Sunday, July 12, 2009

a jes grew jack move...,

declassified the taliban


To the U.S. and the Soviets, Afghanistan has always been a pawn in a much bigger game. Both countries have used Afghanistan for their own gain since the late 1970’s.The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. A peace agreement between the two countries wasn’t signed until February 1989, when Afghanistan defeated the Soviet Union.

The Taliban's rise to power was a project of Pakistan's secret service the ISI. The ISI was the arm through which the CIA managed its campaign in Afghanistan. The Bank of Commerce and Credit International served as the trellis on which these relational vines grew. Tensions rose as the Afghan government accused Pakistan of aiding the Taliban. The Taliban massacred thousands of innocent civilians.In 1998 the United States launched cruise missiles at Afghanistan, stating that its intent was to destroy the so called terrorist bases/training facilities used by Osama Bin Laden and his followers.

The Taliban banned the cultivation of drugs. In this movie, Ahmed Shah Massoud explains that. Massoud says the Taliban were just trying to corner the drug market. In 1999 and 2000 the UN Security Council Resolutions 1267 and 1333 were adopted. These resolutions used sanctions against the Taliban on grounds that they offered sanctuary to Osama Bin Ladin and for their continued support of terrorism and the cultivation of drugs. Check it out.

potato famine disease striking home gardens in U.S.

Reuters | CHICAGO - Late blight, which caused the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s and 1850s, is killing potato and tomato plants in home gardens from Maine to Ohio and threatening commercial and organic farms, U.S. plant scientists said on Friday.

"Late blight has never occurred this early and this widespread in the United States," said Meg McGrath, a plant pathologist at Cornell University's extension center in Riverhead, New York.

She said the fungal disease, spread by spores carried in the air, has made its way into the garden centers of large retail chains in the Northeastern United States.

"Wal-mart, Home Depot, Sears, Kmart and Lowe's are some of the stores the plants have been seen in," McGrath said in a telephone interview.

The disease, known officially as Phytophthora infestans, causes large mold-ringed olive-green or brown spots on plant leaves, blackened stems, and can quickly wipe out weeks of tender care in a home garden.

McGrath said in her 21 years of research, she has only seen five outbreaks in the United States. The destructive disease can spread rapidly in cooler, moist weather, infecting an entire field within days.

"What's unique about it this year is we have never seen plants affected in garden centers being sold to home gardeners," she said.

This year's cool, wet weather created perfect conditions for the disease. "Hopefully, it will turn sunny," McGrath said. "If we get into our real summer hot dry weather, this disease is going to slow way down."

victorian pop theosophy

Playing around with Google Books - vibrations occult octave - is even better and much less expensive than visiting a distant city and spending days wandering its flea markets and antiquarian bookstores..., gotta love those little swastikas around the seal of solomon.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

domestic realpolitik



NYTimes | Vice President Joe Biden told us this week that the Obama administration “misread how bad the economy was” in the immediate aftermath of the inauguration.

Puh-leeze. Mr. Biden and President Obama won the election because the economy was cratering so badly there were fears we might be entering another depression. No one understood that better than the two of them. Mr. Obama tried to clean up the vice president’s remarks by saying his team hadn’t misread what was happening, but rather “we had incomplete information.”

That doesn’t hold water, either. The president has got the second coming of the best and the brightest working for him down there in Washington (think of Larry Summers as the latter-day Robert McNamara), and they’re crunching numbers every which way they can. They’ve got more than enough data. They understand the theories and the formulas as well as anyone. But they’re not coming up with the right answers because they’re missing the same thing that McNamara and his fellow technocrats were missing back in the 1960s: the human equation.

The crisis staring America in its face and threatening to bring it to its knees is unemployment. Joblessness. Why it is taking so long — seemingly forever — for our government officials to recognize the scope of this crisis and confront it directly is beyond me.

There are now five unemployed workers for every job opening in the U.S. The official unemployment rate is 9.5 percent, but that doesn’t begin to tell the true story of the economic suffering. The roof is caving in on struggling American families that have already seen the value of their homes and retirement accounts put to the torch.

At the present rate, upwards of seven million homes can be expected to fall into foreclosure this year and next. Welfare rolls are rising, according to a survey by The Wall Street Journal. The National Employment Law Project has pointed out that hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers will begin losing their jobless benefits, just about the only thing keeping them above water, by the end of the summer.

the view

Umbrella View of Resource Depletion & Human Behaviour from Rembrandt Koppelaar on Vimeo.

northernmost tribute to MJ



The scientific community is not immune to the outpouring of support and gestures of tribute for the recently departed Michael Jackson. Here's video evidence of one such tribute that claims to be the northernmost Thriller dance, set to the title track of MJ's classic 1982 album. The dance moves come to you courtesy of researchers and hangers-on at the University of Alaska's Toolik Field Station in the Arctic Circle.

Friday, July 10, 2009

mexico accused of torture in drug war

Washington Post | Under the Mérida Initiative, a $1.4 billion counter-narcotics package that President George W. Bush requested in June 2007, 15 percent of the money cannot be released until the secretary of state reports that Mexico has made progress on human rights. The requirements include the prosecution of suspected human rights offenders, the prohibition of testimony obtained through torture and regular consultations with independent human rights groups.

The State Department's Mérida human rights report will be delivered to Congress within weeks, according to a U.S. official involved in the process. The official described Mexico's human rights record as "a mixed bag" and said it remains unclear whether the report will be enough to satisfy the conditions to release the money.

"This is the hardest part" of Mérida, the official said.

At least $90.7 million allocated to Mexico to fight drugs cannot be released unless Congress accepts the State Department's findings. An additional $24 million is also subject to Mérida's human rights conditions in the supplemental budget package that President Obama signed on June 24. Part of the Mérida funding is for inspection equipment, police training and support for the Mexican military.

With the Mexican government and governors from U.S. border states clamoring for more assistance -- drug violence killed 769 Mexicans in June, one of the worst months since Calderón took office, in December 2006 -- the State Department is hoping that Congress will release the money despite human rights concerns, according to the U.S. official, who expressed frustration that the Mexican government has not provided more information about the army's progress, including the number of human rights cases that have been prosecuted.

