Sunday, November 9, 2008

The power to light the world

Walter Owens doesn't look like a man who could change the world. He doesn't resemble Ben Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein or even Bill Gates. Yet, if what Walter Owens says is true, his name might be added to that pantheon of inventors. If Walter Owens has his way, America might again bring light to the world.

Owens, a retired electrical engineer, has invented a power generator system that actually creates it's own fuel source - static electricity. Owens says the machine can provide a complete power source for homes, businesses, planes trains and automobiles. In fact, Owens says the applications are nearly limitless, but that's not what is important. What's important is that others are saying it, too.


The machine (Owens' small, test-model) has been tested and examined by independent electric motor experts and the results were noted in a report signed by Higinio Rodriguez, president of Gulf Coast Electric Motor Service, Inc. in Pensacola.

According to the report, the machine requires 24 volts to start the motor and only 12 volts to start the static charge. However, it takes no amps or watts to supply the static charge.

The reports says "How long will it run and at what loss of volts and amps? No loss - indefinitely running."

Owen's self-sustaining machine produced over 4,600 watts and required no coal, oil, gas or liquid fuel and produced no pollution and no waste by-products.

By nearly anyone's standards, that qualifies as revolutionary to the point of science fiction fantasy.

Yet, Walter Owens doesn't look like someone out of a Isaac Asimov novel or some character that Robert Heinlein dreamed into existence. Owens brought his working model to the Herald office in the back of his pick-up truck and gave a demonstration for Herald staff and WMBB-TV 13 reporter Chris Mitchell, who broadcast a report on Owens and his generator on Monday evening. That machine, he said, could supply power to three individual homes - indefinitely.

One might assume that Owens will become fabulously wealthy and, if his generator is as efficient as it appears, that will undoubtedly occur. However, that's the other interesting twist to this unusual tale. Owens isn't looking for mere wealth.

"I'm 84 years old and the money doesn't make any difference to me. I was contacted by a firm in California that offered to pay me $2 million for exclusive rights," said Owens. "But I refused. I don't want any one company to have the technology. They'll just bury it." Instead, Owens hopes to sell his invention to a large array of individual companies and manufacturers. That way, he says, his generator can find its way into the hands of ordinary citizens.
 
 
 
Red Flags
On Oct. 15, 2007, New Energy Congress member, Sterling D. Allan wrote:
I spoke with Walter Owens a couple of times today by phone in preparing [the following] page.
Several red flags came up for me
* The longest any of his prototypes have run continuously is 3 hours (his last prototype)
* His last prototype was burning up batteries, regulators, and coils.
* In the same breath he says this device will run 25 years with no problems
* He thinks the next prototype build will be ready to go into production.
* He's supposed to be an accomplished inventor.
I think its worth looking into, but he has a weak sense of what it takes to bring energy technology to market.
Still deep in R&D.

Surprise Loser in Tuesday's Elections? Fluoride

A number of communities, mostly in Nebraska, passed ballot initiatives on Tuesday allowing them to opt out of state water safety standards that mandate the fluoridation of local drinking water supplies.

The Centers for Disease Control identified water fluoridation as one of the ten greatest achievements in public health in the 20th century, so its crushing defeat may shock some. But the defeat was the result of a spirited campaign by fluoridation opponents who have long argued that the practice is a poisonous and totalitarian one. Anti-fluoride initiatives were on the ballots of 41 Nebraska communities Tuesday, according to The Wall Street Journal and the initiatives were overwhelmingly successful. In Hastings, Neb., 66% of voters voted against adding fluoride to the water supply.

The success was largely the result of active campaigning by groups like Nebraskans for Safe Water, whose spokesman Marvin "Butch" Hughes told the WSJ that fluoride is a poison. "You can't dump it in the ocean or a landfill, and they want to put it in our water. It's insane."

Hughes is convinced that fluoridated water contributes to brittle bones and cancer. Nonetheless, the addition of minute amounts of fluoride to municipal water supplies has led to a dramatic decrease in tooth decay in the United States over the past half century.

~ NBC Chicago ~

 

Vietnam: American Holocaust



Narrated by Martin Sheen

The United States killed between 3 and 5 million people in the Vietnam War. This feature looks at the history of that war and the how and why it happened using interviews with participates on both sides, speeches, conversation and actual wartime footage. Containis graphic volence

India: Monsanto seeds lead to ‘GM Genocide’

When Prince Charles claimed thousands of Indian farmers were killing themselves after using GM crops, he was branded a scaremonger. In fact, as this chilling dispatch reveals, it's even worse than he feared.

