Greed an American Virtue

 “The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent:

One Percent takes half

One Percent takes half

In a piece by Joseph E. Stiglitz in the new issue of Vanity Fair. These facts confirm my impression that greed is now seen as a virtue in America. I’m not surprised by the greed of the One-Percenters. I’m mystified by the lack of indignation from so many of the rest of us.  Day after day I read stories that make me angry. Wanton consumption is glorified. Corruption is rewarded. Ordinary people see their real income dropping, their houses sold out from under them, their pensions plundered, their unions legislated against, their health care still under attack. Yes, people in Wisconsin and Ohio have risen up to protest these realities, but why has there not been more outrage?  The most visible centers of these crimes against the population are Wall Street and the financial industry in general. Although there are still many honest bankers, some seem to regard banking and trading as a license to steal. Outrageous acts are committed and go unpunished. Consider this case of money laundering by Wachovia Bank, now part of Wells Fargo. This Guardian article reports: “The authorities uncovered billions of dollars in wire transfers, traveler’s checks and cash shipments through Mexican exchanges into Wachovia accounts.”  The bank paid fines of less than 2% of its $12.2 billion profit in 2009. No individual was ever charged with a crime. We need not doubt that Wachovia executives received bonuses over the period of time when they were overseeing these illegal activities. Permit me to quote one more paragraph:  “More shocking, and more important, the bank was sanctioned for failing to apply the proper anti-laundering strictures to the transfer of $378.4 billion — a sum equivalent to one-third of Mexico’s gross national product — into dollar accounts from so-called casas de cambio (CDCs) in Mexico, currency exchange houses with which the bank did business.”  If a third of the Mexican GNP passes through your bank and you don’t ask the questions required by law, you are either (1) a criminal, or (2) incompetent. I can’t think of another possibility.  Stories like this have become commonplace. Two of the most common types of news stories about banks recently have involved their losses, and the size of their executive bonuses. Bloomberg News reports: “JPMorgan Chase & Co. gave Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon a 51 percent raise in 2010 as the bank resumed paying cash bonuses following two years of pressure from regulators and lawmakers to curb compensation.”  And here’s more, from the Wall Street journal: “$57,031. That’s about what the average U.S. archaeologist made last year. It’s also what J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon made every day of last year — $20.8 million total, according to the firm’s proxy filing this week. Anyone who has doubts about the resiliency of Wall Street banks and brokerages should ponder that figure for awhile. The J.P. Morgan board also spent about $421,500 to sell Dimon’s Chicago home. And they brought back the big cash bonus, doling out $30.2 million in greenbacks to Dimon and his top six lieutenants.”  The CEOs of the venerable trading firms that were forced into bankruptcy were all paid bonuses. In a small recent case, executives of Borders intended to pay themselves $8 million in bonuses until a U. S. Trustee objected. A company spokesperson said, “The proposed programs were designed to retain key executives at Borders as we proceed through the Chapter 11 reorganization process.” In short, retain those whose management bankrupted the corporation.  Corporations in theory are managed to benefit their shareholders. The more money Wal-Mart can make by busting unions and allegedly discriminating in its hiring practices, the happier its shareholders become. Yet obscene bonuses penalize even the shareholders. Isn’t that, in theory, their money? Wouldn’t it be decent for the occasional corporation to put a cap on bonuses and distribute the funds as dividends?  I have no objection to financial success. I’ve had a lot of it myself. All of my income came from paychecks from jobs I held and books I published. I have the quaint idea that wealth should be obtained by legal and conventional means–by working, in other words–and not through the manipulation of financial scams. You’re familiar with the ways bad mortgages were urged upon people who couldn’t afford them, by banks who didn’t care that the loans were bad. The banks made the loans and turned a profit by selling them to investors while at the same time betting against them on their own account. While Wall Street was knowingly trading the worthless paper that led to the financial collapse of 2008, executives were being paid huge bonuses.  Wasn’t that fraud? Wasn’t it theft? The largest financial crime in American history took place and resulted in no criminal charges. Then the money industries and their lobbyists fought tooth and nail against financial regulation. The Republicans resisted it, but so did many Democrats. Partially because of the Supreme Court decision allowing secret campaign contributions, our political system is largely financed by vested interests.  We know that Bernie Madoff went to jail. Fine. No Wall Street or bank executive has been charged with anything. It will never happen. The financial industries are locked an unholy alliance with politicians and regulators, all choreographed by lobbyists. You know all that.  What puzzles me is why there isn’t more indignation. The Tea Party is the most indignant domestic political movement since Norman Thomas’s Socialist Party, but its wrath is turned in the wrong direction. It favors policies that are favorable to corporations and unfavorable to individuals. Its opposition to Obamacare is a textbook example. Insurance companies and the health care industry finance a “populist” movement that is manipulated to oppose its own interests. The billionaire Koch brothers payroll right wing front organizations that oppose labor unions and financial reform. The patriots wave their flags and don’t realize they’re being duped.  Consider taxes. Do you know we could eliminate half the predicted shortfall in the national budget by simply failing to renew the Bush tax cuts? Do you know that if corporations were taxed at a fair rate, much of the rest could be found? General Electric recently reported it paid no current taxes. Why do you think that was? Why do middle and lower class Tea Party members not understand that they bear an unfair burden of taxes that should be more fairly distributed? Why do they support those who campaign against unions and a higher minimum wage? What do they think is in it for them?  If it is “socialist” to believe in a more equal distribution of income, what is the word for the system we now live under? A system under which the very rich have doubled their share of the nation’s income in 25 years? I believe in a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. Isn’t that an American credo? How did it get twisted around into an obscene wage for shameless plunder?  One of the challenges facing the One-Percenters these days is finding ways to spend their money. Private residences grow as large as hotels, and are fitted out with the amenities of luxury resorts. Fleets of cars and private airplanes are at their owners’ disposal. At work, they sink absurd mountains of money into show-off corporate headquarters that have less to do with work than with a pissing contest among rival executives. Private toilets grow as large as small condos, outfitted with Italian marbles and rare antiques. This is all paid for by the shareholders. One area of equality between the One-Percenters and the rest of us is that we sit on toilets of about the same size. What’s different is the size of our throne rooms.  I find this extravagance unseemly in a democracy. Many of today’s One-Percenters feel no more constraint than Louis XIV. A culture of celebrity has grown up around these conspicuous consumers, celebrating their excesses. I believe rewards are appropriate for those who have been successful. I also believe a certain modesty and humility are virtuous. I find it unbecoming that those who fight most against social welfare are those most devoted to their own welfare.  In America there is an ingrained populist suspicion of fats cats and robber barons. This feeling rises up from time to time. Theodore Roosevelt, who was elected as a Trust Buster, would be appalled by the excesses of our current economy. Many of the rich have a conscience. Andrew Carnegie built libraries all over America. The Rockefeller and Ford Foundations do great good. Bill Gates lists his occupation as “philanthropist.”  Yet the most visible plutocrat in America is Donald Trump, a man who has made a fetish of his power. What kind of sick mind conceives of a television show built on suspense about which “contestant” he will “fire” next? What sort of masochism builds his viewership? Sadly, it is based on viewers who identify with Trump, and envy his power over his victims. Don’t viewers understand they are the ones being fired in today’s America?

Upper class society lie and cheat

Members of the upper classes are more likely to lie, cheat and even break the law than people from less privileged backgrounds, a study has found:

rich-poor

rich-poor

In contrast, members of the “lower” classes appeared more likely to display the traditional attributes of a gentleman.  It suggests that the traditional notion of the upper class “cad” or “bounder” could have a scientific basis.  But psychologists at the University of California in Berkeley, who carried out the study, also suggested that the findings could help explain the origins of the banking crisis – with self-confident, wealthy bankers more likely to indulge in reckless behaviour.  The team lead by Dr Paul Piff, asked several groups of people from different social backgrounds to perform a series of tasks designed to identify different traits such as honesty and consideration for others.  Each person was asked a series of questions about their wealth, schooling, social background, religious persuasions and attitudes to money in an attempt to put them into different classes. The tasks included asking participants to pretend to be an employers conducting a job interview to test whether they would lie or sidestep awkward facts in pay negotiation. They were told that the job might become redundant within six months but were encouraged conceal this from the interview candidate.  There was also an online game involving rolling dice in which participants they were asked to report their own score, thinking they would be in line for a cash prize for a higher score – and that no one was checking.  Members of another group were given a series of made-up scenarios in which people spoke about doing something unethical at work to benefit themselves and then questioned to assess how likely they were to do likewise.  The scientists also carried out a series of observations at a traffic junction in San Francisco.  Different drivers’ social status was assessed on the basis of what car they were driving as well as visible details such as their age.  Those deemed to be better off appeared more likely to cut up other drivers and less likely to stop for pedestrians.  Overall the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that those from richer or powerful backgrounds appeared greedier, more likely to lie in negotiation and more likely to cheat.Being in a higher social class – either by birth or attainment – had a “causal relationship to unethical decision-making and behaviour”, they concluded.Dr Piff concluded that having an elevated social rank were more likely to display “self focused” behaviour patterns than those from more modest backgrounds, were less aware of others, and were less good at identifying the emotions of others.  He said that the findings appeared to bear out the teachings of Aristotle, Plato and Jesus that greed is at the root unethical behaviour.  “On the one hand, lower-class individuals live in environments defined by fewer resources, greater threat and more uncertainty,” he said.  “It stands to reason, therefore, that lower-class individuals may be more motivated to behave unethically to increase their resources or overcome their disadvantage.  “A second line of reasoning, however, suggests the opposite prediction: namely, that the upper class may be more disposed to the unethical.  “Greater resources, freedom, and independence from others among the upper class give rise to self-focused social cognitive tendencies, which we predict will facilitate unethical behaviour.  “Historical observation lends credence to this idea. For example, the recent economic crisis has been attributed in part to the unethical actions of the wealthy.  “Religious teachings extol the poor and admonish the rich with claims like, ‘It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven’.”

 

Armed Police kidnaps child refusing drugs

Detroit SWAT team assaults African American mom who refused to medicate her daughter with antipsychotic drugs:

police-state

 

The medical police state is alive and well in Detroit today, where Child Protective Services (CPS) called in the police to aid in their kidnapping of a 13-year-old daughter from an African American mother who refused to medicate her with dangerous psychiatric drugs. As this case is clearly showing, refusing to medicate your children with Big Pharma’s mind-altering drugs is now being treated as a felony crime.

Here are the facts of the case:

• Maryanne Godboldo is an African American mother of a teenager daughter. She lives in Detroit. (http://www.prisonplanet.com/swat-attacks-home-school-mom-for-refusing…)

• Child Protective Services (CPS) personnel attempted to kidnap Maryanne’s 13-year-old daughter. They accused her of not giving her child psychiatric medication prescribed by her doctor.

• Maryanne says the medication caused side effects in her daughter and made her condition worse, which is why she refused to give her daughter the medication.

• The medication was Risperdal, a neuroleptic antipsychotic medication known for causing serious side effects such as abdominal pain, vomiting, aggression, anxiety, dizziness and lack of coordination (http://www.risperdalsideeffects.com).

• When Maryanne refused to let CPS take her daughter away, CPS personnel then called the police, who then smashed down her front door and attempted to raid her home to kidnap her daughter by force.

• The police did NOT have a warrant or any court documents whatsoever granting them any right to enter Maryanne’s home, according to Godboldo’s attorneys.

• Police say that after they smashed in the front door, Maryanne opened fire on them. (Who wouldn’t open fire on a group of armed assailants trying to kidnap their daughter, by the way?)

• A SWAT team was then called in, carrying semiautomatic rifles and sniper gear. A 12-hour standoff ensued.

• Maryanne eventually surrendered to the SWAT team, and the state took her daughter to a psychiatric hospital where she is now being molested by the staff there, her mother says.

• Maryanne Godboldo now faces multiple felony charges: firing a weapon in a dwelling, felonious assault, resisting and obstructing an officer, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

• CPS lied about the child’s father’s ability to take care of her as a tactic to kidnap her from her mother.

• Community groups in Detroit are now rallying on behalf of the family there, shouting “Free Arianna” (the daughter).