"The military justice system in Mexico is very opaque; it is very hard to get a handle on how many cases have been brought and what has been their disposition," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The Mexican government has long opposed the human rights conditions included in the Mérida agreement, and U.S. officials expect a backlash if Congress refuses to release the money. Many Mexican human rights activists do not support the conditions, noting that they were imposed by a U.S government widely accused of torturing prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"It really takes a lot of cynicism, a lot of hypocrisy, for the United States to say, 'We will give you money to fight drug trafficking as long as you respect human rights,' " said José Raymundo Díaz Taboada, director of the Acapulco office of the Collective Against Torture and Impunity, which documents abuses in Guerrero.

At the same time, human rights groups have lobbied the U.S. government to send a blunt message by withholding the money. A letter that a consortium of U.S. and Mexican organizations sent to the State Department in January concluded: "Mexican authorities have in no way adequately met the human rights requirements established in the Mérida Initiative."

winning the ultimate battle: how humans could end war

New Scientist | OPTIMISTS called the first world war "the war to end all wars". Philosopher George Santayana demurred. In its aftermath he declared: "Only the dead have seen the end of war". History has proved him right, of course. What's more, today virtually nobody believes that humankind will ever transcend the violence and bloodshed of warfare. I know this because for years I have conducted numerous surveys asking people if they think war is inevitable. Whether male or female, liberal or conservative, old or young, most people believe it is. For example, when I asked students at my university "Will humans ever stop fighting wars?" more than 90 per cent answered "No". Many justified their assertion by adding that war is "part of human nature" or "in our genes". But is it really?

Such views certainly seem to chime with recent research on the roots of warfare. Just a few decades ago, many scholars believed that prior to civilisation, humans were "noble savages" living in harmony with each other and with nature. Not any more. Ethnographic studies, together with some archaeological evidence, suggest that tribal societies engaged in lethal group conflict, at least occasionally, long before the emergence of states with professional armies (see our timeline of weapons technology). Meanwhile, the discovery that male chimpanzees from one troop sometimes beat to death those from another has encouraged popular perceptions that warfare is part of our biological heritage.

These findings about violence among our ancestors and primate cousins (see "When apes attack") have perpetuated what anthropologist Robert Sussman from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, calls the "5 o'clock news" view of human nature. Just as evening news shows follow the dictum "if it bleeds, it leads", so many accounts of human behaviour emphasise conflict. However, Sussman believes the popular focus on violence and warfare is disproportionate. "Statistically, it is more common for humans to be cooperative and to attempt to get along than it is for them to be uncooperative and aggressive towards one another," he says. And he is not alone in this view. A growing number of experts are now arguing that the urge to wage war is not innate, and that humanity is already moving in a direction that could make war a thing of the past.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

goldman sachs stealing?!?!?!

Market-Ticker | Something really ugly popped up on Daily Kos yesterday late in the afternoon.....

...GS, through access to the system as a result of their special gov't perks, was/is able to read the data on trades before it's committed, and place their own buys or sells accordingly in that brief moment, thus allowing them to essentially steal buttloads of money every day from the rest of the punters world.

Two things come out of this:

1. If true, this should be highly illegal, and would, in any sane country result in something like what happened to Arthur Andersen...

(2. ... is way off point....)

God help Goldman if this is true and the government goes after them. This would constitute massive unlawful activity. Indeed, the allegation is that Goldman alone was given this access!

God help our capital markets if this is true and is ignored by our government and regulatory agencies, or generates nothing more than a "handslap." Nobody in their right mind would ever trade on our markets again if this occurred and does not result in severe criminal and civil penalties.

This is precisely the sort of thing that a Unix machine, sitting on a network cable where it can "see" traffic potentially not intended for it, could have an interface put into what is called "promiscuous mode" and SILENTLY sniff that traffic!

ASSUMING THE TRAFFIC IS PASSING BY THE MACHINE ON THE WIRE THIS IS TRIVIALLY EASY FOR ANY NETWORK PROGRAMMER OF REASONABLE SKILL TO DO. IF THAT TRAFFIC IS EITHER UNENCRYPTED OR IT IS EASY TO BREAK THE ENCRYPTION.....

Folks, I have no way to know what the code in question does, but if there's anything to this - anything at all - there is a major, as in biggest scam of the century - scandal here - something much, much bigger than Madoff or Stanford.

What would this mean, if it was all to prove up?

It would mean that Goldman was able to "see" transaction order flow - bid, offer, and execute messages - before they were committed in the transaction stream. Such a "SNIFF" would be COMPLETELY UNDETECTABLE by the sender or recipient of the message.

The implication of this would be that they would be able to front-run any transaction where the data was visible to them, thereby effectively "stealing pennies" from each transaction they were able to front-run.

Again: I have absolutely nothing on the content of the allegedly-stolen code nor can I validate the claim made that Goldman had "special network access." Nothing. All I have to go on with regards to "market manipulation" (which such a program would be, writ large!) is the statement of the US Attorney that I cited in my earlier Ticker.

california - the shape of things to come

Market-Ticker | So California is now issuing "registered warrants" - a fancy name for IOUs.

This is occurring as a consequence of the cash flow finally catching up with them, and it serves as a warning to not only other states but also to The Federal Government - you can only lie about how much money you really have for so long; eventually you will start bouncing checks!

Major banks have said they will "accept" them through Friday. How much of this "deadline" is a pressure tactic to try to force the legislature to solve the budget problem is unknown, but this much is known about their "acceptance" - if you deposit one of these things it is a recourse deposit - that is, not only is it subject to holds but in addition if the state defaults on it the bank will come back at you for the full face value.

Is that possibility really the stuff of fancy? No.

The simple fact of the matter is that tax revenues have cratered as our economy "resets" to a more sustainable level. Nowhere is this more evident than in California, where the idiocy parade has been in full swing for more than two decades.

It is time for both California and the other states (as well as our federal government) to cut the crap, admit the truth - that this so-called "prosperity" of the last 10 years was nothing more or less than a scam built upon leverage and lies, and cut budgets back to 1990 levels immediately.

The problem isn't that tax receipts are too low, it is that expectations are unreasonably high, the so-called "economic growth" was in fact false and fueled by fraud, and like it or not the economy is going to contract to a sustainable level, which is almost certainly somewhere around 30-40% smaller than it was in 2007/2008.

