Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Would you barcode your baby?
Microchip implants have become standard practice for our pets, but have been a tougher sell when it comes to the idea of putting them in people.
Science fiction author Elizabeth Moon last week rekindled the debate on whether it's a good idea to "barcode" infants at birth in an interview on a BBC radio program.
“I would insist on every individual having a unique ID permanently attached — a barcode if you will — an implanted chip to provide an easy, fast inexpensive way to identify individuals,” she said on The Forum, a weekly show that features "a global thinking" discussing a "radical, inspiring or controversial idea" for 60 seconds
Moon believes the tools most commonly used for surveillance and identification — like video cameras and DNA testing — are slow, costly and often ineffective.
In her opinion, human barcoding would save a lot of time and money.
The proposal isn’t too far-fetched - it is already technically possible to "barcode" a human - but does it violate our rights to privacy?
Opponents argue that giving up anonymity would cultivate an “Orwellian” society where all citizens can be tracked.
“To have a record of everywhere you go and everything you do would be a frightening thing,” Stanley, senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Daily News.
He warned of a “check-point society” where everyone carries an internal passport and has to show their papers at every turn, he said.
“Once we let the government and businesses go down the road of nosing around in our lives...we’re going to quickly lose all our privacy,” said Stanley.
There are already, and increasingly, ways to electronically track people. Since 2006, new U.S. passports include radio frequency identification tags (RFID) that store all the information in the passport, plus a digital picture of the owner.
In 2002, an implantable ID chip called VeriChip was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The chip could be implanted in a person's arm, and when scanned, could pull up a 16 digit ID number containing information about the user.
It was discontinued in 2010 amid concerns about privacy and safety.
Still scientists and engineers have not given up on the idea.
A handful of enterprising companies have stepped into the void left by VeriChip, and are developing ways to integrate technology and man.
Biotech company MicroCHIPS has developed an implantable chip to deliver medicine to people on schedule and without injection. And technology company BIOPTid has patented a noninvasive method of identification called the “human barcode.”
Advocates say electronic verification could help parents or caregivers keep track of children and the elderly. Chips could be used to easily access medical information, and would make going through security points more convenient, reports say.
But there are also concerns about security breaches by hackers. If computers and social networks are already vulnerable to hacking and identify theft, imagine if someone could get access to your personal ID chip?
Stanley cautioned against throwing the baby out with the bathwater each time someone invents a new gadget.
“We can have security, we can have convenience, and we can have privacy,” he said. “We can have our cake and eat it too.”
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/human-barcode-society-organized-invades-privacy-civil-liberties-article-1.1088129#ixzz1wvmWFWhr
Zombies are all the rage these days -- on television, in movies, books and now in the news. Of course zombies aren’t new -- they were co-opted decades ago by pop culture, especially in George Romero’s 1968 classic zombie film Night of the Living Dead.
Or were they? Actually, notes Blake Smith, zombie aficionado and co-host of the monster-themed MonsterTalk podcast, “Though many people think of Night of the Living Dead as being all about zombies, Romero never called them zombies; he wanted them to be ghouls. The public called them zombies, so the name stuck.”
Did Zombies Roam Medieval Ireland?
Though many people treat the current “zombie apocalypse” as a fun pop culture meme, it’s important to realize that some people believe zombies are very real. Haitian culture -- like many African cultures -- is heavily steeped in belief in magic and witchcraft. Belief in zombies is related to the Voodoo religion, and has been widespread throughout Haiti for decades. The existence of zombies is not questioned, though believers would not recognize the sensational, Hollywood brain-eating version that most Americans are familiar with.
They are corpses who have been re-animated and controlled by magical (possessed by demons) means for some specific purpose (usually labor). Historically, fear of zombies was used as a method of political and social control in Haiti. Those people believed to have the magical power to zombify a person -- mainly witch doctors called bokors -- were widely feared and respected. Bokors were also believed to be in service of the Tonton Macoute, the brutal and much-feared secret police used by the oppressive Duvalier political regimes (1957-1984). Those who defied authorities were threatened with becoming the living dead—a concern not taken lightly.
In popular fiction there are several ways to destroy zombies (decapitations or gunshots to the head are popular), though according to Haitian folklore the goal is to release the person from his or her zombie state, not to outright kill the person. There are several ways to free a zombie; one is to feed the zombie salt; others say that if a zombie sees the ocean its mind will return and it will become self-aware and angry, trying to return to its grave.
