Daily Archives: April 16, 2008

Professor Calls For “Google Type” Brain Chip Implants

Touts exact mirror of DARPA control project in New York Times’ “Idea Lab”

Infowars.net | Apr 14, 2008

By Steve Watson

A New York Professor has advocated the idea of Google type brain implant chips that would “improve human memory”, an idea which mirrors already active projects funded by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

“However difficult the practicalities, there’s no reason in principle why a future generation of neural prostheticists couldn’t pick up where nature left off, incorporating Google-like master maps into neural implants.” writes New York University professor of psychology Gary Marcus.

“This in turn would allow us to search our own memories — not just those on the Web — with something like the efficiency and reliability of a computer search engine.” he postulates.

“How much would you pay to have a small memory chip implanted in your brain if that chip would double the capacity of your short-term memory? Or guarantee that you would never again forget a face or a name?”

Clearly DARPA would pay quite a lot, given that the research arm of the US military continues to fund scientific development of that exact technology.

The justification for the continued funding of such research is to develop a substitute for damaged or diseased brain regions, holding promise for victims of Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and other brain traumas.

Yet even the scientists currently at work on such projects know that the real application for the implant devices would be in the commercial and military sectors. After all, why would the Pentagon have such a keen interest in curing Alzheimer’s?

Full Story

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China executing 9 people a week

Telegraph | Apr 15, 2008

By Damien McElroy, Foreign Affairs Correspondent

China is executing at least nine prisoners a week and sentencing a further 35 to death, according to Amnesty International.

In a report published today, the human rights group says that while China tries to keep the figures a state secret, the country put to death at least 470 people last year, making it the world’s most prolific executioner.

At least 1,252 people were executed in 24 different countries last year, while 3,347 were sentenced to death in 51 countries. Amnesty adds that some 27,500 people are now on death row around the world.

Second to China was Iran with 317 executions, followed by Saudi Arabia on 143, Pakistan on 135 and the United States on 42.

Amnesty points out that the United Nations General Assembly voted by a large majority in December for a resolution to end the death penalty.

“The taking of life is one of the most drastic acts a government can undertake. We are urging all governments to follow the commitments made at the UN and abolish the death penalty once and for all,” says the report.

Meanwhile, the father of a boy beheaded in Saudi Arabia last year has filed a lawsuit seeking an official acknowledgment that the execution was unlawful.

Hussein al-Hakami’s son, Mueed, was arrested in the southern province of Jizan for the murder when he was 13 of another boy. A succession of courts dismissed several appeals for clemency over a three-year period.

Fear of the Stasi Secret Police Lives On in Eastern Germany

stasi masonic

People are whispering once again.

Yes, says a woman in her shop, she does know people who were arrested in the past, including two nuns. But she refuses to comment further, especially now that “the court has even silenced Pastor Käbisch.”

Der Spiegel | Apr 7, 2008

By Stefan Berg

The East German secret police may have disbanded long ago, but fear of former Stasi members lives on. A court is about to decide whether a former Stasi informant can be outed in public. The answer will say a lot about how the country deals with its past.

“I walk past this statue every day,” says Dieter Kiessling, pointing at the figure of a man whose face is half-covered by a mask in the shape of a sheep’s head. The work by Leipzig sculptor Wolfgang Mattheuer stands in front of the town hall in the eastern German town of Reichenbach. It is called “Showing Face”.

Kiessling, 57, is mayor of Reichenbach in Saxony’s Vogtland region and believes it is time for Germans to be showing their faces once again. “Why,” he asks, standing next to the sculpture, “did we take to the streets in 1989?”

The citizens of Reichenbach haven’t been this upset in a long time, says Kiessling. He too is outraged over a story that began in his council chamber and triggered a debate in faraway Berlin over how to go on dealing with the history of East Germany. Like in some didactic play by Bertolt Brecht, Reichenbach has become the stage for events that show how injustice survives — and how history doesn’t just end.

The controversy centers around a pastor who publicly identified a former informant of the Stasi, the secret police of the communist regime of East Germany. The informant obtained a temporary court injunction preventing his name from being published, and a court is expected to rule on Tuesday whether to uphold the injunction or to lift it.

