A new opinion piece in Nature (ungated version via a somewhat dubious Website) takes biologists to task for allowing the militarization of their work for the development of neuro-weapons -- chemical agents that are weaponized in spray or gas form to induce altered mental states.
The Russian military's use of fentanyl to incapacitate Chechen terrorists -- and kill 120 hostages in the process -- during the 2002 Nord-Ost seige was something of a wakeup call in this area. It's no secret that the U.S. and other militaries are interested in these potential weapons (I wrote about a 2008 DoD-commisioned study on cognitive enhancement and mind control last November.) According to the Nature story, some companies are now marketing oxytocin based on studies showing that in spray form, it can increase feelings of trust in humans, an application discussed in the 2008 study.
Blogger Ryan Sager wonders what would have happened if the Iranian government had had such a weapon during this summer's protests. He continues:
Now, some would argue that the use of non-lethal agents is potentially desirable. After all, the alternative is lethal measures. But the author of the opinion piece, Malcolm Dando, professor of International Security in the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University in the UK, doesn’t see it that way:
At the Nord-Ost siege, for instance, terrorists exposed to the fentanyl mixture were shot dead rather than arrested. Likewise, in Vietnam, the US military used vast quantities of CS gas — a ‘non-lethal’ riot-control agent — to increase the effectiveness of conventional weapons by flushing the Viet Cong out of their hiding places.
While we might want to believe that we would use such weapons ethically going forward, the idea of a dictator in possession of such weapons is rather chilling — moving into science-fiction-dystopia territory.
I suppose. Though I think I'm going to continue to be most worried about them having nuclear weapons. The Iranian regimes rigged an election; killed tortured and hundreds of protesters; and coerced opposition leaders into giving false confessions. I don't think it would have been that much worse if they had had weaponized oxytocin on their hands.
Sager is right that this is a topic worthy of debate, but I find it strange that research on weapons designed to incapacitate or disorient the enemy seems to disturbe people a lot more than research on weapons designed to kill them. As for the idea that neurological agents could facilitate other abuses, Kelly Lowenberg writes on the blog of the Stanford Center for Law and the Neurosciences:
Or is our real concern that, by incapacitating, they facilitate brutality toward a defenseless prisoner? If so, then the conversation should be about illegal soldier/police abuse, not the chemical agents themselves.
I think this is right. New technology, as it always does, is going to provoke new debates on the right to privacy, the treatment of prisoners, and the laws of war, but the basic principles that underly that debate shouldn't change because the weapons have.
(Hat tip: Danger Room)
German Judge Albert Bartz has taken issue with laws that ban drivers from talking on handsets while driving but do not address many other potentially more distracting activities, including sexual activity.
"The police have no legal basis for taking action against a driver who is, for example, letting their left hand dangle out of the open car window while they use their right hand to work on a laptop that's sitting on the passenger's seat and steer the car with their thighs," Bartz said. "In my opinion, the current legislation is outdated."
The judge considered the law while handling the case of a man who appealed his fine for talking while driving. Bartz insists however that he does not have personal motivation for his legal position.
Bartz emphasized that he has never been caught using his mobile phone in the car and that he also avoids other risky activities while driving. As he told the mass circulation daily Bild: "Sex at the steering wheel is strictly off-limits for me."
Bartz forwarded the statute on to Germany's highest court, the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, for further review.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Fun stories from the Democratic Republic of Congo are pretty hard to come by, but the third launch of the Congolese Space Program is pretty cool, even if "Troposphere 5" didn't get very far. I feel kind of bad for the rat astronaut on board, though. (Video in French.)
(Hat tip: Kings of War)
A disturbing report from The Telegraph suggests that China may soon cut off the world's supply of the metals needed for many modern electronics:
A draft report by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has called for a total ban on foreign shipments of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium. Other metals such as neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum will be restricted to a combined export quota of 35,000 tonnes a year, far below global needs.
China mines over 95pc of the world’s rare earth minerals, mostly in Inner Mongolia. The move to hoard reserves is the clearest sign to date that the global struggle for diminishing resources is shifting into a new phase. Countries may find it hard to obtain key materials at any price.[...]
New technologies have since increased the value and strategic importance of these metals, but it will take years for fresh supply to come on stream from deposits in Australia, North America, and South Africa. The rare earth family are hard to find, and harder to extract.
