Monthly Archives: November 2007

Groomed to rule: Otto von Habsburg turns 95

Born in 1912, the young prince was being groomed to rule


Budapest Times | Nov 26, 2007

by Lysann Heller

When Otto von Habsburg celebrated his 95th birthday last Tuesday, a special service was held in his honour at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, and the Austrian President Heinz Fischer received him in the imperial palace where Otto’s father Karl once reigned. The fact that Austria refused him entry to his native country for over half his lifetime appears to have been forgotten. He is now widely celebrated as a “great European”.

Otto von Habsburg was born in 1912 in Reichenau in Lower Austria into a life which appeared to have been mapped out for him. The Habsburgs were at the time the rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. From the sixteenth century onwards they ruled large chunks of Europe until the First World War brought their reign to an abrupt end. As a child he was a cosseted Crown Prince, who would ascend to the throne of Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy, and his education was designed to prepare him for this future role: he was instructed in the languages of the countries of the Habsburg Empire, and had to complete the curricula of Austrian and Hungarian schools at the same time. In addition to his native languages German and Hungarian, he also learnt English, French, Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Croatian.

Yet at the age of six, when the Habsburg Empire collapsed and his family were forced into exile, Otto began a decades-long odyssey, moving to Switzerland, Portugal and Spain. Later he studied in Belgium and taught in the USA, lived in France and returned to Spain, before settling in the Bavarian town of Pöcking at Lake Starnberg in 1954.

During the Second World War, the Nazis issued a warrant for his arrest on the charge of treason. Even after the end of the war his native country Austria refused him entry and citizenship for decades. It was only in 1961, following protracted negotiations with Austria’s republican government, that he renounced all claims to the Austrian throne. It took another five years of numerous complaints, political debates, and anti-Habsburg debates before he could set foot on Austrian soil again in 1966.

Not in power, but persuasive

Not taken seriously and marginalised by the powers that be, during the Second World War von Habsburg still managed to use his connections to help some 15,000 people flee, and was active in persuading US President Franklin Roosevelt not to bomb Austria. Following the end of the war, he became a public speaker, political writer and journalist. From 1936 he was a member of the International Paneuropean Union, its President from 1972, and has been Honorary President since 2004.

For 20 years between 1979 and 1999, he represented the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU) in the European Parliament with the help of Franz-Josef Strauß, a leading right-wing politician in Bavaria. On 19 August 1989, together with then Hungarian Foreign Minister Gyula Horn, he organised the Pan-European Picnic in Sopron at which 661 East Germans managed to flee to the west and which was a decisive catalyst of political change in the GDR and Eastern Europe.

His unrelenting and at times robust advocacy of his views has brought him not only renown, honour and prizes, but also attracted considerable criticism. In 2002, he gave a controversial interview to the far-right German newspaper Junge Freiheit in which he commented on the split in US domestic policy: “On the one hand the Department of Defense, where the key positions are held by Jews, the Pentagon today is a Jewish institution. On the other hand, in the State Department, there are blacks – for example Colin Powell or particularly Condoleezza Rice. (…) At the moment the Anglo-Saxons, i.e. the white Americans, play a relatively small role.”

In the same interview he expressed the view that, “the hysteria – against the right – has been systematically blown up by the controlled mass media, and made possible by the cowardice of the people on the right who haven’t defended themselves.” This comment provoked a scandal which still hangs over him in Germany.

In Hungary it has not been forgotten that in 1979 – at a time when the West was beginning to resign itself to the division of Germany and Europe – Otto von Habsburg as MEP had an empty chair set up for the countries on the other side of the Iron Curtain in the European Parliament. There were raised eyebrows and shaking of heads when the parliamentarian stood up and gave a speech in Hungarian. Today his vision of overcoming the division of Europe is reality. Hungary is a member of the European Union and von Habsburg has been made an honorary citizen in 30 towns and cities here. Finally, Otto von Habsburg has triumphed – if not as an emperor, then as a great European.

. . .

Related

Austrian monarchists call for Central European monarchy
An Austrian group calling for the reintroduction of hereditary monarchy in Central Europe said they were discriminated against in their attempts to re-establish an Austrian empire despite public support. Sporting the traditional Habsburg colours, the Black-Yellow Alliance (SGA) on Monday presented its manifesto, complete with plans for forming a monarchist party and to replace the country’s elected president with a monarch in the long run.

Imagining a bionic future

Research has yielded thought-controlled arms and hands that grasp

MSNBC | Nov 27, 2007

By Rebecca Ruiz

When Paul Selmer lost his right leg below the knee in a hunting accident, a doctor fitted him with a standard prosthesis that required a waist belt to swing the wooden foot with each step. Selmer remembers it feeling like a “sandbag.”

