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Cancer Mythologies: The Problem with Making Things Up is Getting Worse

|| April 29: 2018: UCL News ||ά. Mistaken belief in mythical causes of cancer is rife, according to new research from UCL and the University of Leeds. The findings, published in the European Journal of Cancer, show that out of 1,330 people in England more than 40% wrongly thought that stress, 43% and food additives, 42%, caused cancer. A third incorrectly believed that electromagnetic frequencies, 35% and eating GM food, 34%, were risk factors, while 19% thought microwave ovens and 15% said drinking from plastic bottles caused cancer despite a lack of good scientific evidence.

Among the proven causes of cancer, 88% of people correctly selected smoking, 80% picked passive smoking and 60% said sunburn. Belief in mythical causes of cancer did not mean a person was more likely to have risky lifestyle habits. But those, who had better knowledge of proven causes were more likely not to smoke. Dr Lion Shahab, UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health, said, “People’s beliefs are so important because they have an impact on the lifestyle choices they make. Those with better awareness of proven causes of cancer were more likely not to smoke and to eat more fruit and vegetables.”

Dr Samuel Smith from the University of Leeds, said, “It’s worrying to see so many people endorse risk factors for which there is no convincing evidence. Compared to past research it appears the number of people believing in unproven causes of cancer has increased since the start of the century, which could be a result of changes to how we access news and information through the internet and social media.

It’s vital to improve public education about the causes of cancer, if, we want to help people make informed decisions about their lives and ensure they aren’t worrying unnecessarily.”

Ms Clare Hyde from Cancer Research UK, said, “Around four in 10 cancer cases could be prevented through lifestyle changes so it’s crucial we have the right information to help us separate the wheat from the chaff.

Smoking, being overweight and overexposure to UV radiation from the sun and sunbeds are the biggest preventable causes of cancer. There is no guarantee against getting cancer but by knowing the biggest risk factors we can stack the odds in our favour to help reduce our individual risk of the disease, rather than wasting time worrying about fake news.”

This work was supported by a Cancer Research UK and Bupa Foundation Innovation Award. ::: ω.

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Narratives are Created: One for the Purpose of Understanding the Meaning of Human Existence and One for the Purposes of Directing Manipulating and Herding the Mass: That is Why There is Ethics Involved in It: That is Why Professor Hanna Meretoja's Book The Ethics of Story Telling is Timely: Her Book is Discussed at a Symposium at the University of East London Stratford: May 11



|| March 26: 2018: University of Turku News: Maria Vasenkari Writing || ά. Cultural models of sense-making shape our views about who we are and who we could be, what is possible for us as individuals and as communities. Professor Hanna Meretoja’s new book, The Ethics of Storytelling, provides us with tools for analysing cultural narrative models and understanding the power of literary narratives to expand our sense of the possible. The Ethics of Storytelling was published in the book launch organised by the Literature Departments of the University of Turku on March 14. Professor Meretoja’s book will be discussed at the Centre for Narrative Research at the University of East London, University Square, Stratford Campus, London. The Centre organises a symposium around The Ethics of Storytelling on  May 11.

The event involves a roundtable in which the book is to be discussed by Professor Matti Hyvärinen, Dr Maarit Leskelä-Kärki, Professor Jakob Lothe, Professor Ann Phoenix and Professor Brian Schiff. ​The Ethics of Storytelling: Narrative Hermeneutics, History and the Possible, a new research monograph by Professor Hanna Meretoja, of Comparative Literature at the University of Turku, Finland, brings into dialogue narrative ethics, literary narrative studies, narrative psychology, narrative philosophy and cultural memory studies. The book was published by Oxford University Press. The discussion on the ethical significance of storytelling has been dominated by polarised views on the benefits and dangers of narrative.

Against the backdrop of this debate, Professor Meretoja develops narrative hermeneutics as a nuanced theoretical-analytical framework for engaging with the ethical complexity of the roles narratives play in our lives. ''The ethical potential of literature is crucially linked to the ways in which literary narratives open up new possibilities of thought, experience, action and imagination and cultivate our awareness of and sensitivity to different perspectives.'' Professor Meretoja argues.

The key question in the book is how literary and historical narratives shape our sense of the possible. ''The sense of the possible refers to our sense of what was or is possible to experience, think, feel and do in a certain historical and cultural world. Our sense of the possible, also, concerns our ability to imagine how things could be otherwise.'' Professor Meretoja explains. She argues that our sense of the possible is shaped by the relationship between our narrative unconscious and narrative imagination.

''Cultural narrative models shape how we perceive, for example, good life, gender and success and they condition our actions and attitudes without our awareness. Literary narratives, that make such narrative models visible can enrich our narrative imagination and help us gain critical distance from culturally available narrative identities.