Danger Room's Nathan Hodge comments:
[I]t’s a reminder of the role that strategic resources play, especially for the high-tech military of the United States. [...]
Of course, China is not the only country that’s figuring out how to play the mineral wealth hand in geopolitics. For several years now, Russia has used natural gas supply as a way to exert less-than-subtle pressure on its neighbors. Energy, the Kremlin found, is a more effective instrument than an aging nuclear weapons stockpile: You can actually turn the gas taps off when you feel like punishing someone.
As an old piece of wisdom from Strategic Air Command put it: “When you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”
Officials flicked on the switch at two of Germany's most important new solar energy sites on Thursday. In the eastern state of Brandenburg, the world's second-largest solar energy project went online. And halfway across the country, in North Rhine-Westphalia, a smaller scale but perhaps equally important facility launched -- Germany's first solar-thermal power plant.
MICHAEL GOTTSCHALK/AFP/Getty Images
India's Dalits, or "untouchables," may have experienced political success in recent months (both as individuals and as a party) and the resulting benefits of being in power, but the class remains the subject of significant levels of discrimination, with true equality not yet in sight. Now, ministers in the Bihar state in East India are seeking to improve the Dalits' quality of life through the wonders of radio.
"It (radio) will entertain the tired villagers with music and will make them aware about what is happening around with news," Bihar's Tribal Welfare Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, said Wednesday.
Manjhi said the move will empower the dalit villagers further and raise general awareness levels.
"You can listen to music, news and improve your areas of information if you have a radio at home," Chief Minister Nitish Kumar added.
PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images
"Prime Minister Putin, you've shot a tiger, taught the world judo, exhibited your paintings, showed off your muscular physique, rescued workers from greedy factory owners, and even danced to Abba for charity? What are you going to do next?"
"Well, nameless blogger, I'm going to go a mile underwater."
Over the weekend, Vladimir Putin did just that (checking another box off what must be a very ambitious bucket list) by diving in a mini-submarine to the bottom of Lake Baikal. He joined a team "studying gas hydrates and natural seepage of crude oil on the bottom of" the lake.
At the end of the voyage, Putin assured reporters that his next adventure did not lie in space, saying "there's enough work on Earth." Perhaps he's referring to his failures in the world of finance.
ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images
West Africa's SAT-3 broadband cable connection to Europe was severely disrupted this week, temporarily crippling many industries like Nigeria's banking sector, as that country lost 70% of its bandwidth. It could take up to two weeks to fix the offshore cable, which runs from Portugal all the way to South Africa.
Along with excitement, the Internet boom raises some policy questions for African governments and companies. On the governmental side, Nigeria is now being lobbied by business groups to declare SAT-3 "critical infrastructure" and help avoid future breakdowns. East African governments should take note: the downside of increased Internet connectivity is increased vulnerability when one of your only connections goes down.
As far as the private sector, Steve Song, creator of that awesome broadband cable map, has an interesting series: "What Google Should do in Africa." Song's biggset priorities are that the company should 1) Support open spectrum; 2) Launch Google Voice in Africa; and 3) Lobby for cheaper SMS (text messaging) rates.
Of particular interest to me is the SMS suggestion, as mobile phones and SMS are frequently cited as a potentially powerful tool for poverty reduction. A Stanford classmate of mine, for example, helped found FrontlineSMS: Medic to reduce costs of rural healthcare using mass texting technology.
As Song notes, Google is interested, and recently rolled out a partnership in Uganda with the Grameen Foundation and MTN, a wireless company, to increase information availability, particularly for rural farmers. Though applauding the initiative, Song is skeptical of the choice to make the new technology available with only one company.
There is a desperate need for organisations like Google who have a vested interest in seeing more data traffic to help lobby for more competition, for lower barriers to entrepreneurship in the telecom sector, and for cheaper access for all.
So when I see the company that wagered billions in the 700MHz spectrum auction in the U.S. to effectively arm-wrestle Verizon into OpenAccess conditions, the company that has made countless submissions to the FCC to lobby for unlicensed access to television white spaces spectrum, announce that they have “partnered” with a single mobile operator in Uganda to deliver SMS services, you will understand me if I seem a little let down.
I agree with the sentiment, but for what it is worth MTN Uganda is the largest provider, with over half of the market share. And as desirable as it may be for Google to work with everyone, logisitcally, you have to start somewhere.