So are zombies real? Many believe so, but evidence is scarce. There are a few supposed cases of real zombies, including a mentally ill man named Clairvius Narcisse, who in 1980 claimed that he had “died” in 1962, then become a zombie and forced to work as a slave on one of Haiti’s sugarcane plantations. He offered no evidence of his claims, and could not show investigators where he had supposedly worked for almost twenty years.
Scientific Evidence for Zombies?
Outside of Haiti (and a few other places where belief in Voodoo exists), zombies were widely assumed to be nothing more than a legendary boogeyman, not unlike werewolves and vampires. However this changed in the 1980s when Wade Davis, a Harvard ethnobotanist, claimed to have discovered a secret “zombie powder” while doing field work in Haiti. The main active ingredient was said to be a neurotoxin which could be used to poison victims into a zombie-like state.
Voodoo magic was an unlikely source of zombies—but could science and medicine explain them? Davis wrote several books on the topic, including The Serpent and the Rainbow, later made into a horror film by director Wes Craven. Though the book was a public success, many scientists were skeptical of Davis’s claims, suggesting that they were exaggerated and that the amounts of neurotoxin in the powder samples he found were inconsistent and not high enough to induce the zombifying effects. While in theory the zombie power might work under certain ideal conditions, in the real world it would be very difficult to create a zombie with it; too little of the toxin would have only temporary effects, and too much could easily kill its victim.
Pharmacological doubts aside, there are other reasons to doubt the claim that people had for decades been turned into zombie slave labor. For one thing, the very process that would turn people into zombies (assuming it didn’t kill them) would leave them brain-damaged, uncoordinated, and slow -- in other words, hardly ideal farm workers.
Furthermore, the economics of zombie-making don’t make sense: Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with no shortage of very cheap labor to work farms and plantations. In a country where the average annual income is less than $2,000 there are plenty of able-bodied, non-zombified people willing to work for almost nothing. Unpaid zombie workers would still need to be clothed, housed, and fed, negating most of the potential profit from using them. And, of course, the sugar plantations allegedly filled with fields of zombies have never been found.
With the main reason for creating zombies pretty well debunked, the question remains -- even if Davis’s zombie powder is all he claims it is -- why anyone would bother to make a zombie in the first place. It would be a lot of time and effort to abduct someone, fake their death, get the toxins just right, revive them, and put them to work.
There are easier ways to give someone brain damage, and even if it worked there’s no guarantee that the person would be docile or compliant; it’s just as likely that they would be left in a vegetative state. While zombies are infesting television and film (and, some cases, news headlines), true zombies remain an unproven myth.
DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran has warned the United States not to resort to military action against it, saying U.S. bases in the region were vulnerable to the Islamic Republic's missiles, state media reported on Saturday.
The comments by a senior Iranian military commander were an apparent response to U.S. officials who have said Washington was ready to use military force to stop what it suspects is Iran's goal to develop a nuclear weapons capability.
World powers held talks with Iran in Baghdad on May 23-24 in an attempt to find a diplomatic solution to their concerns over its nuclear program, which Tehran maintains is entirely peaceful. Another round was set for June 18-19 in Moscow.
"The politicians and the military men of the United States are well aware of the fact that all of their bases (in the region) are within the range of Iran's missiles and in any case ... are highly vulnerable," Press TV reported Brigadier-General Yahya Rahim Safavi as saying.
Safavi is a military adviser to Iran's clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and was until 2007 the commander in chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the force that protects Iran's Islamic system of governance.
He also warned that Iranian missiles could reach all parts of Israel but played down any possibility of military action against his country as "faint" because of the current economic condition of the United States.
Analysts say Iranian military officials use such fiery rhetoric as a way of keeping the West on edge over the possible disruption to global oil supplies in the event of U.S. or Israeli military action.
Tehran has previously threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz - a vital crude shipping lane - if it is attacked, which experts say would result in a spike in the price of oil and could hit the U.S. economy as it seeks to recover from the financial crisis.
Last month the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, said plans for a possible military strike on Iran were ready and the option was "fully available".
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said Iran needed to take steps to curb its nuclear activities during the next round of talks in Moscow. Israel is skeptical any progress can be made and has accused Tehran of simply buying time.
The Whitewater-Baldy wildfire in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico has spread to more than 241,000 acres since being started by lightning May 16, 2012.
As of early Monday morning, more than 1,100 firefighters were working to contain the blaze, according to InciWeb.org. The crews are using 67 fire engines, 29 water tenders and 9 helicopters against the spreading fire.
