Daily Archives: January 2, 2008

Pepsi tackles childhood obesity with sodas and videogames in Mexico

In a country, where 80% of schools lack access to drinking water, Pepsi challenges students to stave off obesity while selling them soft drinks

Guardian | Jan 2, 2008

Jo Tuckman in Mexico City

Every day small armies of street vendors gather outside the gates of Mexico’s schools to tempt the nation’s children. “I don’t like drinks without flavour,” Raul explained one recent afternoon as he succumbed to the siren’s call of a bright red fizzy drink. “I don’t know anybody who does.”

Mexicans down more soft drinks than any other nationality in the world, aside from Americans, and even their traditional diet is filled with fried food and sugar. Combine that with new sedentary urban lifestyles and you have a country that over the past decade has established itself as among the fattest in the world.

With childhood obesity rates rising particularly fast it seems hardly surprising then that the education ministry would launch a new campaign to promote healthy diets among schoolchildren. What is less predictable, perhaps, is that the idea, as well as the funding, came from PepsiCo. Coca-Cola is sponsoring another school-based campaign, although it focuses exclusively on encouraging exercise.

“The private sector is worried alongside the government about what we can do about this problem,” said Jorge Meyer, vice president of corporate affairs of PepsiCo in Mexico – the maker not only of Pepsi, but also of some of the most popular snacks in the market. “We don’t want to be seen as the guilty ones. We want to be seen as part of the solution.”

In Mexico, Meyer adds, the best solution does not involve removing junk food from schools and restricting child-focused advertising along the lines of recent self-regulatory agreements in the US and Europe. “It isn’t about whether soda is good or bad for you,” he said. “Here 80% of schools don’t have drinking water so if there were no soda either what would the kids drink?” North of the border, PepsiCo sells Aquafina water and Dole and Tropicana brand juices, among other non-carbonated drinks.

The company’s answer – called Live Healthily – aims to teach a million children in primary schools around the country that they should match the calories they consume with the calories they use up doing exercise.

The centrepiece is a tamagotchi-like computer game in which a child called a nutrin must be guided through everyday decisions about what to buy, what to eat and what sports to play. Periodic visits to the doctor provide health checks.

“It’s great,” Cesar shouted above the din of digital yeehahs, boings, burps and jingles as his class wallowed in their weekly session. “It teaches you what you should eat.” The 10-year old’s ample frame spilling over his chair belied his claim that he already eats mostly fruit and vegetables and drinks only water, but he was certainly having fun. The conversation was cut short when his nutrin began demanding attention: “I’m hungry,” it said.

The impact of the programme is to be evaluated by a serious scientific study organised by the National Pediatric Institute but Richard Daynard, a Northeastern University professor and anti-tobacco dignitary turned obesity campaigner, discounts significant success.

“The kind of massive change in consumption behaviour that’s needed never happens as a result of individual decision,” he said. “There have to be policies from the government that make these foods less available and more expensive, while healthier foods are more available and perhaps less expensive.”

It’s a tough challenge in Mexico where it is harder to buy a banana than a doughnut in many a jungle village, and where the urban poor often have easier and cheaper access to cola than to water.

Politicians also have tended to ignore the problem. A year ago the health aspects of a proposed 5% additional tax on soft drinks were hardly debated. It was eventually voted down by senators who argued it discriminated against the poor. The governing party briefly sought a compromise deal by proposing to restrict the levy to diet drinks.

The climate changed this year, goaded along by figures from a 2006 national survey revealing that 72% of adults are now over overweight or obese – slightly higher than in the US. The same study holds that over a quarter of Mexican children between five and 11 are too heavy – a 40% increase since 2000. There was a 77% rise of obesity among boys.

Last month the same opposition senators who voted down the soft drink tax introduced a bill to ban selling junk food inside schools, and the airwaves a filled by unusually direct government warnings that if you are overweight you have “a hefty health problem”. Still government officials are unwilling to comment on how major players in the junk food industry became the highest profile motors behind the fight against childhood obesity.

PepsiCo executive Meyer denies any irony or contradiction. Live Healthily, he insists, is not an attempt to whitewash the company’s image or vaccinate it against restrictive legislation, and nor does it endanger sales. “We are already producing nutritional products,” he says. “The problem is that Mexicans haven’t wanted to buy them.”

