Daily Archives: November 20, 2007

Boeing Tests Laser-Mounted Humvee

 

Shooting an invisible beam just a few centimeters in diameter and 20 times hotter than an electric stovetop, the laser burned a hole through the casing of artillery and mortar rounds, detonating them more or less instantly.


Popular Mechanics | Nov 13, 2007

By Joe Pappalardo

There is a cottage industry forming to thwart the twin threats of unexploded bombs and intentionally placed IEDs—by convincing the Pentagon to use long-range lasers in the warzone. Boeing, always at the forefront of a lucrative market niche, has mounted a solid-state direct-energy beam that can explode bombs in the clear before they can take out a convoy. And if the proving-ground footage we’ve been checking out is any indication, this zapper is definitely showing potential.

Late last month, Boeing conducted a series of tests at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama with a 1-kw laser mounted on the back of a converted anti-aircraft Humvee. Shooting an invisible beam just a few centimeters in diameter and 20 times hotter than an electric stovetop, the laser burned a hole through the casing of artillery and mortar rounds, detonating them more or less instantly. (As for bystanders, all bets are off.)

Boeing engineers also took the time to carve up a pair of grounded unmanned aerial vehicles, hoping to promote the idea that laser-powered weaponry can be used in anti-aircraft and someday even missile defense. The company developed the Laser Avenger in just eight months as part of an ongoing effort “to show that directed energy weapons are relevant to today’s battlefield and are ready to be fielded.”

Pakistani general brushes aside plea from US envoy to restore democracy

Pakistani journalists from private news channels Geo News and ARY TV protest against being shut down by Dubai authorities under pressure from General Musharaff

Daily Mail | Nov 19, 2007

Pakistan has dismissed a call by a top American diplomat for an end to emergency rule and freeing of thousands of political opponents.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Sadiq told reporters: “This is nothing new,” after Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte issued a blunt warning that Musharraf must end emergency rule as soon as possible.

He said: “The US has been saying this for many days. He has said that same thing. He has reiterated it.”

Musharraf has insisted he will only lift emergency rule if the security situation improves, and has suggested that such a move is unlikely before parliamentary elections scheduled to be held by January 9th.

The opposition says a free and fair vote could never be held while thousands of opponents are behind bars and political parties are denied the right to assemble.

In London, protests were held over the weekend, with Jemima Khan, the ex-wife of Pakistani opposition politician Imran Khan, joining in with her son.

Mr Khan, the leader of a small but very vocal opposition group, was arrested by Pakistani police earlier this week after appearing at a student protest against the imposition of emergency rule by the country’s leader General Pervez Musharraf.

Millionaire socialite Jemima has spoken of her fears for her ex-husband and difficulty in telling her sons about their father’s situation.

But despite Musharraf’s intransigence, Negroponte told a final news conference in Pakistan he hoped that the president was listening.

He said: “I urged the government to stop such actions, lift the state of emergency and release all political detainees,” Negroponte told reporters at the US Embassy.

“Emergency rule is not compatible with free, fair and credible elections.”

Musharraf has not commented publicly since Negroponte’s statement, but Sadiq insisted the government was taking all necessary steps to hold fair elections.

An official in the president’s office said on Saturday that Musharraf told Negroponte the emergency was needed to hold a successful vote.

Sadiq added that any decision to lift the emergency would “be taken according to the ground situation.”

Despite Musharraf’s apparent intransigence, Negroponte would not characterize his trip as a failure. “In diplomacy, as you know, we don’t get instant replies when we have these kinds of dialogue,” he said.

“I’m sure the president is seriously considering the exchange we had.”

With neither side blinking, it was not entirely clear what measures Washington could take next to pressure its ally.

Senior Bush administration officials have said publicly that they have no plans to cut off the billions of dollars in military aid that Pakistan receives each year to fight al-Qaida and other Islamic militants.

Negroponte met for more than two hours on Saturday with Musharraf and Pakistan’s deputy army commander, General Ashfaq Kayani, as well as other leaders.

He also spoke by phone with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who returned to Pakistan last month hoping to work out a power-sharing deal with Musharraf but has ended up becoming one of the leading voices calling for his resignation.

On Sunday, Negroponte urged the two to restart talks and ease “the atmosphere of brinkmanship and political confrontation.”

“If steps were taken by both sides to move back toward the kind of reconciliation discussions they were having recently, we think that would be very positive and could help improve the political environment,” he said.

Musharraf has said he will step down as army chief by the end of the month, but has insisted that he will serve out a five-year term as civilian president. He won the extra term in an October vote in parliament.