Why Health Freedom is more important now than ever.  What you are witnessing here with Maryanne Godboldo is the tyranny of the medical police state and the wicked criminality of Child Protective Services workers who are now front-line enforcers of Big Pharma’s deadly agenda to drug our children.  Make no mistake: What’s happening today is that the state is now breaking down the doors, assaulting, arresting and imprisoning parents who refuse to medicate their children. This is being accomplished with the use of armed force against innocent victims.  This unholy alliance between Big Pharma, CPS and the police has gone too far. It has become the weapon of medication compliance.
When medicine has become so dangerous, so forceful and so utterly harmful to the People that the state must use bullets and guns to force people to take it, you know it’s all gone way too far.  It makes you wonder: What kind of system of medicine is so bad that prescriptions have to be enforced at gunpoint?  That this is happening is not just an assault on Maryann Godboldo, but an assault on our rights and freedoms as sovereign human beings. Do we not have the right to say NO to a medication we don’t want our children to take? Do we not have the right to protect our children from kidnappers? Do we not have the right to use firearms in the defense and protection of our homes from armed invaders who are conspiring to kidnap our children?  The real criminals in this case are the CPS workers. They should be brought up on attempting kidnapping charges as well as a criminal conspiracy to commit kidnapping. The gun-toting cops who broke into Maryanne’s home and attempted to kidnap her daughter should be arrested and brought up on charges of armed robbery, breaking and entering and conspiracy to commit the felony crime of kidnapping.  And yet, instead, Maryanne is now facing multiple felony charges while the CPS criminals and cops who raided her home are charged with nothing.  Where is the justice in America today? How did medication become something to be enforced with bullets and SWAT teams? And more importantly, how far will this go before this tyranny ends?  Next, will they just line everybody up against a brick wall, and those who can’t produce a receipt for medication get a bullet in their heads?

Cat Parasite creeps into Brain

 

Jaroslav Flegr is no kook. And yet, for years, he suspected his mind had been taken over by parasites that had invaded his brain. So the prolific biologist took his science-fiction hunch into the lab. What he’s now discovering will startle you. Could tiny organisms carried by house cats be creeping into our brains, causing everything from car wrecks to schizophrenia:

Parasite

Parasite

No one would accuse Jaroslav Flegr of being a conformist. A self-described “sloppy dresser,” the 63-year-old Czech scientist has the contemplative air of someone habitually lost in thought, and his still-youthful, square-jawed face is framed by frizzy red hair that encircles his head like a ring of fire.  Certainly Flegr’s thinking is jarringly unconventional. Starting in the early 1990s, he began to suspect that a single-celled parasite in the protozoan family was subtly manipulating his personality, causing him to behave in strange, often self-destructive ways. And if it was messing with his mind, he reasoned, it was probably doing the same to others.  The parasite, which is excreted by cats in their feces, is called Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii or Toxo for short) and is the microbe that causes toxoplasmosis—the reason pregnant women are told to avoid cats’ litter boxes. Since the 1920s, doctors have recognized that a woman who becomes infected during pregnancy can transmit the disease to the fetus, in some cases resulting in severe brain damage or death. T. gondii is also a major threat to people with weakened immunity: in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, before good antiretroviral drugs were developed, it was to blame for the dementia that afflicted many patients at the disease’s end stage. Healthy children and adults, however, usually experience nothing worse than brief flu-like symptoms before quickly fighting off the protozoan, which thereafter lies dormant inside brain cells—or at least that’s the standard medical wisdom.  But if Flegr is right, the “latent” parasite may be quietly tweaking the connections between our neurons, changing our response to frightening situations, our trust in others, how outgoing we are, and even our preference for certain scents. And that’s not all. He also believes that the organism contributes to car crashes, suicides, and mental disorders such as schizophrenia. When you add up all the different ways it can harm us, says Flegr, “Toxoplasma might even kill as many people as malaria, or at least a million people a year.”  An evolutionary biologist at Charles University in Prague, Flegr has pursued this theory for decades in relative obscurity. Because he struggles with English and is not much of a conversationalist even in his native tongue, he rarely travels to scientific conferences. That “may be one of the reasons my theory is not better known,” he says. And, he believes, his views may invite deep-seated opposition. “There is strong psychological resistance to the possibility that human behavior can be influenced by some stupid parasite,” he says. “Nobody likes to feel like a puppet. Reviewers [of my scientific papers] may have been offended.” Another more obvious reason for resistance, of course, is that Flegr’s notions sound an awful lot like fringe science, right up there with UFO sightings and claims of dolphins telepathically communicating with humans.  But after years of being ignored or discounted, Flegr is starting to gain respectability. Psychedelic as his claims may sound, many researchers, including such big names in neuroscience as Stanford’s Robert Sapolsky, think he could well be onto something. Flegr’s “studies are well conducted, and I can see no reason to doubt them,” Sapolsky tells me. Indeed, recent findings from Sapolsky’s lab and British groups suggest that the parasite is capable of extraordinary shenanigans. T. gondii, reports Sapolsky, can turn a rat’s strong innate aversion to cats into an attraction, luring it into the jaws of its No. 1 predator. Even more amazing is how it does this: the organism rewires circuits in parts of the brain that deal with such primal emotions as fear, anxiety, and sexual arousal. “Overall,” says Sapolsky, “this is wild, bizarre neurobiology.” Another academic heavyweight who takes Flegr seriously is the schizophrenia expert E. Fuller Torrey, director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute, in Maryland. “I admire Jaroslav for doing [this research],” he says. “It’s obviously not politically correct, in the sense that not many labs are doing it. He’s done it mostly on his own, with very little support. I think it bears looking at. I find it completely credible.”  What’s more, many experts think T. gondii may be far from the only microscopic puppeteer capable of pulling our strings. “My guess is that there are scads more examples of this going on in mammals, with parasites we’ve never even heard of,” says Sapolsky.  Familiar to most of us, of course, is the rabies virus. On the verge of killing a dog, bat, or other warm-blooded host, it stirs the animal into a rage while simultaneously migrating from the nervous system to the creature’s saliva, ensuring that when the host bites, the virus will live on in a new carrier. But aside from rabies, stories of parasites commandeering the behavior of large-brained mammals are rare. The far more common victims of parasitic mind control—at least the ones we know about—are fish, crustaceans, and legions of insects, according to Janice Moore, a behavioral biologist at Colorado State University. “Flies, ants, caterpillars, wasps, you name it—there are truckloads of them behaving weirdly as a result of parasites,” she says.  Consider Polysphincta gutfreundi, a parasitic wasp that grabs hold of an orb spider and attaches a tiny egg to its belly. A wormlike larva emerges from the egg, and then releases chemicals that prompt the spider to abandon weaving its familiar spiral web and instead spin its silk thread into a special pattern that will hold the cocoon in which the larva matures. The “possessed” spider even crochets a specific geometric design in the net, camouflaging the cocoon from the wasp’s predators.   Flegr himself traces his life’s work to another master of mind control. Almost 30 years ago, as he was reading a book by the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, Flegr was captivated by a passage describing how a flatworm turns an ant into its slave by invading the ant’s nervous system. A drop in temperature normally causes ants to head underground, but the infected insect instead climbs to the top of a blade of grass and clamps down on it, becoming easy prey for a grazing sheep. “Its mandibles actually become locked in that position, so there’s nothing the ant can do except hang there in the air,” says Flegr. The sheep grazes on the grass and eats the ant; the worm gains entrance into the ungulate’s gut, which is exactly where it needs to be in order to complete—as the Lion King song goes—the circle of life. “It was the first I learned about this kind of manipulation, so it made a big impression on me,” Flegr says.  After he read the book, Flegr began to make a connection that, he readily admits, others might find crazy: his behavior, he noticed, shared similarities with that of the reckless ant. For example, he says, he thought nothing of crossing the street in the middle of dense traffic, “and if cars honked at me, I didn’t jump out of the way.” He also made no effort to hide his scorn for the Communists who ruled Czechoslovakia for most of his early adulthood. “It was very risky to openly speak your mind at that time,” he says. “I was lucky I wasn’t imprisoned.” And during a research stint in eastern Turkey, when the strife-torn region frequently erupted in gunfire, he recalls being “very calm.” In contrast, he says, “my colleagues were terrified. I wondered what was wrong with myself.”  His bewilderment continued until 1990, when he joined the biology faculty of Charles University. As it happened, the 650-year-old institution had long been a world leader in documenting the health effects of T. gondii, as well as developing methods for detecting the parasite. In fact, just as Flegr was arriving, his colleagues were searching for infected individuals on whom to test their improved diagnostic kits, which is how he came to be asked one day to roll up his sleeve and donate blood. He discovered that he had the parasite—and just possibly, he thought, the key to his baffling self-destructive streak.  He delved into T. gondii’s life cycle. After an infected cat defecates, Flegr learned, the parasite is typically picked up from the soil by scavenging or grazing animals—notably rodents, pigs, and cattle—all of which then harbor it in their brain and other body tissues. Humans, on the other hand, are exposed not only by coming into contact with litter boxes, but also, he found, by drinking water contaminated with cat feces, eating unwashed vegetables, or, especially in Europe, by consuming raw or undercooked meat. Hence the French, according to Flegr, with their love of steak prepared saignant—literally, “bleeding”—can have infection rates as high as 55 percent. (Americans will be happy to hear that the parasite resides in far fewer of them, though a still substantial portion: 10 to 20 percent.) Once inside an animal or human host, the parasite then needs to get back into the cat, the only place where it can sexually reproduce—and this is when, Flegr believed, behavioral manipulation might come into play.

The parasite T. gondii, seen here, may be changing connections between our neurones, altering how we act and feel.