[ ... ]

Shankara, respected farmer, loving husband and father, had taken his own life. Less than 24 hours earlier, facing the loss of his land due to debt, he drank a cupful of chemical insecticide.

Unable to pay back the equivalent of two years' earnings, he was in despair. He could see no way out.

There were still marks in the dust where he had writhed in agony. Other villagers looked on - they knew from experience that any intervention was pointless - as he lay doubled up on the ground, crying out in pain and vomiting.

Moaning, he crawled on to a bench outside his simple home 100 miles from Nagpur in central India. An hour later, he stopped making any noise. Then he stopped breathing. At 5pm on Sunday, the life of Shankara Mandaukar came to an end.

As neighbours gathered to pray outside the family home, Nirmala Mandaukar, 50, told how she rushed back from the fields to find her husband dead. 'He was a loving and caring man,' she said, weeping quietly.

'But he couldn't take any more. The mental anguish was too much. We have lost everything.'

Shankara's crop had failed - twice. Of course, famine and pestilence are part of India's ancient story.

But the death of this respected farmer has been blamed on something far more modern and sinister: genetically modified crops.

Shankara, like millions of other Indian farmers, had been promised previously unheard of harvests and income if he switched from farming with traditional seeds to planting GM seeds instead.

Beguiled by the promise of future riches, he borrowed money in order to buy the GM seeds. But when the harvests failed, he was left with spiralling debts - and no income.

So Shankara became one of an estimated 125,000 farmers to take their own life as a result of the ruthless drive to use India as a testing ground for genetically modified crops.

The crisis, branded the 'GM Genocide' by campaigners, was highlighted recently when Prince Charles claimed that the issue of GM had become a 'global moral question' - and the time had come to end its unstoppable march.

Speaking by video link to a conference in the Indian capital, Delhi, he infuriated bio-tech leaders and some politicians by condemning 'the truly appalling and tragic rate of small farmer suicides in India, stemming… from the failure of many GM crop varieties'.

Ranged against the Prince are powerful GM lobbyists and prominent politicians, who claim that genetically modified crops have transformed Indian agriculture, providing greater yields than ever before.

The rest of the world, they insist, should embrace 'the future' and follow suit.

~ more... ~

 

Bolivia: Drugs, unrest and socialism

Alyssa McDonald
7 Nov, 2008

Top Bolivian politician Silvia Lazarte talks about her role in reforming the South American country in the face of bitter internal opposition and US interference

The battle to reform Bolivia faces resistance at every turn

For a politician whose country is wracked by such violent unrest some commentators predict civil war, Bolivia's Silvia Lazarte is surprisingly positive about her nation's prospects – steely, even, in her insistence the outlook is good.

As one of the most senior politicians in the ruling party, MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo, or Movement towards Socialism), Lazarte is understandably keen to emphasise the widespread support enjoyed by Bolivian president, Evo Morales.

At a referendum held in August, she points out, he won 67 per cent of the vote.

But, equally, the division and dispute at the heart of Bolivian politics are clear when she speaks about the government's right wing opposition.

"These are people who never accepted their downfall in the last elections, who don't accept that they were kicked out of power. They were used to being in control and being in power and ignoring the people," she tells me when we meet at the New Statesman's offices in Victoria.

The most recent illustration of the opposition's refusal to submit came on 11 September this year, when at least fifteen people were killed on their way to a pro-government rally in the northern region of Pando.

Bolivia's political polarisation is matched by its shockingly wide poverty gap: despite rich reserves of oil, natural gas and minerals, it is one of Latin America's poorest countries.

Most of the country's resources are concentrated in a few wealthy lowland regions in the east known as the "Half Moon", which are largely populated by a European-descended elite.

However, the majority of the population – about two-thirds – belong to Bolivia's 36 indigenous peoples and live at subsistence level in the country's more mountainous, western regions. The current constitution ignores both women and the indigeous peoples.

So as the president of the Constitutional Assembly, Lazarte's importance to Morales's socialist reforms is clear.

She has led the drafting of the charter – expected to pass into law when it is put to a referendum in January next year.

The new constitution aims to improve the living standards for the indigenous population by redistributing profits from the gas fields in the east of the country.

Like Morales, Lazarte is herself an indigenous Bolivian, and she arrives for interview in full traditional dress: layered skirts, a narrow-brimmed white hat and an almost neon-bright patterned shawl.

