Daily Archives: July 2, 2008

Japanese company invents car that runs on water

Japanese company Genepax presents its eco-friendly car that runs on nothing but water

Reuters | Jun 13, 2008

TOKYO — Tired of gasoline prices rising daily at the pump? A Japanese company has invented an electric-powered, and environmentally friendly, car that it says runs solely on water.

Genepax unveiled the car in the western city of Osaka on Thursday, saying that a liter (2.1 pints) of any kind of water — rain, river or sea — was all you needed to get the engine going for about an hour at a speed of 80 km (50 miles).

“The car will continue to run as long as you have a bottle of water to top up from time to time,” Genepax CEO Kiyoshi Hirasawa told local broadcaster TV Tokyo.

“It does not require you to build up an infrastructure to recharge your batteries, which is usually the case for most electric cars,” he added.

Once the water is poured into the tank at the back of the car, the a generator breaks it down and uses it to create electrical power, TV Tokyo said.

Whether the car makes it into showrooms remains to be seen. Genepax said it had just applied for a patent and is hoping to collaborate with Japanese auto manufacturers in the future.

Most big automakers, meanwhile, are working on fuel-cell cars that run on hydrogen and emit — not consume — water.

U.K. to Begin Microchipping Prisoners

NaturalNews | Jun 21, 2008

by David Gutierrez

The British government is developing a plan to track current and former prisoners by means of microchips implanted under the skin, drawing intense criticism from probation officers and civil rights groups.

As a way to reduce prison crowding, many British prisoners are currently released under electronic monitoring, carried out by means of an ankle bracelet that transmits signals like those used by mobile phones.

Now the Ministry of Justice is exploring the possibility of injecting prisoners in the back of the arm with a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip that contains information about their name, address and criminal record. Such chips, which contain a built-in antenna, could be scanned by special readers. The implantation of RFID chips in luggage, pets and livestock has become increasingly popular in recent years.

In addition to monitoring incarcerated prisoners, the ministry hopes to use the chips on those who are on probation or other conditional release. By including a satellite uplink system in the chip, police would be able to use global positioning system (GPS) technology to track subjects’ exact locations at all times. According to advocates of such a measure, this could help keep sex offenders away from “forbidden” zones like schools.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, blasted the measure as degrading to the people chipped and of no benefit to probation officers.

“Knowing where offenders like pedophiles are does not mean you know what they are doing,” Fletcher said. “Treating people like pieces of meat does not seem to represent an improvement in the system to me.”

Shami Chakrabarti of the civil rights group Liberty had even stronger words:

“If the Home Office doesn’t understand why implanting a chip in someone is worse than an ankle bracelet, they don’t need a human-rights lawyer; they need a common-sense bypass.”

France, Taking Over EU Leadership, Seeks to Avoid `Arrogance’

Sarkozy with the Queen during his visit in March.

Bloomberg | Jul 1, 2008

By Helene Fouquet and Francois de Beaupuy

July 1 (Bloomberg) — Even before assuming the leadership of the European Union today, French President Nicolas Sarkozy set out to persuade his partners that France’s love-hate relationship with the EU would veer away from the antagonistic.

The French leadership will “not be arrogant,” Sarkozy diplomatic adviser Jean-David Levitte told reporters June 18. In a visit to Greece last month, Sarkozy promised to be a “loyal and impartial” voice for the EU.

Leaders in Paris have routinely criticized or flouted European economic, trade, and farm policies. French skepticism toward the Brussels-based institution birthed by its diplomats after World War II peaked in 2005, with voters’ rejection of a proposed constitution.

Former President Jacques Chirac led the fight to bury a proposal to allow the free movement of services workers. Weeks after taking office last year, Sarkozy refused to comply with a 2007 deficit-reduction agreement. Criticism of the European Central Bank, the strong euro and EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson has been a staple of his rhetoric.

“He continues with the French tradition of finding scapegoats,” Philip Whyte, a senior research fellow at the London-based Centre for European Reform. “His attacks on the ECB have not gone down well in Germany; the `Polish plumber,’ the Chinese currency, Anglo-Saxons — all external scapegoats.”

