm

Forensic experts in Brazil are investigating a mans disappearance after locals discovered human remains in the guts of a 13-foot caiman.

Farmer Adilson de Oliveira, 47, was camping on the banks of the Javae River, in Tocantins, last month when he was likely swallowed by a black caiman, according to a report from the Palmas Forensic Medical Institute released Tuesday.

Locals slaughtered the reptile during a search for the presumed victim, who was last seen fishing on the night of July 27. Oliveiras flip-flops and a lighter were found at the edge of the river but he was nowhere to be seen.

After a campsite official reported Oliveira missing several hours later, it took firefighters nearly a day to access the dangerous and remote area near the campsite.

More than 30 officers searched the alligator-, stingray- and piranha-infested waters for two days.

When we reached the deepest part of the river, where the water stands still, I dived in and went about 13 feet down, Sgt. Ronaldo Barbosa said of the perilous rescue mission.

It was a huge risk. The water was very dark and cloudy with very little visibility. About 20 minutes later, when I came back to the surface, an alligator was swimming about 20 feet away from me, he added.

When rescuers failed to find any further trace of Oliveira, locals concluded he was likely devoured by one of the reptiles in the area.

They also noticed at least seven alligators gathered on the opposite banks of the river a day after Oliveira went missing another sign that the creatures ate a big meal recently.

Locals told us these creatures dont normally come together unless they have been eating. Because of their experience in the area, they decided to take matters into their own hands, Barbosa said.

A group of the victims colleagues hunted down, trapped and killed a gator that appeared to be fatter than normal and that had an unusual swelling in its abdomen.

They disemboweled the creature and found a round lump of flesh in its stomach along with some plastic bags.

Adilson was known to stuff plastic bags into his trouser pockets and when the locals called us to report their find, we discovered evidence of plastic bags, broken bones, hair, skin and other body parts inside the caimans stomach, Barbosa said.

Forensic experts are waiting to confirm the human remains belong to the victim. They asked members of Oliveiras family to supply samples of their DNA for analysis and comparison.

The test results will be released within the next few weeks, pathologists said.

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Natalee Holloway’s dad finds human remains in Aruba – New York Post

Posted: at 5:45 pm

Authorities discovered human remains behind a house in Aruba, a grisly find that may finally crack the mystery surrounding a young womans disappearance 12 years ago.

The remains, discovered following a renewed 18-month probe, are being tested to see if theyre a DNA match with Natalee Holloway, the Alabama teenager who went missing while on a graduation trip in 2005, her father, Dave Holloway, and investigator T.J. Ward revealed on Today on Wednesday.

I know theres a possibility this could be someone else, and Im just trying to wait and see, Holloway said. It would finally be the end.

In 2012, an Alabama judge granted Holloways request to have his daughter declared dead but no one has ever been charged in her disappearance.

Joran van der Sloot, a Dutch man the teen was last seen with outside a bar, is serving a 28-year sentence in a Peru jail for killing business student Stephany Flores a killing that came five years to the day after Natalees disappearance.

In March 2016, van der Sloot appeared to have made a shocking confession to an undercover reporter about having murdered Natalee.

The dad said the investigation led them to an informant known as Gabriel, who lived with a friend of van der Sloot, and eventually, to the remains.

[He] had information that took us to a spot where remains were found. And we took those remains and had those remains tested, Holloway said. Weve chased a lot of leads and this one is by far the most credible lead Ive seen in the last 12 years.

The DNA tests will take several months.

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British scientists develop world’s smallest surgical robot that can mimic human arm – Firstpost

Posted: at 5:45 pm

British scientists have developed the worlds smallest surgical robot which could transform daily operations for tens of thousands of patients, the media reported on Sunday.

Representational image. Reuters

From a converted pig shed in the Cambridgeshire countryside, a team of 100 scientists and engineers have used low-cost technology originally developed for mobile phones and space industry to create the first robotic arm specifically designed to carry out keyhole surgery, reports the Guardian.

The robot, called Versius, mimics the human arm and can be used to carry out a wide range of laparoscopic procedures including hernia repairs, colorectal operations, and prostate and ear, nose and throat surgery, in which a series of small incisions are made to circumvent the need for traditional open surgery.

The robot is controlled by a surgeon at a console guided by a 3D screen in the operating theatre, according to its maker Cambridge Medical Robotics.

"Having robots in the operating theatre is not a new idea," said the company's chief executive, Martin Frost.

"But the problem at the moment is that they are phenomenally expensive, not only do they cost $2.5 million each to buy but every procedure costs an extra $3,800 using the robot... and they are very large."

The Cambridge Medical Robotics said it was already working with a number of National Health Services-owned and private hospitals to introduce the robots.

The current global market for surgical robots is worth approximately $4 billion a year but this is expected to grow to $20 billion by 2024.

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