As he swigged his soft drink outside the school gates Raul looked unlikely to be among the first converts. Did he know such habits help make children fat? The chubby 9-year old shrugged. When his mother arrived, they wondered off together to buy some potato chips.

Scotland Yard to investigate Bhutto assassination

Guardian Unlimited | Jan 2, 2008

Julian Borger in Islamabad and Mark Tran

Gordon Brown today agreed to send a police team from Scotland Yard to Pakistan to help investigate the assassination of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

The Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, requested specialist help as serious doubts continued over the government’s version of events surrounding her death.

“We would like to know what were the reasons that led to the martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto. I would also like to look into it,” Musharraf said in a televised address.

The exact circumstances of the killing have been shrouded in confusion. Opposition officials have rejected government claims into how she died and called for an international investigation.

David Miliband, the foreign secretary, said a team from Scotland Yard is due to leave Britain this week.

“As the terrible events of last week show only too clearly, Pakistan faces a very serious threat from extremism,” Miliband said.

“The UK is already closely engaged with the government of Pakistan on counter-terrorism cooperation. The prime minister and President Musharraf have agreed to further deepen this aspect of our relationship, and officials will travel to Pakistan to take this forward.”

In his first major speech since the Bhutto killing, Musharraf appealed for reconciliation.

“The nation has experienced a great tragedy. Benazir Bhutto has died in the hands of terrorists. I pray to God almighty to put the eternal soul of Benazir at peace,” he said.

Following Bhutto’s death, rioters rampaged through the streets, burning cars and shops, accusing the government of complicity. The government has strongly rejected the accusation and has blamed al-Qaida for her death.

Musharraf also said he had wanted to hold parliamentary elections as scheduled on January 8, but he deferred to the election commission which formally announced earlier in the day to postpone them for six weeks until February 18.

“The election commission has taken a timely and correct decision,” the president said. “We will hold free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections.”

The election commission blamed riots in the wake of Bhutto’s assassination for the delay, saying 11 of the commission’s district offices had been damaged or destroyed, along with ballot boxes and other election material, particularly in Sindh province, the base of Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples party (PPP).

Another factor behind the delay was the Shia holy month of Muharram, which is due to begin next week and last a lunar month. The celebration by Pakistan’s Shia minority has in the past triggered sectarian tensions.

The decision to delay the vote was quickly condemned by opposition parties, who branded it a ploy by the government, fearful of a sympathy vote for the Bhutto family.

But the PPP’s central executive committee decided it would contest the election despite misgivings.

The other major political party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, is also meeting to decide upon its response, saying it would seek to form a common front with the PPP.

A party spokesman, Ahsan Iqbal, said: “We will try to continue to make all parties join hands to force Musharraf from office and set up a neutral caretaker government.”

Despite the threat of further street violence, western diplomats and political observers in Islamabad predicted that the opposition parties would try to restrain the reaction of their followers, aware that undecided voters would blame them for further political instability.

The riots have largely subsided, but the political atmosphere remains volatile.

Some western officials argue that the delay in the vote might ultimately prove to be beneficial, if the time is used to establish safeguards to improve the transparency and credibility of the elections.

“It is vital that the government of Pakistan makes full use of the extended period before elections are held to ensure that all necessary arrangements are put in place so that they are transparent and fair,” Miliband said.

“I hope all parties will participate in the elections, that media freedom will be extensive and that all political prisoners are released.”

An EU observer mission had said it would not be able to field a full team if the elections had gone ahead, as scheduled, on January 8.

There are widespread fears that civil war would erupt if the election were perceived as rigged.

Giuliani helped sell Oxycontin safety


In 2002, the drug maker, Purdue Pharma of Stamford, Conn., hired Mr. Giuliani and his consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, to help stem the controversy about OxyContin.

New York Times | Dec 28, 2007


In western Virginia, far from the limelight, United States Attorney John L. Brownlee found himself on the telephone last year with a political and legal superstar, Rudolph W. Giuliani.

For years, Mr. Brownlee and his small team had been building a case that the maker of the painkiller OxyContin had misled the public when it claimed the drug was less prone to abuse than competing narcotics. The drug was believed to be a factor in hundreds of deaths involving its abuse.

Mr. Giuliani, celebrated for his stewardship of New York City after 9/11, soon told the prosecutors they were wrong.