Yes, this means things will get worse - plenty worse - before they get better. But there is no way out of this mess that avoids going through the center of it and recognizing the truth, whether we like it or not.

The longer we delay recognition and acceptance the worse the damage to our economy will be.

Choose California - and America.

the great disruption

Australian Broadcast Corp | First of all let's just think about the shock that's coming. Now this is a giant global Ponzi scheme, right? We are paying out our capital as dividends, while we are saying to our children, Thank you for your investment, right? We're going to take it now and leave you the poorer. That's what a Ponzi scheme is, it's about taking your capital and paying it out, right? Investors' money being used to give the delusion of growth, delusion of success, and then they collapse. That's what's going to happen to us if we keep on going. So what is going to happen is that we're going to bump up against the limits, back to our 1.2 size economy in a 1.0 sized earth, up against the limits you bounce off and you come back. Any system does this. Whether it's bacteria in a petrie dish, whether it's a rainforest, whether it's a global economy, a system up against the edges of its limits go bang and bounces back, and bang and bounces back. But it only has a number of ways it can go. First of all it can break down to a simpler system, to a simpler organism, which was James Lovelock's view, we'll end up with a couple of hundred million people in small groups in a much simpler society. It can evolve into a more complex system which can exist in that world, or it can collapse. Right?

Now obviously there's only one of those we'd like to do and today's about what we're going to do about the future, so I think we should think about evolving as part of that process. But all the evidence in history is we don't evolve until we have the crash. All the evidence of history is that we don't respond until we have a crisis and we soon have the global financial crisis and a whole range of different other examples of World War II and appeasement and so on. We'll respond when the crisis hits, so the very important issue is when the crisis hits. New York Times' Tom Friedman referred to this moment recently as 'When Mother Nature and Father Greed hit the wall at once'. Lovely quote. 'When Mother Nature and Father Greed hit the wall at once'. Right? Referring to the great disruption which is what I refer to as being this time when we are forced to change because the system stops working for us and therefore we have no choice but to adapt and to respond.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

apocalypse teevee



What would you do in the wake of a global catastrophe? How would you find the very basics of survival: food, water and shelter? THE COLONY is a controlled experiment that attempts to determine exactly what it would take to survive and rebuild a functioning new society when the world we’ve grown accustomed to has been destroyed. The 10-part series, produced for Discovery Channel by Original Productions, producers of DEADLIEST CATCH, premieres on Tuesdays at 10PM beginning July 21.

In THE COLONY, a group of 10 volunteers whose backgrounds and expertise represent a cross-section of modern society, are isolated for two months in an urban environment in downtown Los Angeles and tasked with creating a livable society. With no electricity, no running water and no communication with the outside world, all they have to work with are their skills and whatever tools and supplies they scavenge from their surroundings.

Their world -- a 50,000 sq. ft. abandoned warehouse infested with rats and pigeons on three-and-a-half acres near the LA River – was designed by experts in homeland security, engineering and psychology using elements from both real-life disasters and models of what the future could look like after a global catastrophe. Throughout the series, these experts comment on the challenges the Colonists would face in the context of real-world disasters as they work together to build the necessities of survival and society, such as a water filtration system, a battery bank for electricity, a solar cooker, a shower system, greenhouse – and even some comforts of home (a coffee maker!). Certain elements, such as tools and sparse food items, were strategically placed to represent what might be viably available in an urban post-disaster landscape, based on actual event data recorded during past real-life catastrophes.

As part of the experiment, a hostile gang of looters and thugs challenges their resources and security, prompting the Colonists to devise a safety plan to protect themselves. Throughout the two-month experiment, their emotions are put to the test as they work through their feelings of isolation, desperation and interpersonal relationships with each other.

Learn more about THE COLONY online.

we bring fear

MotherJones | There are two Mexicos.

There is the one reported by the US press, a place where the Mexican president is fighting a valiant war on drugs, aided by the Mexican Army and the Mérida Initiative, the $1.4 billion in aid the United States has committed to the cause. This Mexico has newspapers, courts, laws, and is seen by the United States government as a sister republic.

It does not exist.

There is a second Mexico where the war is for drugs, where the police and the military fight for their share of drug profits, where the press is restrained by the murder of reporters and feasts on a steady diet of bribes, and where the line between the government and the drug world has never existed.

The reporter lives in this second Mexico.

Until very recently, he liked it just fine. In fact, he loves Mexico and has never thought of leaving. Even though he lives about 20 miles from the border, he has not bothered to cross for almost 10 years.

But now, things have changed. He knows about the humanitarian treaties signed by the United States and he thinks given these commitments, he and his boy will be given asylum. He has decided to tell the authorities nothing but the truth. He has failed to realize one little fact: No Mexican reporter has ever been given political asylum.

Suddenly, he sees a checkpoint ahead and there is no way to escape it.

Men in uniforms pull him over.

He discovers to his relief that this checkpoint is run by Mexico's migration agency, and so, maybe, they will not give him up to the Army.

"Why are you driving so fast?"

"I am afraid. There are people trying to kill me."

"The narcos?"

"No, the soldiers."

"Who are you?"

He hands over his press pass.

"Oh, you are the one, they searched your house."

"I have had problems."

"Those sons of bitches do whatever they want. Go ahead. Good luck."

He roars away. When he stops at the port of entry at Antelope Wells in the bootheel of New Mexico, US customs ask, as they always do, what he is bringing from Mexico.

He says, "We bring fear."

so much for the pickens plan...,


CNBC | Plans for the world's largest wind farm in the Texas Panhandle have been scrapped, energy baron T. Boone Pickens said Tuesday, and he's looking for a home for 687 giant wind turbines.

Pickens has already ordered the turbines, which can stand 400 feet tall—taller than most 30-story buildings.

"When I start receiving those turbines, I've got to ... like I said, my garage won't hold them," the legendary Texas oilman said. "They've got to go someplace."

Pickens' company Mesa Power ordered the turbines from General Electric [GE 11.01 -0.47 (-4.09%)] (parent company of CNBC)—a $2 billion investment—a little more than a year ago. Pickens said he has leases on about 200,000 acres in Texas that were planned for the project, and he might place some of the turbines there, but he's also looking for smaller wind projects to participate in. He said he's looking at potential sites in the Midwest and Canada.