The Supreme Court was set to rule on whether the vote was constitutional when Musharraf declared the emergency on November 3, effectively purging the court.

In addition, some 2,500 opponents have been jailed and independent TV stations taken off the air.

Musharraf has defended the moves, saying they are necessary as his forces struggle to combat an increasingly virulent Islamic insurgency.

But opponents note that the vast majority of those targeted in the crackdown have been pro-Western moderates, human rights activists, lawyers and journalists.

Though measured in his comments, Negroponte expressed some impatience with Musharraf, saying he hoped to see more steps toward democracy soon.

“There remain some other issues that are yet to be considered, or yet to be undertaken,” he said.

Thought Police: How Brain Scans Could Invade Your Private Life

 

Researchers claim fMRI can probe the workings of the brain as never before—revealing everything from when you tell a lie (read: interrogations) to how you fall in love (read: divorce court)—while critics counter that reports of digital mind readers are premature, and we should think twice before using fMRI in our public and private lives.

Like it or not, the new brain science is here, and the world inside our heads is never again going to be completely private.

Popular Mechanic | Nov 2007 issue

By Jeff Wise

Frank Tong is peering into another man’s mind. The Vanderbilt University neuroscientist is sitting in front of a bank of monitors inside a dimly lit room. On the other side of a plate-glass window, an undergraduate lies immobile, his legs protruding from a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. A display unit above the young man’s eyes flashes a picture of a pigeon or a penguin—at this point Tong doesn’t know which. A low roaring reverberates through the room as the scanner sends powerful waves of magnetic energy cascading through the subject’s cranium.

On Tong’s screens a series of images appear: black-and-white cross sections of the living brain, with small fluctuations in brightness that indicate regions of increased activity. Tong leans closer to the pixelated images. The complex patterns look nothing like a bird, of course, but hidden within them lie clues to the student’s thoughts. He cannot tell what the undergrad is looking at just by peering at the dance of neuronal firings inside his head. So Tong extracts the data from the scanner, takes it back to his lab and runs it through his processing software. After several hours he has a prediction: The test subject was looking at a penguin. As it turns out, Tong was right. His accuracy for this kind of mind reading is 70 to 80 percent. “Our ability to guess what a person is thinking about binary decisions is not super dramatic,” he says. “But we’re doing it with really crude image resolution of samples from the brain. If we could access every neuron, and spent long enough analyzing the data, we could figure out in great detail what a person is seeing or thinking.”

It’s as if Tong has removed one small brick in the wall between the outside world and our inner lives. And he’s not alone. In the past decade, a wave of researchers using scans has laid bare the rough schematics of how our brains handle fear, memory, risk-taking, romantic love and other mental processes. Soon, the technology could go even further, pulling back the curtain guarding our most private selves. Indeed, boosters say, a nearly foolproof lie detector based on brain scanning is just around the corner.

If they’re right, then there may come a day when others—the government, employers, even your spouse—might turn to technology to determine whether you are a law-abiding citizen, a promising new hire or a faithful partner. But skeptics say that talk of mind-reading machines is nothing more than hype. “They’re marketing snake oil,” says Yale University psychiatry professor Andy Morgan. “We’ve been really skeptical of the science. But even if it works, it raises interesting questions about Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. Is [an involuntary fMRI scan] illegal search and seizure since something was taken from you without your permission? And how do you protect your right not to incriminate yourself if people have a way of asking your brain questions, and you can’t say no or refuse to answer? These are some serious questions we have to begin to ask.”

In the wake of Sept. 11, the potential for fMRI to distinguish liars from truth-tellers generated particular interest as the U.S. government sought more reliable ways to extract information from detainees in the global war on terror. The Pentagon’s Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment at Fort Jackson, S.C., formerly the Polygraph Institute, has financed over 20 projects aimed at developing improved lie detectors. DARPA, the Pentagon’s high-tech research arm, also jumped into fMRI work. “Researchers, funded by the Department of Defense,” a recent article in the Cornell Law Review noted, “have developed technologies that may render the ‘dark art’ of interrogation unnecessary.”

Entrepreneurs, meanwhile, are looking for civilian applications. In 2006, a California company called No Lie MRI, which had conducted a DARPA-funded study, began touting its commercial lie-detection services, offering $10,000 brain scans that it says can determine whether subjects are telling the truth. Among the first customers: an arson suspect who wanted to establish his innocence. (The case was eventually dropped.) More than 100 other potential clients have since expressed interest.