In 2002, the drug maker, Purdue Pharma of Stamford, Conn., hired Mr. Giuliani and his consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, to help stem the controversy about OxyContin. Among Mr. Giuliani’s missions was the job of convincing public officials that they could trust Purdue because they could trust him.

So it was no small success when, after the call, Mr. Brownlee did what many people might have done when confronted with such celebrity: He went out and bought a copy of Mr. Giuliani’s book, “Leadership.”

“I wanted to be prepared for my meetings with him,” Mr. Brownlee said in a recent interview.

Over the past few weeks, Mr. Giuliani’s consulting business has received increasing scrutiny, at times forcing him to defend his business as he campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination.

But his work for Purdue, the company’s first and longest-running client, provides a window into how he used his standing as an eminent lawyer, a Republican insider and a national celebrity to aid a controversial client and build a business fortune.

A former top federal prosecutor, Mr. Giuliani participated in two meetings between Purdue officials and the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the agency investigating the company. Giuliani Partners took on the job of monitoring security improvements at company facilities making OxyContin, an issue of concern to the D.E.A.

As a celebrity, Mr. Giuliani helped the company win several public relations battles, playing a role in an effort by Purdue to persuade an influential Pennsylvania congressman, Curt Weldon, not to blame it for OxyContin abuse.

Despite these efforts, Purdue suffered a crushing defeat in May at the hands of Mr. Brownlee when the company and three top executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

Mr. Giuliani, who declined to discuss his work for Purdue for this article, has refused to talk in detail about his firm’s clients. He has said that he is no longer involved in the day-to-day management of the firm, which still represents Purdue.

Giuliani Partners would not say how much Purdue had paid it, but one consultant to the drug maker estimated that Mr. Giuliani’s firm had, in some years, earned several million dollars from the account.

“Everything I did with Giuliani Partners has been totally legal, totally ethical,” Mr. Giuliani recently told The Associated Press. “There’s nothing for me to explain about it. We’ve acted honorably, decently.”

In the OxyContin case, Mr. Giuliani’s supporters suggest that as a cancer survivor himself, he was driven by a noble goal: to keep the company’s proven pain reliever available to the widest circle of sufferers.

“I understand the pain and distress that accompanies illness,” Mr. Giuliani said at the time. “I know that proper medications are necessary for people to treat their sickness and improve their quality of life.”

To drive OxyContin’s sales, Purdue, beginning in 1996, set in motion what D.E.A. officials described as perhaps the most aggressive promotional campaign for a high-powered narcotic ever undertaken. It promoted the drug not only to pain specialists, but to family doctors with little experience in treating serious pain or recognizing drug abuse.

As a result of the expanded access, critics charged, OxyContin wound up in the high schools and street corners of rural America where curious teenagers crushed the pill, defeating the time-release formula, and ended up addicts, or in some cases, dead.

Dennis Lee, the Virginia state prosecutor for Tazewell County, an area hard hit by OxyContin abuse, said he was stunned several years ago to learn that Mr. Giuliani was working for Purdue. He had a favorable impression of Mr. Giuliani, he said, and a poor opinion of the company, which he said had played down and dissembled about its drug’s problem.

“I was shocked,” Mr. Lee said, “that he would basically become a mouthpiece for Purdue.”

Denials and Lobbying

Giuliani Partners served clients with a range of needs. The firm helped large accounting firms fight computer hackers and promoted Nextel’s efforts to expand its access to public airwaves. But some of the 55-person firm’s clients, like Purdue Pharma, were facing more difficult legal and public relations problems.

There were, for instance, the backers of a planned natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound who were facing stiff environmental opposition. Another client was a former cocaine smuggler hoping to win federal contracts for a computer system to track down terrorists.

On the business of these clients and others, Giuliani Partners carved out a lucrative niche in corporate consulting, crisis management and security.

In the process, Mr. Giuliani, a Brooklyn native whose legal career had largely been spent in government, became a corporate trouble-shooter with homes in the Hamptons and on the Upper East Side. According to financial disclosure forms filed in May, his net worth was more than $30 million.

The crisis that brought Purdue to Mr. Giuliani in 2002 involved OxyContin, a time-released form of the narcotic oxycodone, which had turned into a blockbuster product with annual sales of more than $1 billion.