Areas close to the fire may experience air that is unhealthy for sensitive groups with conditions like asthma, heart conditions or lung issues, according to nmfireinfo.com. The elderly, infants and pregnant women should also exercise caution when outdoors in heavy smoke.
Smoke in the area of Willow Creek is reported to be minimal.
The fire is reported to be 17 percent contained. Early Monday morning, 241,701 acres were burning. The Whitewater-Baldy wildfire is the largest wildfire ever in New Mexico.
This map of the Gila Forest Wildfire shows the progression of the fire from May 18 through June 2, 2012. The map is courtesy of USFS Gila National Forest.
As the efforts continue, the weather will not be much help.
AccuWeather Forecaster Evan Duffey said, "Winds today will be out of the west and a bit breezy. At times the wind will gust to more than 20 m.p.h. posing some problems for the firefighters."
"Tomorrow, the winds will relax and the firefighters will have a better shot at controlling the blaze. The calmer conditions will last through Wednesday, then winds will pick up towards the end of the week," Duffey said.
Large wildfires over rough terrain such as the Gila Forest Wildfire are able to generate their own wind as they burn.
No rain is forecast in the immediate future, making it difficult for the firefighters to battle the blaze. Dry brush continues to fuel the flames as the fire continues to spread.
Firefighters and other workers should take frequent breaks and be sure to remain hydrated in the intense heat.
US President Barack Obama has again persuaded Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to hold off attacking Iran’s nuclear program in the coming months by promising a new set of severe sanctions against Iran. US administration officials assured DEBKAfile’s Washington sources that Israel’s leaders were won over by the Obama administration’s promise to ratchet up US and Europe sanctions against Iran if the next round of negotiations with the six world powers in less than two weeks gets bogged down again.
These are the new sanctions hanging over Iran as reported by our sources
1. On July 1, the Europeans will activate the embargo that left pending on Iranian oil exports and banks.
2. In the fall, the US administration will bring out its most potent economic weapon: an embargo on aircraft and sea vessels visiting Iranian ports. Any national airline or international aircraft touching down in Iran will be barred from US and West European airports. The same rule will apply to private and government-owned vessels, including oil tankers. Calling in at an Iranian port will automatically exclude them from entry to a US or European harbor.
This sanction would clamp down an air and naval siege on the Islamic Republic without a shot being fired.
Word of the US plan prompted a deliberately provocative visit by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari Thursday, May 31 to his forces stationed on the disputed three islands commanding the Strait of Hormuz, Abu Musa, Little Tunb and Big Tumb.
The islands are claimed by the United Arab Emirates. A previous visit by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on April 11 stirred up a major outcry in the Gulf region.
In Washington, Jafari’s visit it was taken as Tehran’s reminder of its repeated threat to close the Hormuz Straits in the event of a blockade to the transit of a large part of the world’s oil.
3. President Obama promised Prime Minister Netanyahu to deal personally with India and Indonesia, the most flagrant violators of anti-Iran sanctions who make their financial networks available for helping Tehran evade restrictions on its international business activities.
Washington, according to our sources, made sure its sanctions plan was leaked to Tehran through diplomatic and intelligence back channels as a means of twisting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s arm into instructing his negotiators at the Moscow talks on June 16 to start showing flexibility on the world powers’ demands to discontinue uranium enrichment up to 20 percent and stop blocking international nuclear agency inspectors’ access to sites suspected of engaging in nuclear weapons development.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton no doubt had Israel’s latest concession to the Obama administration in mind, Sunday, June 3, when she brushed aside as “nothing new” questions about Khamenei’s threat to respond to an Israeli attack with “thunderous response.” She explained, “We look forward to what the Iranians actually bring to the table in Moscow. We want to see a diplomatic resolution. We now have an opportunity to achieve it, and we hope it is an opportunity that’s not lost, for everyone’s sake.”
Tehran has now been made aware that if that opportunity is indeed lost, there may be some pretty heavy music to face in the form of an international air and sea embargo.
A month ago we were delighted to counterpoint Charlie Munger's prior remarks about the level of "civilization" of a given consumer based on their sentiment vis-a-vis gold, by demonstrating that Chinese purchases of gold from Hong Kong rose to a record. To wit: "Imports from Hong Kong were 135,529 kilograms (135.53 metric tons) between January and March, from 19,729 kilograms in the year-earlier period, according to data from the Census and Statistics Department of the Hong Kong government. Shipments in March rose 59 percent from February, yesterday's data showed.