If the former Stasi informant prevails, the case will have serious repercussions for the way Germany handles the history of the communist German Democratic Republic, which collapsed with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, warns Marianne Birthler, the federal commissioner in charge of managing the Stasi’s archives.

Wolfgang Thierse, a politician from the Social Democratic Party, says: “We must be able to name names, in the truest sense of the word.” But isn’t someone who was an informant for many years, and whose actions happened almost 20 years ago, entitled to a statute of limitations of sorts?

It all started on February 27, during a meeting in the council chamber of Reichenbach marking the launch of an exhibition about East Germany. Edmund Käbisch, a former pastor at the cathedral in the city of Zwickau, a courageous man who was persecuted by the Stasi and who has sought to clear up the past since 1989, was speaking.

The Stasi left their mark on Käbisch, who seemed nervous. His eyes constantly dart about as if his tormentors were still after him. Together with a group of students, he organized an exhibition titled “Christian Activities in East Germany,” which was to be opened in the town hall on that day. Käbisch, 64, stood at the front of the room next to a video projector. He projected one image after another onto the wall, including one of a Stasi informant known as “Schubert.” The man’s real name was also in full view on the image.

When the presentation and discussion ended, an amiable man walked up to the mayor and told him that he was the informant, “Schubert.” The 46-year-old man, identified merely as S., also apparently told Kiessling later that many former Stasi employees had been in the room. “It was eerie,” says Kiessling, still taken aback by the self-confidence with which the former informant had approached him.

The incident in the town hall was only the beginning. On March 7, Kiessling received a temporary injunction order from the Zwickau district court. The court had ruled to temporarily prohibit all public mention of the former informant’s name. A final decision is still pending. Meanwhile, Käbisch had to remove the relevant part of his exhibit, which, as the court saw it, “was suited, as a reference complete with personal data, to harm the reputation and good name of the plaintiff in the public eye, essentially pillorying the plaintiff.”

“Schubert,” the former informant, is represented by Thomas Höllrich, a lawyer and local Left Party politician. Höllrich has complained about a pogrom-like mood in Reichenbach, a town small enough for everyone to know everyone else. A second former Stasi informant has also taken legal action against Käbisch’s exhibition, and he too is represented by Höllrich.

The village of Neumark where informant “Schubert” was born and where he lives again today is a quiet place with slate-roofed houses, a sports field and a church which towers over everything else. But the blinds are closed in the house of the former Stasi informant.

Ex-Snoop Wants His Privacy Protected

The former informant, whose full name SPIEGEL can’t mention for legal reasons, has a successful small business in the village where several of his neighbors were victims of the Stasi. He is unavailable for comment. The man who admitted to being informant “Schubert” at the town hall in Reichenbach refuses to discuss any of the details of his case. For this reason, it is also impossible to ask him how someone who insists on his rights to privacy today feels about having violated the same kinds of rights in the past, and in a way that remains shocking even after a 20-year debate over the Stasi.

Schubert was recruited in 1980 at the age of 18 while he was still in school. The Stasi’s “operational goal” was to have him infiltrate the local Protestant Church youth group. Only a few months later, an intelligence officer noted that information provided by the informant had “effectively supported” the ministry “in its fight against the enemy.” The informant had cracked a “conspiracy” involving suspicious individuals who, as a result, could be convicted of subversive activities. “This enabled our organization to launch investigations leading to the arrest of four individuals,” the report continued.

“Schubert” was praised in June 1980 and, “in recognition of his outstanding efforts in the fight against the enemy,” was sent on a trip to the Soviet Union. Informant “Schubert” was worth a lot to the Stasi. His file is filled with receipts and expense accounts. He repeatedly received money from the Stasi, as well as loans, a free heating system, even Czech kroners for a trip to Czechoslovakia.

A Good Agent

He kept on doing well. In 1984, a Stasi officer noted that “Schubert” had managed to infiltrate a Protestant youth group in the city of Freiberg, where he attended the university. He had acquired a respected position there, which also involved being baptized. His baptism certificate was even kept in the Stasi file. At the age of 22, “Schubert” became a Christian — at the behest of the authorities. His reading at the baptism stems from the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” “Schubert” was one of 10 informants assigned to monitor Klaus Goldhahn, the student pastor who baptized “Schubert.”