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Mental toll of war hitting female servicemembers

“Women are talking about dismembered bodies, seeing their buddies blown up in front of them. … They are trying to reconcile, ‘I have killed people.'”

—Darrah Westrup, founder of the Menlo Park program

Cindy Rathbun, 43, of Yuba City, Calif., reflects on some of the traumatic experiences she had during her 25-year military career. Rathbun is getting treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma.

USA TODAY | Jan 2. 2007

By Andrea Stone

MENLO PARK, Calif. — Master Sgt. Cindy Rathbun knew something was wrong three weeks after she arrived in Iraq in September 2006. Her blond hair began “coming out in clumps,” she says.

The Air Force personnel specialist, in the military for 25 years, had volunteered for her first combat zone job at Baghdad’s Camp Victory. She lived behind barbed wire and blast walls, but the war was never far.

“There were firefights all the time,” Rathbun says slowly, her voice flat. “There were car bombs. Boom! You see the smoke. The ground would shake.”

As the mother of three grown children prepared to fly home last February, she took a medic aside. Holding a zip-lock bag of hair, she asked whether this was normal. “He said it sometimes happens,” she says. “It’s the body’s way of displaying stress when we can’t express it emotionally.”

Numb, angry, verging on paranoia, Rathbun checked herself into a residential treatment center for female servicemembers suffering the mental wounds of war. Last month, she and seven others became the first all-Iraq-war-veteran class of the Women’s Trauma Recovery Program here. The oldest of 12 residential centers run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, it is part of a rapidly growing network of 60- to 90-day programs for female warriors who, until the Iraq insurgency, had mostly been shielded from the horrors of war.

Many who seek help are haunted by another demon that can exacerbate their battlefield stress: military sexual trauma, or MT. For Rathbun, 43, of Yuba City, Calif., the war brought back to the surface a long-buried secret: She says she was raped by a military superior when she was a young airman.

Shell shock. Battle fatigue. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The military’s mental toll of war has historically hit men. But more women are joining these ranks.

More than 182,000 women have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the surrounding region — about 11% of U.S. troops deployed, the Pentagon says.

That dwarfs the 7,500 who served mostly as nurses in Vietnam and the nearly 41,000 women deployed during the brief Gulf War.

Although some of those women suffered PTSD, few saw actual fighting or were subjected to the stress of multiple deployments.

In Iraq, “there are no lines, so anybody that deploys is in a war zone,” Rathbun says. “Females are combat veterans as well as guys.”

Darrah Westrup has treated hundreds of women since she founded the Menlo Park program in 1992. Only during the past year, though, have large numbers with war-zone trauma sought help. Many learned only recently that there are specialized VA mental-health programs for women.

Those who come, Westrup says, often have seen the most gruesome aspects of war. “Women are talking about dismembered bodies, seeing their buddies blown up in front of them,” she says. “They are trying to reconcile, ‘I have killed people.’ ”

The ‘equal opportunity war’

Women are barred from ground jobs in infantry, armor and artillery units and are technically confined to support roles. But those jobs include some of the most dangerous: driving supply convoys, guarding checkpoints and searching women as part of neighborhood patrols.

Iraq is “an equal opportunity war” in which attacks come not only from enemy fighters, but also from roadside bombs and mortars, says Patricia Resick, director of the Women’s Health Sciences Division of the VA’s National Center for PTSD in Boston.

More than 100 female servicemembers have died and nearly 570 have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon. More than 4,200 men have died and nearly 30,000 have been wounded.

The ranks of psychologically wounded from this war are far larger. In 2006, nearly 3,800 women diagnosed with PTSD were treated by the VA. They accounted for 14% of a total 27,000 recent veterans treated for PTSD last year.

In June, the Defense Department’s Mental Health Task Force reported that the number of women suffering from combat trauma might be higher than reported. It cited “a potential barrier” for women needing mental-health treatment as “their need to show the emotional strength expected of military members.”

The report also said that after leaving the military, “many women no longer see themselves as veterans” and might not associate psychological symptoms with their time in the war zone.

Yet Rachel Kimerling, a psychologist here, sees the signs: “Driving is so treacherous with the (roadside bombs) in Iraq, they come back and report seeing a paper cup in the mall parking lot and swerving around as if it were life or death.”