That was 28 years ago. The gallery owner and small-aircraft pilot is now a devotee of a high-tech device called a PROPRIO foot, which utilizes sensors, artificial intelligence and microprocessors.

“I marvel at how far we’ve come and how far we can go,” said Selmer, who was unable to fly newer planes until discovering the PROPRIO. According to the Amputee Coalition of America, Selmer is one of 1.9 million people living with limb loss in the country, many of whom have benefited from breakthrough technological advancements in the past few years.

Recent government, private industry and academic prosthetic research has yielded, among other innovations, a thought-controlled mechanical arm, an artificially intelligent knee, and a hand with articulated fingers that can pinch and grasp objects. As researchers and engineers test the limits of science to build better prostheses, they imagine a bionic future in which prosthetic devices look and function like the original limb.

“Over 10 years the technology will only improve in terms of the size, weight and cost of the devices,” said Ian Fothergill, a prosthetic fitter and clinical manager for Ossur Americas, which designed Selmer’s PROPRIO foot.

Fothergill’s aluminum prosthesis, for example, features sensors that quickly measure real-time motion and gather information about gait and surface angles. Bluetooth technology enables wireless transfer of the data to a software-empowered microprocessor which then directs the components to mimic and anticipate Selmer’s natural movements.

“The next big leap will be in terms of the control system,” Fathergill says. “People will be able to integrate their thoughts into how the device moves.”

This promise of seamless control, as well as cheaper but sturdier materials and technological innovation, is what’s driving the prosthetic market. The American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association estimates that businesses provide $3.5 billion worth of services to orthotic and prosthetic patients annually.

Increased government spending and research, triggered by the number of amputee soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, has played a significant role in helping to allocate resources for bold new projects.

State-of-the-art innovations for soldiers may also produce encouraging results for those with diabetes-related amputations; the disease accounts for more than half of all lower limb amputations each year. According to the Center for Disease Control, the number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes is expected to increase from 20.8 million to 48.3 million by 2050. The nation’s climbing obesity rate, which is linked to Type 2 diabetes, has already required prosthetics makers to adjust the weight limit of a lower-limb extremity prosthesis from around 225 pounds to 300 to 350 pounds. What began as an experiment in restoring mobility to soldiers may be a boon for long-term public health.

In February 2006 the Defense Research Advancement Projects Agency, or DARPA, committed close to $50 million to the improvement of prosthetic limbs. At the time, 387 soldiers had returned from Iraq and Afghanistan as amputees. As of October 2007, that number reached 751.

The Revolutionizing Prosthetics program set an ambitious deadline of utilizing previous power system, robotics, neuroscience, sensor and actuation technology and research to create a prosthetic arm controlled by neural signals by 2009. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, along with 30 different private, government and university collaborators, was awarded $30.4 million to evaluate the research and develop potential designs. Their efforts yielded two prototypes that have been tested by amputees and in virtual environments.

Proto 2, the second of their designs, was unveiled in August. It is a mechanical arm made of high-strength aluminum alloys, carbon fiber components, and molded devices. The limb, which includes a life-like hand and articulated fingers, is thought-controlled and can perform more than 25 degrees of freedom. The device allows the wearer to lift upwards of 40 to 50 pounds, open and close its fingers and bend at the elbow and wrist. Powered by a rechargeable battery and 25 different microprocessors and motors, it receives commands from electrodes attached to the residual limb which read electrical signals in the user’s muscles.

“Our philosophy is to try to get access to much wider signals and interpret from signals what the person is trying to do with their limb,” said APL project manager Stuart Harshbarger, referring to how the limb system’s electrodes pick up muscle signals which then trigger movement in the prosthetic. Previous myoelectric models have required the user to “map” muscle movements to prosthetic functions like bending the wrist or elbow.

Full Story

Chavez protesters flood Venezuelan streets

Citizens opposing constitutional amendments promoted by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez rally on Thursday in Caracas. Even some devout Chavez supporters in urban slums have expressed doubts at their president’s bid to turn their country into a permanently socialist state.

Tens of thousands voice opposition ahead of vote on ending term limits

MSNBC | Nov. 29, 2007

CARACAS, Venezuela – Tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of the capital Thursday to oppose a referendum that would eliminate term limits for President Hugo Chavez and help him establish a socialist state in Venezuela.

Blowing whistles, waving placards and shouting “Not like this!” the marchers carried Venezuelan flags and dressed in blue — the chosen color of the opposition — as they streamed along Bolivar Avenue.