Brent Stirton/Getty Images
An entrepreneur in Jerusalem is using Twitter to bring the prayers of the Jewish Diaspora to the Western Wall. After seeing the social networking site's potential in last month's Iranian elections, Alon Nil began a service where Jews abroad could tweet him their prayers, which he then prints out and places in the sacred spaces between the 2,000-year-old stones at Judaism's holiest site. Nil has been besieged with messages since he started the "hobby" three weeks ago:
You name the country, I've gotten prayers from them. I hope in some way that by tweeting their prayers, these people are helping themselves somehow. Once you figure out what you want, in 140 characters or less, you can start to take action.
I'm swamped. I can't keep up with all the tweets...But I'm determined to not lose even one prayer.
As many countries have debated introducing ID cards, one of the greatest arguments against has been the enomously complicated logistics putting an entire country's information into one database. India, though, is about to test just how tough this challenge really is.
It is surely the biggest Big Brother project yet conceived. India is to issue each of its 1.2 billion citizens, millions of whom live in remote villages and possess no documentary proof of existence, with cyber-age biometric identity cards.
The Government in Delhi recently created the Unique Identification Authority, a new state department charged with the task of assigning every living Indian an exclusive number. It will also be responsible for gathering and electronically storing their personal details, at a predicted cost of at least £3 billion.
The task will be led by Nandan Nilekani, the outsourcing sage who coined the phrase “the world is flat”, which became a mantra for supporters of globalisation. “It is a humongous, mind-boggling challenge,” he told The Times. “But we have the opportunity to give every Indian citizen, for the first time, a unique identity. We can transform the country.”
If the cards were piled on top of each other they would be 150 times as high as Mount Everest — 1,200 kilometres.
Perhaps just as interestingly, unlike many states where ID cards have been pushed on grounds of national security and/or immigration, in India the biggest issue is welfare.
India’s legions of local bureaucrats currently issue at least 20 proofs of identity, including birth certificates, driving licences and ration cards. None is accepted universally and moving from one state to the next can easily render a citizen officially invisible — a disastrous predicament for the millions of poor who rely on state handouts to survive.
India is not the largest state with such a scheme: China introduced a national ID card in 1984, but the first version of its Resident ID card ran into serious trouble with counterfeiters, and only recently has China begun to create a similarly powerful database of personal information. But with India's acceptance of ID cards, Australia, Japan, and the United States are the most prominent countries without any plans to issue national ID cards.
At a large Yaskawa Electric factory on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, where robots once churned out more robots, a lone robotic worker with steely arms twisted and turned, testing its motors for the day new orders return. Its immobile co-workers stood silent in rows, many with arms frozen in midair...Across the industry, shipments of industrial robots fell 33 percent in the last quarter of 2008, and 59 percent in the first quarter of 2009, according to the Japan Robot Association.
Even non-industrial robots are taking a hit. Ugoba, "maker of the cute green Pleo dinosaur robot with a wiggly tail" has filed for bankruptcy, the NYT says, despite selling 100,000 of its creations.
However, there is still hope for the robot industry, or at least baby dinosaur robots. "Pleo is alive and in good hands!" its official website declares. The company has been acquired by the Hong Kong based Jetta Group and will be "re-launched" soon.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
As many as 26 U.S. and South Korean Web sites have been hit by thousands of zombified computers in the last two days, according to news agencies from both countries. Though the hackers responsible have not stepped forward, South Korea's intelligence service believes the widespread outages are the work of the North Korean government:
'This is not a simple attack by an individual hacker, but appears to be thoroughly planned and executed by a specific organization or on a state level,' the National Intelligence Service said in a statement, adding that it is cooperating with the American investigative authorities to investigate the attacks."
In addition to a handful of South Korean government agencies and private organizations, The New York Times claims denial-of-service attacks also affected Web sites maintained by the following:
... those of the White House, the State Department and the New York Stock Exchange ... The Treasury Department, Secret Service, Federal Trade Commission and Transportation Department Web sites were all down at varying points."
The implications of an attack on any country's economic infrastructure can be pretty dire. Corporations can expect as much as a five percent drop in their stock price following a cyberattack.
Obama will respond to questions submitted this week by text message (SMS) in a recording made sometime before his speech at the Ghanaian parliament. The tape will be released to African radio stations and other media after his speech, and the speech will also be broadcast simultaneously on African radio stations and on the internet.