" We have just gotten the April update, and, lo and behold, the country which is now the biggest buyer of gold, having surpassed India, just set a new record: "Gold imports by mainland China from Hong Kong climbed 65 percent to a record in April, advancing for a third straight month as investors sought a hedge against financial-market turmoil and an economic slowdown. Shipments totaled 103,644.5 kilograms (103.6 metric tons) in the month from 62,913 kilograms in March, according to export data from the Census and Statistics Department of the Hong Kong government today.
In the first four months, imports were 239,174 kilograms from 27,114 kilograms a year earlier, according to Bloomberg calculations. China doesn’t publish such figures." In other words: in the first four months of 2012 Chinese purchases have increased by an unprecedented 782% over 2011.
And this is only from Hong Kong! Said otherwise: "Is the PBOC, which officially has just 1,054 tons of the yellow metal, quietly and relentlessly stockpiling gold?" Oh yes.
Expect a formal announcement from the Chinese central bank in the months ahead, indicating the country's gold hoard has increased by at least 100%. What happens then to the price of gold is rather self-explanatory.
Increased imports by the second-largest consumer after India may help extend a rebound in the precious metal that’s been driven by speculation the U.S. Federal Reserve may add to stimulus this month to safeguard the recovery. Spot gold rallied 4.1 percent on June 1 after U.S. jobs data missed expectations.China’s central bank may also be boosting holdings, according to Wang Xinyou, a senior analyst at Agricultural Bank of China Ltd.“The fundamentals are intact for a bull market in gold,”Liang Ruian, head of commodities at Pinpoint Investment Advisory Co. “With so much economic uncertainty out there, the money-printing practice won’t stop. Central-bank buying is another bullish factor that shouldn’t be discounted.”Immediate-delivery gold, which traded at $1,617.80 an ounce at 8:50 p.m. in Beijing, is 3.6 percent higher this year as investors and central banks bought the metal as a store of value.Holdings in the SPDR Gold Trust, the biggest bullion-backed exchange-traded fund, rose 1.5 percent in 2012, and central banks from Turkey to Kazakhstan added gold to their reserves.
And the kicker:
"We can’t rule out the possibility that the central bank is buying gold,” said Wang at Agricultural Bank of China, referring to the People’s Bank of China. The PBOC last made known its gold reserves more than two years ago, announcing that it held 33.89 million ounces, or 1,054 tons, as of June 30, 2009.
Rule out? You can bet on it. And when the press release is finally issued hold on to your gold hats folks...
Skywatchers have the opportunity to witness history today (June 5), as the planet Venus rambles across the face of the sun in a rare event that will not be visible again for 105 years.
Astronomers call this orbital encounter the "transit of Venus," when the planet passes between Earth and the sun, appearing as a tiny black blemish as it travels across the solar disk.
Transits of Venus are some of the rarest skywatching sights because they happen so infrequently. Transits occur in pairs eight years apart, once every 100 years or so. Today's transit is paired with a previous one that occurred on June 8, 2004. Before that, the last pair of Venus transits wowed astronomers and explorers in 1881 and 1889.
Anyone who misses today's event, however, will be out of luck, because the next two transits of Venus will not occur again until the year 2117 and 2125.
Luckily, much of the world will be well-placed to view at least part of the Venus transit, weather permitting. Observers in North America, Europe, Asia and eastern Africa should be treated to the spectacular and historic views, provided local weather cooperates. [Venus Transit of 2004: 51 Amazing Photos]
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World visibility of the transit of Venus on 5-6 June 2012. Spitsbergen is an Artic island – part of the Svalbard archipelago in Norway – and one of the few places in Europe from which the entire transit is visible. For most of Europe, only the end of the transit event will be visible during sunrise on 6 June.
CREDIT: Michael Zeiler, eclipse-maps.com (via ESA)
How to watch
The transit will begin around 6 p.m. EDT (3 p.m. PDT; 2200 GMT) this evening, and will last approximately seven hours. Since the transit of Venus is happening across the International Date Line, it will occur on Wednesday (June 6) in Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe.
In North America, the best time to see the transit will be in the hours before sunset today. People located in the mid-Pacific region, where the sun will be high overhead during the transit, will be able to witness the majority of the event.
In Europe, Africa and Australia, Venus will be crossing the face of the sun as it rises in the morning on June 6. Skywatchers in Asia and across the Pacific Ocean should be able to view the transit any time on Wednesday, weather permitting.
WARNING: It is very important to exercise caution and protect your eyes during the transit of Venus. It is very dangerous to stare directly at the sun. Special eclipse glasses or solar filters for telescopes are needed to avoid permanently damaging your eyes.
