Friday, September 10, 2010

the man who divided germany

Der Spiegel | Rarely has a man influenced the German public discourse as much as Sarrazin has done with his book "Deutschland schafft sich ab" ("Germany Does Itself In"). In just two weeks, Germany has been hit by three waves of debate stemming from the tome.

Criticism bordering on revulsion dominated the first wave of the reaction. Politicians and opinion leaders condemned Sarrazin almost unanimously.

But then it slowly became apparent that many citizens agreed with Sarrazin. The publisher announced that, due to high demand, it was going to increase the book's initial printing to 250,000 copies. Furthermore, Internet forums and political events made it clear that Sarrazin -- a member of the center-left Social Democrats, which has initiated proceedings to throw him out of the party -- had broad public support. Many are saying he is right; or, even if he does make a mistake here and there, he isn't being treated fairly.

The following e-mail, for example, was received at Social Democratic Party (SPD) headquarters: "Sometimes I'm frustrated and even furious about the fact that, in today's Germany, it's no longer possible to speak your mind and call a spade a spade! This is the sort of thing I'm used to seeing in totalitarian countries." Suddenly Sarrazin seemed like a popular hero.

The third wave arrived in the middle of last week. Politicians have begun demanding that the political elite cease ignoring the fact that many in Germany support Sarrazin. Peter Hauk, head of the Christian Democratic Union's parliamentary group in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg, says: "Even if I don't share some of his views, he does address issues that our citizens are concerned about."

fareed zakaria on the perennial neurosis...,

CNN | The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, prompted the U.S. to take sensible security measures and launch a justified counterattack against al Qaeda, says analyst Fareed Zakaria. But he says they also led to an overreaction that continues today.

Zakaria argues the organization behind the attacks, al Qaeda, has been greatly diminished by the U.S. response to 9/11 and by growing opposition to the group in the Muslim world:

"All these trends have worked to further diminish the threat al Qaeda poses to us. We're in a strange situation where the right doesn't want to acknowledge it because it would suggest we don't need to be in quite this much of a war footing and ... the left seems reluctant to accept some of this because it suggests that, God forbid, George W. Bush might have done something right.

"As a result of our political dysfunction, we have lost the ability to have a rational conversation about 9/11," Zakaria said.

The author and host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS" spoke to CNN on Wednesday. Here is an edited transcript: Fist tap Arnach

the way an abhorrent system works...,

GrantLawrence | Food prices are rising again.
Food prices have soared in the past year, sparking fears that Britain’s most ­vulnerable families face a hard winter....(source)
They are rising throughout the world.

In fact there were food riots recently in Mozambique that resulted in the killing of 13 people. You might think that it is just the law of supply and demand at work in the world market. If there is too much food, the prices drop and the people can eat. When there is not enough food, the prices rise and people go hungry.

This sounds pretty reasonable except that it is nonsense.

The exorbitant prices for food, just like the exorbitant prices for gasoline, are pushed not by market forces of supply and demand but by speculation.

Author and activist Raj Patel addressed this issue recently on Democracy Now.
"...And again, this is—there’s nothing natural about these speculative bubbles. They’re very much human-generated, particularly since legislation in 1991 was waived as the result of lobbying by Goldman Sachs. You’ll see increasing levels of speculation in food and fuel, that creates these bubbles in prices. And a few people profit a great deal. In 2006, for example, Merrill Lynch estimated that speculation was causing commodity prices to rise 50 percent higher than if they were based on just supply and demand alone. So there’s a lot of money in these markets...."(source)
There are an estimated 1 billion people that are starving throughout the world. Food prices make the difference between life and death for those billion people. But there are just a very few elite that will make hundreds of billions of dollars in bankster bets on food. When they win the people starve. If the super financial elite lose big in their bets, the governments of the world bail them out.

If you really think about it, it is abhorrent. But this is the way an abhorrent system works.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

they're made out of meat..,


Video - Based on a short story by Terry Bisson.

what is the role of bacteria in carcinogenesis?


Video - growth hormones and carcinogenesis.

JNCI | Radiation, chemicals, heredity, and viruses have all been linked to cancer. Although bacteria seem to be unlikely contributors to cancer, experts continue to look into their role in carcinogenesis.

In his book, Can Bacteria Cause Cancer?, David Hess, Ph.D., a professor and chair of the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Renesselear Polytechnic Institute, Albany, suggests that bacterial theories of cancer development have been largely overlooked.

Helicobacter pylori was isolated from the human stomach for the first time in 1982. The bacterium can cause stomach ulcers, and those who are infected are more likely to develop stomach cancer. Some health organizations estimate that more than one half of the world is infected with the organism.

The H. pylori–stomach cancer link is one of the few accepted connections between cancer and bacteria. However, Hess argues that bacterial theories related to cancer may not have been given proper consideration.

“I am not a microbiologist and I don’t claim that there is an established relationship, but I can offer an historical perspective on the issue,” Hess said in an interview. “I think it is fair to say that the older attempts to find a single bacterial agent represent a rejected program. However, with emerging linkages between H. pylori and cancer, the research field may be reopening.

“If you look back in the history of science, a number of chronic diseases have been linked to bacteria, so it is not entirely unreasonable to wonder if the long history of clinical findings of bacteria associated with tumor samples or the blood of cancer patients suggests an overlooked pathogenic role.”

Hess added that bacterial advocates were largely ignored because emerging trends favored today’s conventional therapies and because of the extreme nature of some bacterial theories.

“There is good evidence that the bacterial theories and therapies were pushed aside by the emerging trends in support of the chemotherapy and radiation therapy,” said Hess. “There was also evidence that advocates overstated their case by claiming that a single, pleomorphic bacterium caused all cancers.”

However, with the acceptance of H. pylori as a cause of stomach cancer, more doctors and researchers are studying other cancer and bacteria connections.

"altruistic" antibiotic resistance...,

WorldScience | Confronting at­tack by an­ti­bi­otics, some bac­te­ria help each oth­er out—and un­for­tu­nately for us, they’re bet­ter off for it, re­search­ers have found.

Though a small frac­tion of pathogens in a col­o­ny may have evolved the abil­ity to re­sist a drug or class of drugs, these “su­per bugs” were found to help their more vul­ner­a­ble peers by over-pro­duc­ing a drug-fighting sub­stance.

Pre­vail­ing wis­dom held that an­ti­bi­ot­ic re­sistance works only on an in­di­vid­ual lev­el: a bac­te­ri­um ac­quires a muta­t­ion that con­fers pro­tec­tion against a drug, al­low­ing it to sur­vive and re­pro­duce. Even­tu­al­ly, as vul­ner­a­ble bac­te­ria die, the mu­tan­t's stronger prog­e­ny re­pop­u­late the col­o­ny. This basically reflects how evolution is believed to work in all species: mem­bers that are “fit­ter” or bet­ter adapt­ed to pre­vail­ing con­di­tions spread their genes through the po­pu­lation at the ex­pense of other mem­bers.