For a Brit used to the funereal gloom of Western political fashions, her colourful appearance gives an immediate impression of flamboyance, but in her choice of words, of course, Lazarte is no less calculating than a British cabinet minister would be.

Her comments on the new constitution are unequivocal: "It is inclusive. That is the most important thing about the constitution, that everybody is taken into account," she explains, her expression completely neutral. "The rights of women ... the indigenous, first peoples of Bolivia, all the ethnicities, languages, these are all recognized."

What she glosses over though is the response from the right wing, which has been vehement, sustained and extremely violent: the incident in Pando is only the most recent in a series of anti-government gestures which have erupted repeatedly in the two years since the Assembly was first created. Five of the wealthy regions have also voted for greater autonomy.

However, Lazarte is adamant that the situation has started to improve in recent months. "There really isn't as much division now. We got through this with the formulation of the constitution - the writing of the constitution was everybody's work. The government had their representatives there [on the Assembly] and in congress just like the opposition did."

The MAS government has made several major concessions in order to secure a date for the referendum, including an agreement that the president, Evo Morales, must only seek one more term in office.

Surely this suggests that the opposition has retained its ability to strongarm the government? Lazarte insists not: "the right wing has recently lost a lot of power, it's fighting within itself."

Her view stems from the aftermath of the killings in Pando. Leopoldo Fernandez, Pando's regional governor, has been jailed and stands accused of hiring hitmen to kill farmers on their way to a pro-government rally.

There is also an investigation looking at "the broader network" of regional governors and civic committee members who may have been involved in the killings.

As a result, she says, several suspects appear to have fled: "Branco Marinkovic, who is a key figure in Santa Cruz politics, apparently is no longer in the country, according to the information we have. Ruben Costas, who is the prefecto [regional governor] of Santa Cruz, apparently left, went to his hacienda and is not at large." Lazarte does admit though that there are "a few other groups around the place", such as the Santa Cruz Youth Union, who have been implicated in violence, but as the investigation is ongoing, will not go into further detail.

The US has also waded into this strained relationship. Concerned by Morales' warm relationships with Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and his support for coca-leaf growers, whose crop is important both culturally and for the Bolivian economy but also provides the raw material from which cocaine is produced, the US has never been supportive of Morales.

In 2005 the then US ambassador warned that if Morales was elected, Bolivia would lose Washington's financial support and goodwill.

Last month his successor, Philip Goldberg, was expelled after holding meetings with opposition politicians including Ruben Costas. Morales accused Goldberg of "seeking the division of Bolivia".

"The US ambassador was constantly meeting up with the right wing," Lazarte claims. "What happened with the ambassador from the United States was that instead of complying with Bolivian law and Bolivian policies, he decided to conspire against the government, and the Bolivian people will not accept that.

"What the Bolivian people don't want are impositions. We don't like it, we never will like it, and we won't allow it."

She claims that, along with Leopoldo Fernandez' arrest, his expulsion was "significant" in weakening the right wing, although Morales clearly didn't feel Goldberg's ejection was enough: just days ago he also suspended the activities of US drug enforcement agency, accusing its agents of working "to conduct political espionage and to fund criminal groups" involved in anti-government protests.

In this context, Lazarte's calm assurances that Bolivia has a united, peaceful future ahead of it - "we are now in a process of consolidation and achieving more consensus every day" - seem less than reliable.

With Fernandez in jail and the US presence in Bolivia weakened, the dangerous minority of right-wingers appears to have been brought under control for the meantime. But it is unlikely that the US will stop meddling in the country's affairs as long as Morales is in power; and how the right wing will behave as the referendum draws closer still remains to be seen.

Republished from New Statesman

~ Bolivia Rising ~

 

Flower power

Flower power
The expression is said to have been coined by the US poet Allen Ginsberg in 1965.
 
 
Hippies spoke readily of "flower power" as many of them got their power from the cannabis flower - as well as wearing flowery garb.
 
Hippie psychedelia reached its peak in 1967, flooding the 'alternative' fashion world with kaftans, afghan coats, body paint and flowers in the hair.
 
This was the year of Scott McKenzie's hit San Francisco (Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair) and the phrase 'turn on, tune in, drop out'.
 
 
The Art OF Flower Language Speaks Again
The power of flower language used by would-be burglar.

A burglar broke into a home in the United Kingdom, to find a 91 year-old woman in the house. The burglar fled the scene empty handed, leaving behind a badly frightened elderly woman. In a rare show of conscience, the would-be burglar the next day, sent a bunch of flowers and a card to the woman. He apologized for having caused the elderly woman alarm, explaining he thought the house was empty at the time. The local police are asking the man to turn himself in.