In Texas, the problem lies in getting power from the proposed site in the Panhandle to a distribution system, Pickens said in an interview with The Associated Press in New York. He'd hoped to build his own transmission lines but he said there were technical problems.

Wind power is a big part of the "Pickens Plan," which was announced a year ago Wednesday. Pickens has spent $60 million crisscrossing the country and buying advertising in an effort to reduce the nation's reliance on foreign oil.

"It doesn't mean that wind is dead," said Pickens, who runs the Dallas-based energy investment fund BP Capital. "It just means we got a little bit too quick off the blocks."

new curbs on speculative oil trading?


NYTimes | Reacting to the violent swings in oil prices in recent months, federal regulators announced on Tuesday that they were considering new restrictions on “speculative” traders in markets for oil, natural gas and other energy products.

The move is a big departure from the hands-off approach to market regulation of the last two decades. It also highlights a broader shift toward tougher government oversight under President Obama.

Since Mr. Obama took office, the Justice Department has stepped up antitrust enforcement activities, abandoning many legal doctrines adopted by the Bush administration.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission said it would consider imposing volume limits on trading of energy futures by purely financial investors and that it already has adopted tougher information requirements aimed at identifying the role of hedge funds and traders who swap contracts outside of regulated exchanges like the New York Mercantile Exchange.

“My firm belief is that we must aggressively use all existing authorities to ensure market integrity,” said Gary Gensler, chairman of the commission, in a statement. He said regulators would also examine whether to impose federal “speculative limits” on futures contracts for energy products.

Much of Mr. Gensler’s announcement was focused on precise issues well within his agency’s authority, suggesting that he was serious about seeking changes. But his proposals could encounter fierce opposition from big banks and Wall Street firms, which are each big traders in the commodity markets and manage big investment funds focused on commodities. Oil prices hit a record high of $145 a barrel last summer, then plunged to $33 a barrel last December and have since bounced back to more than $60.

Much of the wild swings over the last year were caused by chaos in the global financial system, as banks and much of Wall Street came perilously close to collapse last September and the global economy fell into the most severe recession in decades.

But a growing number of critics have blamed those who are betting on the direction of energy prices for some of the extreme volatility.

“It is the regulatory authority’s business to make sure the markets work,” said Edward L. Morse, head of research at LCM Commodities, a brokerage in New York. “If there’s a lesson of that last few years, it’s that the markets haven’t been functioning as well as they should have been.”

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

neuromancer turned 25


Macworld | The tantalizing question about William Gibson's ideas in his novel Neuromancer involves their relationship with the course that the Web took and continues to take as Neuromancer's publication date--July 1, 1984, 25 years ago today--recedes farther into the past. In his afterword to the 2000 re-release of the book, novelist Jack Womack suggests that Neuromancer may have directly influenced the way the Web developed--that it may have provided a blueprint that developers who grew up with the book consciously or subconsciously followed. Womack asks "what if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?"

I'll take a stab at discussing Neuromancer's major tech inventions, including the ones that are already coming true, as well as some that seem unlikely to happen anytime soon.

First, a little background. Neuromancer tells the story of Case, once a hot and high-paid cyberspace cowboy who could infiltrate and rip off corporate databases. But he stole from his employer, who took revenge by crippling Case's nervous system with a mycotoxin, rendering him unable to hack. Alone and suicidal, Case is scooped off the street and given a second chance by a shadowy group of people who have big (and scary) plans. In exchange for curing Case's nervous system, they want him to help them infiltrate the core of a huge and powerful AI (artificial intelligence) called Wintermute.

If you haven't already read Neuromancer, consult the (nicely done) plot summary on the Neuromancer Wiki page, which includes a handy character index and a glossary of terms. The novel is widely credited with popularizing the term "Cyberspace," with presenting a thoroughly developed idea of virtual reality, and with introducing the idea of the World Wide Web. Neuromancer also gave rise to a whole new genre in literature: cyberpunk.

russia's ever pragmatic affections



AsiaTimes | it appears the idea of a Russian-Iranian axis, popular in certain circles at the end of Boris Yeltsin's time in the late 1990s to the beginning of the Putin era, is passe. It shows that the relationship with Iran is pragmatic, opportunistic - and fleeting.

It also implies that Russia is pleased by the indications of US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that America might delay implementing an anti-missile shield in Eastern Europe and that there is no viable US support of Ukraine in its confrontation with Russia over gas supplies.

Moscow has repeatedly insisted that the installation of US missiles in countries close to its borders would change the strategic balance in Europe and that such a deployment would be interpreted as a military threat.

The International Energy Agency warned this week that the flow of Russian gas through Ukraine may be disrupted at any time. Gazprom, the giant Russian utility, and Naftogaz, its Ukrainian counterpart, are at odds over unpaid Ukrainian gas bills. About 80% of Gazprom's gas shipments to Europe flow through Ukrainian pipelines. This is a quarter of the continent's demand for gas. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that Ukraine could be required to pay in advance for its gas so as to prevent any further delays in payment.

In the bigger picture, Russia appears to be softening towards the US while adopting a more reserved approach to Iran. Moscow has watched the US's troubles in the Middle East and its overall geopolitical decline with some concern.

Continued instability in the Caucasus is viewed by the Russian elite as directly relating to Muslim global terrorism, as Medvedev made clear in recent comments. The Russian elite understands that the US's global departure could well expose Russia to the not very friendly, or, at least, unpredictable, Muslim world.

In this situation, Moscow would rather cooperate with the US than with Iran, which, in the long run, might create even more problems than the US. This could have a direct impact on the international pressure on Iran over its uranium-enrichment program, which many believe is not for peaceful purposes. This could result in more sanctions on Tehran in addition to the two rounds imposed by the United Nations and the unilateral ones slapped on by the US.

"noise" in phenotypic evolution


The Scientist | Developmental "noise" -- the imprecision in molecular pathways that leads to minor slip-ups in development -- creates fodder for evolution. That's the conclusion of a paper published online yesterday (July 5) in Nature, which shows that a single mutation in bacterial spore formation that affect individuals in different ways generates morphological diversity that can then be genetically fine-tuned to maximize an organism's fitness.

"Noise may help in the evolutionary transition from one fate to another," Avigdor Eldar of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, the study's lead author, told The Scientist.

