July 2012

Russian officials, who have strenuously resisted U.S.-led efforts to push Syrian President Bashar Assad from power, are beginning to question whether the beleaguered leader can hang on, but say they have little influence over him as rebels take the fight to his country’s biggest cities.

Even though Russia has been a close Syrian ally for decades, officials and analysts acknowledge that they have limited insight to Assad’s true situation and mind-set. Although some fear that Russia missed a chance to help find a solution to the conflict, now in its 17th month, others say that it never had that kind of clout.

Still, Moscow appears to have at least one more card to play: an offer of asylum if Assad chooses to ask for it.

The Kremlin quickly denied such a suggestion recently by its ambassador to France. But the comment was widely regarded as a trial balloon, and a Foreign Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity indicated that Russia could offer asylum if Assad requested it.

“In daily consultations, Assad keeps telling us he is still very much in control,” the official said. “We are trying to ascertain for ourselves whether the point of no return has been reached, and frankly we are not so sure either way anymore.”

The first sign that Russia is abandoning Assad would be a decision to evacuate its citizens, the official said, and that could soon be followed by the Syrian leader’s departure.

On Saturday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied that any asylum plans were being made, telling journalists, “We are not even thinking about it.”

Russia’s objections to the campaign to oust Assad have had little to do with loyalty to a longtime ally or unease over a loss of influence in the Middle East, analysts and officials said. Instead, the Kremlin fears what it sees as a broader pattern of the West using its political and military power to squeeze out leaders friendly to Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin regards his country’s decision last year not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Libya’sMoammar Kadafi as a serious mistake, analysts say. An air campaign led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was crucial for the rebels who captured and executed the longtime Libyan leader, and analysts say Russia got nothing for its cooperation.

“What Russia is really firmly against is the Libyan precedent becoming a norm, when everyone votes for some sanctions and then the most powerful military alliance steps into in a local conflict supporting one side in it and helping it win,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.

“The rebels should have been grateful to Russia, but the first thing they said after their victory and Kadafi’s murder was that Russian and Chinese companies are no longer welcome in Libya,” he said.

Lilia Shevtsova, a senior researcher with Moscow Carnegie Center, said Russia’s preoccupation with geopolitical concerns carried over to the Syrian conflict.

“Putin is very much inclined to see status quo preserved by any means in Russia and in any regime which he considers friendly,” she said.

She said that she doubts the Kremlin has any real influence left over the situation in Syria, and that by continuing to publicly back Assad, Russia has helped the U.S. and its allies obscure the fact that they have no workable plan for Syria. In contrast to Libya, U.S. and other Western officials have consistently ruled out military intervention.

Russia maintains a naval base in Syria, one of its few military bases aboard, and several thousand Russian diplomats and technical specialists working with Syrian companies are based there, said Gennady Gudkov, deputy head of the security committee of the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament.

“I am afraid we must have missed our chance to talk Assad into some constitutional reform, even including him ceding power,” Gudkov said. “The Kremlin’s persistence in defending his regime now comes from the fact that there is no good way out of the situation and no good decision anymore.”

Leonid Kalashnikov, deputy head of the Duma’s foreign affairs committee, said that, aside from some weapons sales, Russia has not had close political or economic ties to Syria for years, a reflection of Moscow’s diminished role in the region.

“That is why it would be wrong to consider Syria the last Russian stronghold in the Middle East; in fact, we no longer have any,” he said.

“Russia just wants to make it a hard and fast rule that all such conflict issues should be resolved only through efforts of the existing international institutions,” he said.


By Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times, July 28, 2012




Not only Russia wants to prevent history from repeating itself in Syria, the Kremlin is not in for change as well. Yes, China and Russia did abstain from voting in favour of the UN Resolution 1973 in March 2011, which allowed an Western intervention in Libya, leading ultimately to the demise of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

Putin’s relationship with Assad couldn’t have been chummy. Assad went to visit Moscow in 2005, fiver years after he became president. So it’s quite unlikey that he wants to go Russia in exile. 

In a New York Times article about the Russian community in Syria, an outsider has a good insight into the lives of many, many Russian women, married to some senior Syrian officials, who went to the former Soviet Union decades ago to get an education. These men seem to be great Russophiles and that has impressed Russia. So apart from the base in the port of Tartus on the Syrian coast, the diaspora and the arms deals, it’s emotion that compels the Kremlin to  stands by Assad. Besides, Moscow fears chaos and the emergence of Islamists in the new  Syria, which would spread to its Southern border in North Caucasus.