Many women become overly protective. Even the innocent pop of a biscuit tube on a kitchen counter can speed the heart, Rathbun says. When young soldiers left Camp Victory and didn’t return, she thought of her 21-year-old son. “Women are protective, nurturing. I couldn’t do either,” she says. “I couldn’t prevent them from dying.”

For some, combat trauma is complicated and intensified by rape or other sexual abuse, often by comrades they’ve trained and fought beside. The VA says 20% of women seeking its care since 2002 showed symptoms of military sexual trauma, compared with 1.1% of male veterans.

Like Rathbun, many say they were preyed upon by men higher in the chain of command, crimes military women call “rape by rank.” Rathbun says some women in Iraq risked dehydration by refusing to drink liquids late in the day for fear of being raped while walking to latrines after dark.

Recent allegations that civilian female employees of contractor KBR were raped in Iraq have renewed attention on war-zone sexual assaults. VA research on Gulf War veterans found higher rates of sexual assault and harassment than in the peacetime military.

The Defense Department’s 2-year-old Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office says there were 201 sexual assaults in 2006 within the U.S. Central Command, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s up from 167 in 2005, when the Pentagon began a policy that allows victims to get medical help without launching a criminal investigation.

Kay Whitley, who heads the office, says “restricted reporting” is expected to boost the numbers of cases as more women grow bolder in stepping forward. There is no way to know whether sexual-assault rates are higher in combat areas because “women back-burner assaults,” she says. “There may be more (assaults) over there, and they may be waiting to report it until they get home.”

For military women, abuse by fellow soldiers is “an unnecessary betrayal,” Westrup says, noting that women often are more scarred by sexual violence than combat. “Most go over understanding the nature of war.”

PTSD and MT “will exacerbate the other,” Kimerling says. “It erodes the social support you have to cope with the ongoing stress of serving in a war zone.”

Natara Garavoy, another psychologist here, says there can be added stress for those who are the only woman in a unit. “They don’t want to stand out,” she says, adding that some try to appear unattractive to ward off male soldiers who might not see another American woman for months.

Whatever their trauma, military women often hesitate to report problems. That’s partly because of the military’s ingrained emphasis on unit cohesion and the unspoken taboo against telling on a fellow soldier. It also stems from the fear of reinforcing stereotypes that theirs is the weaker sex.

“Women do have to prove themselves more,” says VA spokeswoman Kerri Childress, a Vietnam-era Navy veteran. “They have to work really, really hard to look tough.”

All that pressure must go somewhere, Resick says. Men with PTSD often are angry and act out aggressively. Women often turn inward and become depressed, she says. Both men and women “try not to deal with it” and often take years to seek counseling, Resick says.

Even so, men started applying to the 41-bed program for males here soon after the war began. Applications for its 10-bed women’s program picked up recently, Westrup says.

Seventeen percent of female veterans use VA health services, compared with 11% of men. “We may be seeing the tip of the iceberg,” Kimerling says, adding that more women are likely to seek help as they return home with unresolved trauma.

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Military use of unmanned aircraft soars


Massive swarms of unmanned UAV drones are projected for the future

AP | Jan 2, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — The military’s reliance on unmanned aircraft that can watch, hunt and sometimes kill insurgents has soared to more than 500,000 hours in the air, largely in Iraq, the Associated Press has learned.

And new Defense Department figures obtained by The AP show that the Air Force more than doubled its monthly use of drones between January and October, forcing it to take pilots out of the air and shift them to remote flying duty to meet part of the demand.

The dramatic increase in the development and use of drones across the armed services reflects what will be an even more aggressive effort over the next 25 years, according to the new report.

The jump in Iraq coincided with the build up of U.S. forces this summer as the military swelled its ranks to quell the violence in Baghdad. But Pentagon officials said that even as troops begin to slowly come home this year, the use of Predators, Global Hawks, Shadows and Ravens will not likely slow.

“I think right now the demand for the capability that the unmanned system provides is only increasing,” said Army Col. Bob Quackenbush, deputy director for Army Aviation. “Even as the surge ends, I suspect the deployment of the unmanned systems will not go down, particularly for larger systems.”
FIND MORE STORIES IN: Iraq | Army | Pentagon | Air Force | Ravens | Predators | Nellis Air Force Base

For some Air Force pilots, that means climbing out of the cockpit and heading to places such as Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where they can remotely fly the Predators, one of the larger and more sophisticated unmanned aircraft.