God gets some flower power
New York - A New York City man says the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh appeared to him in his backyard in the shape of a 1.2-metre-tall purple flower.
The amaranth plant in the backyard of Sam Lal's home in the Queens section of the city began to resemble an elephant's head and trunk in August after growing all summer.
The 60-year-old Hindu man tells the Daily News it appears to have healed him. He says pain he suffered from a bone spur disappeared when the plant grew.
Queens Botanical Garden spokesperson Tim Heimerle says horticulturists there have never seen an amaranth take an elephant-like shape. He says the trunk-like formation is "not a natural thing".
 
Flower power
Professor Stefano Mancuso, director of the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology in Italy, the world's only lab dedicated to plant intelligence, says while plants have neither nerves nor a brain, they are brilliant problem solvers. "Problems like finding food, reproducing, avoiding useless risks drive the lives of men as well as those of animals and plants," he says. "Plants are able to find food and water, to defend themselves (against) predators, to communicate with other plants, to raise newborns, to recognise kin. They are even able to manipulate animals, for example during pollination, luring them with false rewards or promising sex — as in the case of the many orchids that attract insect males by producing female (insect) pheromones and flowers mimicking the female body."
In a recent discovery in Queensland, scientists found primitive plants called cycads manipulated insects in a flourishing food-for-sex trade. Pollination of the plants was once thought to occur randomly by wind blowing from the male to female cycads, Science Daily reported last year. But scientists in Utah and Queensland have now found the male cycad cones emit a toxic odour to drive away pollen-covered insects, while female cones simultaneously release a milder odour to attract them — fooling the insects into pollinating them by making them think they are males.
Some plants under attack from grubs emit odours, similar to lavender, to alert other plants to the presence of a predator, as well as attracting wasps — the natural enemy of the grub. The New York Times recently reported a separate study showing how certain plants can distinguish between their relatives and strangers, and give preferential treatment to their kin. Scientists in Ontario found a beach weed, known as Great Lakes Sea Rocket, reacts aggressively to a strange plant by sprouting nutrient-grabbing roots, starving its rival of space. But when it recognises a nearby plant as a relative, it restrains itself — an ability not even animals are known to display.
The Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology believes plants have much to teach us. It has designed a "plantoid" robot to explore the surface of Mars — by dropping mechanical "pods" into the planet's soil for study — and is now waiting on the green light from the European Space Agency so it can produce its first plant in space. Mancuso says plant behaviour here on Earth can teach humans about low water consumption and low energy use. "The 'intelligent' solutions that plants found in these fields deserve to be carefully studied and, if possible, imitated," he says.
Yet many people tend to underestimate plants, placing them somewhere near the bottom of the evolutionary tree.
"We have a widespread view of plants as simple objects and, therefore, that something like an old-growth forest is no different from a stack of toilet paper rolls because it's just a thing," says Dr Virginia Shepherd, a research associate in the department of biophysics at the University of New South Wales. "But it's not just some mechanism that blows in the wind like a windmill … I think we underestimate how profound this relationship is."
Like many keen gardeners, Shepherd admits feeling affection for particular pot plants. A duck orchid, which grows near her home in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, is "like an old friend", she says. But there is a difference between what people might believe and what science can prove, she adds.
"I know many people who are gardeners who swear blind their plants have feelings, or they talk to their plants. I have a friend who played Mozart and heavy metal to his plants and said they moved towards Mozart … But science can only deal with things it can test."
Scientists in Tuscany did test the effect of music on grapevines, finding Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi promoted the growth of foliage, while Beethoven and Mahler aided in the ripening of the fruit — and in scaring away predators, according to a Wired report from last year.
 
 
Flower Power Fiats Take to the Streets
This district in Milan has become known for housing the hottest young designers for the week of the Salone di Mobile and many of the key parties and events take place here.

This year, The Flower Council of Holland will also be taking up residence in Zona Tortona.

Set up to promote the use of cut flowers and plants, the Flower Council has invited five influential designers to create a team of Flower Power Fiats which will be based there.

Each designer has created a design using flowers to decorate the Fiat 500, arguably one of Italy's most iconic cars, and visitors to the Zona Tortona will be able to admire and may even be able to hitch a lift in one of the floral Fiats.