“This is a movement by those of us who oppose a change to this country’s way of life, because what (the referendum) aims to do is impose totalitarianism,” said former lawmaker Elias Matta. “There can’t be a communist Venezuela, and that’s why our society is reacting this way.”

The rally marked the close of the opposition’s campaign against the proposed constitutional changes, which will be submitted to a vote Sunday. Chavez plans to lead rallies in favor of the reforms Friday.

Venezuelans will vote on 69 proposed changes to nation’s 1999 constitution that would, among other things, eliminate presidential term limits, create forms of communal property and give greater power to the presidency.

Chavez denies that the proposals are a bid to seize unchecked power, saying the constitutional overhaul is necessary to give more of a voice to the people through community-based councils.

Rallies for and against the amendments have surged across this South American country in the run-up to the vote, occasionally leading to clashes. There were no immediate reports of violence Thursday.

Violent clashes on Wednesday
On Wednesday, hundreds of stone-throwing students clashed with police and the Venezuelan national guard in a protest against the constitutional overhaul. Security forces responded with water cannons and tear gas.

Opposition leaders appeared confident Thursday that they have enough votes to defeat the referendum.

“Even some people who support Chavez” are against the changes, said Henrique Capriles, mayor of Baruta municipality.

“If there is transparency, whatever the result, we will recognize it,” Capriles said. But, he warned, “we won’t put up with a fraudulent process.”

Scientists fear nanotechnology more than the public

Cosmetics Design | Nov 26, 2007

By Guy Montague-Jones

26/11/2007  – As more and more personal care products are made using nanotechnology, a nationwide survey indicates that scientists are more concerned than the public about its potential health and environmental risks.

Nanotechnology is expected to make a big impact on the cosmetics industry, particularly in sun care and anti-aging, but concerns about the safety of the emerging technology have been raised.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison interviewed 363 leading nanotechnology scientists and surveyed American households concluding that scientists are more fearful than ordinary people

The authors of the report, which was published in Nature Nanotechnology yesterday, suggested that lack of knowledge among the general public explained the difference and called for greater education of consumers about the potential risks of nanotechnology.

Only 15 percent of public respondents indicated a concern that new forms of nanotechnology pollution may emerge, while 20 percent of scientists thought that might be a problem.

Over 30 percent of scientists expressed concern that nanotechnology may pose risks to human health while only 20 percent of ordinary people shared their fears.

Health concerns are particularly relevant to the personal care industry because lotions and shampoos produced using nanotechnology come into direct contact with the body and even penetrate the skin.

While anxiety surrounding the safety of cosmetics using nanotechnology remains the number of products developed using the technology is on the rise.

An inventory of nano-based consumer goods, compiled by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center recently recorded an increase to 85 personal care products from 58 when it was launched in March 2006.

In the latest research scientists expressed concern about potential health risks but were generally optimistic about the potential benefits of nanotechnology.

“Scientists aren’t saying there are problems,” said the study’s lead author Dietram Scheufele, professor of life sciences communication and journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “They’re saying, ‘we don’t know. The research hasn’t been done.'”

The tendency is for the public to worry more than scientists about new technologies but the latest survey indicates the opposite is true for nanotechnology.

The researchers behind the latest report suggested the public was less fearful of nanotechnology than of other developments like nuclear power and genetically modified foods because they know little about it.

“Nanotechnology is starting to emerge on the policy agenda, but with the public, it’s not on their radar,” said Scheufele. “That’s where we have the largest communication gap.”

A similar conclusion was reached by the Woodrow Wilson International Center, which recently conducted a consumer survey on nanotechnology and reported that 70 percent of respondents said they knew little or nothing about it.

In terms of filling the information gap, Scheufele said that of all sources of nanotechnology information, scientists are the most trusted by the public.

Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating the properties of tiny particles, measuring one billionth of a metre and has a broad range of applications from computer chips to personal care.

A human hair is 80,000 nanometres (nm) wide, a red blood cell 7,000 nm wide, and a water molecule 0.3 nm wide.

High-Tech Drones Joining Miami Police Force

Honeywell MAV currently deployed in IRAQ

Unmanned Aircraft System Will Help SWAT Units

Local10.com | Nov 27, 2007

MIAMI — The Miami-Dade police department will begin experimenting with high-tech drones as law enforcement tools beginning next year.

Although the military has been using unmanned aircraft systems for years, this will be the first time they are used in law enforcement.

“We are aware it is a great responsibility. The FAA is looking at us to see if we can professionally manage this program,” said Lt. Cliff Nelson of the police department’s aviation unit.

