Daily Archives: September 7, 2008

Tactial Laser Could Work Like Long-Range Napalm

The Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) that U.S. Special Forces have begun to test-fire. Intended for “covert strikes.”

It’s not going to kill you quickly.

Wired | Sep 6, 2008

By David Hambling

In science fiction, it’s one zap of a laser gun, and you’re dead. But real-life energy weapons likely won’t work that way.

Take the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) that U.S. Special Forces have begun to test-fire. Intended for “covert strikes,” the ATL has been sold on its ability to blast away with pinpoint accuracy. A very rough estimate shows, however, that the effects when you target an individual are not quite what you might expect.

The ATL’s laser beam is widely quoted as being ten centimeters wide at the target. It’s exact power has never been stated, but it’s somewhere in the hundred-kilowatt class. (The ATL has a single 12,000 lb laser module while the “megawatt class” Airborne Laser fourteen modules each of which is slightly larger, so a hundred kilowatts looks like a reasonable estimate. In addition a hundred kilowatts was the power of the original flying laser, the Airborne Laser Laboratory, and it’s the target which new solid state lasers are aiming for, so it seems to be a sort of benchmark for weapons-grade lasers.) It may be somewhat higher (or lower). But by applying a little basic physics we can get a ballpark estimate of what this might do to flesh. For simplicity, I’ll assume flesh has similar properties to water. The heat capacity of water is about 4.2 joules per gram per degree centigrade. The heat of vaporization (the energy needed to turn water at boiling point to steam) is 2261 joules per gram.

So if the beam stays on the same spot of the target for a full two seconds –- which is a very long time under the circumstances –- it would in theory boil off a disc around one centimeter deep. In real life, the laser would be much less effective, as smoke and steam would rapidly degrade the effectiveness of the beam. Also in real life, the energy is likely to be focused at the center of the beam. And flesh is not water. And nobody is going to hand around being lasered that long… But we’re just trying to get a general idea of orders of magnitude here.

Bullets are lethal when they damage a vital organ (like the heart or the brain) or when they cause rapid blood loss. Most likely, a laser of this type would not easily be able to go deep enough to affect a vital organ. Plus, the laser would will be self-cauterizing, with the heat sealing off blood vessels. It’s not going to kill you quickly.

While research in this area tends to be classified. But from what we know, the Air Force considers laser effects on eyes and skin, for the most part. Skin damage is very much easier to achieve than penetration; simply raising skin temperature to (say) 80C/ 180 f to a depth of a couple of millimeters will cause serious blistering (second-third degree burns). If 40% of the body is burned in this way, then the target will be disabled and may die.

A rough calculation suggests that exposed skin would be blistered/burned in under a twentieth of a second, so the beam could play over the target at quite a high rate. It’s unclear whether clothing would have much protective effect or whether it would simply ignite and cause secondary burns.

So instead of “zap-and-you’re-dead” in normal science fiction style, with a hundred kilowatt laser, it’s more a matter of spraying the target all over to ensure they’re done. The description of the ATL as a “long range blow torch” is probably quite accurate.

With this type of weapon, the effects are more like napalm than bullets. Humanitarian protests are likely. And one accidental lasering of a civilian could be enough to prevent the ATL being used as an anti-personnel weapon.

Higher power lasers and smaller beam diameters might be able to get a cleaner kill. The Airborne Laser is several times more powerful than the ATL, but is a huge device mounted in a 747. Very short pulse lasers can produce explosive effects on flesh, but they are a different matter to to continuous beams like the ATL, and I suspect will prove to be much more useful.

Incidentally, you can do the same sort of calculations for the Active Denial System (aka the pain beam) which is also rated at around a hundred kilowatts but which has a beam diameter of two meters. Some have alleged that the non-lethal ADS can be set to be deadly. In reality, it could only become a “death ray” with a much higher power or much smaller beam diameter, neither of which is feasible with the current design. If you really wanted to kill people using microwaves, you would use something with a much longer wavelength/lower frequency than the 95 GHz ADS, but that’s another story…

Footnote: Tank Zapping At the Speed Of Light

How about busting tanks with the ATL? Well, if we conveniently ignore reflection, heat conduction and other complications and just look at the heat requirement, then the best you can hope for a hundred-kilowatt laser with a ten-centimeter spot diameter is that it can melt through a centimeter of steel in around eight seconds. If you have to vaporize the metal it will take longer.

Since the ATL can only fire for a maximum of around 30 seconds each time, it may not be very useful against armored vehicles. However, it should work fairly well against pressurized vessels used for gas storage or munitions (rockets, missiles etc) which can be set off by heating their outer skin.

Soldier suicide rate may set record again

Associated Press | Sep 4, 2008


WASHINGTON — Soldier suicides this year could surpass the record rate of last year, Army officials said Thursday, urging military leaders at all levels to redouble prevention efforts for a force strained by two wars.

So far this year, there are 62 confirmed suicides among active duty soldiers and Guard and Reserve troops called to active duty, officials said. Another 31 deaths appear to be suicides but are still being investigated.

If all are confirmed, that means that the number for 2008 could eclipse the 115 of last year – and the rate per 100,000 could surpass that of the civilian population, Col. Eddie Stephens, deputy director of human resources policy, said at a Pentagon press conference.

“Army leaders are fully aware that repeated deployments have led to increased distress and anxiety for both soldiers and their families,” Army Secretary Pete Geren said.

“The Army is committed to ensuring that all soldiers and their families receive the behavioral health care they need,” he said in a statement distributed at the press conference.

To try to stem the continuing high number of suicides, the Army continues to increase the number of staff psychiatrists and other mental health staff as well as chaplains, is issuing a new interactive video for troops and will be adding a new program to basic training starting in January, said Brig. Gen. Rhonda L. Cornum, an assistant Army surgeon general.