Euro-Skeptics

The prospect of taking over the 27-nation bloc for six months hasn’t altered the views among the euro-skeptics in Sarkozy’s administration.

“Most important for France’s presidency will be to have all Europeans understand that Europe can’t continue to work this way,” Henri Guaino, Sarkozy’s counselor, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “Europeans feel that Europe doesn’t act enough to solve their problems.”

In an interview on France 3 television last night, Sarkozy said there were “errors in the way Europe has been built,” without citing specifics.

Sarkozy’s priorities for his presidency include tightening immigration rules, advancing environment and energy regulation and improving European defense. One of his first orders of business will be to try to salvage the EU’s new governing treaty after Irish voters rejected the so-called Lisbon agenda last month. He plans to visit Dublin on July 11.

Previous Tangles

Sarkozy also tangled with EU policy makers before his election in May 2007. The EU opposed the 8 billion-euro ($13 billion) bailout of Alstom SA he brokered and pushed through in 2004 when he was finance minister. Since then, he has criticized its antitrust rules for preventing the emergence of “European champions.”

This year, Sarkozy’s call to cap the value-added tax on oil products has been rejected by countries such as Germany, which also led the watering down of his plan to deepen ties among countries around the Mediterranean Sea.

France has dragged its feet before writing European directives into its own books. It ranks 25th among the 27 EU countries in how quickly it implements European business rules, the European Commission said in a February report. Only Italy and Spain fared worse. A 2001 European law on genetically modified crops was enacted only this year.

Opposing the EU can also be good politics at home.

European integration is a “source of hope” for 30 percent of the French, down from 61 percent five years ago, and it’s a concern for 33 percent of them, according to a June 29 BVA poll for Orange SA, Toute l’Europe and Ouest-France.

“There have been points in our national political life when the rapport with Europe was much more solid,” Brice Teinturier, a director at polling company TNS Sofres, said in a Bloomberg Television last week. “There is no great mobilizing project in an economic climate that’s utterly dim.”

Soft and squishy chemical robots could squeeze through small spaces

How a bionic, chembot caterpillar would morph to get through a small shape, then grow.

Futuristic ‘Chembots’ Could Squeeze Through Small Spaces

Fox | Jul 1, 2008

By  David Kaplan, Barry Trimmer

Soft and squishy chemical robots will one day squeeze through tight spots, then expand to 10 times larger, offering an advantage over rigid robots.

Once a mission is complete, a chembot would biodegrade.

The chembots could get into a building through a crack, for example. They could explore a cave or crevice and dismantle an explosive. Or they might climb ropes, wires or trees.

Another tiny idea: One chembot could pack a smaller chembot into a situation, then release it for even more minute explorations.

Researchers at Tufts University have received a $3.3 million contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to build the soft automatons.

ChemBots represent “the convergence of soft materials chemistry and robotics. It is an entirely new way of looking at robots and could someday yield great technological advantage for our armed forces,” said Mitchell Zakin, who oversees the program for DARPA.

Tufts neurobiologist Barry Trimmer studies the nervous systems of caterpillars, which grow 10,000-fold in mass after hatching from the larval stage. He studies how they move so flexibly without joints and control movement so precisely with a simple brain.

Using biomaterials and bioengineered polymers, genetic engineering and nanotechnology, Trimmer and colleagues in other fields hope to duplicate some of the caterpillars’ traits and behaviors. His lab has already built some prototypes.

“Use of all-biodegradable biopolymer systems will allow use of the robots in a broad range of environmental applications, as well as medical scenarios, without requiring retrieval after completion of the designated tasks,” said co-principal investigator David Kaplan biomedical engineer at Tufts. “We expect that these devices will literally be able to disappear after completing their mission.”

The chembot would have hair-like sensors for temperature, pressure, chemical and audio/video and to use wireless communication.

Trimmer’s long-running caterpillar investigations have been sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Air Force and other organizations.