Many genetic mutations often cause different phenotypes in different individuals, even under identical environmental and genetic backgrounds. This phenomenon, known as partial or incomplete penetrance, has been well documented in myriad developmental systems, but its underlying genetic basis and adaptive value have remained elusive.

Eldar and his colleagues at Caltech and Temple University in Philadelphia studied partial penetrance in spore formation in the rod-shaped bacterium Bacillus subtilis. Under stress, a B. subtilis cell normally doubles its chromosomes and divides unevenly into a smaller cell, which develops into a heat- and desiccation-resistant spore, and a larger "mother" cell, which nurtures and supports the spore. But identical individuals with mutations in the spoIIR gene, which codes for a secreted protein involved in the mother-spore cell differentiation, can adopt any of four different fates, depending on the number of cellular compartments and chromosomes: normal single spores, defective double spores, spores with polyploid mother cells, and functional "twin" spores.

Twin spores can be beneficial under particularly harsh conditions, but jumping from single spores to twin spores requires changing cell signaling, division, and chromosomal replication. This is a difficult evolutionary feat because the intermediate steps can be non-adaptive or come with serious fitness costs. But the partial penetrance associated with developmental noise can help bridge the genetic gap. If a mutation in any one of these processes creates a low-level occurrence of the twin phenotype, as spoIIR does, then "additional mutations can assimilate the noise so [the bacteria] become less dependent on the noise and more dependent on the developmental program for making twins," said Eldar, a postdoc with Caltech's Michael Elowitz, the paper's senior author.

phytophthora

Wikipedia | Phytophthora infestans is an oomycete or water mold that causes the serious potato disease known as late blight or potato blight. (Early blight, caused by Alternaria solani, is also often called "potato blight"). It was a major culprit in the 1845 Irish and 1846 Highland potato famines. The organism can also infect tomatoes and some other members of the Solanaceae.


epidemiology and disease development



Cornell | The following comments address pepper Phytophthora blight (P.capsici), and in general also apply for diseases of crops listed in the table. The fungus occurs naturally in most soils and can infect pepper and other crops at most stages of growth when there is excess soil moisture and warm, wet weather. The fungus overwinters in soil as thick-walled oospores. For pepper, the fungus also survives on and in infested seed, but this is not a factor with commercially purchased seed. Infected plants produce irregularly branched thread-like structures (sporangiophores) which in turn produce variously shaped sporangia spores. With adequate moisture the sporangia give rise to biflagellate (two-tailed) motile zoospores. These spores produce germ tubes that penetrate plant tissue. The cycle is repeated with the production of more sporangiophores and sporangia.


When the humidity is high, the sporangia can survive for long periods. During such times wind-borne sporangia can be carried long distances, causing widespread dissemination and a rapid increase in the disease. Zoospores are readily spread by splashing rain and by flowing irrigation and surface water. The disease develops first in low areas after heavy rains and can quickly spread throughout the field. Favorable conditions for the fungus include wet soils above 65°F (18°C) and prolonged wet periods with air temperatures in the 75-85°F (24-29°C) range (refer to fig.8).

Monday, July 06, 2009

late blight in new england


AP | Tomato plants have been removed from stores in half a dozen states as a destructive and infectious plant disease makes its earliest and most widespread appearance ever in the eastern United States.

Late blight — the same disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s — occurs sporadically in the Northeast, but this year's outbreak is more severe for two reasons: infected plants have been widely distributed by big-box retail stores and rainy weather has hastened the spores' airborne spread.

The disease, which is not harmful to humans, is extremely contagious and experts say it most likely spread on garden center shelves to plants not involved in the initial infection. It also can spread once plants reach their final destination, putting tomato and potato plants in both home gardens and commercial fields at risk.

Meg McGrath, professor of plant pathology at Cornell University, calls late blight "worse than the Bubonic Plague for plants."

"People need to realize this is probably one of the worst diseases we have in the vegetable world," she said. "It's certain death for a tomato plant."

Tomato plants have been removed from Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowe's and Kmart stores in all six New England states, plus New York. Late blight also has been identified in all other East Coast states except Georgia, as well as Alabama, West Virginia and Ohio, McGrath said.

It is too early in the season to know whether infected plants will taint large crops or negatively affect commercial growers. But if that happens, growers could be forced to raise prices to cover costs associated with combating the disease.

the case for god

Guardian | This is an eloquent and interesting book, although you do not quite get what it says on the tin. Karen Armstrong takes the reader through a history of religious practice in many different cultures, arguing that in the good old days and purest forms they all come to much the same thing. They use devices of ritual, mystery, drama, dance and meditation in order to enable us better to cope with the vale of tears in which we find ourselves. Religion is therefore properly a matter of a practice, and may be compared with art or music. These are similarly difficult to create, and even to appreciate. But nobody who has managed either would doubt that something valuable has happened in the process. We come out of the art gallery or concert hall enriched and braced, elevated and tranquil, and may even fancy ourselves better people, though the change may or may not be noticed by those around us.

This is religion as it should be, and, according to Armstrong, as it once was in all the world's best traditions. However, there is a serpent in this paradise, as in others. Or rather, several serpents, but the worst is the folly of intellectualising the practice. This makes it into a matter of belief, argument, and ultimately dogma. It debases religion into a matter of belief in a certain number of propositions, so that if you can recite those sincerely you are an adept, and if you can't you fail. This is Armstrong's principal target. With the scientific triumphs of the 17th century, religion stopped being a practice and started to become a theory - in particular the theory of the divine architect. This is a perversion of anything valuable in religious practice, Armstrong writes, and it is only this perverted view that arouses the scorn of modern "militant" atheists. So Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris have chosen a straw man as a target. Real religion is serenely immune to their discovery that it is silly to talk of a divine architect.

So what should the religious adept actually say by way of expressing his or her faith? Nothing. This is the "apophatic" tradition, in which nothing about God can be put into words. Armstrong firmly recommends silence, having written at least 15 books on the topic. Words such as "God" have to be seen as symbols, not names, but any word falls short of describing what it symbolises, and will always be inadequate, contradictory, metaphorical or allegorical. The mystery at the heart of religious practice is ineffable, unapproachable by reason and by language. Silence is its truest expression. The right kind of silence, of course, not that of the pothead or inebriate. The religious state is exactly that of Alice after hearing the nonsense poem "Jabberwocky": "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas - only I don't exactly know what they are." If Alice puts on a dog collar, she will be at one with the tradition.

