UN pressure grows on Myanmar human rights conditions

Rene Wadlow – USA

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Mae La camp for Burmese refugees, Tak, Thailand. (Photo by Mikhail Esteves)

On Friday 24 March 2017, the 47-member UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution without a vote (a consensus-type procedure) to create an international independent commission to study the human rights situation in Myanmar (Burma). The representatives of the Russian Federation and China, who do not like independent investigations anywhere, indicated that had there been a vote they would have voted against but that they would not block a consensus motion. The Ambassador of Myanmar, Hlin Lynn, indicated before the adoption that such a commission was not necessary and that his government would not cooperate. The resolution had been proposed by the members of the Council from the European Union who often have difficulty in reaching agreement among themselves. The fact of their joint action indicates that awareness of the dangerous situation in Myanmar has been growing in the past months.

The creation of an independent commission is the strongest form of pressure that the Human Rights Council has and is rarely used. The most noteworthy commission created concerned the armed conflict and resulting human rights violations in Darfur, Sudan. The government of Sudan did not let the members of the commission into Sudan, but interviews with refugees in Ethiopia and Geneva confirmed the information which representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had been providing the Commission on Human Rights, the ancestor of the Human Rights Council. As I had been the first NGO representative to raise the Darfur situation in 2004 in the Commission on the basis of information from sources that I trusted but without myself having been on the ground, it was a satisfaction to have the Darfur Commission confirm what I had been saying.

Read more: UN pressure grows on Myanmar human rights conditions

The human sense of smell: It's stronger than we think

Researcher debunks 19th century myth that animals are better at sniffing out scents

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When it comes to our sense of smell, we have been led to believe that animals win out over humans: No way can we compete with dogs and rodents, some of the best sniffers in the animal kingdom.

But guess what? It’s a big myth. One that has survived for the last 150 years with no scientific proof, according to Rutgers University-New Brunswick neuroscientist John McGann, associate professor in the Department of Psychology, School of Arts and Sciences, in a paper published on May 12 in Science.

Read more: The human sense of smell: It's stronger than we think

Focus – A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction: Part 19

Leo Babauta – USA

A simple system for getting amazing things done

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“Do whatever you do intensely.”

Robert Henri

If all of the chapters and tips in this book overwhelm you, don’t worry. You can read this chapter alone and it’ll be sufficient. This chapter outlines my current way of working, and it’s a simple system for Getting Amazing Things Done. In fact, it’s three simple steps. It can’t get any easier.

Read more: Focus – A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction: Part 19

Answers to how our brains make meaning, with the help of a little LSD


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We all have particular experiences or particular things – a favorite song, for example – that mean much more to us than others. Now, researchers who've studied how perceptions of meaning change when people take the psychedelic drug known as LSD have traced that sense of meaningfulness to particular neurochemicals and receptors in the brain. The findings are reported in Current Biology on January 26.

The findings add to our fundamental understanding of the human experience. They also point to potentially new targets for drugs to treat psychiatric illnesses or phobias, which come with abnormalities in the attribution of personal relevance to particular sensory experiences or cues, the researchers say.

Read more: Answers to how our brains make meaning, with the help of a little LSD

Focus – A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction: Part 18

Focus – A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction: Part 18

Leo Babauta -USA

Finding simplicity

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing

more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

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 Antoine de Saint-Exupe

For years now I have been working on living a simpler life — in my personal, family and work life. It’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done, in many ways:

  • A simple life is less stressful, more sane, happier.
  • Simpler living is less expensive, which helped me to get out of debt.
  • I’m able to focus better when I work, leading to a more successful career than ever (by far).
  • I free up time for my family, and for the things I love most.
  • I’ve rid my life of things I didn’t like doing.
  • I have fewer possessions, leading to a less cluttered home and workspace, which I love.

And those are just a few of the benefits. When it comes to finding focus, simplifying is a great place to start. When you simplify, you remove the extraneous and allow yourself to focus. You might say that simplifying is a necessary part of finding focus.

This is a short guide to finding simplicity.

Read more: Focus – A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction: Part 18

Palmyra: Renewed dangers

Palmyra: Renewed dangers

Rene Wadlow – USA

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Ruins of Palmyra, Homs Governorate, Syria (© James Gordon)

By one of the ironies of military strategy, the Syrian government forces and their Russian allies concentrated on the current battle for Aleppo, leaving the historic city of Palmyra largely unguarded. The Islamic State (ISIS or Daesh in Arabic) had held Palmyra, called “the Venice of the Sands” for some10 months, starting in May 2015 until they were forced to leave by Syrian government forces and allies in April 2016. In May 2016, Russia had celebrated the flight of ISIS with a short concert of Prokofiev’s music played by musicians from the Marinskiy Theatre in the Roman-era outdoor theater and a video talk by President Putin.

Now ISIS forces are back in control and both the people and the monuments of Palmyra are in real danger. When in control of Palmyra, on 23 August 2015, the temples of Baalshamien – Lord of the Heavens –  and Bel – a goddess often associated with the moon, had been largely destroyed by ISIS. This iconoclastic approach to pre-Islamic faiths and their material culture is the same which had led to the destruction of the large Buddha statues in Afghanistan – monuments that attested to the rich culture along the Silk Road. The destruction of the Palmyra temples was also to show the impotence of the international community to stop ISIS. Smaller artifacts were destroyed or sold off in what has become a massive trade of looted art works.

Read more: Palmyra: Renewed dangers

God and your Brain

This is your brain on God: Spiritual experiences activate brain reward circuits

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An fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scan shows regions of the brain that become active when devoutly religious study participants have a spiritual experience, including a reward center in the brain, the nucleus accumbens. Credit: Jeffrey Anderson

Religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits in much the same way as love, sex, gambling, drugs and music, report researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine. The findings will be published Nov. 29 in the journal Social Neuroscience.

“We're just beginning to understand how the brain participates in experiences that believers interpret as spiritual, divine or transcendent,” says senior author and neuroradiologist Jeff Anderson. “In the last few years, brain imaging technologies have matured in ways that are letting us approach questions that have been around for millennia.”

Read more: God and your Brain

Oxytocin enhances spirituality: The biology of awe

Oxytocin enhances spirituality: The biology of awe

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Is there a higher plane of consciousness or spirituality that binds all people? Oxytocin makes men more likely to say so. Credit: © Oleksandr Kotenko / Fotolia

Oxytocin has been dubbed the “love hormone” for its role promoting social bonding, altruism and more. Now new research from Duke University suggests the hormone may also support spirituality.

In the study, men reported a greater sense of spirituality shortly after taking oxytocin and a week later. Participants who took oxytocin also experienced more positive emotions during meditation, said lead author Patty Van Cappellen, a social psychologist at Duke.

“Spirituality and meditation have each been linked to health and well-being in previous research,” Van Cappellen said. “We were interested in understanding biological factors that may enhance those spiritual experiences.”

“Oxytocin appears to be part of the way our bodies support spiritual beliefs.”

Read more: Oxytocin enhances spirituality: The biology of awe

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