Police `torture’ videos cause uproar in Mexico

In this video still taken from the web site of the El Heraldo de Leon on Tuesday July 1, 2008, a policeman undergoes a torture session by fellow officers during a training session for an elite unit in the city of Leon, Mexico. Several videos, first obtained by the Heraldo de Leon newspaper, have created an uproar in Mexico as police struggle with recent scandals over abuses. (AP Photo/El Heraldo de Leon)

AP | Jul 2, 2008

By TRACI CARL

MEXICO CITY – Videos showing Leon police practicing torture techniques on a fellow officer and dragging another through vomit at the instruction of a U.S. adviser created an uproar Tuesday in Mexico, which has struggled to eliminate torture in law enforcement.

Two of the videos — broadcast by national television networks and displayed on newspaper Internet sites — showed what Leon city Police Chief Carlos Tornero described as training for an elite unit that must face “real-life, high-stress situations,” such as kidnapping and torture by organized crime groups.

But many Mexicans saw a sinister side, especially at a moment when police and soldiers across the country are struggling with scandals over alleged abuses.

“They are teaching police … to torture!” read the headline in the Mexico City newspaper Reforma.

Human rights investigators in Guanajuato state, where Leon is located, are looking into the tapes, and the National Human Rights Commission also expressed concerned.

“It’s very worrisome that there may be training courses that teach people to torture,” said Raul Plascencia, one of the commission’s top inspectors.

One of the videos, first obtained by the newspaper El Heraldo de Leon, shows police appearing to squirt water up a man’s nose — a technique once notorious among Mexican police. Then they dunk his head in a hole said to be full of excrement and rats. The man gasps for air and moans repeatedly.

In another video, an unidentified English-speaking trainer has an exhausted agent roll into his own vomit. Other officers then drag him through the mess.

“These are no more than training exercises for certain situations, but I want to stress that we are not showing people how to use these methods,” Tornero said.

He said the English-speaking man was part of a private U.S. security company helping to train the agents, but he refused to give details.

A third video transmitted by the Televisa network showed officers jumping on the ribs of a suspect curled into a fetal position in the bed of a pickup truck. Tornero said that the case, which occurred several months earlier, was under investigation and that the officers involved had disappeared.

Mexican police often find themselves in the midst of brutal battles between drug gangs. Officials say that 450 police, soldiers and prosecutors have lost their lives in the fight against organized crime since December 2006.

At the same time, several recent high-profile scandals over alleged thuggery and ineptness have reignited criticisms of police conduct. In Mexico City last month, 12 people died in a botched police raid on a disco.

The National Human Rights Commission has documented 634 cases of military abuse since President Felipe Calderon sent more than 20,000 soldiers across the nation to battle drug gangs.

And $400 million in drug-war aid for Mexico that was just signed into law by President George W. Bush doesn’t require the U.S. to independently verify that the military has cleaned up its fight, as many American lawmakers and Mexican human rights groups had insisted.

The videos may seem shocking, but training police to withstand being captured is not unusual, said Robert McCue, the director of the private, U.S. firm IES Interactive Training, which provides computer-based training systems in Mexico.

“With the attacks on police and security forces in Mexico that have increased due to the drug cartel wars, I’m not surprised to see this specialized kind of training in resisting and surviving captivity and torture,” he said.

“The Queen of Mean” left billions to her dogs

“The Queen of Mean” Leona Helmsley is seen in New York in this January 21, 2003 file photo.  (Chip East/Reuters)


The first goal was to help indigent people and the second to provide for the care and welfare of dogs, the newspaper said. But a year later, she deleted the first goal.

Reuters | Jul 1, 2008

by Patricia Zengerle

NEW YORK (Reuters) –  New York hotelier and real estate magnate Leona Helmsley left millions to her beloved dog, Trouble, but she has left billions for the care of dogs in general, The New York Times said on Tuesday.

Helmsley left instructions that an entire charitable trust valued at $5 billion to $8 billion and amounting to virtually all of her estate, be used for the care and welfare of dogs, the newspaper said, citing two people who had seen the document and described it on condition of anonymity.