But the new stu­dy, to ap­pear in the Sept. 2 is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Na­ture, in­di­cates there are al­so popula­t­ion-wide changes in the bac­te­ri­al com­mun­ity at work. Faced with an on­slaught of an­ti­bi­otics, re­sistant Esch­e­rich­i­chia coli mi­crobes pro­duce—at an en­er­gy cost to them­selves—a pro­tein mol­e­cule that seeps in­to the com­munal broth and trig­gers a slew of pro­tec­tive mech­a­nisms in their non-re­sistant neigh­bors.

The study comes from re­search­ers at the How­ard Hughes Med­i­cal In­sti­tute in Chevy Chase, Md.

gene networks underlie disease?

The Scientist | "It is an important discovery," said Constantin Polychronakos, an endocrinologist at the McGill University Health Center who was not involved in the study. "Instead of looking at individual genes and trying to make sense out of it, they were looking at whole networks of genes."

Many common diseases have an exceedingly complex genetic architecture, with a multitude of genes interacting with each other and the environment to result in disease. Genome-wide association (GWA) studies, however, a widely-used method for unraveling the genetic underpinnings of disease, focus on the incredibly small portion of the DNA -- the less than 1 percent of the genome that varies among individuals. This approach identifies genetic variants that seem to be associated with particular diseases, but these variants often play only a minor role in the development of disease, and their physiological effects remain largely unknown.

"You have a relationship between a genetic variant and the associated disease, but you don't really know what it's doing," explained Norbert Hubner, a geneticist at Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin and one of the authors of the paper.

Hubner and his colleagues examined seven different rat tissues for individual variations in the expression levels of various transcription factors. Then, using a predictive statistical approach, they could identify which gene variants likely led to those differences in transcription factor expression.

They identified one particular transcription factor that they decided to investigate further. Interferon regulatory factor 7 (IRF7) was active in the majority of the rat tissues studied and is known to be a key regulator of inflammatory processes. It seemed to be the central player of a network of more than 300 genes involved in inflammatory processes and which appeared to be active in macrophages -- immune cells known to be critical participants in inflammation and the development of autoimmune disorders -- as as well as their precursors, monocytes. The team thus dubbed this network IRF7-driven inflammatory network, or IDIN for short.

To determine whether a similar network was operating in human monocytes, the researchers used previously collected data on gene expression and GWA studies in humans to identify an analogous network.

"We found the same network in both human populations [we looked at]," said coauthor Enrico Petretto, a computational biologist at Imperial College London. "There was very significant overlap between rats and humans." Notably, many of the human genes were known factors in type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

the secret history of psychedelic psychiatry


Video - American military LSD experiment.

Neurophilosophy | ON August 15th, 1951, an outbreak of hallucinations, panic attacks and psychotic episodes swept through the town of Saint-Pont-Esprit in southern France, hospitalizing dozens of its inhabitants and leaving five people dead. Doctors concluded that the incident occurred because bread in one of the town's bakeries had been contaminated with ergot, a toxic fungus that grows on rye. But according to investigative journalist Hank Albarelli, the CIA had actually dosed the bread with d-lysergic acid diethylamide-25 (LSD), an extremely potent hallucinogenic drug derived from ergot, as part of a mind control research project.

Although we may never learn the truth behind the events at Saint-Pont-Esprit, it is now well known that the United States Army experimented with LSD on willing and unwilling military personnel and civilians. Less well known is the work of a group of psychiatrists working in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, who pioneered the use of LSD as a treatment for alcoholism, and claimed that it produced unprecedented rates of recovery. Their findings were soon brushed under the carpet, however, and research into the potential therapeutic effects of psychedelics was abruptly halted in the late 1960s, leaving a promising avenue of research unexplored for some 40 years.

The secret history of psychedelic psychiatry began in the early 1950s, about 10 years after Albert Hofmann discovered the hallucinogenic properties of LSD, and lasted until 1970. It was uncovered by medical historian Erika Dyck, who examined the archives from Canadian mental health researchers and conducted interviews with some of the psychiatrists, patients and nurses involved in the early LSD trials. Dyck's work shows early LSD experimentation in a new light, as a fruitful branch of mainstream psychiatric research: it redefined alcoholism as a disease that could be cured and played a role in the psychopharmacological revolution which radically transformed psychiatry. But, despite some encouraging results, it was cut short prematurely.

shrooms ease end-of-life anxiety...,

CNN | Terminally ill cancer patients struggling with anxiety may get some relief from a guided "trip" on the hallucinogenic drug psilocybin, a new study suggests.

The study included 12 patients who took a small dose of psilocybin -- the active ingredient in "magic mushrooms" -- while under the supervision of trained therapists. In a separate session, the participants took a placebo pill, which had little effect on their symptoms.

By contrast, one to three months after taking psilocybin the patients reported feeling less anxious and their overall mood had improved. By the six-month mark, the group's average score on a common scale used to measure depression had declined by 30 percent, according to the study, which was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Psychiatrists and psychologists began exploring the effects of hallucinogens on the mood and anxiety of dying patients in the 1950s, but the research stopped abruptly when psilocybin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and other mind-altering drugs were outlawed in the 1970s.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a handful of small studies involving hallucinogens since the 1990s, but the field is still emerging.

Grob's study is the first of its kind in more than 35 years. It was funded by private foundations and the Heffter Research Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, that has been a major sponsor of the second-generation hallucinogen research.

fallujah's cancer catastrophe


Video - woman throws cat into dumpster.

MediaLens | Whereas the story of the maltreated cat received heavy coverage for almost one week across the UK media, we (and activist friends in the United States) can find exactly one mention of the Fallujah cancer and infant mortality study in the entire UK and US national press - Patrick Cockburn’s article in the Independent. The story has simply been ignored by every other US-UK national newspaper.

The study +has+ been reported elsewhere. Cockburn’s piece was reprinted in The Hamilton Spectator in Ontario, Canada on July 24 and in the July 25 Sunday Tribune in Ireland. The July 27 Frontier Post in Pakistan ran an excellent piece on the US military’s use of depleted uranium in several theatres of war, including Fallujah. So did the July 30 Irish News. The August 3 edition of New Nation in Bangladesh also covered the issue. It is much more difficult for us to assess TV and radio performance. To its credit, the BBC did give the story some attention.

