Pope decries perverted extremists

Pope Francis said he had wanted to visit the Balkan nation because it had suffered very, very much


Pope Francis was met by big crowds in the capital, Tirana

Pope Francis has denounced extremists around the world for perverting religion to justify violence during a visit to Albania

Tens of thousands of Albanians attended an open air Mass celebrated by the pontiff in the capital, Tirana.

He praised the peaceful coexistence of religions in the country, where a Muslim majority lives alongside Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

Security is tight for the visit amid rumours of a jihadist plot against him.

During a meeting with top Albanian government officials, Pope Francis hailed as a “precious gift” the mutual respect between Muslims and Christians in the country.

“This is especially the case in these times where an authentic religious spirit is being perverted by extremist groups and where religious differences are being distorted,” he said.

“Let no-one consider themselves to be the ‘armour’ of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression!”

This is seen as an apparent reference to Islamic State militants who have seized large swathes of Syria and Iraq, persecuting different religious groups there.

In a speech to the leaders of Albania’s religious communities, Pope Francis continued the theme, saying: “No one must use the name of God to commit violence

To kill in the name of God is a grave sacrilege. To discriminate in the name of God is inhuman he added.

Security was stepped up for the visit amid amid reports that extremists might pose a threat but the Vatican played down fears of a plot against the Pope

This is the Pope’s first trip to a European country outside Italy since he took office in 2013

He earlier said he wanted to visit the Balkan nation because it had suffered very, very much

Albania’s former Communist dictator Enver Hoxha banned religion in the country, which was virtually isolated from the rest of the world

A number of Catholic priests were executed and some 2,000 churches and many mosques were either destroyed or turned into cinemas or dance halls during Hoxha’s rule, which lasted for more than 40 years until his death in 1985

Some 60% of Albanians are Muslim, while Roman Catholics account for about 10%. The country also has an Orthodox Christian population of just below 10%.

Russia warns US on Syria strikes

John Kerry will be hoping to the backing from the Saudis and other regional powers


Russia has warned that US air strikes against militants in Syria would be a gross violation of international law.

President Obama: We will degrade and ultimately destroy IS

But the statement brought a strong reaction from Russia, which has been an ally of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The US president has spoken directly about the possibility of strikes by the US armed forces against Isil (IS) positions in Syria without the consent of the legitimate government ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich was quoted as saying

“This step, in the absence of a UN Security Council decision, would be an act of aggression, a gross violation of international law.”

Syria also repeated its warning that the US had to co-ordinate with the Syrian government before launching air strikes on its territory.

“Any action of any kind without the consent of the Syrian government would be an attack on Syria,” National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar said on Thursday.

Last month, Syria offered to help the US fight Islamic State.

The US has launched more than 150 air strikes against the group in Iraq and has provided arms to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting against IS.

The jihadist group has become notorious for its brutality, recording their beheadings of enemy soldiers and Western journalists.

Mr Kerry, who arrived in the Red Sea port of Jeddah on Thursday, will hold talks with representatives of Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf states as well as Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Nato member Turkey.

Reports say that among the issues to be discussed are training for Syrian rebels on Saudi soil and broader permission from regional states to use their airspace in order to increase the capacity of US aircraft.

President Obama’s anti-IS strategy

In a 15-minute speech shown at peak time in the US on Wednesday, President Obama vowed that America would lead “a broad coalition to roll back” IS.

“Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting Isil targets as Iraqi forces go on the offense,” he said.

President Obama was elected in part because of fervent opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and presided over the US troop pullout from the country.

Analysis: Jon Sopel, BBC North America editor, Washington

For the first time, Islamic State targets on the ground in Syria will be in the crosshairs of American pilots. The president told the American people: “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are.” But he was equally emphatic that the combat on the ground would happen without US troops. Instead the US will ramp up its military assistance to the Syrian opposition.

But the president was also at pains to express what this wasn’t. “We will not get dragged into another ground war,” he insisted. He said that America would lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat and would not be acting alone. There were two cautionary notes – the first on timescale and also that this would not be risk-free to American servicemen and women. Action is going to start: who knows when it will be mission accomplished.

The speech Obama had hoped to avoid

Last year, President Obama abandoned plans to launch airstrikes in Syria against government forces after congressional opposition.

In his speech, he ruled out working with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, despite the fact that his forces are also engaged in fighting IS.

Instead, he said, the US would seek to strengthen the non-IS Syrian opposition, which fights against both IS and President Assad.

Syria’s Western-backed National Coalition welcomed Mr Obama’s plan, and urged Congress to approve it.

However, the BBC’s Jim Muir in northern Iraq says the Syrian opposition is fragmented and dominated by Islamists, who may be opposed to IS but are seeking Islamic rule rather than democracy.

Broken robots learn to keep going

The robot had to learn to adjust to having one of its six legs broken


Engineers have taken a step towards having machines that can operate when damaged by developing a robot that can teach itself to walk, even with a broken leg.

Using intelligent trial and error their six-legged robot learned how to walk again in less than 2 minutes.

“This new technique will enable more robust, effective, autonomous robots,” the engineers behind the robot said.

They said the aim was to mimic the behaviour of injured animals.

The trial-and-error methodology could have ramifications for robots used in the workplace and for military purposes. A robot that can keep attacking – no matter how damaged – brings to mind the relentless android from the Terminator films.