Armstrong is not presenting a case for God in the sense most people in our idolatrous world would think of it. The ordinary man or woman in the pew or on the prayer mat probably thinks of God as a kind of large version of themselves with mysterious powers and a rather nasty temper. That is the vice of theory again, and as long as they think like that, ordinary folk are not truly religious, whatever they profess. By contrast, Armstrong promises that her kinds of practice will make us better, wiser, more forgiving, loving, courageous, selfless, hopeful and just. Who can be against that?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

why american policy sucks

La Vida Locavore | Out of curiosity I decided to see who was spending the most on lobbying in America. And Oh My Goodness - NO WONDER our policy sucks. No wonder it's nearly impossible to pass health care reform that provides all Americans with affordable care, a global warming bill that doesn't suck, and the Employee Free Choice Act. No wonder we're in these two stupid wars. I know everyone's aware of the problems lobbying poses to our country, but good lord, if people saw the sheer magnitude of it (and the comparatively paltry amounts spent in the people's interest) they would be outraged. So here goes. Here's the list of the top 100 (ranked by amount spent on lobbying in Q109). Enjoy.

I pulled up all of the reports for first quarter 2009 but over 20,000 items came up (and the report only shows the first 3000). OK, try again - all reports for over $1 million for first quarter 2009. This time a little over 100 came up (including AIG, who spent $1,250,000 on lobbying during that period).

So here's how to read this list: These are the amounts spent by the corporations listed. However, many (if not most) of these corporations ALSO contract out to private lobbying firms, so the amounts you see here MIGHT not be the total amount they spent on lobbying in Q109. For example, Monsanto spent $2,094,000 for its in house lobbying but then contracted out to Arent Fox LLP; Lesher, Russell & Barron, Inc. ($60,000); Ogilvy Government Relations ($60,000); Parven Pomper Strategies ($40,000); Sidley Austin LLP; TCH Group, LLC ($50,000); The Nickles Group, LLC ($63,000); The Washington Tax Group, LLC ($40,000); and Troutman Sanders Public Affairs Group ($30,000) - for a total of $2,437,000 in first quarter 2009.
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As long as money controls American politics, it's a plutocracy. As long as corporations have personhood, it's a government by the richest machines.

journalistic access pimping

Politico | Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth said today she was canceling plans for an exclusive "salon" at her home where for as much as $250,000, the Post offered lobbyists and association executives off-the-record access to "those powerful few" — Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and even the paper’s own reporters and editors.

The astonishing offer was detailed in a flier circulated Wednesday to a health care lobbyist, who provided it to a reporter because the lobbyist said he felt it was a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its “health care reporting and editorial staff."

With the Post newsroom in an uproar after POLITICO reported the solicitation, Weymouth said in an email to the staff that "a flier went out that was prepared by the Marketing department and was never vetted by me or by the newsroom. Had it been, the flier would have been immediately killed, because it completely misrepresented what we were trying to do."

Weymouth said the paper had planned a series of dinners with participation from the newsroom “but with parameters such that we did not in any way compromise our integrity. Sponsorship of events, like advertising in the newspaper, must be at arm's length and cannot imply control over the content or access to our journalists. At this juncture, we will not be holding the planned July dinner and we will not hold salon dinners involving the newsroom. “

She made it clear however, that The Post, which lost $19.5 million in the first quarter, sees bringing together Washington figures as a future revenue source. “We do believe that there is a viable way to expand our expertise into live conferences and events that simply enhances what we do - cover Washington for Washingtonians and those interested in Washington,” she said. “ And we will begin to do live events in ways that enhance our reputation and in no way call into question our integrity.”

the personification of corporation


Warsocialism | One of the essential and central notions which give our industrial feudalism logical symmetry is the personification of great industrial enterprise. The ideal that a great corporation is endowed with the rights and prerogatives of a free individual is as essential to the acceptance of corporate rule in temporal affairs as was the ideal of the divine right of kings in an earlier day. Its exemplification, as in the case of all vital ideals, has been accomplished by ceremony. Since it has been a central ideal in our industrial government, our judicial institutions have been particularly concerned with its celebration. Courts, under the mantle of the Constitution, have made a living thing out of this fiction. Men have come to believe that their own future liberties and dignity are tied up in the freedom of great industrial organizations from restraint, in much the same way that they thought their salvation in the future was dependent on their reverence and support of great ecclesiastical organizations in the Middle Ages. This ideal explains so many of our social habits, rituals, and institutions that it is necessary to examine it in some detail.

IN which it is explained how great organizations can be treated as individuals, and the curious ceremonies which attend this way of thinking. Thurman W. Arnold, THE FOLKLORE OF CAPITALISM, Yale Univ Pr 1937, CHAPTER VIII:

Saturday, July 04, 2009

narcissistic personality disorder


Vanity Fair | More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin’s extravagant self-regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of “narcissistic personality disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—“a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy”—and thought it fit her perfectly. When Trig was born, Palin wrote an e-mail letter to friends and relatives, describing the belated news of her pregnancy and detailing Trig’s condition; she wrote the e-mail not in her own name but in God’s, and signed it “Trig’s Creator, Your Heavenly Father.”

Friday, July 03, 2009

peak oil and world food supplies


Countercurrents | he present population of the Earth is about 7 billion, but there is no point in being more specific, since the number is increasing daily. Nevertheless, 7 billion should be a large enough number to make us seriously consider the consequences. (What other large mammal can be found in such numbers?) When I was born, in 1949, there were less than 3 billion, and it amazes me that this jump is rarely regarded as significant. These 7 billion people in turn live on only about 29 percent of the surface of the Earth, i.e. on dry land, which is about 148 million square kilometers.

Of that 148 million square kilometers, the arable portion, as I said, is only about 10 percent, or 15 million square kilometers. If we divide that 15 million square kilometers into the present figure for human population, we arrive at a ratio of about 470 people per square kilometer of arable land.