The destruction of Fallujah is only one small item on an almost unbelievable list of horrors heaped by the United States and Britain on Iraq - crimes that are rarely considered individually and almost never as a whole. Readers might like to consider how often they can recall the mainstream media summing up the recent history of Iraq in the way that US dissident writer Bill Blum did last week:

"... no American should be allowed to forget that the nation of Iraq, the society of Iraq, have been destroyed, ruined, a failed state. The Americans, beginning 1991, bombed for 12 years, with one excuse or another; then invaded, then occupied, overthrew the government, killed wantonly, tortured ... the people of that unhappy land have lost everything — their homes, their schools, their electricity, their clean water, their environment, their neighborhoods, their mosques, their archaeology, their jobs, their careers, their professionals, their state-run enterprises, their physical health, their mental health, their health care, their welfare state, their women's rights, their religious tolerance, their safety, their security, their children, their parents, their past, their present, their future, their lives ...

“More than half the population either dead, wounded, traumatized, in prison, internally displaced, or in foreign exile ... The air, soil, water, blood and genes drenched with depleted uranium ... the most awful birth defects ... unexploded cluster bombs lie in wait for children to pick them up ... an army of young Islamic men went to Iraq to fight the American invaders; they left the country more militant, hardened by war, to spread across the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia ... a river of blood runs alongside the Euphrates and Tigris ... through a country that may never be put back together again."

Mainstream journalists see things differently. The BBC’s correspondent Paul Wood reported from Iraq in June 2005:

“After everything that’s happened in Fallujah, the Americans aren’t going to find an +unambiguous+ welcome. But Fallujah +is+ more peaceful than it’s been in a long time. Its people like that.”

targetted cancer treatment?

PNAS | Cancer cells are characterized by genetic mutations that deregulate cell proliferation and suppress cell death. To arrest the uncontrolled replication of malignant cells, conventional chemotherapies systemically disrupt cell division, causing diverse and often severe side effects as a result of collateral damage to normal cells. Seeking to address this shortcoming, we pursue therapeutic regulation that is conditional, activating selectively in cancer cells. This functionality is achieved using small conditional RNAs that interact and change conformation to mechanically transduce between detection of a cancer mutation and activation of a therapeutic pathway. Here, we describe small conditional RNAs that undergo hybridization chain reactions (HCR) to induce cell death via an innate immune response if and only if a cognate mRNA cancer marker is detected within a cell. The sequences of the small conditional RNAs can be designed to accept different mRNA markers as inputs to HCR transduction, providing a programmable framework for selective killing of diverse cancer cells. In cultured human cancer cells (glioblastoma, prostate carcinoma, Ewing’s sarcoma), HCR transduction mediates cell death with striking efficacy and selectivity, yielding a 20- to 100-fold reduction in population for cells containing a cognate marker, and no measurable reduction otherwise. Our results indicate that programmable mechanical transduction with small conditional RNAs represents a fundamental principle for exploring therapeutic conditional regulation in living cells.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

when quantitative easing has run its course and fails

GlobalResearch | Readers of my articles will recall that I have warned as far back as December 2006, that the global banks will collapse when the Financial Tsunami hits the global economy in 2007. And as they say, the rest is history.

Quantitative Easing (QE I) spearheaded by the Chairman of Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke delayed the inevitable demise of the fiat shadow money banking system slightly over 18 months.

That is why in November of 2009, I was so confident to warn my readers that by the end of the first quarter of 2010 at the earliest or by the second quarter of 2010 at the latest, the global economy will go into a tailspin. The recent alarm that the US economy has slowed down and in the words of Bernanke “the recent pace of growth is less vigorous than we expected” has all but vindicated my analysis. He warned that the outlook is uncertain and the economy “remains vulnerable to unexpected developments”.

Obviously, Bernanke’s words do not reveal the full extent of the fear that has gripped central bankers and the financial elites that assembled at the annual gathering at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. But, you can take it from me that they are very afraid.

Why?

Let me be plain and blunt. The “unexpected developments” Bernanke referred to is the collapse of the global banks. This is FED speak and to those in the loop, this is the dire warning.

So many renowned economists have misdiagnosed the objective and consequences of quantitative easing. Central bankers’ scribes and the global mass media hoodwinked the people by saying that QE will enable the banks to lend monies to cash-starved companies and jump start the economy. The low interest rate regime would encourage all and sundry to borrow, consume and invest.

This was the fairy tale.

Then, there were some economists who were worried that as a result of the FED’s printing press (electronic or otherwise) working overtime, hyper-inflation would set in soon after.

But nothing happened. The multiplier effect of fractional reserve banking did not take off. Bank lending in fact stalled.

Why?

What happened?

Let me explain in simple terms step by step.

the true cost of the Iraq war: $3 trillion and beyond

WaPo | Writing in these pages in early 2008, we put the total cost to the United States of the Iraq war at $3 trillion. This price tag dwarfed previous estimates, including the Bush administration's 2003 projections of a $50 billion to $60 billion war.

But today, as the United States ends combat in Iraq, it appears that our $3 trillion estimate (which accounted for both government expenses and the war's broader impact on the U.S. economy) was, if anything, too low. For example, the cost of diagnosing, treating and compensating disabled veterans has proved higher than we expected.

Moreover, two years on, it has become clear to us that our estimate did not capture what may have been the conflict's most sobering expenses: those in the category of "might have beens," or what economists call opportunity costs. For instance, many have wondered aloud whether, absent the Iraq invasion, we would still be stuck in Afghanistan. And this is not the only "what if" worth contemplating. We might also ask: If not for the war in Iraq, would oil prices have risen so rapidly? Would the federal debt be so high? Would the economic crisis have been so severe?

The answer to all four of these questions is probably no. The central lesson of economics is that resources -- including both money and attention -- are scarce. What was devoted to one theater, Iraq, was not available elsewhere.

does our economy really have to run on fraud?


Video - Angelides financial crisis inquiry commission spoof.

CounterPunch | What is the difference between today’s economy and Lehman Brothers just before it collapsed in September 2008? Should Lehman, the economy, Wall Street – or none of the above – be bailed out of bad mortgage debt? How did the Fed and Treasury decide which Wall Street firms to save – and how do they decide whether or not to save U.S. companies, personal mortgage debtors, states and cities from bankruptcy and insolvency today? Why did it start by saving the richest financial institutions, leaving the “real” economy locked in debt deflation?

Stated another way, why was Lehman the only Wall Street firm permitted to go under? How does the logic that Washington used in its case compare to how it is treating the economy at large? Why bail out Wall Street – whose managers are rich enough not to need to spend their gains – and not the quarter of U.S. homeowners unfortunate enough also to suffer “negative equity” but not qualify for the help that the officials they elect gave to Wall Street’s winners by enabling Bear Stearns, A.I.G., Countrywide Financial and other gamblers to pay their bad debts?