Professor Meretoja analyses literary and autobiographical narratives, that deal with 20th century historical traumas. Most important of these narratives are Julia Franck’s The Blind Side of the Heart 2007, Günter Grass’s Peeling the Onion 2006, Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones 2007 and David Grossman’s To the End of the Land 2008 and Falling Out of Time 2011.

''In dialogue with these narratives, I address our implication in violent histories and argue that it is as dialogic storytellers, fundamentally, vulnerable and dependent on one another, where we become who we are, both as individuals and communities.''' Professpr Meretoja summarises.

The legacy of the Holocaust and the Second World War shows the dangerous power of storytelling. ''The Nazis built a mythology, that provided the Germans with a strong narrative identity as 'Aryans' but, at the same time, it, drastically, diminished the possibilities of the Jews and several other minorities to the point of denying them the right to live. In the book, the European legacy of fascism is discussed in relation to more recent political turmoil, such as, the Israel-Palestine conflict and the rise of right-wing populist narratives.

''In order to understand the atrocities of the past, such as, the Holocaust, and contemporary terrorism, we should, instead of demonising the evil-doers, try to imagine not only the perspectives and experiential world of the victims but, also, that of the perpetrators and various implicated subjects. Only then can we properly engage with the conditions, that made the atrocities possible.

The book develops a heuristic model for evaluating the ethical potential and dangers of different kinds of narratives. It provides six evaluative continuums on which narratives can be placed. These continuums explore whether narratives i: expand or diminish our sense of the possible; ii: develop or distort our self-understanding; iii: promote or impair our ability to understand the experiences of others in their singularity; iv: participate in building inclusive or exclusive narrative in-betweens; v: cultivate or impede our perspective-awareness and vi: function as a form of ethical inquiry or dogmatism. Instead of binaries, these are differentiating continuums on which different narrative practices can be placed. They provide us with analytic tools to engage with the narrative dimension of human existence in all its complexity.

On February 06, the Narrative Research Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association:AERA awarded Professor Hanna Meretoja the Early Career Award for her 'substantive contributions and commitment to narrative research' and for 'her work with a large cohort of graduate students'. The award is designed to 'recognize a researcher’s outstanding accomplishment in the area of narrative research'.

Caption: Centre image of Professor Hanna Meretoja by Maria Vasenkari

Further information on the book

:: The text is Creative Commons licensed and it is free to use. Please attribute the work to the University of Turku:: ω.

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Trafficking and Migration Continue From St Patrick's Time: Actually Migration Began When Adam and Eve Were Thrown Out of Eden Onto the Earth: What was Jesus Christ Himself If Not a Refugee and Most Importantly Unless Humanity and Compassion Were Shown to Mary and Joseph What Would Have Happened to Jesus: We Want to Make Things Sound Modern and Post Modern and Ultra Modern So We Invent Things Such as Migration This and Trafficking That: How Did Slavery Get Started and Spread Unless It was Originated From Trafficking



|| March 16: 2018: University College Cork News || ά. People trafficking, war, famine and displacement of people are not unique to the 21st century as in the fifth century, when St Patrick was trafficked to Ireland, where his life was one of hardship and migration according to Dr Piaras Mac Éinrí, migration expert at University College Cork. St Patrick’s life story is known through his own extraordinary autobiographical account, The Confessio. ''My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae. His home was near there and that is where I was taken prisoner.

I was about sixteen at the time.…I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others. …The Lord brought his strong anger upon us and scattered us among many nations even to the ends of the earth.'' ''The 21st century is seeing new waves of people displaced by war, famine and climate change. “Indeed, it would be fair to describe migration as one of the existential challenges of the age.” says Dr Mac Éinrí, Department of Geography and Institute for Social Science in the 21st Century at UCC. So far, we are not handling it with great success in Ireland or the EU Dr Mac Éinrí rightly points out. “Barriers are going up everywhere and people are, even, being denied their legal right to seek refuge.

Racism and xenophobia are stronger now than at any time since the 1930s.” he says. “The Irish record in the diaspora is not always the best either. Imagine, if, we were at the receiving end?” poses Dr Mac Éinrí. “We were, once, as on June 20, 1631, a pirate raiding party kidnapped over 100 English and Irish people from the village of Baltimore in West Cork and took them to a life of slavery in North Africa. Some spent their days as galley slaves, others became prisoners of the Sultan. At most, three of them saw Ireland again.

The Pope’s comments on trafficking in February this year are worthy of note.” Dr Mac Éinrí says. The Pope told his weekly general audience, ''Having few possible legal channels, many migrants decide to risk other avenues, where often there awaits abuse of every kind, exploitation and slavery.”

Criminal organisations specialised in trafficking people take advantage of migratory flows 'to hide their victims among migrants and refugees' he added. In an appeal, the Pope invited everyone to 'join forces to prevent trafficking and guarantee protection and assistance to victims'. He prayed to give 'those suffering because of this shameful scourge the hope to regain freedom'.