Is that last ratio a matter for concern? I would think so. A hard-working (i.e. farming) adult burns about 2 million kilocalories (“calories”) per year. The food energy from Pimentel’s hectare of corn is about 7 million kilocalories. Under primitive conditions, then, 1 hectare of corn would support only 3 or 4 people — or, in other words, 1 square kilometer would support 300 or 400 people. And all of these are ideal numbers; we are assuming that all resources are distributed rationally and equitably. (We are also assuming no increase in population, but famine and the attendant decrease in fertility will take care of that matter very soon.) Even if every inch of our planet’s “arable portion” were devoted to the raising of corn or other useful crops, we would have trouble squeezing in those 470 people mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Given such figures, I have little patience with writers who sprinkle the words “alternative,” “sustainable,” and “transition” over every page. Simple arithmetic is all that is needed to show that such a lexicon is unsuitable.

vegetarians less cancerous than meat eaters

Guardian | For years, they have boasted of the health benefits of their leafy diets, but now vegetarians have the proof that has so far eluded them: when it comes to cancer risks, they have the edge on carnivores.

Fresh evidence from the largest study to date to investigate dietary habits and cancer has concluded that vegetarians are 45% less likely to develop cancer of the blood than meat eaters and are 12% less likely to develop cancer overall.

Scientists said that while links between stomach cancer and eating meat had already been reported, they had uncovered a "striking difference" in the risk of blood cancers including leukaemia, multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma between the groups. The study looked at vegetarians, fish eaters and people who ate meat.

Co-author Naomi Allen, from the Cancer Research UK epidemiology unit at Oxford University, said: "Previous research has found that processed meat may increase the risk of stomach cancer, so our findings that vegetarians and fish eaters are at lower risk is plausible. But we do not know why cancer of the blood is lower in vegetarians."

She said the differences in cancer risks were independent of other lifestyle factors including smoking, alcohol intake and obesity.

However, Allen urged caution over the interpretation of the findings. "It is a significant difference, but we should be a bit cautious since it is the first study showing that the risk of cancer of the blood is lower in vegetarians. We need to know what aspect of a fish and vegetarian diet is protecting against cancer. Is it the higher fibre intake, higher intake of fruit and vegetables, is it just meat per se?"

The study also reported that the total cancer incidence was significantly lower among both the fish eaters and the vegetarians compared with meat eaters.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, is part of a long-term international study, the European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition (Epic).

Thursday, July 02, 2009

exploiting children's lack of cynicism


Medialens | It is unethical to advertise to children who are unable to distinguish the advertisements from television programs or internet content, unable to understand the purpose of advertisements, and unable to critically evaluate advertisements and the claims they make.

Between ages two and five most children cannot even differentiate what happens on television from reality. They are very interested in commercials, which they believe without reservation. Marketing consultant, Dan Acuff, notes that until the age of seven children tend to accept television advertising at face value and he advises advertisers how to take advantage of that. For example he tells them that at this age kids are particularly susceptible to give-aways and similar promotions because “the critical/logical/rational mind is not yet full developed”.

Studies commissioned by the US Surgeon General have demonstrated the failure of children under eight to understand persuasive intent. Even if they can differentiate advertisements from television programmes, (and sometimes the boundaries are blurred so that even adults don’t recognise some content as advertising), about half of them still don’t understand that the advertisements are trying to sell them something.

A study by Roy Fox, Associate Professor of English Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia, found that children watching athletes in television commercials thought that the athletes had paid to be in the advertisements to promote themselves rather than the products. They believed children in advertisements were real rather than paid actors and they often confused advertisements with news items. Generally they did not understand the commercial intent of the advertisements. (this story will be archived here)

delayed gratification



Fist tap to Dale

spilled milk....,



President Jimmy Carter asks Americans to sacrifice for the sake of greater energy conservation and independence. He puts forth several initiatives to push the nation towards greater energy independence.

April 18th, 1977 (view the full speech here)

m. king hubbert explains peak oil



1976 video clip of M King Hubbert speaking about world oil depletion and explaining the concept of peak oil.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

is the u.s. drifting toward war socialism?


Energy Bulletin | The report card for the United States as a war socialist society is decidedly mixed. We seem to have the war part down. But the socialist part is lacking. The current administration wants to redistribute benefits in American society, most notably through new health care spending meant to bring all people under some kind of coverage. It has enacted funding for a plethora of public works projects, but many of them are simply more road building. The administration seeks to expand renewable energy, but has a keen interest in the coal industry through such doubtful technologies as carbon sequestration.

But one might ask why the socialism part of Hanson's war socialism society is so important? The answer is social cohesion. In the coming crisis if people don't feel they have a stake in the system, then they will be much less likely to work or fight or submit to the rules for the common good. Hanson believes that without substantial internal cooperation, no society will weather the coming storm. Instead, we may simply devolve into a lawless anarchy.

War socialist ideas are also in the news in Great Britain where the British National Party won seats in the European Parliament. This case is interesting because the BNP is explicit about the danger of peak oil and the world of shrinking resources we can expect. Some of its prescriptions sound harsh, and others seem enlightened. The party has been trying to repackage itself with difficulty because of its racist, right-wing heritage. The basic BNP response is increased self-sufficiency and isolation: 1) a military which defends Great Britain and doesn't seek foreign adventures, 2) a halt to immigration, 3) deportation of illegals and noncitizen criminals, 4) a devolution of power to local governments, 5) a reversal of the privatization of British rails and new investment to expand public transportation, 6) a selective withdrawal from the global economy and increased local manufacturing, 7) food self-sufficiency based on organic methods, and 8) cooperative ownership of power production (with wind given as a primary example).

The BNP website no longer makes it sound like a party that fits neatly within the reactionary right (though in practice its emphasis on a "white" Britain remains central). Still, some of its ideas are actually quite close to those described by Hanson as war socialism. What's not in view is an aggressive foreign and military policy designed to extract resources from competing nations, something that Britain's major parties clearly embrace. The BNP, which is a minor party, is relevant to British politics because major parties often neutralize minor ones by co-opting their ideas. And, Britain is actually further along the war socialism path than the United States.