Researchers had already observed a few peculiarities about rodents with T. gondii that bolstered Flegr’s theory. The infected rodents were much more active in running wheels than uninfected rodents were, suggesting that they would be more-attractive targets for cats, which are drawn to fast-moving objects. They also were less wary of predators in exposed spaces. Little, however, was known about how the latent infection might influence humans, because we and other large mammals were widely presumed to be accidental hosts, or, as scientists are fond of putting it, a “dead end” for the parasite. But even if we were never part of the parasite’s life cycle, Flegr reasoned, mammals from mouse to man share the vast majority of their genes, so we might, in a case of mistaken identity, still be vulnerable to manipulations by the parasite.  In the Soviet-stunted economy, animal studies were way beyond Flegr’s research budget. But fortunately for him, 30 to 40 percent of Czechs had the latent form of the disease, so plenty of students were available “to serve as very cheap experimental animals.” He began by giving them and their parasite-free peers standardized personality tests—an inexpensive, if somewhat crude, method of measuring differences between the groups. In addition, he used a computer-based test to assess the reaction times of participants, who were instructed to press a button as soon as a white square popped up anywhere against the dark background of the monitor.  The subjects who tested positive for the parasite had significantly delayed reaction times. Flegr was especially surprised to learn, though, that the protozoan appeared to cause many sex-specific changes in personality. Compared with uninfected men, males who had the parasite were more introverted, suspicious, oblivious to other people’s opinions of them, and inclined to disregard rules. Infected women, on the other hand, presented in exactly the opposite way: they were more outgoing, trusting, image-conscious, and rule-abiding than uninfected women.  The findings were so bizarre that Flegr initially assumed his data must be flawed. So he tested other groups—civilian and military populations. Again, the same results. Then, in search of more corroborating evidence, he brought subjects in for further observation and a battery of tests, in which they were rated by someone ignorant of their infection status. To assess whether participants valued the opinions of others, the rater judged how well dressed they appeared to be. As a measure of gregariousness, participants were asked about the number of friends they’d interacted with over the past two weeks. To test whether they were prone to being suspicious, they were asked, among other things, to drink an unidentified liquid.  The results meshed well with the questionnaire findings. Compared with uninfected people of the same sex, infected men were more likely to wear rumpled old clothes; infected women tended to be more meticulously attired, many showing up for the study in expensive, designer-brand clothing. Infected men tended to have fewer friends, while infected women tended to have more. And when it came to downing the mystery fluid, reports Flegr, “the infected males were much more hesitant than uninfected men. They wanted to know why they had to do it. Would it harm them?” In contrast, the infected women were the most trusting of all subjects. “They just did what they were told,” he says.  Why men and women reacted so differently to the parasite still mystified him. After consulting the psychological literature, he started to suspect that heightened anxiety might be the common denominator underlying their responses. When under emotional strain, he read, women seek solace through social bonding and nurturing. In the lingo of psychologists, they’re inclined to “tend and befriend.” Anxious men, on the other hand, typically respond by withdrawing and becoming hostile or antisocial. Perhaps he was looking at flip sides of the same coin.  Closer inspection of Flegr’s reaction-time results revealed that infected subjects became less attentive and slowed down a minute or so into the test. This suggested to him that Toxoplasma might have an adverse impact on driving, where constant vigilance and fast reflexes are critical. He launched two major epidemiological studies in the Czech Republic, one of men and women in the general population and another of mostly male drivers in the military. Those who tested positive for the parasite, both studies showed, were about two and a half times as likely to be in a traffic accident as their uninfected peers.  When I met Flegr for the first time, last September, at his office on the third floor of Charles University’s Biological Sciences building, I was expecting something of a wild man. But once you get past the riotous red hair, his style is understated. Thin and slight of build, he’s soft-spoken, precise with his facts, and—true to his Toxo status—clad in old sneakers, faded bell-bottom jeans, and a loose-fitting button-up shirt. As our conversation proceeds, I discover that his latest findings have become—to quote Alice in Wonderland—“curiouser and curiouser,” which may explain why his forehead has the deep ruts of a chronic worrier, or someone perpetually perplexed.  He’s published some data, he tells me, that suggest infected males might have elevated testosterone levels. Possibly for that reason, women shown photos of these men rate them as more masculine than pictures of uninfected men. “I want to investigate this more closely to see if it’s true,” he says. “Also, it could be women find infected men more attractive. That’s something else we hope to test.”  Meanwhile, two Turkish studies have replicated his studies linking Toxoplasma to traffic accidents. With up to one-third of the world infected with the parasite, Flegr now calculates that T. gondii is a likely factor in several hundred thousand road deaths each year. In addition, reanalysis of his personality-questionnaire data revealed that, just like him, many other people who have the latent infection feel intrepid in dangerous situations. “Maybe,” he says, “that’s another reason they get into traffic accidents. They don’t have a normal fear response.”  It’s almost impossible to hear about Flegr’s research without wondering whether you’re infected—especially if, like me, you’re a cat owner, favor very rare meat, and identify even a little bit with your Toxo sex stereotype. So before coming to Prague, I’d gotten tested for the parasite, but I didn’t yet know the results. It seemed a good time to see what his intuition would tell me. “Can you guess from observing someone whether they have the parasite—myself, for example?,” I ask.  “No,” he says, “the parasite’s effects on personality are very subtle.” If, as a woman, you were introverted before being infected, he says, the parasite won’t turn you into a raving extrovert. It might just make you a little less introverted. “I’m very typical of Toxoplasma males,” he continues. “But I don’t know whether my personality traits have anything to do with the infection. It’s impossible to say for any one individual. You usually need about 50 people who are infected and 50 who are not, in order to see a statistically significant difference. The vast majority of people will have no idea they’re infected.”  Still, he concedes, the parasite could be very bad news for a small percentage of people—and not just those who might be at greater risk for car accidents. Many schizophrenia patients show shrinkage in parts of their cerebral cortex, and Flegr thinks the protozoan may be to blame for that. He hands me a recently published paper on the topic that he co-authored with colleagues at Charles University, including a psychiatrist named Jiri Horacek. Twelve of 44 schizophrenia patients who underwent MRI scans, the team found, had reduced gray matter in the brain—and the decrease occurred almost exclusively in those who tested positive for T. gondii. After reading the abstract, I must look stunned, because Flegr smiles and says, “Jiri had the same response. I don’t think he believed it could be true.” When I later speak with Horacek, he admits to having been skeptical about Flegr’s theory at the outset. When they merged the MRI results with the infection data, however, he went from being a doubter to being a believer. “I was amazed at how pronounced the effect was,” he says. “To me that suggests the parasite may trigger schizophrenia in genetically susceptible people.”  One might be tempted to dismiss the bulk of Flegr’s work as hokum—the fanciful imaginings of a lone, eccentric scholar—were it not for the pioneering research of Joanne Webster, a parasitologist at Imperial College London. Just as Flegr was embarking on his human trials, Webster, then a freshly minted Ph.D., was launching studies of Toxo-infected rodents, reasoning, just as Flegr did, that as hosts of the parasite, they would be likely targets for behavioral manipulation.  She quickly confirmed, as previous researchers had shown, that infected rats were more active and less cautious in areas where predators lurk. But then, in a simple, elegant experiment, she and her colleagues demonstrated that the parasite did something much more remarkable. They treated one corner of each rat’s enclosure with the animal’s own odor, a second with water, a third with cat urine, and the last corner with the urine of a rabbit, a creature that does not prey on rodents. “We thought the parasite might reduce the rats’ aversion to cat odor,” she told me. “Not only did it do that, but it actually increased their attraction. They spent more time in the cat-treated areas.” She and other scientists repeated the experiment with the urine of dogs and minks, which also prey on rodents. The effect was so specific to cat urine, she says, that “we call it ‘fatal feline attraction.’”  She began tagging the parasite with fluorescent markers and tracking its progress in the rats’ bodies. Given the surgically precise way the microbe alters behavior, Webster anticipated that it would end up in localized regions of the brain. But the results defied expectations. “We were quite surprised to find the cysts—the parasite’s dormant form—all over the brain in what otherwise appeared to be a happy, healthy rat,” she says. Nonetheless, the cysts were most abundant in a part of the brain that deals with pleasure (in human terms, we’re talking sex, drugs, and rock and roll) and in another area that’s involved in fear and anxiety (post-traumatic stress disorder affects this region of the brain). Perhaps, she thought, T. gondii uses a scattershot approach, disseminating cysts far and wide, enabling a few of them to zero in on the right targets. To gain more clarity on the matter, she sought the aid of the parasitologist Glenn McConkey, whose team at the University of Leeds was probing the protozoan’s genome for signs of what it might be doing. The approach brought to light a striking talent of the parasite: it has two genes that allow it to crank up production of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the host brain. “We never cease to be amazed by the sophistication of these parasites,” Webster says.  Their findings, reported last summer, created immediate buzz. Dopamine is a critical signaling molecule involved in fear, pleasure, and attention. Furthermore, the neurotransmitter is known to be jacked up in people with schizophrenia—another one of those strange observations about the disease, like its tendency to erode gray matter, that have long puzzled medical researchers. Antipsychotic medicine designed to quell schizophrenic delusions apparently blocks the action of dopamine, which had suggested to Webster that what it might really be doing is thwarting the parasite. Scientists had already shown that adding the medicine to a petri dish where T. gondii is happily dividing will stunt the organism’s growth. So Webster decided to feed the antipsychotic drug to newly infected rats to see how they reacted. Lo and behold, they didn’t develop fatal feline attraction. Suddenly, attributing behavioral changes to the microbe seemed much more plausible.  As the scientific community digested the British team’s dopamine discoveries, Robert Sapolsky’s lab at Stanford announced still more attention-grabbing news. The neuroscientist and his colleagues found that T. gondii disconnects fear circuits in the brain, which might help to explain why infected rats lose their aversion to cat odor. Just as startling, reports Sapolsky, the parasite simultaneously is “able to hijack some of the circuitry related to sexual arousal” in the male rat—probably, he theorizes, by boosting dopamine levels in the reward-processing part of the brain. So when the animal catches a whiff of cat scent, the fear center fails to fully light up, as it would in a normal rat, and instead the area governing sexual pleasure begins to glow. “In other words,” he says, “Toxo makes cat odor smell sexy to male rats.”  The neurobiologist Ajai Vyas, after working with Sapolsky on this study as a postdoctoral student, decided to inspect infected rats’ testicles for signs of cysts. Sure enough, he found them there—as well as in the animals’ semen. And when the rat copulates, Vyas discovered, the protozoan moves into the female’s womb, typically infecting 60 percent of her pups, before traveling on up to her own brain—creating still more vehicles for ferrying the parasite back into the belly of a cat.  Could T. gondii be a sexually transmitted disease in humans too? “That’s what we hope to find out,” says Vyas, who now works at Nanyang Technological University, in Singapore. The researchers also discovered that infected male rats suddenly become much more attractive to females. “It’s a very strong effect,” says Vyas. “Seventy-five percent of the females would rather spend time with the infected male.”  After I return from Prague, Flegr informs me that he’s just had a paper accepted for publication that, he claims, “proves fatal feline attraction in humans.” By that he means that infected men like the smell of cat pee—or at least they rank its scent much more favorably than uninfected men do. Displaying the characteristic sex differences that define many Toxo traits, infected women have the reverse response, ranking the scent even more offensive than do women free of the parasite. The sniff test was done blind and also included urine collected from a dog, horse, hyena, and tiger. Infection did not affect how subjects rated these other samples.  “Is it possible cat urine may be an aphrodisiac for infected men?,” I ask. “Yes. It’s possible. Why not?” says Flegr. I think he’s smiling at the other end of the phone line, but I’m not sure, which leaves me wondering whether I’ve stumbled onto a topic ripe for a Saturday Night Live skit, or a matter worthy of medical concern. When I ask Sapolsky about Flegr’s most recent research, he says the effects Flegr is reporting “are incredibly cool. However, I’m not too worried, in that the effects on humans are not gigantic. If you want to reduce serious car accidents, and you had to choose between curing people of Toxo infections versus getting people not to drive drunk or while texting, go for the latter in terms of impact.”  In fact, Sapolsky thinks that Toxo’s inventiveness might even offer us some benefits. If we can figure out how the parasite makes animals less fearful, he says, it might give us insights into how to devise treatments for people plagued by social-anxiety disorder, phobias, PTSD, and the like. “But frankly,” he adds, “this mostly falls into the ‘Get a load of this, can you believe what nature has come up with?’ category.” Webster is more circumspect, if not downright troubled. “I don’t want to cause any panic,” she tells me. “In the vast majority of people, there will be no ill effects, and those who are affected will mostly demonstrate subtle shifts of behavior. But in a small number of cases, [Toxo infection] may be linked to schizophrenia and other disturbances associated with altered dopamine levels—for example, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and mood disorders. The rat may live two or three years, while humans can be infected for many decades, which is why we may be seeing these severe side effects in people. We should be cautious of dismissing such a prevalent parasite.” The psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey agrees—though he came to this viewpoint from a completely different angle than either Webster or Flegr. His opinion stems from decades of research into the root causes of schizophrenia. “Textbooks today still make silly statements that schizophrenia has always been around, it’s about the same incidence all over the world, and it’s existed since time immemorial,” he says. “The epidemiology literature contradicts that completely.” In fact, he says, schizophrenia did not rise in prevalence until the latter half of the 18th century, when for the first time people in Paris and London started keeping cats as pets. The so-called cat craze began among “poets and left-wing avant-garde Greenwich Village types,” says Torrey, but the trend spread rapidly—and coinciding with that development, the incidence of schizophrenia soared.  Since the 1950s, he notes, about 70 epidemiology studies have explored a link between schizophrenia and T. gondii. When he and his colleague Robert Yolken, a neurovirologist at Johns Hopkins University, surveyed a subset of these papers that met rigorous scientific standards, their conclusion complemented the Prague group’s discovery that schizophrenic patients with Toxo are missing gray matter in their brains. Torrey and Yolken found that the mental illness is two to three times as common in people who have the parasite as in controls from the same region.  Human-genome studies, both scientists believe, are also in keeping with that finding—and might explain why schizophrenia runs in families. The most replicated result from that line of investigation, they say, suggests that the genes most commonly associated with schizophrenia relate to the immune system and how it reacts to infectious agents. So in many cases where the disease appears to be hereditary, they theorize, what may in fact be passed down is an aberrant or deficient immune response to invaders like T. gondii.  Epstein-Barr virus, mumps, rubella, and other infectious agents, they point out, have also been linked to schizophrenia—and there are probably more as yet unidentified triggers, including many that have nothing to do with pathogens. But for now, they say, Toxo remains the strongest environmental factor implicated in the disorder. “If I had to guess,” says Torrey, “I’d say 75 percent of cases of schizophrenia are associated with infectious agents, and Toxo would be involved in a significant subset of those.”  Just as worrisome, says Torrey, the parasite may also increase the risk of suicide. In a 2011 study of 20 European countries, the national suicide rate among women increased in direct proportion to the prevalence of the latent Toxo infection in each nation’s female population. According to Teodor Postolache, a psychiatrist and the director of the Mood and Anxiety Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a flurry of other studies, several conducted by his own team, offers further support of T. gondii’s link to higher rates of suicidal behavior. These include investigations of general populations as well as groups made up of patients with bipolar disorder, severe depression, and schizophrenia, and in places as diverse as Turkey, Germany, and the Baltimore/Washington area. Exactly how the parasite may push vulnerable people over the edge is yet to be determined. Postolache theorizes that what disrupts mood and the ability to control violent impulses may not be the organism per se, but rather neurochemical changes associated with the body’s immune response to it. “As far-fetched as these ideas may sound,” says Postolache, “the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention was willing to put money behind this research.”  Given all the nasty science swirling around this parasite, is it time for cat lovers to switch their allegiance to other animals?  Even Flegr would advise against that. Indoor cats pose no threat, he says, because they don’t carry the parasite. As for outdoor cats, they shed the parasite for only three weeks of their life, typically when they’re young and have just begun hunting. During that brief period, Flegr simply recommends taking care to keep kitchen counters and tables wiped clean. (He practices what he preaches: he and his wife have two school-age children, and two outdoor cats that have free roam of their home.) Much more important for preventing exposure, he says, is to scrub vegetables thoroughly and avoid drinking water that has not been properly purified, especially in the developing world, where infection rates can reach 95 percent in some places. Also, he advises eating meat on the well-done side—or, if that’s not to your taste, freezing it before cooking, to kill the cysts.  As concerns about the latent infection mount, however, experts have begun thinking about more-aggressive steps to counter the parasite’s spread. Inoculating cats or livestock against T. gondii might be one way to interrupt its life cycle, offers Johns Hopkins’ Robert Yolken. Moving beyond prevention to treatment is a taller order. Once the parasite becomes deeply ensconced in brain cells, routing it out of the body is virtually impossible: the thick-walled cysts are impregnable to antibiotics. Because T. gondii and the malaria protozoan are related, however, Yolken and other researchers are looking among antimalarial agents for more-effective drugs to attack the cysts. But for now, medicine has no therapy to offer people who want to rid themselves of the latent infection; and until solid proof exists that Toxo is as dangerous as some scientists now fear, pharmaceutical companies don’t have much incentive to develop anti-Toxo drugs.  Yolken hopes that will change. “To explain where we are in Toxo research today,” he says, “the analogy I always give is the ulcer bacteria. We first needed to find ways of treating the organism and showing that the disease went away when you did that. We will have to show that when we very effectively treat Toxoplasma, some portion of psychiatric illness goes away.”  But T. gondii is just one of an untold number of infectious agents that prey on us. And if the rest of the animal kingdom is anything to go by, says Colorado State University’s Janice Moore, plenty of them may be capable of tinkering with our minds. For example, she and Chris Reiber, a biomedical anthropologist at Binghamton University, in New York, strongly suspected that the flu virus might boost our desire to socialize. Why? Because it spreads through close physical contact, often before symptoms emerge—meaning that it must find a new host quickly. To explore this hunch, Moore and Reiber tracked 36 subjects who received a flu vaccine, reasoning that it contains many of the same chemical components as the live virus and would thus cause the subjects’ immune systems to react as if they’d encountered the real pathogen.  The difference in the subjects’ behavior before and after vaccination was pronounced: the flu shot had the effect of nearly doubling the number of people with whom the participants came in close contact during the brief window when the live virus was maximally contagious. “People who had very limited or simple social lives were suddenly deciding that they needed to go out to bars or parties, or invite a bunch of people over,” says Reiber. “This happened with lots of our subjects. It wasn’t just one or two outliers.”  Reiber has her eye trained on other human pathogens that she thinks may well be playing similar games, if only science could prove it. For example, she says, many people at the end stages of AIDS and syphilis express an intense craving for sex. So, too, do individuals at the beginning of a herpes outbreak. These may just be anecdotal accounts, she concedes, but based on her own findings, she wouldn’t be surprised if these urges come from the pathogen making known its will to survive.  “We’ve found all kinds of excuses for why we do the things we do,” observes Moore. “‘My genes made me do it.’ ‘My parents are to blame.’ I’m afraid we may have reached the point where parasites may have to be added to the laundry list of excuses.”  She has a point. In fact, I’ve been wondering whether T. gondii might in some small way be contributing to my extreme extroversion—why I can’t resist striking up conversations everywhere I go, even when I’m short of time or with strangers I’ll never see again. Then it occurs to me that cysts in my brain might be behind my seesaw moods or even my splurges on expensive clothes. Maybe, I think with mounting conviction, the real me would have displayed better self-control, had I not been forced to swim upstream against the will of an insidious parasite. With my feline pal Pixie on my lap (for the record, she’s an outdoor cat), I call to get the results of my Toxo test. Negative. I don’t have the latent infection.  I call to tell Flegr the good news. Even though I’m relieved, I know my voice sounds flat. “It’s strange to admit,” I say, “but I think I’m a little disappointed.” He laughs. “People who have cats often feel that way, because they think the parasite explains why they behave this way or that,” he says. “But,” I protest, “you thought the same way.” Then it hits me. I may have dodged T. gondii, but given our knack for fooling ourselves—plus all those parasites out there that may also be playing tricks on our minds—can anyone really know who’s running the show?