Even some of fMRI’s most enthusiastic supporters recognize that using the technology in this way could pose gigantic risks to civil liberties. Joel Huizenga, chief executive officer of No Lie MRI, says he anticipates a potential backlash against his firm—and welcomes it. “There should be controversy,” he says. “If I were the next Joe Stalin, I could use this technology to figure out who my friends and enemies are very simply, so I’d know who to shoot.” To allay concerns, No Lie only scans those who ask to be scanned: “We will only test individuals who come forward of their own free will,” Huizenga says. “We don’t want to be forcing anyone’s head into the machine.”

Huizenga’s firm may advocate strict limits on the technology, but there’s no reason to expect that other companies will. What if em-ployers want to use this technology as part of a standard job interview? How about a classroom scanner to detect plagiarism and other forms of cheating? What if airport security agents could screen our state of mind along with our luggage?

Such applications are wildly hypothetical, of course, but their implications are already being hotly debated by bioethicists and legal scholars. The Cornell Law Review article asserts that “fMRI is one of the few technologies to which the now clichéd moniker of ‘Orwellian’ legitimately applies.” The article goes on to conclude that “fMRI’s use remains legally questionable” and that “the involuntary use of fMRI scanning in interrogation most likely violates International Humanitarian Law.”

Since 2001, several companies have sprung up offering to decode thoughts for the benefit of retailers. One pioneering firm, The BrightHouse Institute for Thought Sciences, in Atlanta, claims to be the first neuromarketing research firm to land a Fortune 500 client—though it wouldn’t identify the company.

Consumer advocates worry that corporations will use fMRI to hone ever more insidiously effective marketing campaigns. In 2004, the executive director of Commercial Alert, a group co-founded by Ralph Nader, sent a letter to members of the U.S. Senate committee that oversees interstate commerce, noting that marketers were using fMRI “… not to heal the sick but rather to probe the human psyche for the purpose of influencing it … in a democracy such as ours, should anyone have such power to manipulate the behavior of the rest of us?”

Do we really need to start worrying—yet? For all the promise of fMRI, some critics think the technique is critically flawed. For one thing, though neurons typically fire on a scale of milliseconds, changes measured by fMRI occur about 5 seconds later, so that fast, complex neurological events may be lumped together. Other critics worry more that the algorithms needed to create images from complex, noise-ridden data introduce the possibility that scans can be misinterpreted.

William Uttal, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Michigan who has written a book about fMRI’s potential shortcomings, points out that researchers don’t know how brain activity correlates to the mechanisms of thought. “The big problem is that the brain is far more complex than we understand at the present time,” he says. “With this MRI stuff, it’s very, very easy to misunderstand and to simplify things that are much more complicated.”

The most withering criticism centers on using fMRI scans as lie detectors. “Some people claim they can show you pictures of suspected terrorists, and even if you say you don’t know them, they can tell by looking at an fMRI scan whether you know them or not,” says Yale’s Andy Morgan. “Well, a positive result doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lying, because no one’s done studies involving faces that look alike. A familiar-seeming face may give you the same response as one you actually know.” And, regardless of Huizenga’s promise that his No Lie staffers won’t force anyone’s head into an fMRI machine, such assurances might not be necessary: Current scanning technology does not work with nonconsenting subjects. In fact, even tiny movements inside the scanner can negate results.

Unfortunately, doubts about fMRI accuracy hardly lessen its potential for misuse. For decades, polygraph tests have been widely used despite their flaws. (Even proponents of polygraphy admit a 10 percent failure rate.) And junk science has long been rife in the courtroom. Earlier this year, law professor Brandon L. Garrett of the University of Virginia published a study analyzing 200 cases in which innocent people were wrongly convicted of a crime. In 55 percent of the cases, he found that jurors had been presented with faulty forensic evidence. “I personally am quite concerned,” says Vanderbilt’s Frank Tong. “If brain scans were admissible in court, and became popular enough, then even if they were not mandatory they would become in a sense obligatory. Because if you didn’t voluntarily undergo it, then there would be the question, ‘Why didn’t you take the test?’”

No doubt many brain-scan applications that critics most fear will never come to pass, and others as yet unseen will arise. What’s certain is that the technology will be transformative, with hardly an area in the public or private spheres that won’t be affected. Like it or not, the new brain science is here, and the world inside our heads is never again going to be completely private.

Global warming may lead to war: study

“In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill…The real enemy, then, is humanity itself….Bring the divided nation together to face an outside enemy, either a real one or else one INVENTED for the purpose…”

– The First Global Revolution: A Report by the Council of Rome

Times of India | Nov 20, 2007

LONDON: A new study has for the first time suggested that global warming might lead to war like situations in the world.