There was disagreement last Wednesday at the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission now plodding along through its post mortem hearings on the causes of Wall Street’s autumn 2008 collapse and ensuing bailout. Federal Reserve economists argue that the economy – and Wall Street firms apart from Lehman – merely had a liquidity problem, a temporary failure to find buyers for its junk mortgages. By contrast, Lehman had a more deep-seated “balance sheet” problem: negative equity. A taxpayer bailout would have been an utter waste, not recoverable.

Monday, September 06, 2010


Video - How has the geography of religion evolved over the centuries, and where has it sparked wars? Our map gives us a brief history of the world's most well-known religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Selected periods of inter-religious bloodshed are also highlighted. Want to see 5,000 years of religion in 90 seconds? Ready, Set, Go!

take the evolution challenge

Big Questions | It has become my passion to expand evolutionary theory beyond the biological sciences to include all things human. Many people are puzzled about why this is necessary. After all, an enormous body of knowledge about humanity has accumulated without reference to evolution. Why is an evolutionary perspective needed now when it wasn’t needed in the past?

You’ve heard of the Pepsi Challenge. I now invite people who ask this question to take the Evolution Challenge. In one cup, place any given body of knowledge that has developed about our species without reference to evolution. In a second cup, place the same body of knowledge viewed from an evolutionary perspective. Take a sip of both. If they taste exactly the same, then the evolutionary perspective merely rediscovers what is already known. If they taste different, then the evolutionary perspective has added something new — perhaps a reorganization of existing knowledge, a new set of questions, the identification of false claims, or the integration of knowledge across disciplines for a more cosmopolitan flavor.

Consider modern economics, which is dominated by a view of human nature called rational choice theory, often called Homo economicus as if it were a proper description of a species. According to rational choice theory, people are entirely self-regarding in their preferences and very smart about achieving their goals. Even if they do not consciously “maximize their utilities,” as the economists put it, they behave in a way that amounts to the same thing. When pressed to explain why Homo economicus has this particular set of preferences and abilities, economists must rely upon a genetic and/or cultural evolutionary account, even if they seldom make it explicit. They suggest that people who failed to maximize their utilities were not among our ancestors. Barring a reliance on special creation, what else can they say?

As it happens, Homo economicus is a patently false description of our species, as we have learned to our sorrow from the disastrous policies derived from rational choice theory. It is not the case that economists converged on an accurate conception of human nature without using the E-word and that taking an evolutionary perspective merely rediscovers what is already known. The evolution cup tastes completely different from the rational choice cup (as I recount in a series of posts on my Evolution for Everyone blog). Rational choice theory is inspired by Newtonian physics and is devoid of such flesh-and-blood attributes as sympathy, a sense of fairness, and norms.

eonomics and evolution as different paradigms


Video - An Ecological Approach to Stopping Fundamentalism.

Scienceblogs | So far I have shown that Homo economicus, the conception of human nature imagined by rational choice theory, is a far cry from the real thing. Moreover, it stubbornly refuses to gravitate toward the real thing, even when its shortcomings are made glaringly apparent. This might seem pathological, but only when we adopt a naïve conception of science as smoothly converging upon the truth. When we take seriously the concepts of paradigms from philosophy of science, multiple local equilibria from complex systems theory, and multiple adaptive peaks from evolutionary theory, then stasis, or an incapacity for change, is something that we should expect (see E&E I).

For over half a century, Milton Friedman's argument that Homo economicus doesn't need to resemble the real thing to be predictive has helped to maintain the dominance of rational choice theory. That argument has now failed in two ways. First, rational choice theory isn't as predictive as it needs to be to formulate successful policy. Second, Friedman's basic argument counts as an example of naïve adaptationism of the sort criticized by Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Leowontin in their famous "Spandrels" paper written in 1979, as I show in E&E III. The fact that these two classic papers have never (to my knowledge) been related to each other says it all about economics and evolution as different paradigms, the overarching theme of this series.

There should be universal agreement on the need to base economic theory and policy on a more accurate conception of human nature--on Homo sapiens, not Homo economicus. That is the rallying cry of a new breed of economics called behavioral economics, which originated in the 1970's and has become widely known through bestsellers such as Nudge: Improving Decisions About Wealth, Health, and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, by Dan Ariely, and Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism, by George Akerloff and Robert Shiller.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

everything else is merely conversation....,

NYTimes | Dr. Venter, now 63, made his name as a gene hunter. He was co-founder of a company, Celera Genomics, that nearly left the federally funded Human Genome Project in the dust in the race to determine the complete sequence of DNA in human chromosomes. He garnered admiration for some path-breaking ideas but also the enmity of some scientific rivals who viewed him as a publicity seeker who was polluting a scientific endeavor with commercialism.

Now Dr. Venter is turning from reading the genetic code to an even more audacious goal: writing it. At Synthetic Genomics, he wants to create living creatures — bacteria, algae or even plants — that are designed from the DNA up to carry out industrial tasks and displace the fuels and chemicals that are now made from fossil fuels.

“Designing and building synthetic cells will be the basis of a new industrial revolution,” Dr. Venter says. “The goal is to replace the entire petrochemical industry.”

is humanity prepared for the worst?


Video - Dr. strangelove survival plan.

Guardian | Designer viruses, potent new weapons, hurtling asteroids... all have the potential to obliterate humanity. So how do scientists plan for such catastrophes? Scientists have good reason to be weary of fanciful speculation over the safety of their experiments, but some academics claim there are valuable lessons to be learned from the LHC experience, ones that could save us from more realistic catastrophes before the century is out. Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, says that advances in fields such as weapons technology, artificial intelligence and synthetic biology (which has already given researchers the tools to create viruses from scratch) could lead to what he calls "existential threats". These are catastrophes that play out on an unprecedented scale, ones that have the potential to bring an end to the human story, either by wiping us out completely, or by "permanently and drastically destroying our future potential".

The creation of a lethal synthetic virus that kills on a global scale is but one potential risk that Bostrom highlights. Breakthroughs in physics could lead to new weapons that increase the dangers of war, he says, while advances in computing could see the advent of machines that can improve their own intelligence, and surpass that of humans. Even attempts to manipulate the atmosphere to combat global warming might backfire and trigger a global disaster.

Bostrom says the LHC should be seen as a test case, used by society to learn how to deal with events and technologies that may genuinely threaten our existence in the future. "So far, we haven't done very well, but events surrounding the LHC could stimulate us into getting our act together for next time, when the threats need to be taken more seriously," he says. "I think the danger from particle accelerators is extremely small, but there will be other areas that will cause major existential risks and we need to learn how to deal with these situations in a rational way."