Russia is a hole. No one wants to live. If the amount of Russian order mail brides are anything to go by, not even Russians want to live there. People in these countries are not stupid. They see Russia and China voting against the will of the people to prop dictators up. They wont forget. If I was Syrian or Libiyan I would be very very anti-Russian and China. 

The only reason Russia & China block these votes is because they have tcorrupt governments. Those corrupt governments use failed states like Syria as a buffer zone. People of Syria. The rest of the world stands in solidarity with you. We wish we could do more to help you but the cancerous Russia and China alliance is stopping us. They might be able to stop a couple of us, but they cant stop us all.

Power to the people. End corrupt governments now!


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says Washington plays a role in the turmoil in Syria by supporting the armed gangs (terrorists) to destabilize the country.

Assad told the German ARD television channel on Sunday that the United States is “part of the conflict,” and that “they offer the umbrella and political support to those terrorists to… destabilize Syria.”

The latest remarks by the Syrian president come at a time when the anti-Syria Western regimes have been calling for Assad to step down.

Russia and China remain opposed to the Western drive to oust the Syrian president.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on June 30 that Assad “will still have to go.”


The New York Times published a report on June 21, quoting some US and Arab intelligence officials as saying that a group of “CIA officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey” and that the agents are helping the anti-Syria governments decide which terrorists inside the Arab country will “receive arms to fight the Syrian government.”

President Assad said on June 3 that Syria is “facing a war from abroad,” and that attempts are being made to “weaken Syria, [and] breach its sovereignty.”


Former Lebanese President Amine Pierre Gemayel says instability in Syria serves the interests of Israel, Press TVreports.

In an exclusive interview with Press TV on Thursday, Gemayel said that some Arab states in the Persian Gulf are supporting armed gangs(TERRORISTS) in Syria to undermine the Syrian-Iranian alliance and serve Israel’s interests.

“We all know about the Syrian-Iranian alliance and we all know that there are some Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, which are at odds with Iran and maybe these factors encourage these Arab countries” to support the anti-government armed gangs in Syria, he noted.

“Israel has an interest in the deteriorating situation in Syria and in exhausting Syria. The more exhaustion in Syria, the more it serves Israel’s interests. The more destruction in Syria, the more Syria’s capabilities in confronting Israel are exhausted. This is…a victory for Israel…without suffering any losses,” the former president added.


Russia has said it is not propping up Assad and would accept his exit from power in a political transition decided by the Syrian people, but that his exit must be a precondition and he must not be pushed out by external forces.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army launched a threatened counter-offensive against rebel fighters in Aleppo on Saturday, pouring troops into the southwest of the commercial hub, a human rights group said.

The reinforcements, which have been massing over the past two days, “have moved on the Salaheddin district, where the largest number of rebel fighters are based,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.














A military jury on Friday convicted an instructor at Lackland Air Force Base of raping one female trainee and sexually assaulting several others, the first major case in a sex scandal that has rocked the Air Force’s basic training system.

The jury of two officers and five enlisted airmen found Staff Sgt. Luis Walker guilty on 28 counts, including adultery, violating regulations and committing sexual crimes against female trainees, most of whom reported to him at Lackland, in San Antonio, the Air Force’s lone basic training school.

He faces up to life in prison and a dishonorable discharge when the trial moves into the sentencing phase.

At least 11 other instructors in the Air Force’s basic training system, nine from the same squadron, are under investigation in the widening case, which is the focus not only of a criminal probe but also a major policy review by a two-star general. At least 31 female recruits have been identified as possible victims.

One of those instructors has pleaded guilty; four others have been charged and are facing courts-martial. All have been removed from training duties, Air Force officials said. The lieutenant colonel in charge of some training units at Lackland has also been reassigned.

The sexual abuse scandal is among the worst to hit the military in over a decade. In 1996, dozens of women at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland accused male supervisors of rape, sexual assault and other offenses in 1996. A few years earlier, more than 80 women were assaulted during several days of drunken revelry at the Tailhook Association convention in Las Vegas, a case that led to the resignation of the Navy secretary and two admirals.

Air Force officials said more instructors could be charged as a result of the current investigations, with recruits being encouraged to report episodes anonymously through a 24-hour tip line. The two-star general’s review has also been expanded to include three other Air Force training bases.

“We’re not satisfied that this one unit is all there is,” Maj. Gen. Leonard A. Patrick, commander of the Second Air Force, which oversees basic training, said in an interview. “We want to assure ourselves through a disciplined approach that we’ve caught everything or everyone involved in this kind of behavior.”