 

No profit for workers

Corporate Margins and Profits are Increasing, But Workers’ Wages Aren’t:

Wage Slavery

Wage Slavery

As we’ve been noting, corporate profits have made it back to their pre-recession heights (even if corporate tax revenue hasn’t followed suit). In fact, in 2011, corporate profits hit their highest level since 1950. But as Bloomberg News noted today, this hasn’t translated into wage growth or more purchasing power for workers:

Companies are improving margins and generating profits as wage growth for the American worker lags behind the prices of goods and services…While benefiting the bottom line for businesses, the decline in inflation-adjusted wages bodes ill for the sustainability of economic growth as consumers may eventually be forced to cut back. […]

Of the 394 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index that have reported since Jan. 9, earnings for the quarter ended Dec. 31 increased 5.1 percent on average and beat analyst estimates by 3.2 percent. Some 70 percent of the companies have posted better-than-projected results.

This pattern has become all too familiar during the slow economic recovery. In fact, real wages fell in 2011, despite record corporate profits. “There’s never been a postwar era in which unemployment has been this high for this long,” explained labor economist Gary Burtless. “Workers are in a very weak bargaining position.”  Between 2009 and 2011, 88 percent of national income growth went to corporate profits, while just 1 percent went to wages, a stat that is “historically unprecedented.”

 

China eats Human Babies

No one could accuse The Chinese of being squeamish about the things they eat – monkeys’ brains, owls’ eyes, bears’ paws and deep fried scorpions are all items on The menu:

Baby Soup

Baby Soup

Most dishes revered as national favorites sound as harmless as boiled rice when compared to the latest pint de jour allegedly gaining favor in Shenzhen – human fetus. Rumors that dead embryos were being used as dietary supplements started to spread early last year with reports that some doctors in Shenzhen hospitals were eating dead fetuses after carrying out abortions. The doctors allegedly defended their actions by saying the embryos were good for their skin and general health.  A trend was set and soon reports circulated that doctors in the city were promoting fetuses as a human tonic. Hospital cleaning women were seen fighting each other to take the treasured human remains home. Last month, reporters from EastWeek – a sister publication of Eastern Express – went to Shenzhen to see if the rumors could be substantiated. On March 7, a reporter entered the state-run Shenzhen Heath Center for Women and Children’s feigning illness and asked a female doctor for a fetus. The doctor said the department was out of stock but to come again.  The next day the reporter returned at lunch time. The doctor eventually emerged from the operating theatre holding a fist size glass bottle stuffed with thumbsized fetuses.  She said: “There are 10 fetuses here, all aborted this morning. You can take them. We are a state hospital and don’t charge anything.  “Normally, we doctors take them home to eat – all free. Since you don’t look well, you can take them.”  Not every state hospital is as generous with its dead embryos as the Health Center for Women and Children. At the Shenzhen People’s Hospital, for example, the reporter was in for a surprise.  When a Ms. Yang, the head nurse, was asked for fetuses, she looked anxious and asked other staff to leave. After closing the door, she asked the undercover buyer in a low voice: “Where did you (get to) know that we sell fetuses?”  The reporter answered: “A doctor friend in Hong Kong told me.”  “Who? What is his/her name?” The reporter was not prepared for this line of questioning and could not come up with a name. Yang told him that fetuses were only for sale within the hospital, and were not for public purchase. She added that some staff would, however, sell the fetuses on to Hong Kong buyers.  The reporter learned that the going rate for a fetus was $10 but when the merchandise was in short supply, the price could go up to $20. But these prices are pin money compared to those set by private clinics, which are said to make a fortune selling fetuses. One chap on Bong Men Lao Street charges $300 for one fetus. The person in charge of the clinic is a man in his 60’s. When he saw the ailing reporter, he offered to take an order for fetuses that had reached full-term and which, it is claimed, contain the best healing properties. When a female doctor named Yang – no relation – of Sin Hua clinic was asked whether fetuses were edible, she said emphatically: “Of course they are. They are even better than placentas.  “They can make your skin smoother, your body stronger and are good for kidneys. When I was in an army hospital in Jiangti province, I often brought fetuses home. They were pink, like little mice, with hands and feet. Normally, I buy some pork to make soup (with the fetuses added). I know they are human beings, and (eating them) feels disgusting. But at that time, it was already very popular.”  A Mr. Cheng from Hong Kong claims he has been eating fetus soup for more than six months. To begin, the man, in his 40’s, would make the trip to Shenzhen frequently for business and was introduced to fetuses by friends. He says he met a number of professors and doctors in government hospitals who helped him buy the fetuses. “At first, I felt uncomfortable, but doctors said the substances in fetuses could help cure my asthma. I started taking them and gradually, the asthma disappeared,” Cheng said.” Now, Cheng only eats fetuses occasionally to top up his treatment, but there was a time when he made regular cross border trips with the gruesome merchandise. “Everytime [I made the trip], I carried a Thermos flask to Shenzhen and brought the fetuses back to Hong Kong to make soup. If they gave me 20 or 30 at a time, I put them in the refrigerator. I didn’t have the soup every day – it depended on the supply.  “Usually, I washed the fetuses clean, and added ginger, orange peel and pork to make soup. After taking it for a while, I felt a lot better and my asthma disappeared. I used to take placenta, but it was not so helpful.” When asked if he was concerned about the fetuses containing diseases, Cheng was dismissive. “I bought them from government hospitals. They would check the pregnant women before doing the operations and only sell them to me if there was no problem. Also, I always boil them over high heat which kills any bacteria.” Although Cheng has overcome any squeamishness over eating fetus soup, he says he drew the line at consuming whole dead embryos. He also refrains from telling people of his grisly dietary habits.  Zou Qin, 32, a woman from Hubei with the fine skin of a someone several years younger, attributes her well preserved looks to a diet of fetuses. As a doctor at the Lun Hu Clinic, Zou has carried out abortions on several hundred patients. She believes fetuses are highly nutritious and claims to have eaten more than 100 in the past six months. She pulls out a fetus specimen before a reporter and explains the selection criteria. “People normally prefer (fetuses of) young women, and even better, the first baby and a male.” She adds: “They are wasted if we don’t eat them. The women who receive abortions here don’t want the fetuses. Also, the fetuses are already dead [when we eat them]. We don’t carry out abortions just to eat the fetuses.  “Before, my sister’s children were very weak. I heard that fetuses were good for your health and started taking some to my nephews,” Zou says, without remorse. “I wash them with clear water until they look transparent white and then stew them. Making soup is best.” But she admits there are drawbacks to this dubious delicacy. “Fetuses are very smelly and not everybody can take the stink,” she said. “You can also make meat cakes by mixing fetuses with minced meat but you have to add more ginger and chives to get rid of the smell.”  Hong Kong legislator Dr. Tan Siu-tong is surprised that it could be within anyone’s capability to overcome the stench of a dead fetus, even if their stomachs are lined with lead. “When all the placental tissue is dead, the smell is awful and is enough to make you feel sick. It is like having a dead mouse in the house,” he said.  The fetuses allegedly eaten by the Chinese are all provided by China’s extensive abortion services. Last year, doctors at the People’s Hospital – the biggest hospital in Shenzhen – carried out more than 7,000 terminations, 509 on Hong Kong women. The Hong Kong Family Planning Association (FPA) estimates that 24 percent of all abortions on Hong Kong women are performed in the dubious surroundings of a Chinese hospital. A Ms. Li from Hong Kong has had two abortions in Shenzhen but has never heard of people eating fetuses. “But I didn’t want the babies, so after the abortions, I just left them to the hospital,” she says. “I didn’t want to look at them, and I certainly didn’t want to keep them. Fetuses of two or three months are just water and blood when they come out. They are so small, how can you eat them?”  Doctors in the territory have responded with disgust and incredulity to stories of people supplementing their diets with fetuses. Many have read articles on fetal cannibalism but none has been able to verify the reports. They are treating the issue with skepticism. Dr. Margaret Kwan, a gynecologist who until two weeks ago held the post of chief executive at the FPA, says: “This is the strangest thing I have ever heard coming out of China. I just hope it is not true.”  Dr. Warren Lee, president of the Hong Kong Nutrition Association, is aware of the unsavory rumors. “Eating fetuses are a kind of traditional Chinese medicine and is deeply founded in Chinese folklore. In terms of nutrition, a fetus would be a good source of protein and fats, and there are minerals in bone. But I don’t know if eating fetuses are just folklore or more than that,” he says. According to Lee, it is conceivable that fetuses are rich in certain hormones that are beneficial to the adult human body, but should this be the case, the fetal matter would have to be converted into an indictable form for best results, as most hormones including the hormone for diabetes, insulin – are broken down in the digestive system before they have a chance to be absorbed by the body.  But Lee suggests that anyone who eats a fetus would be seeking a remedy that is far more elusive than a hormone or mineral. “Some people may think there is also an unidentified substance or chemical that has healing powers, but there is no evidence that this is true.” Lee urges people to be wary – “There are people out there who just want to make money and they will come up with all sorts of formulas or substances, which, they say will cure diseases.”  As a child, Patrick Yau was fed on human placentas by his mother who worked at a local hospital, but in his current position as a psychologist with the Social Welfare Department he is both repulsed and shocked by the notion of eating fetuses. “As a Catholic, I object to abortions because I believe the fetus is a human life, and I certainly object to eating a dead baby after it has been aborted,” he says. Yau concedes that in China, where the one child policy has turned abortions into an acceptable remedy to an unfortunate human blunder, people may have adopted a new outlook on life before birth, such that embryos are stripped of their status as human beings.  But Tang fails to understand how anyone anywhere can convince themselves “that they are just eating an organism when they are actually eating a dead body”. “It may not be a formed human being, but when they think about it most people would think: ‘Ugh! No, I can’t eat that.’ I don’t think civilized people with an education could do that sort of thing.”  Dr. Wong, a Hong Kong doctor who practices Western medicine, thinks only the ignorant would eat human fetuses. He explains that fetuses contain mucoploysaccharide, which is beneficial to the metabolism, but states that it can be found in a lot of other food – Chinese doctor Chu Ho-Ting agrees that there is no place for fetuses in medicine, and suggests that it might even be unhealthy if the pregnant woman was infected by the disease.  “Most bacteria can be killed under 100 degree heat but some require 400 degrees. Some people believe eating fetuses can strengthen the immunity of the human body against diseases, but this is wrong. Although fetuses contain protein, they are not as nutritious as placenta, which contains different kinds of nutrients. But even placenta has to be taken with other Chinese herbs.”