Add hibiscus to your heart-friendly diet
Travel through Jamaica or Mexico and you're likely to be offered a hibiscus-flavored soda. Ill in China? If it's your liver or blood pressure that's the problem, a traditional healer might treat you with hibiscus. Although, it's not found in many foods or medicines in the United States, new research suggests Americans might want to warm up to the flower to improve their health.
What the researchers wanted to know: Can hibiscus flowers help prevent the build-up of cholesterol?
What they did: The scientists boiled the flowers and filtered the solution to obtain concentrated hibiscus extract. First, they tested the effects of the extract on cholesterol in samples of human blood. Then, they used two groups of 24 rats each; they fed one group a high-sugar diet and one a high-fat diet. Within each group, some rats were given hibiscus in addition to their unhealthy diet. (Some rats in each group were also fed a normal diet as controls.) The scientists compared the cholesterol levels of the rats given hibiscus with those who ate just an unhealthy diet.
What they found: For rats on the high-sugar diet, hibiscus significantly reduced triglyceride levels in the blood. (Triglycerides are a reflection of fat intake and can contribute to high cholesterol levels.) For the rats on a high fat diet, hibiscus reduced the levels of total cholesterol in the rats' blood and especially reduced the amount of LDL or "bad" cholesterol. Based on their experiments with human blood in the lab, the scientists think that hibiscus makes it harder for LDL cholesterol to bind to artery walls, inhibiting the build-up of cholesterol that can cause blockage and heart disease.

Anti-cancer flower power
Could a substance from the jasmine flower hold the key to an effective new therapy to treat cancer?
Prof. Eliezer Flescher of The Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University thinks so. He and his colleagues have developed an anti-cancer drug based on a decade of research into the commercial applications of the compound Jasmonate, a synthetic compound derived from the flower itself. Prof. Flescher began to research the compound about a decade ago, and with his recent development of the drug, his studies have now begun to bear meaningful fruit.
"Acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) is based on a plant stress hormone," says Prof. Flescher. "I asked myself, 'Could there be other plant stress hormones that have clinical efficacy?' While various studies have suggested that aspirin can prevent cancer, especially colon cancer, I realized that there could be a chance to find a potent plant hormone that could fight cancer even better. I pinpointed jasmonate."
A Natural Leap to the Drugstore Shelf
Both blood cancers and solid tumors seem to be responsive to the jasmonate compound, known also as methyl jasmonate. Prof. Flescher refers to it as the "jasmonate scaffold," a basis for developing a series of chemical derivatives. In terms of bioavailability and safety, early first-in-man studies have proven successful, and Prof. Flescher is hopeful that an anti-cancer drug based on jasmonate could be on the shelf in America within four years through the activity of Sepal-Pharma which licensed his research from Ramot, the technology transfer arm of Tel Aviv University.
Normally drug development takes much longer. "The jasmonate compound is used widely in agriculture and in cosmetics," says Prof. Flescher. "Proven to be non-toxic, it has the same regulatory status as table salt. That and the fact we are working on a natural chemical gives us a good starting point for launching a new drug."
 
 
The evolutionary triumph of flower power
While flowers originally came on the scene to attract potential pollinators like bugs and birds, it is their appeal to humans that accounts for the incredible variety of shapes and colors we see in domesticated flowers today. McGuire suggests that nature's prettier flowers got to survive and thrive because people didn't destroy them when they cleared land for agriculture. Instead, they cultivated them and have been doing so for more than 5,000 years.

Ironically, many domesticated flowers have been so selected by humans that nature's pollinators - the bugs and birds - no longer find them attractive. So the job of propagating the species depends mainly on us.

An article in the journal "Evolutionary Psychology" by McGuire; Jeannette Haviland-Jones, a professor of psychology at Rutgers; and others, states that in spite of some basic survival uses such as edible or medicinal flowers, most flowering plants grown in the flower industry today are not used for any purpose other than emotional satisfaction.

"Our hypothesis is that flowers are exploiting an emotional niche. They make us happy," McGuire says. "Because they are a source of pleasure - a positive emotion inducer - we take care of them. In that sense they're like dogs. They are the pets of the plant world."

Standard warfare may be eclipsed by nation-building

The doctrine, which has generated intense debate in the U.S. military establishment and government, holds that in coming years, American troops are not likely to engage in major ground combat against hostile states as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan, but instead will frequently be called upon to operate in lawless areas to safeguard populations and rebuild countries.

Such "stability operations" will last longer and ultimately contribute more to the military's success than "traditional combat operations," according to the Army's new Stability Operations Field Manual, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.

"This is the document that bridges from conflict to peace," said Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, commander of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where the manual was drafted over the past 10 months. The U.S. military "will never secure the peace until we can conduct stability operations in a collaborative manner" with civilian government and private entities at home and abroad, he said.