The White House page with all the details is here, including the numbers Africans can use to submit their questions. Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa have dedicated local shortcodes with longcodes available for other Africans. According to Kenya's Daily Nation, local SMS rates will be charged, and mobile users can choose to receive excerpts from the speech via SMS in French or English.
Erik Hersman, a new media guru who blogs at White African, worked with the White House on the platform and has a great post on logistics and some of the reasoning behind the various outreach platforms. Hersman says that U.S. citizens cannot participate in the SMS platform because of cold-war era legislation on public diplomacy, but other efforts including a live chat on Facebook and a dedicated Twitter tag (#obamaghana) will try and encourage global discussion. News site allAfrica is also collecting questions for Obama.
With no glitches, this demonstration of interest in the views of Africans will probably boost Obama's global approval ratings, which already are almost double those of the United States. At Accra's tourist market, Obama t-shirts and paintings are flying off the shelves and Ghanaians are hoping for a boost in tourism after the visit.
More on Obama's decision to visit Ghana can be found in a recent post by FP editor Elizabeth Dickinson.
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images
Discussing the ethics of cosmetic surgery, Slate's William Saletan recalls the strange case of Australian politician Hanjal Ban who at age 23 decided to undergo surgery in Russia to increase her height. She gained around 8 centimeters through a mostly experimental procedure involving breaking her legs in four places and slowly stretching them while they healed. After recovering, Ban went on to successfully win a city council seat inLogan City, Queensland.
Under a pseudonym, Ban wrote a book, God Made me Small, Surgery Made me Tall, and is now republishing a new version, Her Secret, under her own name. Though Ban has vocally said the surgery is not for everyone, book promotion on her official website makes her choice seem almost heroic:
International media recently described her as one of the world's most beautiful politicians. Hanjal's explosive story gripped Australia and gained international attention. Prepare yourself for what you didn't hear in the interviews.
Read how Hajnal over came her darkest moments that almost ended her life. Learn how she turned herself around to become an inspiring role model who exudes confidence, elegance and style.
If you too want to exude confidence and style, The Times of London notes that the surgery is available in at least 18 countries including the U.S. but not the U.K. Do you need to be beautiful to win office? Silvio Berlusconi sure seems to think it can help.
Fiber optic fever has hit East Africa. On Friday, June 12, the 4,500 kilometer (2,790 mile) East Africa Marine System (TEAMS) underwater cable connected the Kenyan port town of Mombasa with Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates and is expected to begin operating within three months.
"Until now, the eastern Africa coast was the longest coastline in the
world without a fiber-optic cable connection to the rest of the world," Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki said at the launch ceremony after the cables were pulled ashore.
This great map by Steve Song shows where things will be in a few years with line thickness representing bandwith size. The TEAMS cable (green on map above) is one of three international fiber optic cables expected to reach East Africa this year.
The next (red on map) is constructed by SEACOM, a private company in partnership with a number of African companies. It has already landed, to less fanfare because the Kenyan government has a stake in TEAMS, and is supposed to be ready by the end of June, connecting East Africa to Europe and Asia. The third, the East African Marine Cable System (EASSy) is sponsored by the International Finance Corporation, the private sector wing of the World Bank and is scheduled to be finished in 2010 (blue on map).
When the cables go online, they will replace satellite connections as the main source of internet access in Africa, increasing speed, reliability and reducing cost. This should improve productivity and allow increased access with the lower price. In Kenya, the internet company Access Kenya has already pledged that the new cables will double internet speed for its users, and companies are scrambling buy access to the broadband and to finalize internal fiber optic cables. Neighboring landlocked states like Uganda and Rwanda are seeking to do the same.
As interconnectivity between
African countries increases, economic benefits are expected, especially
in Kenya, which has a fast developing IT sector. Other potential impacts include education and access to media.
For a good visual of all the submarine internet cables operating or being built worldwide, check out this Alcatel-Lucent map (pdf).The more connections, the faster information can move. Most major websites are still hosted in the United States and Europe, but as Africa's wired status improves, this could change, and locally hosted data is much faster to access.
CBS reports that Scottish gamemakers are coming out with "Rendition: Guantanamo," a video game for XBox. Moazzam Begg, a Briton detained at the U.S. military prison for three years, advised the company and helped them depict Gitmo realistically.