Quantum encryption Unbreakable

With quantum encryption, in which a message gets encoded in bits represented by particles in different states, a secret message can remain secure even if the system is compromised by a malicious hacker.

Cryptography

Cryptography

 

No matter how complex they are, most  secret codes turn out to be breakable. Producing the ultimate secure code may require encoding a secret message inside the quantum relationship between atoms, scientists say.  Now cryptographers have taken “quantum encryption” a step further by showing how a secret message can remain secure even if the system is compromised by a malicious hacker.Artur Ekert, director of the Center for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore, presented the new findings here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Ekert, speaking Saturday (Feb. 18), described how  decoders can adjust for a compromised encryption device, as long as they know the degree of compromise.  The subject of subatomic particles is a large step away from the use of papyrus, the ancient writing material employed in the first known cryptographic device. That device, called a scytale, was used in 400 B.C. by Spartan military commanders to send coded messages to one another. The commanders would wrap strips of papyrus around a wooden baton and write the message across the strips so that it could be read only when the strips were wrapped around a baton of matching size. Later, the technique of substitution was developed, in which the entire alphabet would be shifted, say, three characters to the right, so than an “a” would be replaced by “d,” and “b” replaced by “e,” and so on. Only someone who knew the substitution rule could read the message. Julius Caesar employed such a cipher scheme in the first century B.C.  Over time, ciphers became more and more complicated, so that they were harder and harder to crack. Harder, but not impossible.  “When you look at the history of cryptography, you come up with a system, and sooner or later someone else comes up with a way of breaking the system,” Ekert said. “You may ask yourself: Is it going to be like this forever? Is there such a thing as the perfect cipher?”  The closest thing to a perfect cipher involves what’s called a one-time pad.  “You just write your message as a sequence of bits and you then add those bits to a key and obtain a cryptogram,” Ekert said.”If you take the cryptogram and add it to the key, you get plain text. In fact, one can prove that if the keys are random and as long as the messages, then the system offers perfect security.”  “If the keys are as long as the message, then you need a secure way to distribute the key,” Ekert said.  The nature of physics known as quantum mechanics seems to offer the best hope of knowing whether a key is secure.  Quantum mechanics says that certain properties of subatomic particles can’t be measured without disturbing the particles and changing the outcome. In essence, a particle exists in a state of indecision until a measurement is made, forcing it to choose one state or another. Thus, if someone made a measurement of the particle, it would irrevocably change the particle.  If an encryption key were encoded in bits represented by particles in different states, it would be immediately obvious when a key was not secure because the measurement made to hack the key would have changed the key.  This, of course, still depends on the ability of the two parties sending and receiving the message to be able to independently choose what to measure, using a truly random number generator — in other words, exercising free will — and using devices they trust.   But what if a hacker were controlling one of the parties, or tampering with the encryption device?  Ekert and his colleagues showed that even in this case, if the messaging parties still have some free will, their code could remain secure as long as they know to what degree they are compromised.  In other words, a random number generator that is not truly random can still be used to send an undecipherable secret message, as long as the sender knows how random it is and adjusts for that fact.  “Even if they are manipulated, as long as they are not stupid and have a little bit of free will, they can still do it,”.

Climate Scientists Lie

Climate Scientist Admits To Lying, Leaking Documents:

Scientists Lie

Scientists Lie

Peter Gleick is not just any scientist. He got his doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley and won a MacArthur “genius” award. He is also an outspoken proponent of scientific evidence that humans are responsible for climate change.  And earlier this week, he confessed that he had lied to obtain internal documents from the Heartland Institute, a group that questions to what extent climate change is caused by humans.  Gleick’s deception has shaken the science community. Meanwhile, the Heartland Institute, whose funders and policies were described in the documents, is planning legal action.  For Peter Gleick, it’s going to be a personal tragedy. For [the American Geophysical Union], it’s very unfortunate. Situations like this damage our credibility. And that really hurts.  What Gleick admits to is this: He got a document from an anonymous source that appeared to come from the Heartland Institute. Gleick then called the institute using an assumed name. He asked for and received more documents. Then he sent them — anonymously — to bloggers and journalists.  The documents allegedly detailed Heartland’s funding and strategies, including efforts to hire someone to write school curricula questioning mainstream scientific views on climate warming.  Gleick this week wrote in the Huffington Post that he suffered a “serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics” due to his “frustration” with attacks on climate science from places like Heartland.  Scientists are shocked. “This is a tragedy on so many levels,” says Michael McPhaden, who runs the American Geophysical Union. “For Peter Gleick, it’s going to be a personal tragedy. For AGU, it’s very unfortunate. Situations like this damage our credibility. And that really hurts.”  The AGU, like most mainstream scientific groups, endorses the evidence for man-made climate change. And Gleick ran their task force on scientific ethics until he resigned last week.  “People will look at this and say, ‘Ah, you know, another conspiracy in the climate community.’ Of course, we all know that’s smoke and mirrors. But it does hurt our ability to communicate more broadly about the reality of climate change,” says McPhaden.  Roger Pielke Jr., a climate policy analyst at the University of Colorado, wouldn’t go that far. “For most people it’s very much inside baseball,” he says. “It’s a dispute among people and organizations that are really outside the public eye.”  Pielke adds, however, that like some climate scientists, Gleick lost his cool over attacks on their research.  That kind of invasion of privacy is taken really seriously. It has no place in this debate. I mean what kind of ethical code allows for the invasion of privacy of individuals like that?  “My view is that some folks in the science community have gotten so hung up on the fact that some individuals and groups don’t share their views, that it has become an all-out war over ideas.” Pielke says what was a scientific issue has now been conscripted into the politically driven “culture war,” with climate scientists and environmental groups on one side, and those who distrust and disbelieve them on the other, with little crossover.  Gleick works at the Pacific Institute in California. So far, he’s not speaking publicly. A spokesman for Gleick says Gleick knows his judgment was bad but is glad to see Heartland’s sources of income and political strategy out in the open. Those sources include several foundations associated with conservative political and social causes.  But Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science at the University of California, San Diego, says maybe that’s not such a big deal. “The documents that were released last week essentially affirm what we already knew,” she says. “And [the deception] was not necessary because this information is actually available through entirely appropriate means.” In fact, Oreskes has documented ties between climate skeptics and their funders in her book, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.  Oreskes says Gleick’s actions don’t diminish the validity of decades of climate research, nor do they reflect the ethics of scientists who do it. “Thousands and thousands of people are working on this issue, and this is one man,” she says.  At the Heartland Institute, President Joseph Bast says some of the internal documents reveal sensitive information about Heartland donors and staff members. “That kind of invasion of privacy is taken really seriously,” Bast says. “It has no place in this debate. I mean, what kind of ethical code allows for the invasion of privacy of individuals like that?”  Bast says one of the documents that Gleick circulated, a two-page “strategy” that casts Heartland in the worst light, is a forgery. He says an internal investigation shows that “that document did not originate in this organization. There’s no trace of that document anywhere in a Heartland office computer.”  Bast points out that some of the institute’s donors specifically ask for anonymity, which has now been breached, not only by Gleick but by websites that have displayed the documents.  And he disagrees with those who say Gleick’s behavior is atypical, claiming he’s typical of people in the climate community who refuse to engage in debate with Heartland.  “Gleick is not an exception. He’s a role model for people on their side,” Bast says.  Bast says the institute plans to pursue criminal and civil action against Gleick and possibly others involved in circulating the documents.

H5N1 Biosecurity Threat

Deadly bird flu studies to stay secret for now.  The Virus could escape or fall into the wrong hands and be used to spark a pandemic worse than the 1918-19 outbreak:

Avian_influenza_H5N1_virus_

Avian_influenza_H5N1_virus_

 Two studies showing how scientists mutated the H5N1 bird flu virus into a form that could cause a deadly human pandemic will be published only after experts fully assess the risks, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.  Speaking after a high-level meeting of flu experts and U.S. security officials in Geneva, a WHO spokesman said an agreement had been reached in principle to keep details of the controversial work secret until deeper risk analyses have been carried out.  The WHO called the meeting to break a deadlock between scientists who have studied the mutations needed to make H5N1 bird flu transmit between mammals, and the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), which wanted the work censored before it was published in scientific journals.  Biosecurity experts fear mutated forms of the virus that research teams in The Netherlands and the United States independently created could escape or fall into the wrong hands and be used to spark a pandemic worse than the 1918-19 outbreak of Spanish flu that killed up to 40 million people.  “There must be a much fuller discussion of risk and benefits of research in this area and risks of virus itself,” the WHO’s Gregory Hartl told reporters. HIGH FATALITY RATE.  The H5N1 virus, first detected in Hong Kong in 1997, is entrenched among poultry in many countries, mainly in Asia, but so far remains in a form that is hard for humans to catch.  It is known to have infected nearly 700 people worldwide since 2003, killing half of them, a far higher death rate than the H1N1 swine flu which caused a flu pandemic in 2009/2010.  Last year two teams of scientists – one led by Ron Fouchier at Erasmus Medical Center and another led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin – said they had found that just a handful of mutations would allow H5N1 to spread like ordinary flu between mammals, and remain as deadly as it is now.  In December, the NSABB asked two leading scientific journals, Nature and Science, to withhold details of the research for fear it could be used by bioterrorists.  They said a potentially deadlier form of bird flu poses one of the gravest known threats to humans and justified the unprecedented call to censor the research.  The WHO voiced concern, and flu researchers from around the world declared a 60-day moratorium on January 20 on “any research involving highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses” that produce easily contagious forms. Fouchier, who took part in the two-day meeting at the WHO which ended on Friday, said the consensus of experts and officials there was “that in the interest of public health, the full paper should be published” at some future date.  “This was based on the high public health impact of this work and the need to share the details of the studies with a very big community in the interest of science, surveillance and public health on the whole,” he told reporters.  In its current form, people can contract H5N1 only through close contact with ducks, chickens, or other birds that carry it, and not from infected individuals.  But when H5N1 acquires mutations that allow it to live in the upper respiratory tract rather than the lower, the Dutch and U.S. researchers found a way to make it can travel via airborne droplets between infected ferrets, which are considered good models of how flu viruses behave in people.  Asked about the potential bioterrorism risks of his and the U.S. team’s work, Fouchier said “it was the view of the entire group” at the meeting that the risks that this particular virus or flu viruses in general could be used as bioterrorism agents “would be very, very slim.”