The “Schubert” file came to a close with a “statement” dated Nov. 6, 1989. In the statement, the informant wrote that he was leaving the Stasi. A short time earlier, he had asked his commanding officer for assistance in buying a car. He announced that he was moving to West Germany and hinted that he planned to return one day. The statement, written three days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, ends with this sentence: “If, one day, you manage to lock up all of the ministers who have brought this domestic and international disgrace on our people, I will be the first to return.”

What exactly “Schubert” meant by this is not entirely clear but his threat suddenly seems relevant. Some people appear to believe that the time has come to strike back. For example, Pastor Käbisch, the man looking into the Stasi’s past, has been receiving spiteful letters from former high-ranking Stasi officers. An entire group of former interrogators signed a letter of protest against an exhibit in the former Stasi detention center in the eastern city of Halle.

People Whispering Again

In the small town of Neumark, with its 3,400 residents, fear of the Stasi lingers on. People are whispering once again. Yes, says a woman in her shop, she does know people who were arrested in the past, including two nuns. But she refuses to comment further, especially now that “the court has even silenced Pastor Käbisch.” The way she talks about how ordinary people can’t do anything about it suddenly evokes an uneasy sense of East German déjà vu.

One woman who was among the four arrested in 1980 wants to remain anonymous. She was in prison for two-and-a-half years because, as a student, she spent months spray-painting “Freedom Not Socialism” onto streets in the area. She says she knew exactly who had informed on her and the three others. She has run into the man many times in recent years. “He never apologized, this guy who’s now become the great capitalist.” She adds: “The fear is still there.”

One of “Schubert’s” victims is prepared to talk though, perhaps because he no longer lives in the area. Thomas Singer went to school with the informant in Reichenbach. Today he is a teacher in the state of Brandenburg near Berlin. His Stasi file contains a number of reports by informant “Schubert.”

In 1980, “Schubert” borrowed a small textbook into which Thomas Singer had written the lyrics of singers Bettina Wegner and Gerulf Pannach, both critics of East Germany. Shortly after “Schubert” had returned the booklet to him, Singer was called out of the classroom, put into a Stasi car and taken away to be interrogated. “I was afraid,” Singer says today. Under pressure and concerned for his family, he later agreed to cooperate with the Stasi for a short time.

Following East Germany’s peaceful revolution Singer, 46, chose a different path from that taken by his former classmates. Instead of hiding and fleeing the past, he checked the box marked “Informant” when filling out the relevant questionnaire, even though he was also a victim of the Stasi.

But his honesty meant he was disqualified from becoming a government official. “Basically, I have him to thank for that,” says Singer. A teacher of German and history, he often talks to his students about the things that happened in East Germany.

Singer still remembers the story 28 years on. He wrote a moving letter to Pastor Käbisch, providing him with at least a small measure of acknowledgement. After all, Käbisch has been ridiculed often enough for continuing to attach importance to the Stasi question.

A candle burns in a ring of barbed wire on the desk in Käbisch’s office in Zwickau. The panel displaying the “Schubert” file is leaning up against his bookshelf. On Tuesday, the district court will decide whether to allow him and Mayor Kiessling to put it on display once again.

Brazil Oil Find Biggest in 30 Years

Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras claimed on Monday that its recent offshore find may be the biggest in three decades. The news did not ease tensions on commodity markets, where crude Brent topped $110 for the first time.

France 24 | Apr 14, 2008

RIO DE JANEIRO – An offshore find by Brazilian state oil company Petrobras in partnership with BG Group and Repsol-YPF may be the world’s biggest discovery in 30 years, the head of the National Petroleum Agency said on Monday.

Haroldo Lima told reporters the find, known as Carioca, could contain 33 billion barrels of oil equivalent, five times the recent giant Tupi discovery. That would further boost Brazil’s prospects as an important world oil province and the source of new crude in the Americas.

Shares in Petrobras, which said studies on the find continued and would not comment on the figure, soared on the news. They were trading 5.7 percent higher at 83 reais in the late afternoon, after retreating somewhat from gains of more than 7 percent.