The game takes place in the future, after Guantanamo's closure and the player uses guns to defeat mercenaries trying to keep them as lab rats.
Now we know what Cheney's grandkids are getting for Xmas?
The German political establishment is all atwitter over Twitter. Senior members of parliament will launch an investigation today of an incident already dubbed "Twittergate" in which parlimantarians leaked news of German President Horst Kohler's reelection last Saturday before it had been made public:
Julia Klöckner, of chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, told her Twitter “followers” on that afternoon: “People, you can watch the football in peace. The vote was a success.”
She later apologised for the “somewhat premature timing” of a message.
Ulrich Kelber, of the SPD, was even more specific, prematurely uploading the result of the vote-count to his micro-blog: “The count is confirmed: 613 votes. Köhler is elected.”
Days before his murder, Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg recorded this video predicting that he would soon be killed and that the Guatemala's President Alvaro Colom would be responsible:
Rosenberg was shot and killed while riding his bicycle on Sunday. He had been representing a financial expert named Khalil Musa who was himself murdered along with his daughter after accusing a state-owned bank of corruption. Rosenberg had publicly accused the government of conspiring the kill Musa. The video quickly went viral after Rosenberg's death, sparking anti-government demonstrations with thousands of angy protesters demanding Colom's resignation and calling for an international investigation.
Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin has been following the tech angle on all of this including today's arrest of an IT worker for "inciting financial panic" by suggesting on Twitter that Guatemalans remove their money from the accused bank. Guatemalan Twitter users are responding by retweeting his post en masse.
Update: Great rundown of the situation so far from Ethan Zuckerman.
The ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee writes to FP:
To the Editor:Senator Lugar wrote about public diplomacy for ForeignPolicy.com in February.
I was pleased to read yesterday "The Science of Diplomacy" by Vaughan Turekian and Kristin Lord. They have the right idea to dispatch "good-will ambassadors" from America's scientific community. Such representation will demonstrate not only our nation's tradition of excellence in education but our willingness to cooperate with experts from other nations.
While various NGOs have been providing excellent opportunities for making these connections, I believe it is time for U.S. government to establish a more formal program of Science Envoys to be run by the Department of State. With that in mind, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved S. 838, a bill establishing such an Envoy program, which I had introduced with co-sponsorship by Senators Kerry and Cardin. Such a formal setup will help showcase the emphasis we as a society place on scientific achievement, an endeavor for which we are truly admired and respected around the world.
Richard G. Lugar
An interesting editorial in The Guardian by a member of Britain's Royal Society, the country's national academy of science, announced -- with a bit of modesty bordering on self-skepticism -- plans to look into "geoengineering" schemes to combat climate change:
The Royal Society has set up a study group on geoengineering climate. Without the answers there will be no way to take sensible decisions on this issue, based on evidence and facts rather than beliefs and suppositions (either for or against the idea). It may well be that our study will conclude that such schemes are not feasible, or too costly, have serious side-effects, or are too difficult to control. But it may not; and it is likely that we will need a lot more information before we can really decide."
After this rather remarkable bit of don't-get-your-hopes-too-high-ism, John Shepherd, the author, gets around to defining just what geoengineering means:
Geoengineering schemes for moderating climate change come in two main flavours. First there are those that aim to increase the amount of sunlight that is reflected away from the Earth (currently about 30%) by a few percent more. Second there are some that aim to increase the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere, by enhancing the natural sinks for CO2, and maybe even by deliberately scrubbing it out of the air.
In other words, the Royal Society will be studying the possibility of reflecting sunlight away from the earth on a massive scale, and looking at new ways to sink CO2 into the ocean, or scrub clean the atmosphere. Pretty Jules Verne-seeming stuff, as Shepherd acknowledges:
If world leaders are unable to agree on effective action to deal with climate change ... we may in future be glad that someone took these ideas seriously. Seriously enough to separate the real science from the science fiction, anyway."
What's remarkable is that the Royal Society, founded in 1660, represents nothing if not the nation's crusty scientific establishment. And while the author presents these schemes with much hesitation and ado, it does seem an indicator of just how much more urgent, and desperate, the discussion over climate change is beginning to seem in the U.K.
Three years after the country's preeminent scientist was caught falsifying data about the cloning of human stem cells, South Korea has decided to once again allow stem cell research. Dr. Hwang Woo-suk's stem cell research license was revolked in 2006 after he published fake data on his cloning research. A new team has now successfully applied for a license to conduct research on cloning stem cells.