Global_H5N1inHuman

Global_H5N1inHuman

Counterfeit devices threatens Human lives

Reports of Counterfeit Parts In Tech Supply Chain Reach All Time High:

Counterfeit

Counterfeit

Counterfeit parts have infiltrated the tech supply chain more rapidly than ever over the last two years with 1,363 reports of fake components made in 2011 alone, according to a report Thursday from market analyst IHS iSuppli.  This number represents a fourfold increase from the 324 reports filed in 2009, and marks the first time in history the reported number of incidents has exceeded 1,000.  1,363 verified counterfeit cases could potentially encompass thousands of parts and millions of dollars’ worth of purchases, iSuppli said. The majority of cases have been reported by U.S.-based military and aerospace firms, but it’s not uncommon for these fake parts to find their way into enterprise organizations around the globe.  “The counterfeit issue is serious, it’s growing and it’s a major problem for electronics makers—especially military and aerospace companies,” said Rory King, director of supply chain product marketing at IHS, in a press statement. “The problem has grown increasingly hard to ignore, as reports of counterfeits have risen exponentially and most companies lack the awareness and capability to effectively detect and mitigate the growing problem.”  Counterfeit parts are reported by military and aerospace firms as being “cheap substitutes or salvaged waste components” that fail to comply with industry standards, iSuppli said. These parts can ultimately cause any electronic device to fail, but the risk they pose to defense and aerospace organizations is especially high because of the potential threat to human lives.  There are fears that some counterfeit devices, such as integrated circuits, could potentially act as “malicious Trojan horses” that could be disabled remotely and threaten defense capabilities at any given time, iSuppli said.  Marc Fertik, director at ACE Computers, a system builder based in Arlington Heights, Ill., told CRN that counterfeit parts are definitely something be cognizant of when working within the supply chain, but haven’t poised as immediate a threat as the report perhaps suggests.  “Generally, [counterfeit parts are] not an issue we face, but it can certainly be a problem,” Fertik said. “Most of the items we buy are components through regular distribution, and there is no motivation to counterfeit. Since we are using primarily brand name components, we are able to track their sourcing. We don’t typically buy chips by themselves, other than CPU and MEMORY, and all of those are typically from authorized sources only.”  Even still, Ace tests and checks every component before deploying it within a device, Fertik said. He also noted that while Ace build systems for military and airforce segments, the technology is used more on the commercial rather than weaponry side, so this could account for the counterfeit issue not being as widespread.  The U.S. government tightened regulations around counterfeit components in the defense supply chain last year, and made it mandatory for all members at all tiers of the chain to establish thorough risk mitigation procedures moving forward.

 

American Police censor Internet

SOPA replacement uses child porn as excuse to spy on 99.7 percent of Americans.  Not only are you a criminal; every web site you ever visit has to collect ‘evidence’ on you. Going beyond child pornographers to treat everyone like a criminals:

police-lights

police-lights

The SOPA and PIPA bills that went down in flames earlier this year for their unbearable intrusiveness, used content piracy as an excuse to give the government powerful tools with which to censor Internet content.  For 2012 the primary author of those bills has switched to a fallback tactic: using child porn as an excuse to create a vast surveillance network from which the government can demand data on every email sent, site visited or link clicked on by all but a fraction of one percent of the U.S. population.  Internet anti-censorship advocates including Anonymous are calling for the ouster of Texas Congressman Lamar Smith, who is following his co-sponsorship of the failed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) with a bill critics call “Big Brother” disguised as an effort to curb child porn and sexual abuse.   Last May Smith, a Texas Republican credited as primary author of both SOPA and PIPA, the Senate version, also introduced H.R. 1981, a bill called the “Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011″ (PCFIPA).  The anti-child-porn provisions in the bill are a “fig leaf for its true purpose: A sweeping data retention requirement meant to turn Internet Service Providers and online companies into surrogate snoops for the government’s convenience,” according to Julian Sanchez, Internet privacy and censorship researcherat the center-right Cato InstituteSmoke and mirrors concealing observers watching you from behind the smoky mirrors.  The bill amends existing laws empowering the U.S. Marshals Service to issue subpoenas and chase fugitives.  The amendments expand the Marshals’ ability to issue subpoenas and adds online pornographers to their list of top targets.

The important, though administrivia-looking part of the bill is this: “A provider of an electronic communication service… shall retain for a period of at least 18 months the temporarily assigned network addresses the service assigns to each account… records retained pursuant to section 2703(h) of title 18, United States Code…” – FCPIFA, H.R. 1981

ISPs are already required to keep some customers’ activity records for 180 days, so this doesn’t look like a big change.  Except, PCFIPA, HR 1981, requires ISPs keep track of every single IP address they assign (except to wireless users) and all the activity flowing across that link.  It doesn’t limit itself to just ISPs, either. By addressing the bill to cover any company providing “electronic communications” or “remote computing” services, the bill effectively covers any site offering services online.  PCFIPA, HR 1981, reverses that point of view (as did PIPA and SOPA), to create a vast database of every action of ever American online – a deep pool of data on the activity of millions of Internet users, through whose private activity they can sift at will until they find something that looks like evidence of a crime.  That’s exactly the opposite of the intent of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment prevents police from searching, questioning, holding or otherwise harassing suspects unless a judge agrees there’s a good reason to investigate a specific person for a specific crime. Accusations that PCFIPA is a universal surveillance bill in disguise cite two specific problems with the bill:

The first is language in the existing federal law, which requires ISPs to provide, under warrant

      : all of a customer’s Internet activity, including email, web browsing, downloads, IM, social networking and anything else done across the public Internet;

    • the customer’s name address, phone number and IP address;
    • a list of all local and long distance phone calls;
    • a list of all electronic communications;
    • means of payment – all credit-card, bank account or other method the customer used to pay;
    • silence – ISPs under warrant or subpoena to give up private records aren’t allowed to alert the customer.

The second is the phrase “unregistered sex offenders” and the power it gives the U.S. Marshals Service to issue its own subpoenas to investigate 99.762 percent of the U.S. population.  By addressing “unregistered sex offenders,” Lamar Smith’s PCFIPA expands its powers of comprehensive surveillance over everyone in the U.S. who has not already been convicted of a sex crime.  According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children‘s Map of Registered Sex Offenders (PDF) there are about 748,000 registered sex offenders in the United States and territories.  That’s an average of 238 offenders per 100,000 who are not sex offenders – approximately .238 percent of the total U.S. population.  Since it is empowering U.S. Marshals to investigate people who have not yet been convicted, under PCFIPA, the only thing required to get a valid subpoena to examine all the online activity 99.762 percent of the U.S. population, is an investigating officer willing to say the subpoena has something to do with investigation of online child porn.  They don’t even have to accuse a specific person or limit themselves to a specific geographic area. Geographically surveillance targets have to be within 500 miles of a specific target of investigation.  Online the bill allows for usage connections – anyone you called, who called you, any sites you may have visited or spammers who might have sent you email. The requirement that ISPs and essentially every site on the Internet keep 18 months worth of records on every visitor would create a complete record of every site visited, every email sent, every link clicked on by every resident of the U.S. and its territories – a vast and comprehensive database of everything any American does online, into which curious cops can dip almost at will, whether they have a good reason to do so or not.  “The data retention mandate in this bill would treat every Internet user like a criminal and threaten the online privacy and free speech rights of every American,” according to Kevin Bankston, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Requiring Internet companies to redesign and reconfigure their systems to facilitate government surveillance of Americans’ expressive activities is simply un-American.”  “The bill is mislabeled,” Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) told CNET in July, when PCFIPA went through brief review in the House judicial committee. “This is not protecting children from Internet pornography. It’s creating a database for everybody in this country for a lot of other purposes.”  Smith argued in committee that the bill involved investigation only of those suspected of the sexual abuse of children.  No so, countered the ACLU, which argued it would actually impact “hundreds of millions of individuals who have no connection to the sexual exploitation of children whatsoever. ..There is nothing in the bill that would limit the use of these records to child exploitation cases,” countered the American Civil Liberties Union, which sent a letter carrying protests from it and 29 other civil rights groups to Smith last summer, without result.  “In fact, the records would involve all internet users everywhere and they would be available to law enforcement for any purpose. This new mandate is a direct assault on the privacy of internet users,” the letter said.  So what’s the upshot?  There is no conclusion to this story yet.  PCFIPA, H.R. 1981, is on the House legislative calendar to be debated, changed, approved or denied sometime during the coming year.  Oddsmakers rate its chances as good, considering it sailed through committee by a vote of 19 to 10.  SOPA and PIPA had similarly good odds before being brought down in flames. PCFIPA, HR 1981, should have much worse chances, considering that powers it grants are much more sweeping than those of either Internet censorship bill and that it adds a huge burden to both ISPs and anyone providing content or software services across the web.  Together the constituency opposing PCFIPA should be at least as large as that opposing SOPA and PIPA.  Opposing those two bills took a lot of effort and unity among independent-minded Internet users.  Both unity and the ability to project opposition appear to have dissipated in the weeks since.  Especially given the effort of Lamar Smith and his backers to conceal unconstitutional powers of surveillance and censorship behind child pornographer straw men, it’s entirely possible HR 1981 will come up for a vote without nearly as much outcry for the ‘net.  If that happens, all the complaining about privacy done by anyone online until now will be moot. PCFIPA requires your ISP to keep track of what you do when it can see you and requires other sites to keep records of what you do when it can’t.  By comparison, losing your email password to a keylogger or having your iPhone give away your location data are small potatoes.  Lamar Smith wants to know more than a password or location. He wants to know what sites you click on, what spam you get, what sites you visit that you delete from your history cache so no one else can see them.  Lamar Smith wants to know who you email, who you text and what links you click on in blogs complaining about his irrational, insatiable need to spy on Americans who have done nothing wrong and nothing to arouse suspicion that they have.  Lamar Smith doesn’t believe in innocent until proven guilty. Lamar Smith doesn’t believe in innocent at all.  He only believes in “unregistered offenders” – meaning “those who haven’t been caught yet.  Give Lamar Smith his way and every site on the Internet will have to keep records to turn over to Lamar and his cronies, so people who don’t like you can sift through everything you do, looking for something you’ve done wrong.  Putting unconstitutional limits on the freedom of 99.7 percent of Americans is a fair exchange for a law that might give cops a slightly greater advantage in chasing the .238 percent of Americans who may actually be involved in child pornography.  Doesn’t it?

Canadian Police censor Internet

Toews’s ‘child pornographers’ gaffe aside, Bill C-30 has real danger:

Police

Police

Catch those responsible for kiddy porn!  Lock them up and throw away the key, but we owe a debt of gratitude to Vic Toews. The hapless Minister of Public Safety, who informed Canadians that they stand with child pornographers unless they support his government’s electronic-snooping bill, sparked a well-deserved uproar where others have failed for so long.  The law isn’t new; similar bills had been tabled by previous governments, only to die when the minority governments fell. Privacy watchdogs have sounded the alarm time and again, but there was no outcry until Mr. Toews added his rhetorical fillip – that dash of George W. Bush – that turned a bit of workaday fear-mongering into a grand national insult.

no-police-state

no-police-state

DNA-based Microchips

Scientist Finds Way To Control DNA-based Computations:

DNA-Lightning

DNA-Lightning

A scientist at North Carolina State University (NCSU) has found a way to control a logic gate in a DNA-based computing system.   The discovery could lead to computing chips that integrate both DNA molecules as well as traditional chip architectures built with silicon to create higher performing semiconductors in the future.  According to Alex Deiters, associate professor of chemistry at NCSU, DNA computing has tremendous potential as DNA has the ability to store much more data than silicon-based chips, but DNA is difficult to control. In fact, DNA computation are rather random acts – even the when and the where cannot be controlled. For this reason, scientists have been struggling with the creation of DNA computation sequences.  Deiters said that he was able to control DNA by “photocaging” portions of the DNA strands. By exposing the DNA to UV light, the scientist said that he “successfully photocaged several different nucleotides on a DNA logic gate known as an AND gate.” UV light caused a computational event to be initiated and completed. Deiters now hopes that photocaging will enable scientists to create more complex computational processes and enable interfaces between silicon and DNA-based computers.

Illuminati manipulates Gas prices!