The stability operations doctrine is an engine that will drive Army resources, organization and training for years to come, Caldwell said, and Army officials already have detailed plans to execute it. The operations directive underpinning the manual "elevated stability operations to a status equal to that of the offense and defense," the manual reads, describing the move as a "fundamental change in emphasis" for the Army.

Yet the concept has drawn fire from all sides: Military critics say it will weaken heavy war-fighting skills -- using tanks and artillery -- that have already atrophied during years of counterinsurgency campaigns. For their part, civilian officials and nongovernmental groups with scarce resources say armed forces are filling the gap, but at the cost of encroaching upon their traditional overseas missions.

Military advocates argue that the Army has long been called upon for peacekeeping and rebuilding in unstable areas, but that it has conducted those operations an ad hoc fashion because of an excessive focus on combat. "Contrary to popular belief, the military history of the United States is characterized by stability operations, interrupted by distinct episodes of major combat," states the manual, saying that, out of hundreds of U.S. military operations since the American Revolution, only 11 were conventional wars.

From Panama in 1989 to Haiti to the 1991 Persian Gulf War to Iraq in 2003, Caldwell said he has seen the Army "confronted with having to conduct stability operations woefully unprepared."

In 1989, for example, Caldwell was the chief of a military planning team preparing for the 82nd Airborne Division's role in the invasion of Panama. "We never once talked about once we took down [Gen. Manuel] Noriega, what then," he said. "We only thought about the clenched fist, and someone else would get the trash picked up and get the water plants working." After Noriega's power structure fell, Caldwell's superiors ordered him to put police back on the streets. "We all panicked," Caldwell recalled.

Today, such fragile states, if neglected, will pose mounting risks for the United States, according to Lt. Col. Steve Leonard, the manual's lead author. Weak states "create vast ungoverned areas that are breeding grounds for the threats that we fear the most, criminal networks, international terrorists, ethnic strife, genocide," he said. "The argument against it is: Forget all that; you still have . . . near peer competitors who are on the verge of closing the superpower gap."

The new manual aims to orchestrate and plan for a range of military tasks to stabilize ungoverned nations: protecting the people; aiding reconstruction; providing aid and public services; building institutions and security forces; and, in severe cases, forming transitional U.S. military-led governments.

~ more... ~

 

Thousands of Israelis sing for peace at Rabin memorial rally

"Lift your eyes with hope, not through the rifles' sights; sing a song for love, and not for wars," chorused tens of thousands of Israelis at a rally Saturday night commemorating assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Men and women, old and young, who congregated at and around the Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, the site of the notorious crime, many with tears in the eyes, sang along as Israeli singer Miri Aloni performed the Song for Peace, a song calling for an end to violence, a song soaked with the late premier's blood.

Thirteen years ago, on the night of Nov. 4, the general-turned political leader joined Aloni on the same stage in singing the song, after he told the thousands of Israelis gathered at the same square for a peace rally that "this government... decided to give peace a chance, a peace that will solve most of Israel's problems."

"The path of peace is preferable to the path of war... For them (Israeli soldiers), for our children, in my case for our grandchildren, I want this government to exhaust every opening, every possibility, to promote and achieve a comprehensive peace," declared the Labor Party chief earlier that night.

Yet in a manner shocking the whole nation, the singing became Rabin's last public voice. On the way to his car, the then 73-year- old leader was gunned down by a far-right extremist who vehemently opposed Rabin's signing of the historic Oslo Accords in1993, which created the Palestinian National Authority and granted it partial control over parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

"You, Yitzhak, the torchbearer, were murdered, but the flame has not died. Your dream will triumph. We are here to carry the hope until it materializes," Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the current Labor chairman, told the mournful crowd against the backdrop of a large head portrait of Rabin and a striking slug "13Years after the Murder."

Prior to Barak, President Shimon Peres, Rabin's top diplomat back then, who sang together with Rabin that night and was just a few steps away when the incident happened, also appeared at the stage, which was decorated with a large streamer saying "Yes to Peace, No to Violence."

"Yitzhak, you are missed, but your way has not been lost," said the 85-year-old political veteran, who shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Rabin and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for their contributions to the Oslo Accords. "Peace is closer than we think, and we should make every effort in his memory to complete it."
 
 

How to write 200,000 books, with a computer's help

It's not easy to write a book. First you have to pick a title. And then there is the table of contents. If you want the book to be categorized, either by a bookseller or a library, it has to be assigned a unique numerical code, like an ISBN, for International Standard Book Number. There have to be proper margins. Finally, there's the back cover.