The last transit of Venus happened in 2004, as captured in this satellite image.
Have fun but be careful!
To safely view the transit, special solar filters should be fitted over binoculars or telescopes, and eclipse glasses or No. 14 welder's glasses should be used as protective eyewear.
The safest and simplest technique is to view the transit indirectly using a solar projection. Skywatchers can use telescopes or one side of a pair of binoculars to project a magnified image of the sun's disk onto a shaded white piece of cardboard. This projected image is safe to look at and photograph, but it's important to remember to cover the telescope's finder scope and the other half of the binoculars to avoid accidentally looking through them.
It will take about 18 minutes for Venus to fully trek onto the face of the sun, proceeding on a diagonal track across our nearest star.
Astronomers refer to the different phases of the transit of Venus as "contacts." When the planet first touches the outer edge of the sun, this is known as first contact. Second contact occurs when Venus appears to be completely on the sun. Third contact refers to when Venus touches the sun's inner edge, and fourth contact follows when the planet is totally separate from the sun.
OTTAWA • The deteriorating state of Europe’s debt crisis has renewed a sense of urgency among global leaders, as markets around the world continue to recoil from the threat of a financial contagion.
‘There’s a heightened sense of alarm over developments in Europe, particularly in Spain’
Group of Seven finance ministers and central bankers were to hold talks early Tuesday morning, with concerns growing that the capital-stretched financial system in Spain — the latest casualty in the region — could buckle, possibly causing a run on banks that could spread through Europe and beyond.
“I’ve been having discussions and I will have more discussions tomorrow morning and subsequently with my G7 colleagues,” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters Monday in Toronto.
“Those discussions also take place with some of the non-European members of the G20 … who are concerned around the world outside of the eurozone with the potential consequences of a crisis in the eurozone, particularly a banking crisis,” he said.
“The real concern right now is Europe of course — the weakness in some of the banks in Europe, the fact they’re undercapitalized, the fact the other European countries in the euro zone have not taken sufficient action yet to address those issues of undercapitalization of banks and building an adequate firewall.”
A G7 source told Reuters: “There’s a heightened sense of alarm over developments in Europe, particularly in Spain.”
Officials at Canada’s Finance Department and the Bank of Canada declined to comment further on Tuesday’s talks. The G7 groups Canada, the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain and Italy.
Global markets continued their descent Monday, with Toronto’s benchmark S&P/TSX composite index losing 25.43 points, or 0.22%, while the Dow Jones industrial index was down 17.11 points, 0.14%.
A new series of eruptions have begun on Manam Island off Madang in Papua New Guinea, with warnings to residents to take precautions. The volcano is one of the most active in PNG claiming several lives over the last decade. Vents on the volcano are glowing at nights and explosions in the craters can be heard more than 15 kilometres away. Ima Itakarai, the assistant director of the Rabaul Volcanology Observatory says it’s possibility of a major explosion cannot be ruled out, but it’s not imminent.
BEIJING - China said on Tuesday that both Beijing and Moscow oppose foreign intervention or forced regime change in Syria as Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived for a security summit.
China and Russia, both permanent members of the UN Security Council, have blocked efforts by Western powers to condemn or call for the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad whose forces the United Nations says have killed more than 10,000 people since March last year.
Both countries have stayed in close touch on Syria and believe there should be an immediate end to violence, adding that political dialogue should begin as soon as possible, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a daily news briefing.
"Both sides oppose external intervention in Syria and oppose regime change by force," Liu said.
"We believe ultimately the Syrian issue should be properly addressed through consultation among different parties in Syria. This is in the fundamental interests of the Syrian people. China and Russia have been playing, in their own way, a positive role on the Syrian issue."
Russia and China, wary of any Western-led military intervention in Syria, say UN mediator Kofi Annan's plan is the only way forward, but have twice blocked UN Security Council resolutions which would have condemned Damascus and perhaps led to sanctions.
Syrian rebels said on Monday they were no longer bound by a UN-backed truce because Assad had failed to observe their Friday deadline to implement the ceasefire and had only attacked government forces to defend "our people".
Putin is attending a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which also includes former Soviet states in central Asia.
Among the talks between Russia, the world's biggest energy producer, and China, the largest consumer of energy, will be a natural gas deal which Moscow hopes to finalize after years of negotiation.
Also on the table is a multi-billion dollar joint venture to build a long-haul aircraft, Russian media have said, and a state-run fund to invest in Russian and Chinese projects