“These words should resonate in the Irish context.” Dr Mac Éinrí says. “The more than one million Irish, who fled famine and disease in the mid-19th century, at least, had places to go. Even, if, they were sometimes received grudgingly, calls to ‘build that wall!’, if, there were any, went unheeded. Their circumstances were miserable but they were not denounced as murderers, thieves and rapists by the highest politicians of the day.'' Dr
Mac Éinrí says.

“Ultimately, they were seen as downtrodden people, who hauled themselves out of hardship and made something out of themselves wherever they went, without losing a sense of their own culture, history and identity. That is something we can celebrate.” says Dr Mac Éinrí. “But we should, also, recognise our present-day responsibilities in a wider world, where we are no longer at the bottom of the ladder. Even, in Ireland itself, people are still being trafficked, whether into the sex industry or into forms of labour undertaken in appalling and oppressive conditions. In all cases, someone, somewhere knows of these abuses and does not act.

Perhaps, as well as, stressing the centrality of migration as a ‘constant feature of the Irish experience’ we should, also, attend, rather more seriously, to the ongoing and brutal reality of human trafficking and forced migration as a constant feature of human experience. In so doing, we could more fully embrace Patrick’s legacy and our own place and responsibilities in today’s world.”

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Earliest Cave Paintings Were Made by Neanderthals: New Reseach



|| February 26: 2018: University of Southampton News || ά. Scientists have found the first major evidence, that Neanderthals made cave paintings, indicating, they, may, have had an artistic sense similar to our own. A new study, led by the University of Southampton and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology shows that paintings in three caves in Spain were created more than 64,000 years ago, 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe. This means that the Palaeolithic, Ice Age, cave art, including, pictures of animals, dots and geometric signs, must, have been made by Neanderthals, a ‘parallel’ species to Homo sapiens and Europe’s sole human inhabitants at the time.

The research, also, indicates that the Neanderthals, may, have had a similar artistic sense, in terms of thinking symbolically, to modern humans. Published in the journal Science, the study shows how an international team of scientists used an advanced technique, called, uranium-thorium dating to fix the age of the paintings as more than 64,000 years. Until now, cave art has been attributed entirely to modern humans, as claims to a possible Neanderthal origin have been hampered by imprecise dating techniques. However, uranium-thorium dating provides much more reliable results than methods, such as, radiocarbon dating, which can give false age estimates.

The uranium-thorium method involves dating tiny carbonate deposits, that have built up on top of the cave paintings. These contain traces of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium, which indicate when the deposits formed and, therefore, give a minimum age for whatever lies beneath.

Joint Lead Author Dr Chris Standish, an Archaeologist at the University of Southampton, said, “This is an incredibly exciting discovery, which suggests Neanderthals were much more sophisticated than is popularly believed. Our results show that the paintings we dated are, by far, the oldest known cave art in the world and were created at least 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe from Africa, therefore, they, must, have been painted by Neanderthals.”

A team of researchers from the UK, Germany, Spain and France analysed more than 60 carbonate samples from three cave sites in Spain, La Pasiega, north-eastern Spain, Maltravieso, western Spain and Ardales, south-western Spain. All three caves contain red, ochre or black paintings of groups of animals, dots and geometric signs, as well as, hand stencils, hand prints and engravings.

According to the researchers, creating the art, must, have involved such sophisticated behaviour as the choosing of a location, planning of light source and mixing of pigments. Professor Alistair Pike, of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Southampton and Co-director of the study, said, “Soon after the discovery of the first of their fossils in the 19th century, Neanderthals were portrayed as brutish and uncultured, incapable of art and symbolic behaviour and some of these views persist today.

The issue of just how human-like Neanderthals behaved is a hotly debated issue. Our findings will make a significant contribution to that debate.” Joint Lead Author Dirk Hoffmann, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said that symbolic material culture, a collection of cultural and intellectual achievements handed down from generation to generation, has, until now, only been attributed to our species.

The emergence of symbolic material culture represents a fundamental threshold in the evolution of humankind. It is one of the main pillars of what makes us human. Artefacts whose functional value lies not so much in their practical but rather in their symbolic use are proxies for fundamental aspects of human cognition as we know it.”

Early symbolic artefacts, dating back 70,000 years, have been found in Africa but are associated with modern humans. Other artefacts, including, cave art, sculpted figures, decorated bone tools and jewellery have been found in Europe, dating back 40,000 years ago. But researchers have concluded that these artefacts, must, have been created by modern humans, who were spreading across Europe after their arrival from Africa.

There is evidence that Neanderthals in Europe used body ornamentation around 40,000 to 45,000 years ago but many researchers have suggested this was inspired by modern humans, who, at the time, had just arrived in Europe.