The scandal has been deeply painful for the Air Force. Nine years ago, a survey by the Pentagon’s inspector general found that 12 percent of the women who graduated from the Air Force Academy that year said they had been victims of rape or attempted rape while at the school. The vast majority said they did not report the episodes to the authorities out of fear of being punished.

That appears to have been the situation in the current cases as well. The first assault allegations were reported by the acquaintance of a recruit and not the recruit herself. And when investigators began interviewing possible victims, almost all initially denied being assaulted.

With a staff of about 475 instructors, Lackland provides basic training to every Air Force recruit, about 35,000 a year. About one in five of those trainees are women, and about nine in ten of the instructors are men.

The rigorously hierarchical nature of the military makes it especially conducive to sexual abuse, critics say, and basic training is even more so, with instructors looming as intimidating, all-powerful figures to young recruits.

The Pentagon rejects such assertions. But amid growing criticism from advocacy groups and Congress, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta announced in April new steps to combat sexual assault, including having higher ranking officers handle sexual assault complaints, a change expected to lead to more prosecutions.

According to Pentagon data, there were 3,192 reports of sexual assault in the military in 2011, but only 240 went to trial, with 191 convictions. But the Defense Department acknowledges that the crime is vastly underreported, estimating the number of assaults may actually be closer to 19,000 a year.

During closing arguments in Sergeant Walker’s trial on Friday, the lead prosecutor, Maj. Patricia Gruen, portrayed him as a predator who first intimidated, then befriended recruits before assaulting them.

“When you take off the sheep’s outfit and the wolf is released on the flock, he looks for those that stand out, and pounces,” she told the jury.

But the defense, which called only one witness during the five-day trial, focused on the fact that none of the female recruits complained about Sergeant Walker to the authorities.

The lead defense lawyer, Joseph Esparza, also noted that the prosecution failed to produce DNA evidence or surveillance video, even though there were cameras in parts of the barracks.

“We don’t know what happened,” he said. “Everyone changed their stories based on when they were asked and who was asking.”

The trial was dominated by the graphic and often emotional testimony of female recruits. The New York Times does not typically identify possible victims of sexual assault.

One woman, identified as Airman 5, testified that Sergeant Walker tried to win her confidence by sympathizing with her after she had been upset by bad news from home. He later began sending suggestive texts to her cellphone before cornering her in a supply closet and forcing her to have sex with him.

The woman said she did not report the episode out of fear that Sergeant Walker would “recycle” her in punishment, meaning force her to redo basic training.

“I was scared, and miserable and hurt,” the woman testified. Her version was corroborated in court by a friend.

Another witness, identified as Airman 8, said Sergeant Walker called her into his office and pressured her to show her breasts. She mentioned the episode to other recruits, and word got back to Sergeant Walker.

She testified that he then called her back into his office and warned her: “If you had a problem with it, then you should have come to me, instead of running your mouth. Remember, I’m staff sergeant, you’re a trainee.”

“I went numb,” the woman testified. “I was scared. What if he punished me, or ruined my career?”


By  (NYT). Hollie O’Connor contributing from San Antonio. July 20, 2012

Gaston Acurio announces wife Astrid Gutsche's new chocolate project

“For years, Astrid has been traveling around Peru, looking for the best native cacao, meeting producers and discovering the value of their work, forming alliances with them and creating a world in her heart.”

This is how Gaston Acurio, famed Peruvian chef and entrepreneur, introduced the new chocolate collection of his wife, Astrid Gutsche, on his Facebook page.

Melate, as the chocolate line is known, consists of bonbons, truffles, bars and kisses, all made with some of the finest cacao that Peru has to offer.

Where her husband has focused on bringing high-quality Peruvian food to the world, Gutsche has long sought to promote the country’s chocolate, and her efforts have paved the way for the international success of the sweet delicacy.

Among her projects is the Salon del Cacao y Chocolate, taking place this weekend, which will include many important national and international chocolate producers and masters.

Melate is expected to officially launch soon, but for now, the beautiful photos released by Acurio are helping to build anticipation. 



By Alix Farr; July 6, 2012

 (All photos: Gaston Acurio Facebook)



Commented By: lapchole
On: July 6, 2012
yeah, that is what peruvians need….more fat and sugar, great for diabetes and the new obesity levels in peruvians. In addition, they will only be accessible to the 1% of the rich population in peru

Commented By: Natalia
On: July 7, 2012
I can´t wait to taste these chocolates. I know we have extraordinary and high quality cacao in Peru so I expect this project help many people to sell their crop and finished goods at fair prices and improve their quality of life, create new jobs and give oportunities. I saw the documentary about cacao by Gaston and Astrid and found it beautiful. And YES!!!! this is exactly what Peruvians need.