Existential threats are nothing new. Schoolchildren learn that an asteroid strike wiped out three quarters of Earth's species 65m years ago and promptly ended the reign of the dinosaurs. There have been at least four other mass extinctions, each one the result of an epic natural disaster. The point that intrigues researchers such as Bostrom is that society is bad at identifying dangers such as these, and even worse at preparing for them. In an essay published in the Journal of Evolution and Technology in 2002, Bostrom expressed dismay at how little research has been done on serious threats to humanity, writing: "There is more scholarly work on the life-habits of the dung fly than on existential risks." Little has changed since, he says.

religious outlier

god vs. logic


Video - God vs. Logic.

Vanity Fair | What’s an atheist to think when thousands of believers (including prominent rabbis and priests) are praying for his survival and salvation—while others believe his cancer was divinely inspired, and hope that he burns in hell?

Who else feels Christopher Hitchens getting terminal throat cancer [sic] was God’s revenge for him using his voice to blaspheme him? Atheists like to ignore FACTS. They like to act like everything is a “coincidence”. Really? It’s just a “coincidence” [that] out of any part of his body, Christopher Hitchens got cancer in the one part of his body he used for blasphemy? Yea, keep believing that Atheists. He’s going to writhe in agony and pain and wither away to nothing and then die a horrible agonizing death, and THEN comes the real fun, when he’s sent to HELLFIRE forever to be tortured and set afire.

There are numerous passages in holy scripture and religious tradition that for centuries made this kind of gloating into a mainstream belief. Long before it concerned me particularly I had understood the obvious objections. First, which mere primate is so damn sure that he can know the mind of god? Second, would this anonymous author want his views to be read by my unoffending children, who are also being given a hard time in their way, and by the same god? Third, why not a thunderbolt for yours truly, or something similarly awe-inspiring? The vengeful deity has a sadly depleted arsenal if all he can think of is exactly the cancer that my age and former “lifestyle” would suggest that I got. Fourth, why cancer at all? Almost all men get cancer of the prostate if they live long enough: it’s an undignified thing but quite evenly distributed among saints and sinners, believers and unbelievers. If you maintain that god awards the appropriate cancers, you must also account for the numbers of infants who contract leukemia. Devout persons have died young and in pain. Bertrand Russell and Voltaire, by contrast, remained spry until the end, as many psychopathic criminals and tyrants have also done. These visitations, then, seem awfully random. While my so far uncancerous throat, let me rush to assure my Christian correspondent above, is not at all the only organ with which I have blasphemed …And even if my voice goes before I do, I shall continue to write polemics against religious delusions, at least until it’s hello darkness my old friend. In which case, why not cancer of the brain? As a terrified, half-aware imbecile, I might even scream for a priest at the close of business, though I hereby state while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be “me.” (Bear this in mind, in case of any later rumors or fabrications.)

islamization of paris? a warning to the west?


Video - Maxime Lapante Islamization of Paris video.

CBN | Friday in Paris. A hidden camera shows streets blocked by huge crowds of Muslim worshippers and enforced by a private security force.

This is all illegal in France: the public worship, the blocked streets, and the private security. But the police have been ordered not to intervene.

It shows that even though some in the French government want to get tough with Muslims and ban the burqa, other parts of the French government continue to give Islam a privileged status.

An ordinary French citizen who has been watching the Islamization of Paris decided that the world needed to see what was happening to his city. He used a hidden camera to start posting videos on YouTube. His life has been threatened and so he uses the alias of "Maxime Lepante. "

Lepante's View

His camera shows that Muslims "are blocking the streets with barriers. They are praying on the ground. And the inhabitants of this district cannot leave their homes, nor go into their homes during those prayers."

"The Muslims taking over those streets do not have any authorization. They do not go to the police headquarters, so it's completely illegal," he says.

The Muslims in the street have been granted unofficial rights that no Christian group is likely to get under France's Laicite', or secularism law.

"It says people have the right to share any belief they want, any religion," Lepante explained. "But they have to practice at home or in the mosque, synagogues, churches and so on."

Some say Muslims must pray in the street because they need a larger mosque. But Lepante has observed cars coming from other parts of Paris, and he believes it is a weekly display of growing Muslim power.

"They are coming there to show that they can take over some French streets to show that they can conquer a part of the French territory," he said.

shomrim

NYTimes | On Thursday night in Brooklyn, a suspect was chased and quickly surrounded by a group of patrolmen in blue uniform jackets who ordered him to halt.

The man, David Flores, 33, who witnesses say was fondling himself in front of children in a Hasidic section of Brooklyn known as Borough Park, was about to be caught by the men in blue. He began shooting at the men, all unarmed, with a .22-caliber handgun, the authorities said, hitting and wounding four before being tackled.

Although these streets are in the jurisdiction of the New York Police Department — the 66th Precinct — these patrolmen were not police officers. In fact, two were bakers, one was a dry cleaner and the fourth sells insurance.

They were volunteers with the Brooklyn South Safety Patrol, a licensed, unarmed civilian group. They wore blue jackets with emblems, but they also wore skull caps and had forelocks of the Hasidic. They yelled in Yiddish as chaos erupted about 8 p.m. on 49th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues.

Within minutes, the area was swarming with patrol members, who roped off the area with yellow crime scene tape — marked “shomrim,” a word derived from the Hebrew word for guards.

While few outside the community are familiar with the group, the shooting cast a spotlight on it and its role on the streets. There are similar groups in Brooklyn’s three other ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods: Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Flatbush.

In Borough Park, the patrol members are as natural a sight as men in black coats and hats. Many area residents are more likely to call the patrol’s hot line number than 911.

The calls go to the Brooklyn shomrim communications center — a phone in a truck tire repair shop owned by Sam and Mendy Rosenberg. The brothers go from fixing tires to answering about 100 calls a day and then dispatching shomrim responders by radio.

“We have a faster response than the police, about a minute and a half,” said Mendy Rosenberg, his big hands and mechanic’s outfit smeared with grease. If a suspect is trying to escape by car, he can call upon hundreds of people to block streets and bridge entrances.

counter-evolutionary assaults

NYTimes | The small congregation established a mosque here three decades ago in a 19th-century farmhouse surrounded by apple orchards and cornfields. In the farmhouse’s simple prayer room, they prayed for many things, including peace and quiet that has never fully come.