About 120 Air Force pilots were recently transferred to staff the drones to keep pace with demands, the Air Force said.

Some National Guard members were also called up to staff the flights. And more will be doing that in the coming months, as the Air Force adds bases where pilots can remotely fly the aircraft. Locations include North Dakota, Texas, Arizona and California, and some are already operating.

One key reason for the increase is that U.S. forces in Iraq grew from 15 combat brigades to 20 over the spring and early summer, boosting troop totals from roughly 135,000 to more than 165,000. Slowly over the next six months, five brigades are being pulled out of Iraq that will not be replaced, as part of a drawdown announced by the administration, which began in December.

The increased military operations all across Iraq last summer triggered greater use of the drones and an escalating call for more of the systems — from the Pentagon’s key hunter-killer, the Predator, to the surveillance Global Hawks and the smaller, cheaper Ravens.

In one recent example of what they can do, a Predator caught sight of three militants firing mortars at U.S. forces in November in Balad, Iraq. The drone fired an air-to-ground missile, killing the three, according to video footage the Air Force released.

Air Force officials said that Predator flights steadily increased last year, from about 2,000 hours in January to more than 4,300 hours in October. They are expected to continue to escalate when hours are calculated for November and December, because the number of combat air patrols had increased from about 14 per day to 18.

“The demand far exceeds all of the Defense Department’s ability to provide (these) assets,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Larry Gurgainous, deputy director of the Air Force’s unmanned aircraft task force. “And as we buy and field more systems, you will see it continue to go up.”

Use of the high-tech surveillance and reconnaissance Global Hawk has also jumped, as the Air Force moved from two to three systems on the battlefield.

“I think it has to do with the type of warfare we’re engaged in — it’s heavy into intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” Gurgainous said. “This war requires a lot of hunting high-value targets.”

The bulk of the unmanned flight hours belong to the Army’s workhorse drone, the Raven, which weighs just four pounds and is used by smaller units, such as companies and battalions, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Ravens, which soldiers fling into the air and use for surveillance, will rack up about 300,000 hours this year — double the time they were used last year, said Quackenbush.

The Army has a total of 361 unmanned aircraft in Iraq alone — including Shadows, Hunters and Ravens. And in the first 10 months of 2007, they flew more than 300,000 hours.

Army officials have fought to maintain control of their unmanned vehicle usage, saying their unit commanders can quickly launch the smaller systems, and respond to the immediate needs of soldiers who may be pursuing insurgents or trying to avoid roadside bombs.

When the Raven’s massive numbers are not included, UAV usage across all the military services jumped from nearly 165,000 flight hours in the 2006 fiscal year, to more than 258,000 for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2007.

Those figures, compiled by the Pentagon, include some training flights, but the overwhelming majority was on the warfront. A majority of the flights are in Iraq, which has seen the biggest increase. But they are also used extensively in Afghanistan.

There, for example, the Air Force has hovered around 3,000-3,500 flight hours for the Predator each month.

Officials said they could not immediately provide a figure for how many hours of manned aircraft were flown in the wars this past year and said it was difficult to compare the two at any rate because one flight for a drone can routinely be 16 to 20 hours. In contrast, manned aircraft like the F-16, for instance, might spend about five hours on one sortie, said Air Force Capt. Uriah L. Orland, a spokesman for service in the Central Command area.

According to a new Pentagon report, the Defense Department plans to develop an “increasingly sophisticated force of unmanned systems” over the next 25 years. The effort will confront some current shortfalls, including plans to improve how well the drones can quickly and precisely identify and locate targets.

That would also involve increasing the precision of the guided weapons that are on some of the unmanned aircraft. Those efforts are considered critical because it enables the military to hunt down and kill militants without putting troops at risk.

In addition, the Pentagon said it wants to improve the drones’ reconnaissance and surveillance abilities, which are the top priorities of commanders in the field.

No-parachute wingsuit landings may be the future of airborne special operations insertions

In a post over at Defense Tech, “Wing Suits Could Change the Face of Spec Ops”, there is talk of using wingsuit flight and landing WITHOUT parachutes for the purpose of airborne special operations insertions. This would be an update to the HALO concept currently in use that typically involves high-altitude free-fall with low-altitude opening.