The two people who had seen the document said Helmsley signed it in 2003 to establish goals for the trust that would disburse assets after her death. The first goal was to help indigent people and the second to provide for the care and welfare of dogs, the newspaper said. But a year later, she deleted the first goal.

But all the money may not go to the dogs, the article said. It said the mission statement also has a provision that Helmsley’s trustees may use their discretion in distributing the funds, and some lawyers say the statement may not mean much, given that it was not incorporated into her will or the trust documents.

Helmsley, who was known as “the Queen of Mean” because of the way she dealt with her employees, had a soft spot for her dog. But a New York court last month lowered the dog’s inheritance to $2 million from $12 million on grounds that Helmsley was mentally unfit when she made her will.

A spokesman for the executors of Helmsley’s estate told the Times they did not want to comment on the statement because they were still working to determine the trust’s direction.

Helmsley died in August 2007 at age 87. She amassed a fortune in real estate and hotels with her husband, Harry Helmsley, who died in 1997.

Famously quoted as having said “only the little people pay taxes,” Helmsley spent 18 months in federal prison for evading $1.7 million in taxes in 1989.

Maoists drown dozens of police in attack on boat

UPI | Jun 30, 2008

NEW DELHI, June 30 (UPI) — Thirty-seven personnel of India’s elite anti-Maoist force are missing and feared drowned after an attack by rebels on the force’s motor launch in Orissa state.

The members of Andhra Pradesh state’s elite anti-Naxalite force, the Greyhounds, were missing, feared drowned, when Maoists launched a major attack on a motor launch carrying the police officers. They were on a two-day combing operation in Orissa. The vessel was sunk in a reservoir, a state Interior Ministry official said.

The official said the launch, carrying 60 Greyhounds, two Orissa constables and two boatmen, came under fire from the Maoists’ rocket launcher, mortar and light machine gun from a hilltop in Orissa’s Malkangiri district Sunday. Maoists are called Naxalites in Indian context, as they started their armed struggle in 1970s from a place called Naxalbari.

“The attack took place near Alampetta village when the Greyhounds were sailing to Chirakonda across the Balimela reservoir on the Andhra border for a joint operation against the Maoists,” said Gopal Nanda, director general of police of Orissa.

The launch capsized immediately and its driver was among those killed. Many others sustained bullet injuries. While 25 on board swam ashore, the fate of 37 others is unknown. The federal government rushed 125 men of Central Reserve Police Force for rescue, Nanda said.

Caterpillar-like chembots may sneak inside your body

Xinhuanet  | Jul 1, 2008

BEIJING, July 1 (Xinhuanet) — Squeezable chemical robots designed to mimic caterpillars may one day be used to sneak through tight spots before expanding to 10 times their size, then biodegrade once a task is finished.

The chembots could get into a building through a crack, explore a cave or crevice and dismantle an explosive. Or they might climb ropes, wires or trees. A chembot could pack a smaller chembot into a situation, then release it for even more minute explorations.

Researchers at Tufts University have received a 3.3 million U.S. dollar contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to build the soft automatons.

ChemBots represent “the convergence of soft materials chemistry and robotics. It is an entirely new way of looking at robots and could someday yield great technological advantage for our armed forces,” said Mitchell Zakin, who oversees the program for DARPA.

Tufts neurobiologist Barry Trimmer studies the nervous systems of caterpillars, which grow 10,000-fold in mass after hatching from the larval stage. He studies how they move so flexibly without joints and control movement so precisely with a simple brain.

Using biomaterials and bioengineered polymers, genetic engineering and nanotechnology, Trimmer and colleagues in other fields hope to duplicate some of the caterpillars’ traits and behaviors. His lab has already built some prototypes.

“Use of all-biodegradable biopolymer systems will allow use of the robots in a broad range of environmental applications, as well as medical scenarios, without requiring retrieval after completion of the designated tasks,” said co-principal investigator David Kaplan biomedical engineer at Tufts. “We expect that these devices will literally be able to disappear after completing their mission.”