Commented By: Pato Vial
On: July 7, 2012
It is understandable that haute cuisine is not for everybody. If you like Mc Donalds – don’t switch! For the food and chocolate connoisseurs, these chocolates look fantastic!!! About time that delicious Peruvian chocolate gets attention. Last month, we were in Cusco on vacation and there is a huge chocolate tradition there. There are chocolate workshops and afterwards tasting sessions – a real treat. Enjoy

Thinking in another language changes how people weigh their options.

The study of how people process foreign languages has traditionally focused on the topics we wrestled with in high school French or Spanish classes — botched grammar, misunderstood vocabulary, and mangled phonemes. But in recent years psychologists have gone to the laboratory with a phenomenon that historically was only discussed in memoirs by bilingual writers like Vladimir Nabokov and Eva Hoffman: a foreign language feels less emotional than the mother tongue. Consider the case of taboo words. For many multilinguals, swearing in a foreign languagedoesn’t evoke the same anxiety (or bring the same emotional release) as using a native language. Decreased emotionality in a foreign language spans the gamut of emotions, from saying “I love you,” to hearing childhood reprimands, to uttering morally grave lies, or being influenced bypersuasive messages in advertising.

Researchers have sought to understand the range and limits of these emotional language effects. Lower proficiency and/or late acquisition of the foreign language seems to be a crucial constraint. For people whogrew up bilingual, skin conductance responses and self-reports were similar when listening to emotional phrases in either language. One method for finding new types of emotional-language effects is to examine areas where cognitive neuroscience reports that people can switch between analytical processing and emotional processing. Gut, automatic or instinctive reasoning is grounded in an emotional good-bad response. Alternatively, reasoning can be the result of a deliberative process that involves careful, logical analysis. Would bilinguals be more analytical and less emotional when making decisions in a foreign language?

Boaz Keysar, Sayuri Hayakawa, and Sun Gyu An of University of Chicago asked this question in a paper recently published in Psychological Science. They studied framing effects, a phenonmenon investigated by Daniel Kahneman and others. When a decision is verbally framed as involving a gain, humans prefer a sure outcome over a probabilistic outcome. When the same situation is framed as involving losses, people sometimes prefer to gamble. For example, given a scenario involving 600 sick individuals and two types of medicines to administer, research participants prefer the medicine which will save 200 people for sure, rather than the medicine which has a 1/3 chance of saving all 600 sick people and a 2/3 chance of saving no one. If the formally identical illness scenario is provided, but framed in terms of how many people will die, then research participants are more likely to choose the probabilistic option. Framing effects are one of the classic examples of how humans deviate from logical reasoning, and indeed, individuals with a propensity for logical reasoning, such as those with Asperger Syndrome, are less influenced by the verbal frame when making these types of decisions.

The Chicago researchers randomly assigned bilinguals to read and respond to decision-making scenarios using either their native or foreign language. Similar versions of the study were conducted in the U. S, France and Korea.  This was important because a foreign language may feel more emotional when it is the language of daily life, as happens when studying at a foreign university. English was the first language for the U. S. participants and the foreign language for Korean participants. In France, English was the native language and the French was the foreign language but also language of immersion. Data from all three locations were consistent: the standard framing effects were found for the native language and were absent in the foreign language. The implication is that people were less influenced by emotional aspects of the scenarios when reading scenarios in their foreign language. This is an impressive finding since one might have supposed that the stress of using a less proficient language would diminish the cognitive resources needed for deliberative reasoning, thus pushing people to make gut, instinctive or emotional responses.

The authors ran additional experiments using a paradigm called loss aversion, another case where emotion can influence decision making. People are reluctant to accept bets that involve a chance of losing money, even if the odds are in the favor of winning, such as a 50 percent chance of winning $12 vs. losing $10. Keysar and colleagues found that, regardless of whether the bilinguals played with hypothetical money or real cash that could be kept after the experiment ended, bilinguals accepted the positive bets more often when they played using their foreign language and more often resisted betting when using their native language. This confirmed the finding of being reasoning more logically when using a foreign language.

Language has been traditionally viewed as a vehicle for communicating information (indeed, Chomsky famously characterized language as a mental algebra). Researchers have assumed that, as along as people are proficient enough, then how they respond will not be affected by the language they are using. It is now becoming better appreciated that people answer surveys differently depending on the language. For example, Chinese international students studying in North America agreed with traditional Chinese values more when answering a survey in Chinese; they had higher self-esteem scores when completing a self-esteem questionnaire in English. The full extent of these effects of languages on responses are still being investigated.