The flying camera is called a Micro Air Vehicle made by Honeywell. The MAV is remote controlled, unarmed and unmanned and can soar over 10,000 feet.

Miami-Dade police said only licensed pilots with the aviation unit will operate the devices because the airspace in the county is so busy.

Only the Miami-Dade police department and the Houston police department were given permission by the FAA to experiment with the drones.

“The capability of the unit is phenomenal,” said Miami-Dade Detective Juan Villalba.

The unmanned aircraft will be used during SWAT team and tactical operations, especially when officers need video of a heavily armed suspect.

The Miami-Dade police department has not yet taken possession on its drone, but the Houston police department has and is already conducting tests.

Miami-Dade hopes to use grant money to pay for the MAV. Officials said the units are pricey. Depending on the complexity of the system, they can cost several thousand dollars to more than a million.

Microwave Beam Stops Cars Dead

The high-power electromagnetic system (HPEMS) uses microwave energy to disable/damage vehicle’s electronic control module/microprocessors which control engine’s vital functions. The system is capable of (1) high-value asset perimeter protection from approaching hostile vehicles, (2) bringing cars to halt on urban, suburban roads and multi-lane highways, (3) perimeter protection for gas-oil (fueling) platform at sea and (4) day/night, all weather clandestine operations. Figures shown here depict HPEMS’ application for stopping vehicles on highways and perimeter protection of gas-oil fueling platform from approaching boats at sea.

The focus originally is to build a compact portable tunable system to be integrated in a police car (Ford Crown Victoria) and having the following operational capabilities:

• Operational range of frequencies tunable in the 350-1350 MHz range

• Immobilizing all vehicles with microprocessors at the range exceeding 50 meters

• HPEMS fits on a roof of a vehicle

Discovery News | Nov 29, 2007

by Tracy Staedter, Discovery News

The same form of energy used by microwave ovens is used in a new tech being used to fry the electrical systems in cars, stopping them dead in their tracks. Emitted from a rooftop device, the radiation could be used by law enforcement officers to put an end to dangerous car chases or by military personnel as a non-lethal way of disabling vehicles that get too close for comfort.

Nov. 29, 2007 — The same microwave radiation that reheats pizza can be used to fry the electrical systems in cars, stopping them dead in their tracks.

Emitted from a rooftop device, the radiation could be used by law enforcement officers to put an end to dangerous car chases or by military personnel as a non-lethal way of disabling vehicles that get too close for comfort.

“The idea is to warn an automobile some distance away from a high-value target like a military barrack or a communication center. If they don’t comply, you just zap them and it prevents them from coming closer,” said James Tatoian, CEO of Eureka Aerospace in Pasadena, Calif.

Tatoian and his team have been working on the device since 2003. The current prototype is about 5 feet long, 3 feet wide, a foot thick, and weighs just under 200 pounds.

The technology uses the same kind of energy used in microwave ovens, but at a different frequency. Ovens typically operate at 2.45 Ghz, whereas the high-power car-stopping system is at 300 megahertz. In both cases, the radiation is above common radio frequencies and is not harmful to humans.

“There are no biological effects,” said Tatoian. “We comply with every standard in the literature as far as biological impact.”

To disable cars, the device first generates energy that is amplified using a generator. The energy is converted to microwave radiation and then directed, by way of a specially designed antenna, at the offender in a narrow beam.

The higher the frequency of the radiation, the more directed the beam, which allows the user to aim the energy at vulnerable car parts, such as light bulb filaments, lug nuts, frame bolts, or windshield antenna.

Having access to these locations is crucial because newer cars are made with lots of plastic parts, have rustproof paint that prevents electricity from conducting, and have computers already designed to withstand the electromagnetic energy coming from the car engine.

One beam pulsed in a burst lasting just 50 nanoseconds is enough to disrupt a vehicle’s electrical system. The radiation can overload wires or damage or upset the car’s central microprocessor.

In tests on four vehicles, the researchers were able to disable cars from 10 to 50 feet away.

Such a device could go a long way to save time and lives in places like southern California, where highways stretch uninterrupted for long distances and car chases are common.

“Once they get off the streets, they just go until they run out of gas,” said commander Charles “Sid” Heal of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in Monterey Park, Calif. The department donated test cars for the experiments.

A technology that would shut down a car’s computer could not only reduce the number of car chases, but could also allow police officers to intentionally stop a car in a location where the offender might have difficulty running from on foot.

Heal said he would like to see the researchers add a light to beam, so that law enforcers could see where they are directing the beam and offenders would realize that they are on the receiving end of some kind of weapon.