The chembot would have hair-like sensors for temperature, pressure, chemical and audio/video and to use wireless communication.

Obama to expand Bush’s faith-based programs

DAILY NEWS | Jul 1, 2008

BY MICHAEL McAULIFF

WASHINGTON – The U.S. has gotta have faith – in religious groups providing social services, Barack Obama declared Tuesday.

“I want this to be central to our mission,” said Obama, promising to reinvigorate President Bush’s push to have religious organizations play a greater role in aiding citizens.

“The fact is, the challenges we face today – from saving our planet to ending poverty – are simply too big for government to solve alone,” Obama said, campaigning outside a local ministry in Zanesville, Ohio.

The faith pitch sparked more chatter that he is charging to the political center for his showdown with GOPer John McCain. It came a day after Obama went to another swing state, Missouri, to shore up his patriotic bona fides.

Other steps toward the center came when he hailed the recent Supreme Court decision protecting gun rights and favored allowing executions of rapists. Obama also supported a Bush-backed surveillance bill disliked by many liberals and has toned down his fiery rhetoric on trade and Iraq.

Obama insisted he was just being consistent. “What happens is, I get tagged as being on the left, and when I simply describe what have been my positions consistently, then suddenly people act surprised,” he said. “But there haven’t been substantial shifts.”

Shifts or not, some left-leaning opponents of Bush’s Faith-Based and Community Initiatives were upset Obama would continue the effort.

“I am disappointed that any presidential candidate would want to continue a failed policy,” the Rev. Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told The Associated Press. “It ought to be shut down.”

Obama did, however, rip Bush’s program as little more than a partisan tool for political favors.

“What we saw over the last eight years was the office never fulfilled its promise,” said Obama, who pledged a “new commitment” that would be reflected in a new name: the Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

He was applauded by Bush’s first director of the initiative, John DiIulio, who said Obama’s effort had “special promise” to help the disadvantaged.

War camp kids chant ‘Ooh, aah, ooh, aah, I want to kill somebody.’

Reuters | Jun 28, 2008

WEST POINT, New York (Reuters) – Climbing ropes and crawling in the mud under barbed wire, dozens of American high school kids at an unusual summer camp vied to see who could get most dirty as they tackled an Army obstacle course.

And as they ran between obstacles in the woods, the kids shouted Army chants. Asked by a cadet if they were motivated, they shouted back in unison: “Motivated, motivated, downright motivated. Ooh, aah, ooh, aah, I want to kill somebody.”

Each summer, 800 high school kids hoping to become soldiers spend a week at West Point to see what life is like at the prestigious U.S. military academy for future army officers.

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan straining the U.S. military and public support low for the Iraq war, recruiting future officers might seem a tough sell. But officials say applications to the summer program are at a record high.

West Point says it recruits “scholars, leaders and athletes.” Kids at the Summer Leadership Seminar, a week-long residential program held over two sessions, have top grades and are strong in sports and extra-curricular activities.

Alex Imbriale, a 17-year-old from North Carolina who is captain of his school’s rifle team, attributed his interest in West Point to his father, who is in the army. But there were plenty of students on the program who are not “army brats.”

Kathleen Engle, 16, from Fairfield, California, said she had looked into the Peace Corps and other options but decided on the military.

“I was in fifth grade when 9/11 happened and that’s when I decided the best thing I could do for my country was this,” she said, playing a video game called “America’s Army.”

“I guess it’s going to be hard to kill someone, but if that’s your job and that’s what our commander tells us we need to do, I’m going to do that in order to protect my country.”

IMMIGRANTS AND ADVENTURERS

Mario Vazquez, 17, from El Paso, Texas, hopes to be a neurosurgeon but first he says he has a duty to America.

“My Mom is actually the one that found out about it,” he said of the West Point summer program. “My mother is from Mexico … she said it’s a good place to get discipline.”