If these sport skydivers are seriously working on landing a wingsuit, I am sure the DARPA boys are too. The tactical advantages of landing a man on the ground without a big parachute target to detect or aim at would be enormous from the point of view of the SEALs, Delta, the CIA and probably even Blackwater.

I would hazard a guess that it could indeed be a standard operating procedure for spec-ops in the next few years, if it isn’t already.

Crazy stuff! Watch…

. . .

Daredevils get close to Jesus

Wingsuit mountain swooping

Howl Hitler: German who taught dog to give Nazi salute with its paw is jailed


In the doghouse: The German Shepherd crossbreed’s name ‘Adolf’ is chalked above its kennel door

Daily Mail | Dec 21, 2007

Most dog owners delight in teaching their pet to “shake a paw”.

But the trick a German man taught his canine companion was much more sinister… it learned to do a Nazi salute.

The German Shepherd crossbreed, called Adolf, lifted its paw up high on command in imitation of the infamous raised-arm greeting used by Hitler and his cohorts.

The nine-year-old dog’s owner, known as Roland T, boasted brazenly in front of police about the animal’s trick – even though the Nazi salute is banned in Germany.

And the 58-year-old former car salesman chalked the name “Adolf” above the door of his pet’s kennel in Berlin.

He claimed the dog was born on Hitler’s birthday and he planned to have him put down on the anniversary of the dictator’s suicide.

This, he said, was because he could not afford dog food after being fined for other Nazi-related behaviour.

Roland had been handed suspended sentences by courts since 2003 and was said to be notorious for openly giving Nazi salutes and wearing pro-Hitler T-shirts.

Sick trick: Roland T prompts Adolf to give the Hitler salute

Judges were previously lenient because of a brain injury he suffered in 1995. But they jailed him for five months over the dog salute.

Adolf has now been taken to an animal shelter, where staff have renamed him Adi.

Spokesman Evamarie Konig said: “We are retraining him to stop him raising his leg too high.

“He doesn’t have anything that would make him interesting to Right-wing extremists.

“However, we think he will quickly find a new owner because he is so famous.”

Soaring toll of patients hit by drug side-effects

Daily Mail | Dec 26, 2007

The number of patients suffering serious side-effects from NHS drugs is soaring.

Last year, 4,635 people were taken to hospital suffering adverse reactions from medicines they had been prescribed – up from 4,429 in 2004.

And 964 people died from drug side-effects last year, compared to 861 in 2004.

Experts blamed failures in the training of hospital doctors and Labour’s decision to hand greater prescription powers to nurses.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb has written to Health Secretary Alan Johnson asking him to launch an investigation into the rise.

Mr Lamb, who uncovered the figures by asking a parliamentary question, said: ‘It’s very disturbing and something we need to address.

‘It is perhaps a timely reminder that we’ve got to be cautious about extending prescribing powers to other health professionals for their own protection and the protection

of patients. And it underlines the fact that better training is essential in order to avoid the risk of this happening.’

Peter Walsh, of Action Against Medical Accidents, said: ‘A lot of problems occur when people are admitted to hospitals and doctors are giving them the wrong drugs and the wrong doses because they are unaware of what the patient has been having in the community.

‘Often GPs know which drugs they shouldn’t have, but their notes are not consulted.

‘In other cases, there are problems with patient identity, when the wrong patient gets the wrong drug.’

Cases of adverse drug reactions are reported to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency through the Yellow Card Scheme.

Around 20,000 cases are reported a year, covering prescription, overthecounter and herbal medicines.

Public health minister Dawn Primarolo said: ‘It is not possible to estimate from the Yellow Card scheme the number of people who suffer adverse reactions to drugs since the scheme is associated with an unknown level of underreporting.

‘In addition, it is important to note that the submission of a suspected was spent by the NHS last year on dealing with negligence claims ADR (adverse drug reaction) report does not necessarily mean that it was caused by the drug.

‘Many factors have to be taken into account in assessing casual relationships.’

In the summer it emerged that more than half a billion pounds of NHS cash was paid out over blunders – including wrongly prescribed drugs – last year. Almost a third went into the pockets of lawyers. Around 6,000 cases against the NHS go to court every year.