Study Co-author Mr Paul Pettitt, of Durham University, said, “Neanderthals created meaningful symbols in meaningful places. The art is not a one-off accident. We have examples in three caves 700km apart and evidence that it was a long-lived tradition. It is quite possible that similar cave art in other caves in Western Europe is of Neanderthal origin, as well.”

The research was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council, the National Geographic Society, the Max Planck Society and a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award. 

Caption: Colour enhanced image of three Neanderthal hand stencils, centre right, centre top and top left: Image: H.Collado: ω.

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Witches Witches Bewitching All: Kill 'Em One and Kill 'Em All: But Why Sir May I Venture to Ask: For They Practise Dark Arts: But Sir Beg I for You to Show Me What Dark Arts Are: Need I Not Bother for I Say So

|| November 04: 2017: University of Southampton News || ά. The fear of witchcraft was rife in Exeter in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, according to new research from the University of Southampton, which has showed the extent of court cases and executions in the Devon city over a 100-year period. Historian Professor Mark Stoyle has discovered that Exeter was not only the last place in England, where people were hanged for practising ‘dark arts’, but that these were just the last in a series of executions, which, may have, begun as early as 1566. In fact, Exeter, may have, been one of the first places in the kingdom to sentence a witch to death. New evidence shows that, between the accession of Queen Elizabeth I in 1558 and the accession of King Charles II in 1660, more than 20 local women and men were accused of being ‘witches’ or ‘sorcerers’ and denounced to the local magistrates. Many of these individuals were believed to possess ‘familiar spirits’: demons in the shape of small animals, like rats and toads, which unleashed their evil powers to ‘waste’ both livestock and humans on the witches’ behalf.

“It’s long been known that Exeter witnessed the last English witch-executions.” says Professor Stoyle. “In 1683, three elderly women from North Devon, Temperance Lloyd, Susannah Edwards and Mary Trembles, were hanged at Heavitree Gallows, while in 1685, another Devon woman, Alice Molland, was sentenced to death at the Exeter Assizes. What we didn’t realise before was that further alleged witches were, also, executed in Exeter over the preceding 100 years.” And here is the most fundamental point, it is time, that these historical terrible injustices are acknowledged as such and these very souls, that have been 'murdered' are declared innocent. Why is it necessary, because as a civic society, it is necessary, not to eradicate the past, which can not and must not be done, but accept and show that, even, when current society can not rectify the injustices but it can acknowledge and declare the innocent slaughtered to be innocent so that their names exist in posterity as innocent human beings, who were terribly and utterly violated by a society, that did the highest harm to them by killing them.

Professor Stoyle said, “The world-famous witch trials at Salem, in colonial America, have been the subject of many books and films, as has the mass witch-hunt led by Matthew Hopkins, the so-called Witch-finder General, in East Anglia in the UK between 1645 and 1647. Yet, it’s too rarely appreciated that there were other centres of witch-prosecution in Tudor and Stuart England as well. In Exeter, there was a long succession of indictments and prosecutions during the 16th and 17th centuries, which resulted in many unlucky women and men being banished, imprisoned or sent to the gallows.''

Witchcraft in Exeter: 1558-1660. Sourced from centuries-old court records, manuscript chronicles and registers of births, marriages and deaths, it charts the progress of each case of alleged ‘witchcraft’ from accusation to ultimate sentence.

Among the cases highlighted is one, which occurred soon after a Parliamentary statute of 1563 first decreed that those convicted of using ‘conjurations, enchantments and witchcrafts’ should suffer the death penalty. Two local women, Maud Park and Alice Mead, appeared before the city court in 1566 and were charged with causing death and physical injury through the exercise of ‘magic art’. Park and Mead were both found guilty, and although, no record of their execution survives, if they did, indeed, fall victim to the noose, as seems all too likely, than they were among the first people in England to be executed for witchcraft following the passage of the statute.

Further hangings of witches certainly took place in the city soon after this case. In 1585, for example, an Exeter woman named, Thomasine Shorte was convicted of killing the entire family of an unfortunate local weaver through the exercise of the ‘black arts’ and was executed at the city gallows. Then, in 1609, an Exeter labourer named Richard Wilkyns was, likewise, hanged, after having been convicted of killing and hurting both people and livestock through witchcraft.

Other cases discussed in the book include those of Mary Stone, an Exeter widow, who in 1620 was accused of killing chickens, infesting a household with lice and killing a man by bewitching him, causing him to fall from a field stile. She was, also, alleged to have commanded a familiar, in the shape of a rat, to spy on a woman and ‘do her harm’. Similarly, accused of conspiring with familiars was Joan Baker, whom witnesses claimed kept toads in a pot and who was, even, seen with a toad sitting