“It could be the world’s biggest discovery in the past 30 years, and the world’s third-biggest currently active field,” Lima, head of the government’s oil and fuel market regulator, told reporters at an industry event in Rio de Janeiro.

He would not say whether the preliminary reserve estimate was recoverable or in-place. Recoverable reserves can constitute less than a third of in-place reserves.

Last year Petrobras put Tupi’s recoverable reserves at between 5 billion and 8 billion barrels of oil equivalent, most of it light oil.

Lima said his data came from Petrobras at an informal level.

Petrobras tested one well at Carioca last year and is still drilling another. The company made the Tupi recoverable reserve estimate based on tests from two wells.

Petrobras said in a statement the second well had not yet reached the subsalt level and “more conclusive data on the potential of the block will be known after the evaluation process is finished.”

FIND COULD BE ‘REALLY HUGE’

Analysts said the estimate was probably still very preliminary, although it did not contrast with some geologists’ forecasts made in the past.

“It’s a very relevant number, basically triples the reserves. But it still seems a little premature to have a precise number while they are drilling a second well,” said Felipe Cunha, an analyst with Brascan bank in Rio de Janeiro.

The Carioca area lies west of Tupi in the prolific Santos basin, off the coast of Sao Paulo state. BG has a 30 percent stake in the project and Repsol 25 percent.

“It’s subsalt, and we knew there were big expectations for the subsalt cluster in addition to Tupi. But, if this is confirmed, it’s really huge,” said Sophie Aldebert, associate director with Cambridge Energy Research Association in Brazil.

“With that size, you’d have plenty of gains of scale that could easily offset the subsalt geological challenges,” she added. The challenges include shifting salt clusters that require reinforced piping and producing in deep waters from huge depths under the ocean floor.

Geologists had long voiced the theory that Tupi could have an even bigger neighbor containing light oil or natural gas. If the reserves are confirmed, Brazil could jump into the top 10 oil countries by reserves, surpassing nations like Nigeria.

Petrobras also has said previously it sees good prospects for major oil finds in the subsalt areas in the Campos and Espirito Santo basins north of Santos, but it is focusing mainly on Santos at the moment.

Most of Petrobras crude comes from heavy-oil Campos basin fields, but recent subsalt discoveries could make Brazil a major producer of higher quality oil.

The company expects to start an extended production test at Tupi early next year and then crank up a 100,000 barrels per day pilot project there in late 2010 or early 2011. Analysts say, however, the costly subsalt development can take more time than Petrobras expects.

Pope Benedict to heal sex scandal wounds

POPE-EYE

AFP | Apr 15, 2008

by Karin Zeitvogel

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday began a visit to the United States, hoping to heal the wounds left in the US church by a decades-long sex scandal that he said made him feel deep shame.

The 80-year-old pontiff was given an unprecedented welcome by President George W. Bush, who was on hand with his wife, Laura, and daughter, Jenna, at Andrews Air Force base near Washington to greet the pope.

No visiting head of state has ever been welcomed at the airport by a US president.

Standing at the top of a red carpet rolled out for the occasion, Benedict clasped both the president’s hands in his as an enthusiastic crowd of onlookers waved small, yellow and white Vatican flags and cheered loudly.

The joyous welcome contrasted sharply with the pedophile priest scandal that has rocked the US church, and which the pontiff said during the flight to Washington has made him feel “deeply ashamed”.

“The Church will do everything it can to heal the wounds caused by pedophile priests” and ensure “events of this kind are no longer repeated,” he told reporters on the specially chartered Alitalia plane.

“The church must absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry. Pedophiles cannot be priests. … I insist absolutely on this incompatibility.”

But a former Benedictine priest said the remarks were too little, too late.

“It’s a great public relations statement, but it’s 25 years too late,” Patrick Wall, who left the church 10 years ago over the child sex scandal, told AFP.

“As chief enforcer for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith for 24 years, he had the power and the jurisdiction to stop this, but he did nothing,” Wall said.

“He needs to have the power and the moral fortitude to take the bishops, priests and deacons who offend against children out of ministry.”