The study points out that current and future climate change may result in widespread global unrest and conflict.

A clear example of this new link between war and changing global temperatures, was put forward by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon recently, when he referred to the ongoing conflict in Darfur, Sudan. According to him, “This conflict grew at least in part from desertification, ecological degradation, and a scarcity of resources.”

For the new study, Peter Brecke of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, US, and colleagues in Hong Kong, China, and the UK scanned worldwide historical records on food prices, population levels and conflicts dating back to 1400 and compared this data with long-term temperature records.

“We found that anecdotes of climate changes leading to conflict seem to fit a broader pattern,” said Brecke.

“Our basic model is that deviations in temperature can hamper crop production, which in turn, has three effects: increasing food prices, a greater risk of death from starvation, and increased social tension, which leads to violent conflict,” said Peter Brecke of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, US.

Though the research team acknowledges that temperature is not the only factor that causes wars, they believe that it can certainly aggravate the conditions.

For example, cooler temperatures during the Little Ice Age caused a drop in crop yields which intensified conflicts.

Although the world is now predicted to get warmer, not cooler, the researchers point out that forecasts suggest global warming will lead to long-term food shortages much as cooling did during the Little Ice Age, by disrupting global water cycles.

Brecke cautions that though modern societies have more mechanisms to cope with these problems, they might fail if society is forced to cope with a whole slew of environmental problems at the same time, as is predicted by several major environmental reports.

“If other problems emerge that impede our ability to address food shortages, we may well see warfare erupt, and it should not be that big a surprise,” New Scientist quoted Brecke as saying.

Station owner kills rival in fight of gas prices, police say

Detroit News | Nov 16, 2007

by RoNeisha Mullen

DETROIT — An argument over gas prices has left one man dead and another in police custody.

The shooting happened around 10:30 a.m. at the Marathon station on the corner of Springwells and Fort Street in southwest Detroit.

Police said the owner of a BP gas station on that same corner confronted the Marathon owner for lowering his price on a gallon of unleaded gasoline to $2.93 per gallon — three cents less than the BP station.

The confrontation then escalated into a physical fight with employees from both sstations involved. One man was hit with a baseball bat.

Police said the 51-year-old owner of Marathon station then pulled out a gun and shot the owner of the BP station.

The 45-year-old father of five died at the scene. The Marathon owner was taken into police custody.

Israel haven for New Bahai World Order

The terraced gardens and classical-style Bahai World Centre in Haifa.

Theirs is a vision of the world governed by a world legislature, world court and a world executive, all overseeing freedom of movement, disarmament and an international military to ensure peace.

AFP | Nov 19, 2007

HAIFA, Israel (AFP) — Dominating a holy mountain in Israel is the nerve centre of the world’s fastest growing major religion, preaching global unity and world peace from one of the most troubled countries on earth.

Founded less than 170 years ago, the Bahai faith believes that Persian-born prophet Bahuallah, who died in Israel, brought a message of unity, equality and world federation to save mankind from the plagues of the modern world.

The shrine to the Bab, a messenger whose mission prepared humanity for the coming of Bahuallah, the beautiful Bahai terraced gardens and classical-style World Centre in Israel’s port city of Haifa are lauded by some as the eighth wonder of the world.

Believers wait years to come on pilgrimage and 600 Bahais from more than 60 countries volunteer for unpaid service to administer the centre.

“My parents worried because of the news on TV about bombs, but for me I was going to the holiest spot on the planet,” said 24-year-old IT worker Bhojraj Parmar from India, a technician at the Bahai headquarters.

Not even a two-and-a-half-hour interrogation by anxious Israeli security officials upon arrival put him off.

“I don’t really mind,” he said. “I’m supposed to be cooperative with the government. It’s for security.”

Numbering five million believers in every continent reading literature translated into more than 800 languages, the Bahai faith is growing faster than any other religion but Zoroastrianism with its some 200,000 adherents.

Theirs is a vision of the world governed by a world legislature, world court and a world executive, all overseeing freedom of movement, disarmament and an international military to ensure peace.

“The central theme of Babaullah’s social teachings is that humanity is one single race and the day has come for its unification into one global society,” says a glossy English-language brochure.

Far from creating a “monstrous big brother,” Bahais believe their faith is the most suited world religion to sustain modern, progressive society.

They believe in promoting sexual equality, universal education and religious tolerance, and eliminating prejudice, extreme wealth and poverty, — teachings that they say hold the answers to global warming, erosion of family life and racism.