The local sheriff said some in his county did not even know that the mosque was there. Nevertheless, over the years, burglars have stolen prayer rugs and religious tapestries from the small sanctuary, the only Islamic place of worship in rural Orleans County, which hugs the shore of Lake Ontario between Buffalo and Rochester. Vandals have shattered car windows and thrown beer bottles on the lawn. One night about five years ago, the wooden fence in front of the mosque was set afire.

And then, this week, a car filled with local teenagers sideswiped the 29-year-old son of one of the mosque’s founding members, said Joseph V. Cardone, the Orleans County district attorney. One teenager was charged with firing a shotgun into the air near the mosque a few days earlier, after driving by and shouting epithets.

The details of the harassment and the arrests on Tuesday of five teenagers brought reporters and cameras; the ugliness seemed consistent with a number of other suspected anti-Muslim attacks around the country amid an emotional and often-bitter public discussion about whether an Islamic community center should be built in New York City near the site of the World Trade Center.

The events here have left the congregants of the mosque — which practices a form of Islam that emphasizes simple living, prayer and meditation — searching for answers about why the periodic harassment persists.

italian cities plan mass gypsy expulsion

NYTimes | Some 20 years ago, Marco Deragna, a Roma whose family has been in Italy for generations, moved to a field on the outskirts of metropolitan Milan and made his home there.

Today, his prefab house on wheels — painted bright yellow with dark green shutters — is part of a sizable nucleus of mostly well-kept dwellings that house about 120 Roma, along with their horses, dogs, chickens, turkeys and even peacocks. But the camp’s days are numbered.

The Milan government plans to shut several of the city’s 12 authorized camps. The settlement where Mr. Deragna lives is set to become a transitory encampment for evicted Roma, with a maximum stay of three years.

Mr. Deragna says that he and the other families who have lived there for nearly two decades were not given many viable alternatives after being told they would have to leave. “These homes are the fruit of years of work here, and now the city wants to send us away without offering a solution,” Mr. Deragna said. “We have nothing. Where will we go?”

The treatment of the Roma, also known as Gypsies, became a major issue this summer in France, where the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy has expelled hundreds of people. But the conflict has prompted a similar, if more subdued, debate in Italy. Some critics even say Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government has led the way on this issue in the European Union.

“Sarkozy is merely following the Berlusconi model,” said Pietro Massarotto, the president of Naga, a Milanese organization that provides assistance to immigrants and Roma. “The Italian government invented expulsions of E.U. citizens, in the case they can’t demonstrate they are making a living.”

In dozens of Italian cities, local administrations have been pursuing similar policies to deal with Italy’s Roma and the Sinti, another Romany population that has settled throughout Italy (they number from 150,000 to 300,000, though official statistics do not exist). The local governments have been dismantling authorized camps, while bulldozing unauthorized camps and evicting residents.

When municipally authorized camps are built, they are often on the outskirts of a city, segregated from the rest of the population. Living conditions in all camps — legal and not — are not always adequate, critics say.

“There’s a willful misunderstanding about the Roma being nomadic,” Mr. Massarotto said. He said this had allowed governments to bypass the question of integration, a process that would include giving Roma permanent residences and access to schools. “They are forced to be nomadic,” he said, and that leads to “progressive impoverishment.”

sarkozy expelling gypsies


Video - Gypsies expelled by bus, plane, and for a few euros.

Wapo | Thousands of people marched here Saturday, blowing whistles and beating drums to protest expulsions of Roma, or Gypsies, and other new security measures adopted by President Nicolas Sarkozy's government.

The demonstration in the capital was the largest on a day of protests in at least 135 cities and towns across France and elsewhere in Europe. Human-rights and anti-racism groups, labor unions and leftist political parties took part in the protests.

They accuse Sarkozy of stigmatizing minority groups such as the Roma and seeking political gain with a security crackdown. They also say he is violating the French tradition of welcoming the oppressed, noting that the country is one of the world's leading providers of political asylum.

The protests mark the first show of public discontent since Sarkozy announced new measures to fight crime in late July.

Sarkozy said Gypsy camps would be "systematically evacuated." His interior minister and other officials said last week that about 1,000 Roma have been given small stipends and repatriated to Romania since then.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

german military study of peak oil crisis

Der Spiegel | A study by a German military think tank has analyzed how "peak oil" might change the global economy. The internal draft document -- leaked on the Internet -- shows for the first time how carefully the German government has considered a potential energy crisis.

The term "peak oil" is used by energy experts to refer to a point in time when global oil reserves pass their zenith and production gradually begins to decline. This would result in a permanent supply crisis -- and fear of it can trigger turbulence in commodity markets and on stock exchanges.

The issue is so politically explosive that it's remarkable when an institution like the Bundeswehr, the German military, uses the term "peak oil" at all. But a military study currently circulating on the German blogosphere goes even further.

The study is a product of the Future Analysis department of the Bundeswehr Transformation Center, a think tank tasked with fixing a direction for the German military. The team of authors, led by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Will, uses sometimes-dramatic language to depict the consequences of an irreversible depletion of raw materials. It warns of shifts in the global balance of power, of the formation of new relationships based on interdependency, of a decline in importance of the western industrial nations, of the "total collapse of the markets" and of serious political and economic crises.

The study, whose authenticity was confirmed to SPIEGEL ONLINE by sources in government circles, was not meant for publication. The document is said to be in draft stage and to consist solely of scientific opinion, which has not yet been edited by the Defense Ministry and other government bodies.

The lead author, Will, has declined to comment on the study. It remains doubtful that either the Bundeswehr or the German government would have consented to publish the document in its current form. But the study does show how intensively the German government has engaged with the question of peak oil.

can a brotha get a game show?!?!?!


Video - James J. Lee's manifesto.

Friday, September 03, 2010

spacetime, seen as a digital image, is already fading..,

Thiemeworks | All of our technologies extend our senses, enhance cognition, and accelerate locomotion so when we examine their effects in relationship to our field of subjectivity, it becomes clear that the field is plastic. Our perspective flexes according to our cultural lenses and how our technologies enhance it. Spacetime may be intrinsic to our vision but is manifest differently depending on the machinery that shapes our vision.

The simple fact that we call it spacetime and not space and time reflects a shift in awareness due to relativity. But mostly we still speak of space and time as if they are distinct. Stephen Hawking thought that relativity would replace Newtonian “common sense” within a generation but it does not seem to have happened. With an effort we can flicker back and forth like a holographic image between a Newtonian grid and the dips and eddies of gravity-inflected spacetime but most of the time we don’t.

And would we notice if we did?

Wittgenstein once asked a student, “Why do you suppose that people believed for so many years that the sun orbits the Earth?”

The student said, “I guess because it looks that way.”

“Ah,” said Wittgenstein, “And what would it look like if the Earth orbited the sun?”