Two months ago, a report found that patients’ lives were being put at risk because poorly-trained hospital doctors were handing out the wrong drugs.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence said staff were taking patients off their regular drugs, prescribed for them by GPs, when they are admitted to hospital.

And a senior doctor recently warned that Labour’s decision to allow nurses to prescribe powerful medicines had put patients at risk.

The number of drugs given out by nurses has risen sharply since prescribing rules were relaxed last year.

Professor Hugh McGavock, of the University of Ulster, said it meant nurses could be handing out unsuitable drugs to patients with serious conditions because their training was ‘pathetically poor’.

The British Medical Association has criticised the extension of prescribing powers to nurses as ‘irresponsible and dangerous’.

Experts design the world’s first practical flying car

The inventors of the PAL-V believe that the the one-seater car would cost little more than an executive saloon car

Daily Mail | Dec 31, 2007

Experts have designed the world’s first practical flying car aimed at frustrated commuters – and it looks like a Reliant Robin.

The bizarre three-wheeled vehicle promises relief to motorists stuck in traffic jams by turning into an aircraft capable of soaring up to 4,000ft above congested roads.


With a top speed of 125mph on land, the Personal Air and Land Vehicle, or PAL-V, corners like a motorbike by automatically tilting as it negotiates each bend.

But hidden in its roof and rear are a foldable rotor, propeller and tail section which allow it to take off and fly at speeds up to 120mph.

Its comical appearance betrays its rapid acceleration from 0 to 60 in just 5 seconds – a far cry from Del Boy Trotter’s yellow Robin Reliant in Only Fools and Horses.

Its inventors believe that when the the one-seater cars go on sale to the public, they would cost little more than an executive saloon car.

When airborne, the PAL-V is similar to the tiny autogyro aircraft Sean Connery flew in the 1967 James Bond movie ‘You Only Live Twice’.

Called a gyrocopter, the design includes a rotor on the roof to lift it through the air, and a propeller at the rear to provide forward thrust.

To fly the PAL-V you need a recreational pilot’s licence, which takes between 10 and 20 hours training to obtain, while a normal driver’s licence covers you for use on the road.

Experts have spent six years developing concept versions and are now building the first commercial prototype with a view to begin manufacturing the vehicles soon.

Their target audience are motorists who are fed up with traffic jams. John Bakker, who invented the PAL-V, said: “Since Henry Ford built the Model T Ford, people have been dreaming of a vehicle that could drive and fly.

“It took almost 90 years before this dream could be realized. Now it will.

“It’s fun, it drives like the most sporty solution on the road and it also flies. This will be a revolution in door to door mobility in the near future.

“In countries with underdeveloped infrastructure it means safe and faster transportation but also in developed countries it will save people lots of time.

“The PAL-V is a solution to the increasing levels of congestion in our cities, highways and skyways.

“Soon private flying will no longer be the exclusive domain of executives and celebrities.

“Driving and flying will be combined in one vehicle that could cost little more than an executive saloon car.”

The vehicle needs 165ft to take off in and just 16ft to land, and it can fly for 340 miles under its fuel-efficient and environmentally certified car engine.

The same engine works for both road and air travel and runs on normal unleaded petrol, which means you can refuel at any roadside service station.

It can be driven and flown using the same controls by switching between two different modes.

On the ground, the slim-line vehicle is as comfortable as a luxury car but has the agility of a motorbike, thanks to its patented “tilting” system.

The single rotor and propeller are folded away until the PAL-V is ready to fly.

In the air, the PAL-V flies under the 4,000 feet floor of commercial air space and can therefore take to the sky without having to file a flight plan.

The autogyro technology means that it can be steered and landed safely even if the engine fails as it descends upright rather than nose-diving.

Unlike a helicopter, the rotor of an autogyro is driven by aerodynamic forces alone once it is in flight.

The PAL-V’s Dutch makers anticipate a time when such vehicles are so widely used that people will fly along sky highways, directed by GPS and using radar to prevent collisions.

They also claim there are already plans to build up to 60 heli-sites across their home country to cope with a new era of air traffic.

They believe it could also be used commercially for surveillance purpose and by emergency services.

The project gathered momentum after new European rules made it cheaper and easier to obtain licenses and certification for aircraft under 600kg built using standard components.