 

 

Illuminati Wars and Economic Manipulations Cause Gas Prices To Rise:

Illuminati

Illuminati

The Illuminati Wars and threats of war along with their manipulations of the world economy is causing gas prices to rise once again to record levels.  The current global political climate proves that the Illuminati are getting closer to implementing their master plan to turn the world into their own prison planet.  The threats of war with Iran and Syria are being hyped up intentionally with the repercussions of oil prises rising.  Yesterday it was announced that our “friend” Saudi Arabia cut oil production.  The global elites have complete control of Saudi Arabia and if they wanted cheaper gasoline then Saudi Arabia would be increasing oil production.  When you are on a really tight budget and you are already spending several hundred dollars on gas each month, you certainly do not want to hear that gas prices are going to increase even more.  A lot of Americans are moving or are getting different vehicles just because of these outrageous gas prices. The following comes from a recent Mercury News article….  Katherine Zak, of South San Jose, is searching for an apartment near her new job at Facebook in Palo Alto, partly to cut down the cost of driving. Jeff Benson, of Raymond in the Sierra foothills, typically drives 60,000 to 70,000 miles a year and has traded in his 19 mpg Ford Taurus for a Fusion that gets 33 mpg. And David Thomas says his commute from San Jose to San Francisco is getting so expensive that he and his fiancee are hunting for a house near a BART station in the San Mateo-San Bruno area to shorten his commute and lower his $400-a-month gas bill.  The price of gas is going even higher even though energy consumption is sharply declining in the United States. Just check out the charts in this article by Charles Hugh Smith. Americans are using less gasoline and less energy and yet the price of gas continues to go up.  That is not a good sign.  Certainly any decrease that we are seeing in the U.S. is being more than offset by rising demand in places such as China and India. As emerging economies all over the globe continue to develop this is going to continue to put pressure on gas prices.  So just how bad are gas prices in the U.S. right now?  Just consider the following facts….

    -The average price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States is now $3.53.

    -The average price of a gallon of gasoline is already higher than $3.70 in Connecticut, Washington D.C. and New York.

    -In California, the average price of a gallon of gasoline is $3.96 and there are quite a few cities where it is now above 4 dollars.

    -In mid-January 2009, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States was just $1.85.

    -The average price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States has risen 25 cents since the beginning of 2012.

    -Never before in U.S. history has the price of gasoline been this high so early in the year.

    -The Oil Price Information Service is projecting that the price of gas could reach an average of $4.25 a gallon by the end of April.

    -The price of oil just keeps going up. The price for West Texas Intermediate is about 19 percent higher than it was one year ago.

    -The price of gasoline is also reaching record highs in many areas of Europe as well. For example, the price of diesel fuel in the UK recently set a brand new record.  In 2011, U.S. households spent a whopping 8.4% of their incomes on gasoline. That percentage has approximately doubled over the past ten years.  But the price of gas is not the only thing making driving much more expensive these days.  All over the country, our politicians have been putting up toll booths. Most of the time these toll booths are going up on roads that have already been paid for.  After paying an outrageous amount for gas and after paying the outrageous tolls on many of these toll roads, many Americans wonder if it is even worth it to get up in the morning and go to work.  Unfortunately, a couple of new bills in Congress right now would reportedly allow even more highways to be made into toll roads.  It is almost as if they want to force us all to stop driving our cars.America used to be the land of the open road, but that era is rapidly coming to an end.  It would seem that the Illuminati are well entrenched and that their manipulations are really putting a hurt on the common man. If we are going to survive and turn this around we must start trying to defeat them politically and economically. Voting for Ron Paul helps, but we need to elect more anti-war, free trade politicians to Congress as well as on the State and local levels. Economically we need to do everything possible to deny the Illuminati elites our labor and our capital.

Monsanto’s Poisons France!

Monsanto found liable for weedkiller poisoning in France:

monsanto

monsanto

Update: Monsanto spokesman Tom Helscher says the company does not think there is “sufficient data” to demonstrate a link between the use of Lasso herbicide and the symptoms Francois reported.  “We do not agree any injury was accidentally caused nor did the company intentionally permit injury,” Helscher said, saying Monsanto is planning to appeal the verdict. “Lasso herbicide was… successfully used by farmers on millions of hectares around the world.”

A protest against Monsanto, unrelated to Francois’s case, takes place at the company’s headquarters in France in January. (Robert Pratta – Reuters) French farmer Paul Francois says he suffered all three neurological problems after inhaling a weedkiller made by biotech giant Monsanto in 2004. On Monday, a French court found Monsanto legally responsible for poisoning Francois and ordered the company to compensate him “entirely,” Agence France-Presse reports.  The decision could affect more than just Francois; it marks the first time a farmer has successfully sued the company over claims of the health problems caused by pesticides.  Francois, who is 47, told Reuters that he was pleased with the decision but said many other farmers have already been affected. “I am alive today, but part of the farming population is going to be sacrificed and is going to die because of this,” he told Reuters.  Monsanto’s lawyer had argued that poisoning couldn’t be proved because Francois’s symptoms didn’t appear until months after the inhalation.  Since 1996, 200 farmers have reported health problems to the agricultural branch of the French social security system that potentially are a result of pesticides.  But prior cases by farmers against Monsanto have been less successful, as they tried to argue about health problems accumulated over time.  “It’s like lying on a bed of thorns and trying to say which one cut you,” a farmer who recovered from prostate cancer and asked not to be named told Reuters.  Francois’s suit accuses Monsanto of not providing adequate health warnings on the label of the weedkiller, Lasso, as well as keeping the product on the French market even though it had been banned in Canada, Britain and Belgium.  The world’s largest pesticide producer said it has not decided whether to appeal the verdict.  Monsanto has been at the center of dozens of protests over the years, most often over health problems possibly associated with genetically modified foods it has produced, including soybean, corn, rice and eggplant.  Last month, a two-year-old appointment of a former Monsanto vice president to the Food and Drug Administration sparked an online petition for his removal.

Religion Kills

Priests hire Hitmen in an apparent suicide

In this Thursday Jan. 27, 2011 file photo, faithful attend a Mass in the memory of two Catholic priests who were murdered in Bogota, Colombia.  Colombia’s prosecutor’s office says two Catholic priests hired Hitmen to kill the priests themselves when at least one of them was diagnosed with AIDS.  Maritza Gonzalez with the prosecutor’s office said Tuesday that priests Rafael Reatiga and Richard Piffano paid 15 million pesos or about $8,500 for the hit. They were found shot to death dead in January 2011 in a car in southern Bogota.  Gonzalez said the priests had planned to commit suicide by throwing themselves off a cliff but couldn’t bring themselves to jump. She said medical tests showed 36-year-old Reatiga had AIDS.  Two of the four assassins have been arrested and appeared before a judge in Bogota Tuesday for processing.
Trash_Religion_

Trash_Religion_

FDA destroys Amish Farmer, Selling Organic Natural Milk!

FDA Shut’s Down Amish Farm For Selling Fresh Milk:

The FDA once again has crossed the line and won its two-year fight to shut down an Amish farmer who was selling fresh raw milk to eager consumers in the Washington, D.C., region after a judge this month banned Daniel Allgyerfrom selling his milk across state lines and he told his customers he would shut down his farm altogether.  The decision has enraged Mr. Allgyer’s supporters, some of whom have been buying from him for six years and say the government is interfering with their parental rights to feed their children.  But the Food and Drug Administration, which launched a full investigation complete with a 5 a.m. surprise inspection and a straw-purchase sting operation against Mr. Allgyer’s Rainbow Acres Farm, said unpasteurized milk is unsafe and it was exercising its due authority to stop sales of the milk from one state to another.  Adding to Mr. Allgyer’s troubles, Judge Lawrence F. Stengel said that if the farmer is found to violate the law again, he will have to pay the FDA’s costs for investigating and prosecuting him.  His customers are wary of talking publicly, fearing the FDA will come after them.“I can’t believe in 2012 the federal government is raiding Amish farmers at gunpoint all over a basic human right to eat natural food,” said one of them, who asked not to be named but received weekly shipments of eggs, milk, honey and butter from Rainbow Acres, a farm near Lancaster, Pa. “In Maryland, they force taxpayers to pay for abortions, but God forbid we want the same milk our grandparents drank.”  The FDA, though, said the judge made the right call in halting Mr. Allgyer’s cross-border sales.  “Intrastate sale of raw milk is allowed in Pennsylvania, and Mr. Allgyerhad previously received a warning letter advising him that interstate sale of raw milk for human consumption is illegal,” agency spokeswomanSiobhan DeLancey said.  Neither the FDA nor the Justice Department, which pursued the legal case, provided numbers to The Washington Times on the cost of the investigation and court fight.  Fans of fresh milk, which they also call raw milk, attribute all kinds of health benefits to it, including better teeth and stronger immune systems. Raw milk is particularly popular among parents who want it for their children.  In a unique twist, the movement unites people on the left and the right who argue that the federal government has no business controlling what people choose to consume.  In a rally last year, they drank fresh milk in a park across Constitution Avenue from the Senate.  But the FDA says it concluded, after extensive study along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that raw milk is never safer than pasteurized milk. It disputes those who say pasteurization — the process of heating food to kill harmful organisms — makes it less healthy.  Many food-safety researchers say pasteurization, which became widespread in the 1920s and 1930s, dramatically reduced instances of milk-transmitted diseases such as typhoid fever and diphtheria.  The FDA began looking into Mr. Allgyer’s operations in late 2009, when an investigator in the agency’s Baltimore office used aliases to sign up for a Yahoo user group made up of Rainbow Acres customers.  The investigator placed orders for fresh milk and had it delivered to private residences in Maryland, where it was picked up and documented as evidence in the case. By crossing state lines, the milk became part of interstate commerce and thus subject to the FDA’s ban.  At one point, FDA employees made a 5 a.m. visit to Mr. Allgyer’s farm. He turned them away, but not before they observed milk containers labeled for shipment to Maryland.  After the FDA first took action, Mr. Allgyer changed his business model. He arranged to sell shares in the cows to his customers, arguing that they owned the milk and he was only transferring it to them.  Judge Stengel called that deal “merely a subterfuge.”  “The practical result of the arrangement is that consumers pay money toMr. Allgyer and receive raw milk,” the judge wrote in a 13-page opinion.  Grassfed On the Hill Buying Club has about 500 active members.  Liz Reitzig, a mother who has become a raw-milk activist and is an organizer of the group, said the lawyers who pursued the case against Mr. Allgyer ought to “be ashamed.”  “Many families are dependent on the milk for health reasons or nutritional needs, so a lot of people will be desperately trying to find another source now,” she said.

Hackers hit C.I.A. and U.N.

Hackers claim hits on CIA, U.N. Web sites:

This Anonymous account publicized the CIA site outage with these messages on Twitter. This Anonymous account publicized the CIA site outage with these messages on Twitter.  The CIA’s Web site was down this afternoon in what looked like a distributed denial-of-service attack publicized by members of the online activist group Anonymous.  With the CIA site inaccessible, the Twitter account for @YourAnonNews tweeted “CIA TANGO DOWN: cia.gov #Anonymous” and included a link to a news story about the outage on Russian site RT.com.  A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the matter to CBS News beyond offering this statement: “We are looking into these reports.”  The Anonymous account also posted a Pastebin link purporting to expose e-mails from the Mexican Mining Chamber, also known as “Camimex.” In the Pastebin message, the hackers said they were targeting Camimex for its alleged exploitative labor conditions and business practices.  Earlier today a hacker or group going by the moniker “Casi” took credit for hacking the Web site of the United Nations and released what appeared to be vulnerabilities on the site. It was unclear why the UN was targeted. The move did not have the hallmarks of an Anonymous operation, including a clearly written message and the Anonymous motto: “We are Anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget.”  Anonymous has a history of targeting law enforcement and related agencies on Friday. Last week it released a recording of a conference call between the FBI and U.K. law enforcement that they snooped on as officials discussed Anonymous and affiliate hackers. It also that day claimed to have hacked into police sites in Texas, Boston and Salt Lake City, as well as the site of defense lawyers for a U.S. Marine accused of leading a civilian massacre in Iraq and claimed to have stolen e-mails. (This hacker chart lists much of Anonymous’ activity since last year.)