Oh, and there is all that stuff in the middle, too. The writing.

Philip Parker seems to have licked that problem. Parker has generated more than 200,000 books, as an advanced search on Amazon.com under his publishing company shows, making him, in his own words, "the most published author in the history of the planet." And he makes money doing it.

Among the books published under his name are "The Official Patient's Sourcebook on Acne Rosacea" ($24.95 and 168 pages long); "Stickler Syndrome: A Bibliography and Dictionary for Physicians, Patients and Genome Researchers" ($28.95 for 126 pages); and "The 2007-2012 Outlook for Tufted Washable Scatter Rugs, Bathmats and Sets That Measure 6-Feet by 9-Feet or Smaller in India" ($495 for 144 pages).

But these are not conventional books, and it is perhaps more accurate to call Parker a compiler than an author. Parker, who is also the chaired professor of management science at Insead (a business school with campuses in Fontainebleau, France, and Singapore), has developed computer algorithms that collect publicly available information on a subject — broad or obscure — and, aided by his 60 to 70 computers and six or seven programmers, he turns the results into books in a range of genres, many of them in the range of 150 pages and printed only when a customer buys one.

If this sounds like cheating to the layman's ear, it does not to Parker, who holds some provocative — and apparently profitable — ideas on what constitutes a book. While the most popular of his books may sell hundreds of copies, he said, many have sales in the dozens, often to medical libraries collecting nearly everything he produces. He has extended his technique to crossword puzzles, rudimentary poetry and even to scripts for animated game shows.

And he is laying the groundwork for romance novels generated by new algorithms. "I've already set it up," he said. "There are only so many body parts."

Perusing a work like the outlook for bathmat sales in India, a reader would be hard pressed to find an actual sentence that was "written" by the computer. If you were to open a book, you would find a title page, a detailed table of contents, and many, many pages of graphics with introductory boilerplate that is adjusted for the content and genre.

While nothing announces that Parker's books are computer generated, one reader, David Pascoe, seemed close to figuring it out himself, based on his comments to Amazon in 2004. Reviewing a guide to rosacea, a skin disorder, Pascoe, who is from Perth, Australia, complained: "The book is more of a template for 'generic health researching' than anything specific to rosacea. The information is of such a generic level that a sourcebook on the next medical topic is just a search and replace away."

~ more... ~

 

Bush rushes to open Grand Canyon to toxic uranium mining

The Bush administration is rushing forward with plans to mine the Grand Canyon for uranium, ignoring a command from Congress to cease such operations. Since 2003, mining interests have staked out over 800 uranium claims within five miles of Grand Canyon National Park. As Mineweb reports, "The Bureau of Land Management has published a proposed rule which rejects the House Natural Resources Emergency Resolution enacted in June that bans uranium mining and exploration near the Grand Canyon National Park." The Arizona Republic explains what's at stake:

Never mind that the drinking water of more than 25 million people, served by the Colorado River, is at risk ...

Or that Arizona Game and Fish warns about the impact on wildlife ...

Or that Grand Canyon National Park is still dealing with the toxic mess from past mines ...

The proposed BLM rule would not only reject the House's emergency withdrawal of over 1 million acres of federal land near Grand Canyon National Park from new uranium mining, but also eliminate the provisions that allow Congress to make such withdrawals in the future. The proposed rule, published on Friday, has a remarkably short comment period, closing in less than two weeks on October 27. House Parks Subcommittee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) blasted BLM's action, saying, "This last-minute move by this 'see if we can get it under the clock' administration is cowardly."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been strangely silent on this issue, despite his claimed commitment to protecting the Grand Canyon from drilling:

But McCain's claim to Roosevelt-style environmentalism has been badly bruised by his silence on uranium mining near the park and on the Navajo Nation.

"McCain gave us hope that he might be a Teddy Roosevelt type of Republican," said Roger Clark, air and water director for The Grand Canyon Trust, a Flagstaff, Ariz., environmental group. "Since the beginning of his run for president, including 2000, that has kind of crumbled."

The Arizona Republic's editorial concludes that it's "legacy time at the administration":

Surely President Bush doesn't want his to include tainted water and a contaminated landscape. We must keep the temporary ban on uranium mining near Grand Canyon.
 
~ Grist ~
 

What happens when countries go bankrupt?