According to one expert, adaptive robotics is the cutting edge of the field. Most robots currently sit in factories and perform very specific functions. Scientists want to get robots to understand new and changing situations.

There are lots of applications beyond the military… such as robots on the Moon and Mars”

“The real challenge we are pursuing in robotics is robots that can adapt to uncertain and unstructured environments,” Dr Fumiya Iida, of the Machine Intelligence Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, told the BBC.

The scientists – Antoine Cully and and Jean-Baptiste Mouret of the Sorbonne in Paris and Jeff Clune of the University of Wyoming – published a research paper on their robot on Arxiv, a platform to release early versions of academic research that is overseen by Cornell University’s library.

When animals lose a limb, they learn to hobble remarkably quickly Arxiv said in a blog post on the research. And yet when robots damage a leg, they become completely incapacitated

The scientists robot has solved this by trying to mimic animals – by discovering which leg is broken and then then using trial and error to figure out the best way to continue walking.

Locomotion is a major challenge Dr Iida said. It’s an issue of energy efficiency. Robots are unusually very inefficient compared to animals

Other companies are also trying to mimic animals, such as Boston Dynamics, which is now owned by Google. It makes a variety of robots, including the internet sensation Big Dog, which can attain locomotion on a variety of different and difficult terrains.

Big Dog was funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) and Boston Dynamics contracts for the US military – which is an area where the trial-and-error algorithms could be applied, especially to machines injured in warfare.

But Dr Iida said that military use was only one aspect of better adaptive robots.

There are lots of applications beyond the military he said. You can think of robots in extreme environments, so not only in warfare, but in space such as robots on the Moon and Mars, and in nuclear power plants. Think of Fukushima, for example, where humans can’t go

While these engineers are focused on self-learning robots, others are developing robots and materials that can “heal themselves” when they are damaged.

BAE Systems said recently that in the future, it could build drones that contained a lightweight fluid that would allow jets to heal themselves from damage sustained in flight, as well as on-board 3D printers that can make new parts, while a new plastic that can fix itself has been developed by engineers at the University of Illinois.

Murder charges in hot car death

Justin Ross Harris wipes his eyes during a hearing in July


A Georgia man whose son died after he left him in a hot car for seven hours has been charged with murder.

Among the charges against Justin Ross Harris was malice murder, which means prosecutors allege he intentionally left his 22 month old son to die

The child died of hyperthermia as his body overheated amid outside temperatures of almost 90F (32C)

Mr Harris’s lawyer has said the death was a tragic accident as the father forgot his son was in the vehicle

He told police he was supposed to drop his son at a nursery but drove to work instead and forgot the toddler was in the back seat.

The indictment also charges Mr Harris of dissemination of harmful materials to a minor and accuses him of a requesting a nude photo from a teenage girl

During an earlier hearing, Cobb County Police Detective Phil Stoddard testified Mr Harris was sitting in his office exchanging nude photos with several women, including a teenage minor, on the day his son died

Mr Stoddard also told the grand jury panel Mr Harris had researched online how long and what temperature it would take to die in a hot car and looked at websites advocating a child-free lifestyle

Defence lawyer Maddox Kilgore said that was irrelevant to the case and a defence witness said Mr Harris appeared to be distraught when he realised his son had died, and was trying to resuscitate him.

Mr Harris has been in jail since his arrest on 18 June, the same day of his son’s death

Row over polish to detect rape drug

woman painting nails


Four male college students at the North Carolina State University are developing a new kind of nail polish that changes colour in the presence of date-rape drugs, like GHB and Rohypnol.

The goal of their company, Undercover Colors, is “to invent technologies that empower women to protect themselves,” specifically against sexual assault, they said on their Facebook Page.

With our nail polish, any woman will be empowered to discreetly ensure her safety by simply stirring her drink with her finger, they said. “If her nail polish changes colour, she’ll know that something is wrong.

Undercover Colors initially garnered praise, with hundreds of thousands of likes and shares across Facebook and Twitter.

There are already bulky devices that can be used to test drinks for date rape drugs, writes Adam Clark Estes for Gizmodo .

But it’s not necessarily easy to carry these things around on a night out and whip them out at bars.”

However, the inevitable internet backlash came from a surprising source – anti-rape advocates.

I’m appreciative that young men like want to curb sexual assault, but anything that puts the onus on women to ‘discreetly’ keep from being raped misses the point,” writes Jessica Valenti for the Guardian.

“We should be trying to stop rape, not just individually avoid it.”

Valenti argues that promoting products like Undercover Colors is not only ineffective, but also can lead to victim-blaming, if women don’t take all the suggested precautions.

“Women are already expected to work hard to prevent themselves from becoming the victims of sexual assault,” writes Tara Culp-Ressler for Think Progress.

Now, remembering to put on anti-rape nail polish and discreetly slip a finger into each drink might be added to that ever growing checklistsomething that actually reinforces a pervasive rape culture in our society

Additionally, date rape drugs are not necessarily a factor in the majority of sexual assaults as much as alcohol

Writing for Jezebel, Erin Gloria Ryan says that improving education around sexual assault could prove more beneficial than colour-changing manicures

Teach men that having sex with women too incapacitated to consent is rape,” she writes