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Ignorance is Happyness

Study Finds Ignorance Is Bliss, and Then Some

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Troubling new research suggests that the less people know about important complex issues such as the economy, energy consumption and the environment, the more they want to avoid becoming well-informed.  Researchers also determined that the more urgent the issue, the more people want to remain unaware.  “These studies were designed to help understand the so-called ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach to social issues,” said author Steven Shepherd, a graduate student with the University of Waterloo in Ontario. “The findings can assist educators in addressing significant barriers to getting people involved and engaged in social issues.”  Researchers conducted a series of five studies in 2010 and 2011 studying 511 adults in the United States and Canada.  After the interviews, researchers described “a chain reaction from ignorance about a subject to dependence on and trust in the government to deal with the issue.”  In one study, comprised of 197 Americans with a mean age of 35 (111 women and 89 men) participants who felt most affected by the economic recession avoided information challenging the government’s ability to manage the economy.  Researchers tested the relationship among dependence, trust and avoidance, by providing either a complex or simple description of the economy to a group of 58 Canadians, mean age 42, composed of 20 men and 38 women.  The participants who received the complex description indicated higher levels of perceived helplessness in getting through the economic downturn, more dependence on and trust in the government to manage the economy, and less desire to learn more about the issue.  “This is despite the fact that, all else equal, one should have less trust in someone to effectively manage something that is more complex,” said co-author Aaron C. Kay, Ph.D., of Duke University. “Instead, people tend to respond by psychologically ‘outsourcing’ the issue to the government, which in turn causes them to trust and feel more dependent on the government.  “Ultimately, they avoid learning about the issue because that could shatter their faith in the government.”  Participants who felt unknowledgeable about oil supplies not only avoided negative information about the issue, they became even more reluctant to know more when the issue was urgent, as in an imminent oil shortage in the United States, according to the authors.  The findings suggest that educators need to explain complex issues in ways that make them easily digestible and understandable, with a clear emphasis on local, individual-level causes.  The authors recommended further research to determine how people would react when faced with other important issues such as food safety, national security, health, social inequality, poverty and moral and ethical conflict, as well as under what conditions people tend to respond with increased rather than decreased engagement.

Monsanto wars other Nations!

 

Leaked: America to Start ‘Trade Wars’ with Nations Opposed to Monsanto, GMO Crops

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The United States is threatening nations who oppose Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) crops with military-style trade wars, according to information obtained and released by the organization WikiLeaks.  Nations like France, which have moved to ban one of Monsanto’s GM corn varieties, were requested to be ‘penalized’ by the United States for opposing Monsanto and genetically modified foods.  The information reveals just how deep Monsanto’s roots have penetrated key positions within the United States government, with the cables reporting that many U.S. diplomats work directly for Monsanto.  The WikiLeaks cable reveals that in late 2007, the United States ambassador to France and business partner to George W. Bush, Craig Stapleton, requested that the European Union along with particular nations that did not support GMO crops be penalized. Stapleton, who co-owned the Dallas/Fort Worth-based Texas Rangers baseball team with Bush in the 1990s, stated:

Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits. The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory. Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices.

The Leaked Political Agenda Behind Monsanto’s GMO Crops

The ambassador plainly calls for ‘target retaliation’ against nations who are against using Monsanto’s genetically modified corn, admittedly linked to organ damage and environmental devastation.  Amazingly, this is not an isolated case. In similar newly released cables, United States diplomats are found to have pushed GMO crops as a strategic government and commercial imperative.  Furthermore, the U.S. specifically targeted advisers to the Pope, due to the fact that many Catholic bishops and figureheads have openly denounced GMO crops. In fact, the Vatican has openly declared Monsanto’s GMO crops as a ‘new form of slavery’.

‘A Martino deputy told us recently that the cardinal had co-operated with embassy Vatican on biotech over the past two years in part to compensate for his vocal disapproval of the Iraq war and its aftermath – to keep relations with the USG [US government] smooth. According to our source, Martino no longer feels the need to take this approach,’ says the cable.

Perhaps the most shocking piece of information exposed by the cables is the fact that these U.S. diplomats are actually working directly for biotech corporations like Monsanto. The cables also highlight the relationship between the U.S. and Spain in their conquest to persuade other nations to allow for the expansion of GMO crops. Not only did the Spanish government secretly correspond with the U.S. government on the subject, but the U.S. government actually knew beforehand how Spain would vote before the Spanish biotech commission reported their decision regarding GMO crops. The cable states:

‘In response to recent urgent requests by [Spanish rural affairs ministry] state secretary Josep Puxeu and Monsanto, post requests renewed US government support of Spain’s science-based agricultural biotechnology position through high-level US government intervention.’

Monsanto has undoubtedly infiltrated the United States government in order to push their health-endangering agenda, and this has been known long before the release of these WikiLeaks cables. The U.S. is the only place where Monsanto’s synthetic hormone Posilac is still used in roughly 1/3 of all cows, with 27 nations banning the substance over legitimate health concerns. Despite Monsanto’s best attempts at incognito political corruption, nothing can stop the grassroots anti-Monsanto movement that is taking over cities and nations alike.

Americans Are Orwell’s 1984

Our worst nightmare come true.  Americans are now living in a society that in some cases is more draconian, more invasive and more Orwellian than the dystopian tyranny fictionalized in Orwell’s chilling classic Nineteen Eighty-Four. On almost every front, American citizens are under an equal or greater threat of abuse, control and more pervasive and high-tech surveillance than anything Winston Smith ever faced.

Big Sis

Compare life in Oceania to life in America, with quotes from George Orwell’s 1984 appearing in italic.  “In general you could not assume that you were much safer in the country than in London. There were no telescreens, of course, but there was always the danger of concealed microphones by which your voice might be picked up and recognized.”  Americans will now too have their every utterance listened to by Big Brother in public through surveillance-capable street lights now being installed in major cities across the country which can record private conversations. Just as the citizens of Oceania could never be sure of their privacy, Charlotte’s Deputy Homeland Security chief told the local Fox network earlier this week that Americans “would never know” whether or not the government was listening.  “In the far distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a bluebottle, and darted away again with a curving flight. It was the police patrol, snooping into people’s windows.”  America in 2011 is more advanced than Orwell’s Oceania in that it doesn’t have to rely on expensive helicopters to spy on citizens. That job has now been entrusted to unmanned drones that not only act as surveillance devices, they can also carry tasers that deliver incapaciating electric shocks to “suspected” criminals.  “It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself – anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called.”  Facecrime is now a reality in 2011 with the aid of behaviometrics – a new omnipresent surveillance technology developed for the US Air Force and destined to be used in law enforcement to “monitor suspicious behavior”. The system revolves around a camera that tracks facial movements biometrically in order to build a psychological profile of the individual under surveillance. The movements of the muscles in your face will alert Big Brother, through the process of “behavior analysis,” to your presence as a suspicious individual who may be engaging in the act of thought crime, or God forbid, planning a public protest.  “It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children. And with good reason, for hardly a week passed in which The Times did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak — ‘child hero’ was the phrase generally used — had overheard some compromising remark and denounced its parents to the Thought Police.”  As part of Homeland Security’s See Something, Say Something program, Americans are being bombarded at every level, from Wal-Mart, to football games, to hotel rooms, with messages encouraging them t to report their fellow citizens for engaging in “suspicious activity,” which as we have documented, includes mundane behavior such as paying with cash, opposing surveillance, using a video camera, talking to police officers, wearing hoodies, driving vans, writing on a piece of paper, and using a cell phone recording application.  Schools are also now training children to be “eco-spies” by reporting on their parents’ bad recycling habits, encouraging kids to “re-educate” them into compliance.“Inside the flat a fruity voice was reading out a list of figures which had something to do with the production of pig-iron. The voice came from an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the right-hand wall. Winston turned a switch and the voice sank somewhat, though the words were still distinguishable. The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely.”  Just as the citizens of Oceania were constantly bombarded with propaganda from the state via telescreens, Americans are now being subjected to the same onslaught in the form of spurious “alerts” from the federal government that are delivered through numerous platforms, including LED screens on the ‘Intellistreets’ lighting network, televisions at Wal-Mart stores that play Janet Napolitano’s “See Something, Say Something” diatribe, FEMA’s Emergency Alert System that can hijack all conventional boradcast communications, and mandatory government messages that will appear on all new cellphones from the end of next year. And if that isn’t enough, the Washington Post today called for the Internet to also be brought under the auspices of a government takeover switch. Whereas Winston Smith only had to put up with Big Brother lecturing him via telescreens, Americans will be peppered with propaganda from every conceivable direction.  “In the vast majority of cases there was no trial, no report of the arrest. People simply disappeared, always during the night. Your name was removed from the registers, every record of everything you had ever done was wiped out, your one-time existence was denied and then forgotten. You were abolished, annihilated: vaporized was the usual word.”  American citizens are not merely “disappearing” without a trial, as happened those who had comitted thoughtcrime in 1984, they are being directly assassinated via Predator drone strikes with no oversight and no legal process whatsoever. As the case of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki shows, Americans are now at risk of falling victim to a program of state-sponsored assassination should they be designated “terrorists”. In Orwell’s 1984, miscreants were tortured and brainwashed, but they were not murdered on a whim by government decree before at least being given the opportunity to recant.  “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.”  Illiteracy rates in many large states are rising. One in seven Americans cannot read anything more challenging than a children’s picture book. Americans are being dumbed-down by an onslaught of fluoride in the water, cultural decay that celebrates stupidity over intelligence, and a public school system in terminal decline. Attention spans are shortening as Americans are fed a constant diet of mind-numbing “entertainment”. Vocabularies are shrinking as many Americans can barely express themselves. Whereas in 1984, higher-level thinking was destroyred directly by the state, in 2011 America the entertainment industry is doing just as good a job if not better.  “In Oceania at the present day, Science, in the old sense, has almost ceased to exist. In Newspeak there is no word for ‘Science’. The empirical method of thought, on which all the scientific achievements of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc. And even technological progress only happens when its products can in some way be used for the diminution of human liberty.”  Technology is being used to crush human liberty and eviscerate our privacy. Every technological advancement, from Facebook to the IPhone, brings with it a further assault on privacy. The U.S. judicial system is identifying ways to legalize constant surveillance over every American, most recently with the effort to give authorities the power to secretly track Americans through clandestine global positioning systems attached to their vehicles.  “Only a person thoroughly grounded in Ingsoc could appreciate the full force of the word bellyfeel, which implied a blind, enthusiastic, and casual acceptance difficult to imagine today.”  Orwell’s “bellyfeel” is our cognitive dissonance. This is the process of having blind faith in an explanation or a fact so long as it comes from the establishment – the actual truth of the matter bears no significance. Bellyfeel enables Americans to unquestionably accept everything they are told without the need for critical thinking. On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, 69% of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks, despite there being no evidence whatsoever that it was true.  These are just a handful of examples that illustrate how Americans and westerners in general are now living in a society that rivals and in some cases outstrips the world of Winston Smith in 1984. Smith was eventually made to love Big Brother and accept that two plus two equals five if the authorities say it does.  The question is, will Americans ever reclaim their sense of dignity and freedom or – like the Party members in Orwell’s Oceania – will they learn to love their servitude?

Hollywood kills civil liberties

People in Investment Firm Y Combinator Goes on Offensive Against Hollywood

Attack Hollywood

Attack Hollywood

After the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect Intellectual Property Act were shelved on Friday, some Web sites and venture capitalists went on the offensive against the people and companies behind the controversial piracy bills.  Y Combinator, an early stage investment company, announced on its Web site that it planned to finance start-up companies that would go after Hollywood and the movie industry.  Referring to Hollywood, Y Combinator wrote: ”The people who run it are so mean and so politically connected that they could do a lot of damage to civil liberties and the world economy on the way down. It would therefore be a good thing if competitors hastened their demise.”  The blog post, which was titled “Kill Hollywood,” also offered advice to start-ups and entrepreneurs who wanted to help to hasten its demise. Suggestions included developing start-ups that created new ways to produce and distribute shows, and games that were similar to traditional shows but were more interactive., a developer and the founder of Instapaper, wrote a similar post on his Web site, stating that people needed to fight back against Hollywood after it managed to get the piracy bills into Congress.  “Such ridiculous, destructive bills should never even pass committee review,” Mr. Arment wrote. The real problem, he added, is “the MPAA’s buying power in Congress,” a reference to the Motion Picture Association of America. “This is a campaign finance problem.”

China drops all calls

Can You Hear Me, Mao?: Say Protest in China and Your Call Drops

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It might sound like something out of 1984 or a dystopian sci-fi film, but, according to citizen reports from China, the government there has begun immediately shutting down the phone service of anyone who dares utter the word “protest” into their receiver. It’s happened to people who were speaking in both English and Chinese, and it suggests that the nation’s communist government is cracking down hard on any hint of dissent while the Arab world struggles with massive upheavals.

“The hard-liners have won the field, and now we are seeing exactly how they want to run the place,” said Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing analyst of China’s leadership. “I think the gloves are coming off.”

For the past few weeks, China has been imprisoning people accused of trying to stage peaceful protests. And Google recently said the Chinese government has been disrupting Gmail service in the country, a claim Chinese officials deny.  Regardless, that China continues to behave this way toward peaceful opponents again calls into question the ethics of the United States’ open relationship with Hu Jintao’s dictatorial regime. Before bombing Libya last week, Obama lashed out at Muammar Gaddafi, saying, “Instead of respecting the rights of his own people, Gaddafi chose the path of brutal suppression.” Just what does the president think Jintao is doing?