An army of 80 paid gardeners keeps the 21 terraces on Mount Carmel next to the Mediterranean in tip-top condition. The gardens took 10 years to create, and along with two other buildings finished in 2000, cost 250 million dollars (170 million euros).

–Bahais admit ‘irony’ of preaching global unity in Israel —

Although they receive only modest stipends to cover food and basic expenses, Bahai volunteers describe their mission as “life-changing” or “priceless.”

Kenneth Chadwick, 24, from Michigan, grew up in a Bahai household but his epiphany came as a student when he found himself briefly paralysed on the dorm-room floor after fervent prayer.

One week after graduation he came to Haifa as a volunteer.

“For the first time, I understood what faith was, what love was. I felt what it was like to have a connection with God. It was a religious experience that completely changed my life. I felt like I was born again.”

Dressed smartly in a shirt and tie for his clerical work at the Universal House of Justice — the nine-member, all-male world governing body, Chadwick is a serious young man whose hands tremble as he tries to explain his mission.

Given that Israel has among the most insecure yet heavily-armed borders in the world in a region with no imminent prospect of disarmament, he acknowledges a “certain irony” over the location of the Bahai headquarters.

Parmar even sees Israel as a model for the Bahai world commonwealth.

“I love Israeli people for the fact that they are very united. Israel wouldn’t be a possibility if the Jewish people weren’t united. We’re grateful to Israelis. We wouldn’t be here without them,” he said.

But the country, created 60 years ago as a Jewish state, is deeply opposed to any form of missionary activity. Anyone wishing to convert has to go abroad. Bahai spokesman Douglas Moore is “not aware” of any Israeli Bahais.

“It’s enough for me that I’m Jewish. It’s enough of a burden. Don’t give me another,” laughed Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, when asked if he thought about signing up after waxing lyrical about the Bahais’ contribution to his city.

“I’m Jewish, I believe in my God. I don’t care what they do,” said Zehorit Barashar, a 22-year-old security guard who kicks out those who break the rules and wears a gun “to save these guys” because Bahais do not carry weapons.

The Bahai-Israel relationship is mutually beneficial. Bahais promise not to convert Israelis but provide a tourist magnet keeping the local economy afloat.

Unlike Christian, Muslim and Jewish organisations, Bahais keep totally aloof from politics. And none of their institutions carry out aid work in Israel or the Palestinian territories.

Israel grants them freedom to run their World Centre.

“We are very proud that the holiest place for the Bahais is situated in Haifa. The way they have done the whole area, the mountain, is outstanding. It is considered the eighth wonder of the world,” said Yahav.

The Bahai gardens are the main tourist attraction in Haifa, he said.

Dignitaries and foreign ambassadors are invited to learn about the faith and asked for help to curb persecution in Iran, where more than 200 Bahais have been executed or killed since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Bahais believe in progressive revelation, that the world’s great religions trace one divine plan from Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed, to Bab and Babuallah in 19th-century Persia.

The year 2007 is the Bahai year 167. Years are divided into 19 months of 19 days, with extra days before new year’s day on March 21 devoted to gift-giving. There are nine holy days and a one-month sunrise to sunset fast.

Not all are smitten.

“It’s a bit too artificial,” said Swiss tourist Egiolio Spada, pointing at the grass. “For instance, if you look at the green it seems plastic.”
. . .

Related

Bahá’í World Centre on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel

Boston Police Implement New Program To Remove Guns From Homes Without Warrants

AHN News | Nov 19, 2007

by Julie Farby

Boston, MA (AHN)-Boston police are unveiling a controversial new program that will enable officers to search homes in high-crime neighborhoods without first securing a warrant.

Under the new program, police officers in Boston will be able to enter houses with a parent’s permission if it is believed that a child living in the house is keeping guns there. If the officers, who will dress in plain clothes so as not to attract attention, are refused entry by parents or legal guardians, they will leave the premises without forcing entry.

The program, which is based on a similar program successfully implemented in St. Louis in 1994, will target young people whose parents are either afraid to confront them or unaware that they might be stashing weapons, Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said.

While speaking to community activists who have concerns that civil liberties will be imperiled if the new program is implemented, Davis, said, “I understand people’s concerns about this, but the mothers of the young men who have been arrested with firearms that I’ve talked to are in a quandary. They don’t know what to do when faced with the problem of dealing with a teenage boy in possession of a firearm. We’re giving them an option in that case.”

Although, the program is designed to search for and remove weapons from children’s possession, if drugs are found on the premises, it will be up to the officers’ whether or not to make an arrest. However, police said in cases where modest amounts of drugs like marijuana are found, the drugs will simply be confiscated and will not lead to arrest or formal charges.