We and Hanson can still hope for unprecedented cooperation to manage the coming decline. But he may be right that if that cooperation doesn't emerge, we may be faced with a decision about making preparations for an all-out and probably violent scramble for the world's remaining resources--a contest in which a disciplined, cohesive and militarized society has the best chance of survival. Is he missing a viable third or fourth way? Even more important, is there time to implement a different path as nations successively awaken to the realities of peak oil and resource stringency and increasingly focus on self-preservation rather than cooperation?

how goldman sachs pumped and dumped the u.s. economy

Rolling Stone | The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. In fact, the history of the recent financial crisis, which doubles as a history of the rapid decline and fall of the suddenly swindled-dry American empire, reads like a Who's Who of Goldman Sachs graduates.

By now, most of us know the major players. As George Bush's last Treasury secretary, former Goldman CEO Henry Paulson was the architect of the bailout, a suspiciously self-serving plan to funnel trillions of Your Dollars to a handful of his old friends on Wall Street. Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton's former Treasury secretary, spent 26 years at Goldman before becoming chairman of Citigroup - which in turn got a $300 billion taxpayer bailout from Paulson. There's John Thain, the rear end in a top hat chief of Merrill Lynch who bought an $87,000 area rug for his office as his company was imploding; a former Goldman banker, Thain enjoyed a multibillion-dollar handout from Paulson, who used billions in taxpayer funds to help Bank of America rescue Thain's sorry company. And Robert Steel, the former Goldmanite head of Wachovia, scored himself and his fellow executives $225 million in golden parachute payments as his bank was self-destructing. There's Joshua Bolten, Bush's chief of staff during the bailout, and Mark Patterson, the current Treasury chief of staff, who was a Goldman lobbyist just a year ago, and Ed Liddy, the former Goldman director whom Paulson put in charge of bailed-out insurance giant AIG, which forked over $13 billion to Goldman after Liddy came on board. The heads of the Canadian and Italian national banks are Goldman alums, as is the head of the World Bank, the head of the New York Stock Exchange, the last two heads of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York - which, incidentally, is now in charge of overseeing Goldman - not to mention ...

But then, any attempt to construct a narrative around all the former Goldmanites in influential positions quickly becomes an absurd and pointless exercise, like trying to make a list of everything. What you need to know is the big picture: If America is circling the drain, Goldman Sachs has found a way to be that drain - an extremely unfortunate loophole in the system of Western democratic capitalism, which never foresaw that in a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy.

The bank's unprecedented reach and power have enabled it to turn all of America into a giant pump-and-dump scam, manipulating whole economic sectors for years at a time, moving the dice game as this or that market collapses, and all the time gorging itself on the unseen costs that are breaking families everywhere - high gas prices, rising consumer-credit rates, half-eaten pension funds, mass layoffs, future taxes to pay off bailouts. All that money that you're losing, it's going somewhere, and in both a literal and a figurative sense, Goldman Sachs is where it's going: The bank is a huge, highly sophisticated engine for converting the useful, deployed wealth of society into the least useful, most wasteful and insoluble substance on Earth - pure profit for rich individuals.

They achieve this using the same playbook over and over again. The formula is relatively simple: Goldman positions itself in the middle of a speculative bubble, selling investments they know are crap. Then they hoover up vast sums from the middle and lower floors of society with the aid of a crippled and corrupt state that allows it to rewrite the rules in exchange for the relative pennies the bank throws at political patronage. Finally, when it all goes bust, leaving millions of ordinary citizens broke and starving, they begin the entire process over again, riding in to rescue us all by lending us back our own money at interest, selling themselves as men above greed, just a bunch of really smart guys keeping the wheels greased. They've been pulling this same stunt over and over since the 1920s - Justify Fulland now they're preparing to do it again, creating what may be the biggest and most audacious bubble yet.

goldman sachs - the heart of darkness?

LATimes | Matt Taibbi, the Rolling Stone magazine contributing editor who in March wrote a brilliant and searing piece on the collapse of insurance giant AIG ("The Big Takeover'), now turns his attention to Goldman Sachs Group.

If you've read or heard Taibbi before, you know he's not writing a profile that is likely to be excerpted in the next Goldman annual report to shareholders.

Here's how his story in the latest issue of RS begins:

"The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money."

The theme of Taibbi's takeout on Goldman is that the firm has, by design, been at the center of the biggest investment bubbles since the Depression. He includes the tech-stock bubble of the late-1990s, the housing bubble of this decade, and the oil bubble of the first half of 2008.

He writes:

"The formula is relatively simple: Goldman positions itself in the middle of a speculative bubble, selling investments they know are crap. Then they hoover up vast sums from the middle and lower floors of society with the aid of a crippled and corrupt state that allows it to rewrite the rules in exchange for the relative pennies the bank throws at political patronage. Finally, when it all goes bust, leaving millions of ordinary citizens broke and starving, they begin the entire process over again, riding in to rescue us all by lending us back our own money at interest, selling themselves as men above greed, just a bunch of really smart guys keeping the wheels greased."

Of course, he's describing the modus operandi of Wall Street in general. His assertion is that no one does it better than Goldman, and that no firm has enjoyed the political clout of Goldman, given how many of its alumni have landed in positions of power in government -- from Robert Rubin, who was Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary, to Henry M. Paulson, who held the same post under George W. Bush, to William Dudley, now president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

new non-drug fix for HIV?

The Scientist | Researchers are slowly establishing a connection between an extremely rare genetic disease and HIV -- and homing in on a safe, non-prescription compound that could treat both.

Recently, James Hildreth at the Meharry Medical College School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn., and his colleagues found that cells affected by Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC), which disrupts cholesterol trafficking, were unable to release HIV, suggesting these cells would not spread the virus.

These findings, published May 27 in the Journal of Virology, are rooted in a hypothesis Hildreth has explored for a long time: that "cholesterol is somehow essential" to HIV, he said. For instance, HIV-1 relies on specialized structures known as lipid rafts, which are rich in cholesterol, to infect new cells.

That line of thinking has led him to investigate whether a compound widely employed by the food and chemical industries (and used as a drug solubilizer) which depletes cells of cholesterol could serve as a preventative agent -- or even a treatment -- for HIV. And his growing body of evidence is suggesting the compound, known as cyclodextrin, might do just that.

"There are very few [compounds] that rival the safety profile" of cyclodextrin, said Hildreth. If further research confirms it has an effect on a disease that affects millions of people worldwide, that would be a major advance, he noted. "It's been exciting for me from the beginning."