“We can put the visible light on them, and if we don’t get compliance, we’ll hit them with a device that kills the car,” said Heal.

Tatoian thinks that with the proper funding, Eureka Aerospace can shrink the device in less than two years to a 50-pound appliance that looks like a plasma television and can disable cars from 600 feet away.

. . .

Related

Eureka Aerospace HPEMS Technology

US author to unveil Washington’s Masonic past

The Masonic square and compasses symbol is seen on the main floor wall frieze, on 19 November, at the headquarters of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Southern jurisdiction, in Washington, DC. A sequel to the blockbuster thriller “The Da Vinci Code” is set to lift the veil on mysterious Freemason symbols carved into the fabric of the historic streets and buildings of the US capital.

AFP | Nov 29, 2007

WASHINGTON (AFP) — A sequel to the blockbuster thriller “The Da Vinci Code” is set to lift the veil on mysterious Freemason symbols carved into the very fabric of the historic streets and buildings of the US capital.

Novelist Dan Brown has set the new adventures of his hero, scholar-adventurer Robert Langdon, right in the heart of Washington, which could reveal some astonishing facts for history buffs.

Brown “had a contact with us but then cut it short. We are all sitting around waiting for his book to come out but nobody knows what he’s going to say,” Akram Elias, grand master-elect of Washington’s Grand Lodge, told AFP.

According to the pre-publicity, the book — working title “The Solomon Key” — will feature Langdon hero of the mass-selling “The Da Vinci Code” and who was played by Tom Hanks in the hit film version.

“For the first time, Langdon will find himself embroiled in a mystery on US soil. This new novel explores the hidden history of our nation’s capital,” Brown wrote in a posting on his official website.

Washington has strong historic roots in Freemasonry — an old and widespread fraternity which traditionally practised secret rituals.

Despite its reputation for secrecy, the Freemason community is noticeably open in the United States: lodges are advertised in the phone book and their signs are prominently displayed.

The first US president after whom the city is named, George Washington, was a Mason, as were his fellow founding fathers James Madison and Benjamin Franklin, plus James Hoban, the architect of the White House.

The broad steps, stone sphinxes and colonnades of a Masonic temple dominate a corner of 16th Street near the city center — one of a number of Masonic lodges in the capital — and just a stone’s throw from the White House.

Elias cites theories that the city’s streets themselves are laid out in the shape of secret Masonic signs. “It may be a coincidence, but there are indications that are difficult to ignore,” he said.

Establishing the nation’s capital, George Washington is said to have demanded that it be laid out in a symbolic square.

“It’s fascinating. If you take an aerial view of Washington, you cannot but see the perfect square and the compass which are the universal symbols of Freemasonry … meaning rectitude and equality,” he said.

“Was it on purpose? I don’t know, but I think it’s difficult to ignore those mysterious aspects,” he added. “It adds another level of mystery to the city of Washington.”

The shape of a square and compass is also formed by drawing a line on the map between two of the city’s major landmarks, the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, and along the walls of the White House and the Jefferson Memorial.

At the center of these stands the George Washington monument, a vast brick obelisk whose dimensions themselves are symbolic: 555 feet high by 55 wide (170 meters by 17).

The number five is said to refer to the traditional five orders of architecture, which in turn relates to the Freemasons’ regard for geometry as a symbol of order, and of “the great geometrician” — the supreme being.

Inside the Capitol building, the heart of US lawmaking which sits at the dead center of the square city boundaries, lies a cornerstone laid by George Washington himself, dressed in his ceremonial apron, in a Masonic ritual in 1793.

“Here goes Washington heading a ceremony in order to lay the cornerstone of the Capitol, using corn, oil and wine to send a very powerful message to those who will be working in the parliament,” Elias said.

“Their mission should be to work in achieving prosperity, peace and happiness for the American people.”

Some play down the perceived prominence of Masons and their symbology, for fear of encouraging conspiracy theories which may be harmful to Freemasons.

“Freemasonry has a very important role in the history of the US and the early American republic,” said Mark Tabbert, director of collections at the Washington Masonic memorial in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, and author of the book “American Freemasons.”

“But that role is not based on any kind of political or religious construct.”

Tabbert offers an alternative to claims of Masonic design in Washington’s city plan.

“The design of the US capital is based more on neo-classical style, more related to the attempts to create a new republic based on an ancient Roman republican model than anything that related to freemasons,” he said.

Codes and secret signs were Brown’s stock-in-trade for the staggering success of “The Da Vinci Code” however.

“I’m nervous about it because I don’t think he does very good research,” Tabbert said of Brown and his new book. “But fiction writers are fiction writers.”