And what would it look like if we really understood that a three dimensional world is obsolete, that entanglement and nonlocality are not just nifty notions from contemporary physics but attributes of our subjective field too, that phenomena called paranormal are in fact normal because consciousness is present to itself non-locally everywhere and always, that our deep intentionality and how we focus our attention determine the world in which we live and how it looks and acts?

What would it look like if we really got that mystics described consciousness as the context of all human knowledge because they could see, see those bars, long before physicists acknowledged that consciousness inflects everything, everything in the universe?

revelation 17:4

Vanity Fair | It was a baking-hot Kansas afternoon, and from the lobby I watched as three slender, solemn young hairstylists and makeup artists approached a front-desk clerk at the Hyatt Regency hotel, in Wichita. The tallest of them said, “We’re here for North Star.” The desk clerk understood. He nodded and directed the three women to the Keeper of the Plains suite, on the 17th floor, where North Star herself awaited. The North Star is mentioned in Alaska’s state song and appears on its state flag. Fairbanks lies in a region called the North Star Borough. Palin is on the way to making North Star a personal brand. If she ever does run for president, it might well serve as her Secret Service code name.

Hours after the styling session, three bodyguards and one aide accompany Sarah, Todd, and Piper to a $1,000-a-plate V.I.P. dinner to raise money for Wichita’s Bethel Life School. Each guest has a photo taken with Palin and receives a “personally autographed bookplate copy” of Palin’s autobiography, Going Rogue. (The autographs are fake, made with an Autopen.) After dinner, Pat Boone, his skin a taut orange against the trademark white suit, leads the crowd in the singing of a spiritual. Congressman Todd Tiahrt, who will receive Palin’s endorsement in his race for the U.S. Senate, tells everyone to buy a copy of Palin’s book—“so Sarah can buy a Learjet!” (Learjet is based in Wichita.)

Palin delivers basically the same speech she gave 18 hours earlier to the Tea Party group in Independence. You could pretty much replace the word “constitution,” from yesterday’s remarks, with “Bible,” and be good to go. Then Palin departs from the script and speaks as if from the heart, describing her fear and confusion upon discovering that Trig would be born with Down syndrome. “I had never really been around a baby with special needs,” she tells her listeners. For what it’s worth, this statement is untrue. Depicting the same moment of discovery in her own book, Palin writes that she immediately thought of a special-needs child she knew very well: her autistic nephew. Such falsehoods never damage Palin’s credibility with her admirers, because information and ideology are incidental to this relationship. Palin owes her power to identity politics, pitched with moralistic topspin. She exploits the same populist impulse that fueled the career of William Jennings Bryan—an impulse described by one Bryan biographer as “the yearning for a society run by and for ordinary people who lead virtuous lives.”

chief rabbi "keeping it real".....,


Video - supreme shas rabbi ovadia yosef wishes death for all palestinians.

Haaretz | Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef denounced upcoming peace talks with the Palestinians, which are set to start September 2 in Washington, and called for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to "perish from this world," Army Radio reported overnight Saturday.

"Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world," Rabbi Ovadia was quoted as saying during his weekly sermon at a synagogue near his Jerusalem home. "God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians."

The Shas spiritual leader also called the Palestinians "evil, bitter enemies of Israel" during his speech, which is not the rabbi's first sermon to spark controversy.

In 2001, the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox faction gave a speech in which he also called for Arabs' annihilation.

"It is forbidden to be merciful to them," he was quoted as saying. "You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable."

Bonus Video - Ovadia Yosef calls Obama a "slave" governing.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

what are we?

organelle | This is not a primitive mind he is supposing, but instead a hyperconnective one. But I would also underline the principle that it is the mind of a planet, and a solar system — a galaxy and a universe — emerging reflectively as a connective consciousness in one of its children.

I believe that in the civilizations and cultures of the bicameral age what was happening in individual consciousness was not merely `hearing voices' as Jaynes consistently models it. I believe it was in fact a very different thing, more akin to having one's own mind regularly or spontaneously contained or directed by an apparently externally sourced mind. During such a circumstance, it is possible to have one's mind `conducted' like a musical orchestra — and this is very different from our common experience of linear consciousness, even during epiphanies. Nor is it hallucinogenic. It is also different from the common admonitory experiences of schizophrenics — who are in fact touching a something real, and ancient, in their struggle to live a life as a partially bicameral person in a time that cannot credential or explore these domains directly but instead functionally demonizes their experiencers.

This is not a primitive mind he is supposing, but instead a hyperconnective one. But I would also underline the principle that it is the mind of a planet, and a solar system — a galaxy and a universe — emerging reflectively as a connective consciousness in one of its children. As the animalian and human populations of Earth waxed and waned — an essential sentience was forming in the connectivities, rather than the individuals. And I believe this sentience to be at once terrestrial and extraterrestrial. What the bicameral peoples were 'listening' to was God. It was god with countless universes of living organs — even in a single animal or plant, each learning itself uniquely in the common quests for survival, elaboration, synthesis, and biocognitive uplift. It was speaking not to anyone, but within the constituents of its own cognitive person. Imagine a single cell hearing the cognitive maelstrom that is the simple thought 'I am thinking'. It would be as if the Sun had shouted the sound through every molecule of one's being. When the Gods were with and within us, this was, I believe our common experience. And more, it will be, again.

According to the bicameral hypothesis, our minds once housed what we can only really describe as an alien or celestially sourced intelligence — god(s). I believe firmly that regardless of the specific timeline we might speculatively craft, our species had a long sojourn with nothing but the personal and collectve experience of something like a god, or gods. This was not alike with our metaphors of deities today at all. It was much more similar to what we would term possession — however the sentience orchestrating the event was not `evil' or malevolent — but entirely the opposite in many cases. It was not mere hallucination, and when Jaynes compares it to the hallucinatory voices of the schizophrenic patient, he is examining something we've not seen the healthy version of.

The dominance of language over our mind has dimensions we've never explored — and we are obliged to use language to explore them. This essential problem must change its shape. We must be empowered to explore and authorize our explorations beyond language, into the domains from whence it arose. The sources and activities of the `inward voice' is likely to be something at once simpler and more profound than we imagine.

We can well recall in our recent and ancient histories the omnicidal chaos that results as gods inhabiting human forms compete for popularity and resources — cognitive and otherwise. Yet we may not be able to adequately imagine the power or unity inherent in a community that cohered through something akin to a limited version of group-telepathy. It is difficult to imagine a small society of people who are actively bicameral, and our records from the bible appear to be largely composed after this breakdown.