“I owe a lot to this country because of what it’s given me, because of what it’s given my family, but I also have fears because it’s a lot of sacrifice,” he said. “You put your country before yourself and you sacrifice your family and a lot of other privileges.”

Austin Fullmer, 17, from Las Cruces, New Mexico, said he was attracted by the prospect of moving around the world and seeing new places, and although he would be nervous about deploying to a combat zone, “it’s just another adventure.”

“I didn’t quite realize there were this many kids like me,” he said, grinning as he sat in the doorway of Blackhawk helicopter parked in a field.

Graduates of the academy founded in 1802 include former President Dwight Eisenhower, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who led U.S. forces in the first Gulf War, and astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.

During their week at the picturesque campus on the banks of the Hudson river in New York state, the high-school students are immersed in cadet life.

They are woken at 5 a.m for physical training, they march in formation under the command of current cadets, take academic workshops and spend a day in the field.

“We’re able to pick the most competitive students,” said Lt. Col. Dean Batchelder, who handles admissions. There were 3,674 applications for 800 places on the high-school program.

Those who attend are not guaranteed admission to the academy — which offers a four-year college education in return for a commitment of five years active duty and three years as a reservist — but they stand a good chance, he said.

“I’m not here to screen them,” Batchelder added. “We’re not trying to weed out the weak, we’re trying to give them the information so they can make a better choice.”

NATION AT WAR

Her jeans and pink shirt caked in mud, her face daubed with camouflage cream, 17-year-old Elise Fink put on a flak jacket, stuffed her blonde ponytail under a helmet, and climbed up into the gun turret of a Humvee to check out the machine gun.

“In Iraq you’ll be carrying about 40 pounds more than that,” Specialist Justin Fletcher, a 10th Mountain Division soldier who returned from Iraq late last year, told her.

The grand-daughter of two brigadier generals and daughter of a lieutenant colonel, Fink says her family was supportive of her interest in West Point or the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Her friends in Wilton, Connecticut, less so.

“My town doesn’t do military,” Fink said. “My town is very anti-war right now, so to join the military means you’re pro-war, and a lot of my friends are anti-war.”

“When I said that I was planning on doing ROTC or coming to West Point, they said ‘I don’t want you to get killed.'”

Fink says support or disapproval of the war in Iraq is irrelevant to her military ambitions. “I feel it’s my duty, and it’s people’s duty to serve their country in some way,” she said. “This is the way I chose.”

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Wilson, who runs the summer academic program, said applications for the Summer Leadership Seminar were at a record high this year.

“I’m not sure how the fact that we’re a nation at war has influenced the motivation of any particular student to apply,” he said. “I think that there is a strong sense of service in this generation.”

YELLING AND HAZING

Life as a cadet at West Point is highly regimented, with every detail from how to fold your underwear to the position of personal items on your desk dictated by regulations.

Jordy Kronshag, a 17-year-old from Callumet, Michigan, whose skill at the pole vault made her the equal of much larger males on the obstacle course, said she enjoyed the teamwork and leadership training but was still unsure about applying to become a cadet.

“This is the fun part,” she said, her clothes muddy from the low crawl under barbed wire. “But also a part I don’t like is all the yelling and the hazing, that’s going to be tough.”

On a day set aside for academic workshops, students in one group staged a mock murder trial. Others built a light-seeking robot in an electrical engineering class.

A third group played “Double Philosophy Jeopardy,” with pop culture categories showing how characters in “Star Wars” or “The Simpsons” illustrate stoicism or the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche.

At a panel discussion with 10 current cadets one evening, the students asked about free time, punishments for alcohol use, how much cadets work out, whether they have online courses, how cold winters are and how much sleep cadets get.

Cadet John Williams said he applied to West Point for the wrong reasons and didn’t know much about it in advance.

“I know a lot of you are doing it for the wrong reasons,” he told the students. “You want people to be proud of you, it’s pretty prestigious, you don’t want to let people down,” he said. “That might not be a bad thing.”

“I came for the wrong reasons, I’ve definitely stayed for the right reasons.”