Like the other emotional-language effects discussed above, Keysar’s study on how language influences decision making are laboratory effects. Is this what happens outside the lab? Psychologists are increasingly advising foreigners in the US to seek psychotherapy with a bilingual counselor, and, to minimize missing nuances or emotional implications, to avoid conducting life-or-death conversations in a foreign language, such as a serious talk with a doctor, taking a polygraph test, or undergoing police interrogation. But in the decision making case studied by the Chicago team, use of a foreign language led to more logical and better decisions. Does this imply that bilinguals should routinely seek to use their foreign languages when making decisions? Should they buy a house or plan their retirement using a foreign language? An ethnographic approach could analyze cases where individuals end up using their native or a foreign language to conduct business. A wide range of laboratory and/or field experiments should be conducted in order to determine if the elimination of framing effects is a cute laboratory finding or something that may influence real life.

Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.



Catherine Caldwell-Harris, Associate Professor of Psychology at Boston University, received her Ph.D. in Cognitive Science and Psychology from the University of California, San Diego. Trained in psycholinguistics and cognitive science, she has conducted research on a wide variety of topics, including language processing, cross-cultural psychology and individual differences in cognitive styles.


Research on the link between implicit race preference and brain activity could be used to prevent unintended consequences of race bias

race, how the brain views race, liz phelps

How the brain responds to and processes images of people from different racial groups is an emerging field of investigation that could have major implications for society. Psychologist Elizabeth Phelps of New York University, in New York, who in 2000 led one of the first studies in this area, tellsNature what her latest review of the field reveals about the neuroscience of race.

What does psychology tell us about race?
Social psychologists differentiate between the attitudes that people express and their implicit preferences. This can be studied using the implicit association task, which measures initial, evaluative responses. It involves asking people to pair concepts such as black and white with concepts like good and bad. What you find is that most white Americans take longer to make a response that pairs black with good and white with bad than vice versa. This reveals their implicit preferences.

What did your review of the neuroscience literature show?
My colleagues and I found that there’s a network of brain regions that is consistently activated in neuroimaging studies of race processing. This network overlaps with the circuits involved in decision-making and emotion regulation, and includes the amygdala, fusiform face area (FFA), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC).

What did your previous work show?
Our 2000 study was the first to link race preference to brain activity. We measured the eye-blink startle, a reflex response that people display when they hear a loud noise, for example. A lot of studies have shown that this reflex is potentiated [enhanced] when people are anxious or in the presence of something they think is negative. We found that implicit preferences were correlated with potentiated startle, and that both were correlated with the amount of amygdala activation.

How does the neuroscience fit with the psychological model?
Activity in the FFA isn’t surprising, because all of these studies use photos of faces. The amygdala is involved in emotions, and might be linked to the automatic evaluations we make when we see people from other racial groups. We think that the ACC and DLPFC are involved in more complex functions. People tend to show unintentional indications of race bias, even when they are motivated to be non-prejudiced, so the ACC may be involved in detecting these conflicts. You can have an implicit bias and choose not to act on it, and the DLPFC may be trying to regulate the emotional responses that conflict with our egalitarian goals and beliefs.

What about people who are overtly prejudiced?
Finding differences in people with extreme views wouldn’t be too surprising, but I’m not sure we’d see anything more than an exaggerated [emotional] response. We’re more interested in ‘normal’ people. Those who are more internally motivated to be non-prejudiced show greater ACC activity, whereas those who hold extreme views obviously have explicit, intentional race bias and don’t care about controlling their emotional responses.

What are the societal implications of this research?
Most white Americans we studied show an implicit preference for their own group. They don’t have bad intentions, but because they’ve associated black people with, say, criminality so many times, their decisions are infused with that association, whether or not they believe it’s accurate. There’s evidence of unintentional race bias at every stage of the legal process. Despite the fact that it aims to be egalitarian, sentencing is vastly different for African Americans. The bias is also there in employment.

How should this research progress?
We need to investigate how our implicit preferences are linked to the choices and decisions we make. We want to use this knowledge to reduce the unintended consequences of race bias — the things we do that aren’t consistent with our beliefs. One problem is the lack of funding for this type of work. It’s very hard to fund this kind of research because it’s not really relevant to health. One way to go would be to apply the sophisticated tools of neuroeconomics to investigate how unintentional bias affects our decision making. The research could also be linked to emerging work on controlling emotions.


* This article is reproduced with permission from the magazine Nature. The article was first published on June 26, 2012.