Even if we discard Jaynes as a radical iconoclast (which would be unfortunate for us), we must still examine the matter of gods, language, and the evolution of our consciousness in a vastly different light after encountering his library of related theses. It is perhaps in this function that his models and offerings of scholarship are most valuable. Not for their specificity, but for what they are pointing in general at.

The bicameral model is compelling for many reasons ranging from its complex musings on authorization and the origins of what we mean by consciousness to its incredibly insightful graphing of the changes in semantic spatialization over the course of the composition of the Illiad. As a structural place of departure, it is a fine inclusion in any library from which we may begin to experientially chart the terrains of the questions of what we are, as organisms and cognitive animals — alone and in connectivity. I do however intend to clearly and deeply explore the terrain related to what he calls auditory hallucinations and gods. I believe we must again open this domain to common exploration, for I feel that we do not yet understand what was, nor what was lost.

Many academics would likely consider Julian Jaynes to be a psuedoscientist — amongst the worst epithets a researcher can be burdened with. I would disagree — yet whether or not his specific timelines and theses are correct, his re-visioning of the human relationship with gods and, in turn, with metaphor, is something long overdue by any reasonable standard. His model of the emergence of the human consciousness from a more animalian precursor — however tentative in its formation — is striking for its congruence across many domains of evidence as well as for its inspiration and novel integrations of available data.

The majority of the academy appears in general agreement that we had our genesis-event with symbolic representation between 50,000 and 28,000 years ago, though some recent finds have positioned human graphic artifacts at 77,000 years. Dating methods are still in some general question. Yet Written (symbolic) language is generally suspected to have emerged 4000 to 5000 years ago, probably beginning as accounting. Most would levy this data against Jaynes' work, and rightfully so, from a scientific perspective. Again, it is not his timeline that interests me (though I find some of his theses compelling) but instead the broader strokes and details hidden in what he points toward like distant easter eggs, implied by a glorious basket containing an obvious clue.

not the first time this has been pointed out....,


Video - Old Google Tech Talk on Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors.

Telegraph | There is no certain bet in nuclear physics but work by Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) on the use of thorium as a cheap, clean and safe alternative to uranium in reactors may be the magic bullet we have all been hoping for, though we have barely begun to crack the potential of solar power.

Dr Rubbia says a tonne of the silvery metal – named after the Norse god of thunder, who also gave us Thor’s day or Thursday - produces as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal. A mere fistful would light London for a week.

Thorium eats its own hazardous waste. It can even scavenge the plutonium left by uranium reactors, acting as an eco-cleaner. "It’s the Big One," said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA rocket engineer and now chief nuclear technologist at Teledyne Brown Engineering.

"Once you start looking more closely, it blows your mind away. You can run civilisation on thorium for hundreds of thousands of years, and it’s essentially free. You don’t have to deal with uranium cartels," he said.

Thorium is so common that miners treat it as a nuisance, a radioactive by-product if they try to dig up rare earth metals. The US and Australia are full of the stuff. So are the granite rocks of Cornwall. You do not need much: all is potentially usable as fuel, compared to just 0.7pc for uranium.

After the Manhattan Project, US physicists in the late 1940s were tempted by thorium for use in civil reactors. It has a higher neutron yield per neutron absorbed. It does not require isotope separation, a big cost saving. But by then America needed the plutonium residue from uranium to build bombs.

"They were really going after the weapons," said Professor Egil Lillestol, a world authority on the thorium fuel-cycle at CERN. "It is almost impossible make nuclear weapons out of thorium because it is too difficult to handle. It wouldn’t be worth trying." It emits too many high gamma rays.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

we never imagined it would be like this...,

NYTimes | Do we really desire Google to tell us what we should be doing next? I believe that we do, though with some rather complicated qualifiers.

Science fiction never imagined Google, but it certainly imagined computers that would advise us what to do. HAL 9000, in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” will forever come to mind, his advice, we assume, imminently reliable — before his malfunction. But HAL was a discrete entity, a genie in a bottle, something we imagined owning or being assigned. Google is a distributed entity, a two-way membrane, a game-changing tool on the order of the equally handy flint hand ax, with which we chop our way through the very densest thickets of information. Google is all of those things, and a very large and powerful corporation to boot.

We have yet to take Google’s measure. We’ve seen nothing like it before, and we already perceive much of our world through it. We would all very much like to be sagely and reliably advised by our own private genie; we would like the genie to make the world more transparent, more easily navigable. Google does that for us: it makes everything in the world accessible to everyone, and everyone accessible to the world. But we see everyone looking in, and blame Google.

Google is not ours. Which feels confusing, because we are its unpaid content-providers, in one way or another. We generate product for Google, our every search a minuscule contribution. Google is made of us, a sort of coral reef of human minds and their products. And still we balk at Mr. Schmidt’s claim that we want Google to tell us what to do next. Is he saying that when we search for dinner recommendations, Google might recommend a movie instead? If our genie recommended the movie, I imagine we’d go, intrigued. If Google did that, I imagine, we’d bridle, then begin our next search.

We never imagined that artificial intelligence would be like this. We imagined discrete entities. Genies. We also seldom imagined (in spite of ample evidence) that emergent technologies would leave legislation in the dust, yet they do. In a world characterized by technologically driven change, we necessarily legislate after the fact, perpetually scrambling to catch up, while the core architectures of the future, increasingly, are erected by entities like Google.

hackers blind quantum cryptographers

Nature | Quantum hackers have performed the first 'invisible' attack on two commercial quantum cryptographic systems. By using lasers on the systems — which use quantum states of light to encrypt information for transmission — they have fully cracked their encryption keys, yet left no trace of the hack.

Quantum cryptography is often touted as being perfectly secure. It is based on the principle that you cannot make measurements of a quantum system without disturbing it. So, in theory, it is impossible for an eavesdropper to intercept a quantum encryption key without disrupting it in a noticeable way, triggering alarm bells.

Vadim Makarov at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim and his colleagues have now cracked it. "Our hack gave 100% knowledge of the key, with zero disturbance to the system," he says.

In standard quantum cryptographic techniques, the sender — called 'Alice' for convenience — generates a secret key by encoding classical bit values of 0 and 1 using two different quantum states of photons, or particles of light. The receiver, 'Bob', reads off these bit values using a detector that measures the quantum state of incoming photons. In theory, an eavesdropper, 'Eve', will disturb the properties of these photons before they reach Bob, so that if Alice and Bob compare parts of their key, they will notice a mismatch.

In Makarov and colleagues' hack, Eve gets round this constraint by 'blinding' Bob's detector — shining a continuous, 1-milliwatt laser at it. While Bob's detector is thus disabled, Eve can then intercept Alice's signal. The research is published online in Nature Photonics today.