Since his fall from grace, Hwang has found a second career in cloning dogs for bereaved pet owners (his breakthroughs on dog cloning (such as the guy in the picture) were the real thing) as James Card reported for FP in February.
This brings us to today's other big South Korean cloning story. One of Hwangs former assistants announced today that he had successfully cloned dogs that glow in the dark. In addition to the novelty, this is apparently an important medical breakthrough:
The glowing dogs show that it is possible to successfully insert genes with a specific trait, which could lead to implanting other, non-fluorescent genes that could help treat specific diseases, Lee said.
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
Ukraine says its security service says it caught three persons attempting to sell radioactive material, which they said was plutonium-239, for $10 million. A government spokesperson said the material could possibly have been used in a "dirty-bomb" attack, and that it was of Soviet origin.
Relatedly -- Jeffrey Lewis and Meri Lugo discuss the draw-down of nuclear weaponry in an excellent FP Argument post today.
The Private Sector Development blog at the World Bank has a cool post on the effect of labor laws on computer use. Social scientists have theorized that the stricter the regulations on hiring and firing workers, the more companies turn to computers and technology.
Turns out that conventional wisdom is correct, a World Bank study shows:
Amin (2009) tests this hypothesis on 1,948 retail stores in India using data from Enterprise Surveys, a regular World Bank survey on firm performance, firm characteristics and the business climate....The study finds that the percentage of retail stores that use computers rises by 6.2 percentage points as we move from the state with the least to the median level of rigid labor laws. This is a large effect given than only 19% of the stores in the sample use computers.
The PSD blog cautions against reading too much into the results, though:
That is, to properly understand the computers/productivity relationship one needs to distinguish between the motive of saving labor because of labor regulations and the motive of enhancing efficiency through computer usage. To what extent these effects hold remains to be empirically ascertained - an important task given that the use of computers and other modern devices is fast spreading across the globe.
But there's a nice synergy there. And I wonder whether the same scientists have studied the corollary between India as an outsourcing hub and an IT giant.
You know what sucks? Flying all the way to Washington for a high-profile meeting with the U.S. president only to get the cold shoulder. You know what's worse? Getting him a rare and thoughtful gift and getting a bunch of DVDs in return. You know what's even worse than that? Not even being able to watch the DVDs.
The Telegraph reports that when Brown recently settled in for the night to watch Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, he got a "wrong region" message on his screen. Turns out the DVDs Obama had given him were formatted to play on North American players.
This is disturbing to say the least:
Canada's science minister, the man at the centre of the controversy over federal funding cuts to researchers, won't say if he believes in evolution.
“I'm not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,” Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
A funding crunch, exacerbated by cuts in the January budget, has left many senior researchers across the county scrambling to find the money to continue their experiments.
Some have expressed concern that Mr. Goodyear, a chiropractor from Cambridge, Ont., is suspicious of science, perhaps because he is a creationist.
When asked about those rumours, Mr. Goodyear said such conversations are not worth having.
George W. Bush caught a lot of (understandable) flack from scientists for his partial embrace of "intelligent design" education, but even he chose a science advisor who stated clearly that "evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology."
(Hat tip: Boing Boing)
Keeping up their reputation for packing the latest and greatest high-tech pirate-fighting gear, U.S. forces and their European allies are sprearheading a computer-based coordination system meant to allign the efforts of an entire coalition of navies working in the region. Instant messages (not all that different from your Gchat dispatches) convey the positions of pirate-fighting ships, reports of incidents and threats, and incoming intelligence. So popular are the coordination systems that even Chinese and independent and vessels are signing on.
Something the coalition is doing seems to be working; pirates' boat seizures have fallen noticeably from their peak last fall. Still, the anti-piracy push is not out of the woods. Bad weather so far this year is one explanation for the slowdown, the AP reports. Asian countries seem to recognize this and have dug in their heels. Japan sent its first vessels this week, and China announced that its 800-soldier anti-piracy mission was in for the long haul.
Of course, real military success on the high seas will depend heavily on the situation on land in Somalia. No instant gratification there (or instant messaging for that matter), but as FP found out in Seven Questions this week, at least there's a squint of hope...
In the long meantime, the Navy will be online.
Last night, the U.S. president said, during an aside about saving the U.S. auto industry, "I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it."