Benedict will address the sex scandal that has left the US church financially strapped and morally battered at a meeting in New York’s St Patrick’s Cathedral with Catholic clergy.

But he is not expected to grant an audience to victims of predator priests.

The largest group of victims, the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), called for strong actions, not mere words, from the pope.

“We’re way beyond the point at which an apology, a nice gesture, a few soothing words and promises, will be meaningful,” SNAP said in a statement.

The scandal, which SNAP estimates has affected hundreds of thousands of children, was far from over, said Wall.

“There were 51 new credible child molestation accusations against priests and bishops in the US last year. The conflict is continuing,” said the former ‘cleaner’ for the Benedictines — a priest sent to restore calm in a parish after a predator priest has been in ministry.

The pope was addressing the pedophilia scandal because of the deep financial impact it has had on the church, said Wall.

“The church has lost over three billion dollars in settlements and in the next 10 years will lose another three billion dollars if things don’t change. The church is scared,” he said.

The official welcome ceremony for the pope takes place on Wednesday — the pope’s 81st birthday — at the White House, where he will receive a 21-gun salute in front of several thousand well-wishers.

Bush and the pope will then hold “frank and open” discussions on a range of issues, including the war in Iraq, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

“I think obviously that there were differences, years back” on the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, which the Vatican opposed, Perino told reporters.

The two leaders also will discuss “shared values of human rights, and the importance of fighting terrorism, and also promoting religious tolerance, especially when there are religious minorities.

“The president will thank Pope Benedict for deciding to go and visit Ground Zero and pay his respects there… that’s a very important gesture,” she said.

Benedict will hold a mass for 48,000 in Washington Thursday before going to New York to visit the scene of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and hold another huge mass at Yankee Stadium.

He will also address the UN General Assembly, where he is expected to make a plea for world peace.

“I would be surprised if he doesn’t allude to Iraq directly and maybe even make a veiled warning about incursions … to say pro-active military activities are not very welcome,” said Chester Gillis of Georgetown University’s theology department.

Related

Pope ‘led cover-up of child abuse by priests’

Pope ‘obstructed’ sex abuse inquiry
Confidential letter reveals Ratzinger ordered bishops to keep allegations secret

Benedict XVI Protects Pedophile Priests

Putin tightens grip on power

The Guardian | Apr 16, 2008

Luke Harding in Moscow

Vladimir Putin consolidated his longterm grip on power yesterday when he agreed to lead the United Russia party after he steps down as president next month and becomes Russia’s prime minister.

Putin accepted the offer to become chairman of the pro-Kremlin party at its congress in Moscow. “I am ready to undertake additional responsibility and become the head of United Russia,” he told delegates.

Although Putin campaigned openly for the party before last December’s parliamentary elections, and agreed to head its parliamentary list, he has previously declined all offers to take over as party leader.

Yesterday’s move entrenches his position as the dominant figure in Russian politics – despite the fact that he steps down as president on May 7, handing over to his handpicked successor Dmitry Medvedev. The two men will run Russia in a power-sharing tandem.

As prime minister Putin will control Russia’s government. His new additional job will give him sweeping powers over the Duma, Russia’s lower house, where United Russia has 315 out of 450 seats, as well as over regional legislatures, also dominated by the party.

Yesterday analysts said that Putin’s longterm strategy was unclear. Some believe that he intends to return as president in 2012. Others are convinced that he would like to retire from politics once Medevedev has established himself as a credible and popular leader.

But by becoming party chairman, Putin has made himself virtually unsackable, analysts said. In the past presidents Boris Yeltsin and Putin frequently fired prime ministers, whose precarious tenure in the job was often unhappy and brief.

“He is definitely going to be the most powerful prime minister in Russia’s recent history,” Nikolai Petrov, a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Centre said. “He will keep his hands on a lot of different institutions. The post will become influential. He will also have a lever to deal with regional political elites.”

Asked whether Putin was planning a presidential comeback, Petrov said: “His psychology is to avoid making a final decision for as long as possible. He prefers to rely on his intuition. But my feeling is that his major plan is not to come back.”

Bizarrely, Putin will not become a member of United Russia, even though he agreed to be its chairman.