The signs of looming national bankruptcy are plentiful, and bankers in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo know them well. In late 2001, they were the first to see the coming crash in Argentina. Men traveled across the Rio de la Plata, from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, carrying suitcases filled with US dollars. They stood in long lines at the city's banks, depositing the contents of their suitcases into accounts and safe deposit boxes there. Uruguay is South America's Switzerland, a safe haven for money in times of crisis. No one asks about where the millions come from.

Once the Argentine businessmen had transferred their dollars abroad, the second phase of the collapse began. The Argentine government froze all bank accounts, capping the maximum amount an accountholder could withdraw at only $250 (€198) a week. Small investors, those who had left their money in the banks, were the hardest hit. Tens of thousands of desperate citizens stormed the banks, and many spent nights sleeping in front of the automated teller machines.

The last phase of the downturn began in the Buenos Aires suburbs. After consumption had dropped by 60 percent, young men began looting supermarkets. In December 2001, 40,000 people gathered on Plaza de Mayo in front of the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace. There, they banged pots and pans together day and night, until an unnerved President Fernando de la Rúa fled by helicopter.

The image of the fleeing president has burned itself into the collective memory of Argentineans. It marks the worst financial crisis of the last 100 years. De la Rúa's successor allowed the peso to float free on the world currency-exchange markets after it had been pegged to the US dollar at a ratio of 1:1. Tens of thousands of small business owners, who had incurred debt when the peso was still pegged to the dollar, filed for bankruptcy. Unemployment quickly ballooned to 25 percent.

Five presidents passed through the Casa Rosada in the space of two weeks, until Nestor Kirchner, a provincial governor until then, assumed the presidency in 2003. Kirchner informed the country's international creditors that Argentina would not be able to repay its $145 billion (€115 billion) in foreign debt.

Is history repeating itself today?

Economic experts have been warning for months that Argentina is again heading toward national bankruptcy. Men are traveling to Uruguay once again with suitcases filled with cash. In the space of only three weeks, more than $700 million (€553 million) was withdrawn from Argentine bank accounts. Government bonds have lost more than half of their value. ATMs are no longer giving out more than 300 pesos, and inflation is running rampant.

Bailing Out a Sinking Ship with a Bowl

And the sound of pots and pans being banged together is back. President Cristina Fernandez, who succeeded her husband Nestor Kirchner in 2007, increasingly resembles the hapless de la Rúa. Last week, she presented her version of the "Corralito" -- the term used to describe the freezing of bank accounts in 2001 -- when she ordered the nationalization of private pension funds, allegedly to prevent the funds from going bankrupt.

But economic experts believed that Fernandez's true objective in nationalizing the private deposits, which are worth $30 billion (€24 billion), is to avert a government bankruptcy. Columnist Mario Grondona criticized the president, likening her to "a captain trying to save a sinking ship by bailing it out with a bowl from the kitchen."

Her husband was more decisive. He defied the IMF, which has sought to impose drastic rules on the country. He alienated international creditors by offering to buy back government bonds for only 25 percent of their face value. Since then, Argentina has received almost no new loans in the global financial marketplace.

Nevertheless, the country recovered from the crash with astonishing speed. In recent years, the Argentine economy has grown at impressive rates of 7 to 9 percent. At the first signs of the impending end of the boom, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez came to the country's rescue by buying up Argentine bonds. But now the authoritarian Venezuelan leader can no longer serve as Argentina's savior. With oil prices sharply in decline, Venezuela itself is seen as yet another candidate for economic disaster.

This has prompted President Fernandez to discreetly seek rapprochement with the hated IMF and the Club de Paris, a group of lending nations made up of some of the world's richest countries, in an attempt to reconnect Argentina to the international lending cycle.

The European Union's Achilles Heel

Hungary is another country being hit hard by the financial crisis. Until recently, the Hungarian government would not have dreamed it would be forced to accept aid from the IMF. But in recent days Hungary barely avoided sliding into national bankruptcy, and only a €12.5 billion ($15.9 billion) IMF rescue package -- bolstered by billions more from the European Union and the World Bank -- prevented it from happening.

The incident has historic significance. Hungary is the first country in the European Union obliged to accept an IMF loan of this nature. The conservative newspaper Magyar Nemzet writes that the move will turn Hungary into the "only colony of the International Monetary Fund" within the EU. The opposition party calls the plan "a disgrace." Brussels's contribution was €6.5 billion ($8.26 billion), while the World Bank contributed another €1 billion ($1.27 billion). The measures represent the most comprehensive international rescue package assembled in the current financial crisis.

How could this have happened, an EU member finding itself in such difficulties?

~ more... ~

 

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