Well, here's a fun fact from none other than the United States' own Library of Congress:
Question: Who invented the automobile?
Answer: Karl (Carl) Benz
Benz was a German whose three-wheeled vehicle, pictured below, boasted an internal combustion engine. He received Germany's Patent DRP No. 37435 in 1885/1886 for something that looked roughly like this beauty:
Now, there was an American fellow named George Selden who filed for a U.S. patent for a similar horseless carriage in 1879 and received it in 1895. He never built his invention, though he did collect royalties -- in today's parlance, he would likely be dubbed a "patent troll."
Over a month since the United States launched its own counter-piracy effort, details of the operations are emerging. The U.S. coalition is deploying technological and legal creativity to get the job done.
The first tactic: drones. After a report surfaced last week that U.S. unmanned aircraft vehicles were watching the Somali skies, I wrote to Navy Lt. Nate Christensen, who replied: "I can confirm that UAVs are being used aboard U.S. Navy ships to conduct counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. They bring the ability to stay airborne for long periods and cover hundreds of square miles of ocean during the course of one mission." The resulting intelligence is shared among allies. A good start to tackling the surveillance conundrum of patrolling miles and miles of high seas.
Perhaps even more interesting, the U.S. is now detaining and holding pirates -- there are 16 in custody now. As Derek Reveron pointed out in "Think Again: Pirates," that's no small feat. Most countries have been nervous about touching the pirates, let alone keeping them in custody. Britain, for example, instructed its patrols not to pick up any of them. There is no mandated court to try the offenders, and many fear that amnesty requests would be the result of naval arrest. No such fears plague the U.S. Navy, apparently. "They will remain aboard Lewis and Clark until information and evidence is assembled and evaluated and a decision is made regarding their further transfer," reads a military press release.
Good effort, team, but it looks like the pirates haven't lost their edge yet. A coal carrier was taken hostage today, just one of the 24 attacks so far in 2009. (Navies have stopped nine others). At that rate, this year would bring in about 100 less attacks than last. Alas!
Photo: U.S. Navy
In a time of high tension, someone preemptively smashes spy satellites in low-earth orbits, creating tens of thousands of metal chunks and shards. Debris-tracking systems are overwhelmed, and low-earth orbits become so cluttered with metal that new satellites cannot be safely launched. Satellites already in orbit die of old age or are killed by debris strikes.
The global economy, which is greatly dependent on a variety of assets in space, collapses. The countries of the world head back to a 1950s-style way of life, but there are billions more people on the planet than in the 50s. That's a recipe for malnutrition, starvation, and wars for resources.
In an e-mail exchange with FP, the Center for Defense Information's Theresa Hitchens explained why she also sees the crash as evdience that regulation for the use of space is badly needed:
It is both an "we told you so" moment, and an opportunity to make some policy changes. Industry and many experts have been saying for years that usable space was getting crowded, and that the possibility of serious collisions was growing. Thus, the growing clamor for space traffic management from many in the business; and the interest even among the telecommunications industry in developing more formal processes (although not regulation, as many of us believe necessary) for orbital data exchange and collision avoidance procedures. Obviously, the time has come and passed for these things to take shape.
On the policy opportunity end, it can only be hoped that this disaster will focus the minds of policy-makers on the need to find better ways to ensure the future security and sustainability of space. This also highlights the question regarding national and international security. Imagine if these two satellites were owned by national governments who were on the brink of war. Don't you think one government might be blaming the other for "deliberately" causing the crash? Could a space accident cause a war on Earth? The likely answer is yes.
While giving a talk on malaria prevention at the TED2009 (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Long Beach, California, yesterday, Bill Gates apparently released a jar full of mosquitos on the audience saying, "Not only poor people should experience this." Audience members including Facebook and eBay executives Twittered the strange occurrence, and the tech blogosphere was soon abuzz. TED promises video of Gates's talk within 24 hours, but if anyone finds a clip before then, let us know.
I would compare Gates's stunt to the Davos refugee run as a misguided and somewhat tasteless attempt to make wealthy donors experience the realities of Third World poverty, except at least Richard Branson was a willing participant.
As Valleywag's Owen Thomas notes, this "doesn't do much to undo Gates's reputation, borne out of the Microsoft antitrust investigations of the 1990s, that the man considers himself above the law."
Update: Here's the video:
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