“There are no simple problems and there are no simple solutions,” Cornum said. “There is no program that has been shown to be truly effective at preventing suicides … Success will be the sum of a number of smaller steps.”

Army of child spies being trained to report neighbors for eco-crimes

Named and shamed: The Colchester Gazette printed a picture of a woman alleged to have dropped a cigarette butt

Army of spies: Children are being trained by councils to report neighbours who drop litter or commit ‘bin crimes’

Schoolchildren recruited by councils to spy on neighbours who commit ‘environmental crimes’

Daily Mail Reporter | Sep 6, 2008

Children are being offered money by councils to spy on neighbours and report petty offences such as ‘bin crimes’ and dog-fouling.

The youngsters are among 5,000 residents encouraged to photograph or video neighbours in the act of ‘environmental crimes’.

In some cases children as young as eight, are being bribed with rewards of £500 for passing on the names of neighbours or taking down their car registration numbers.

The Daily Telegraph found that one in six councils out of 240 contacted admitted to signing up the ‘environmental volunteers.’

Councils using the methods include Luton, Southwark, Birmingham, Blaenau Gwent, and Congleton, Cheshire.

A spokeswoman for Ealing council, west London, told the paper: ‘There are hundreds of Junior Streetwatchers, aged eight to 10-years-old, who are trained to identify and report environmental crime issues such as graffiti and fly-tipping.’

Harlow council in Essex told them: ‘We currently have 25 Street Scene Champions who work with the council. They are all aged between 11 to 14.

‘They are encouraged to report the aftermath of enviro-crimes such as vandalism to bus shelters, graffiti, abandoned vehicles, fly-tipping etc. They do this via telephone or email direct to the council.’

Last week, Mail Online revealed that town hall snoopers armed with police powers are issuing ‘wanted’ photographs of suspected litterbugs.

Litter wardens given police-style accreditation by the Government are using cameras to snap alleged offenders. They are then shamed in local newspapers.

Colchester Borough Council in Essex said it would make it easier to find offenders and make them pay a £75 fine.

It also said the images would be stored to help identify repeat offenders.

Four ‘street care officers’ can stop members of public, demand personal information, take photographs and issue fines under the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme, details of which were revealed in the Daily Mail.

Hundreds of town hall workers and security guards have been given sweeping powers allowing them to hand out fines for a large number of offences, stop cars and seize alcohol from under-age drinkers.

Privacy campaigners have accused ministers of moving towards a ‘Stasi snooper state’ – a reference to the notorious former East German secret police.

There are also concerns that the Government is attempting ‘policing on the cheap’, by allowing civilians to carry out jobs previously reserved for officers.

Simon Reed, of the Police Federation, said: ‘This government seems intent on diluting the policing resilience in this country by handing out traditional policing powers to civilian staff.

The federation has concern about the presence of an ill-equipped and poorly trained second layer of law enforcement.

‘Not only does it cause members of the public confusion over who has what powers, but it undermines the special covenant between the police and the public who rightly expect policing functions to be performed by trained, independent and accountable officers.’

However a spokeswoman for the Local Government Association defended councils’ use of information from members of the public.

She told The Daily Telegraph: ‘Environmental volunteers are people who care passionately about their area and want to protect it from vandals, grafittists and fly-tippers.

‘These residents are not snoopers. They will help councils cut crime and make places cleaner, greener and safer.’

Children best educated at home

This week need not be back-to-school week. Parents as well as their kids can benefit from home education

The Times | Sep 5, 2008

By James Bartholomew

It is back-to-school this week. All over the country, stressed parents made last-minute dashes to the shops to force children to try on clumpy school shoes. Then they got up early, hurried their children into cars or on to buses, got stuck in jams, arrived later than intended and said a rushed goodbye. Then they found that the children had gone. Relief may have been mixed with melancholy, loss and a hope that the children were all right behind those high windows, told what to do by strangers.

The return to school is a well-established part of the journey of life. It seems normal, right and inevitable. But actually it is none of these things. Yes, it is normal in the early 21st century. But if modern civilisation started about 10,000 years ago, this way of treating children has been “normal” only for the last 2 per cent of the time. It is a new, artificial construct designed to provide education at low cost. It certainly was not created to provide a pleasant or socialising experience for children.

Schools are not clearly “right”, either. People tend to think that what everyone does and what they themselves experienced must be right. But there is nothing obviously ideal about delivering your children to other people who do not love them as you do, and who are likely to teach them things with which you may disagree. And sending children to school is not inevitable. Under the law, children must be educated. But they do not have to be educated at a school. There is another way.

Home education is not for everyone – not even a large minority. It is a luxury in most cases. The parent who becomes a home teacher earns no money. There have to be savings, or partners, husbands or wives must be willing to pay the bills. But lots of well-educated wives do not work and could save money by home educating. For those who can find a way, home-educating is a glorious, liberating, empowering, profoundly fulfilling thing to do. Far more people should try it. At present it is estimated that about 50,000 children are taught this way. The number has jumped from a decade ago but is still very few compared with America.

I have just finished two years of teaching my younger daughter, Alex, now 11. We have become very close. Many fathers see their children at supper time and a bit more at weekends. Alex and I were with each other all day, every weekday, in all sorts of places and circumstances. We knew and shared thoughts, ideas and feelings. I believe the closeness that we developed will benefit our relationship for the rest of our lives.

We had enjoyable educational trips to France, Italy and China. Instead of learning about the eruptions of Mount Vesuvius from a text book, Alex and I climbed up to the rim and peered into the still-smoking crater. We visited Pompeii and Oplontis to see the parts of Roman civilisation that had been preserved by the most famous of its eruptions.

One of the beauties of home education is that you can teach children things that you want them to know – some of which are not taught in most schools. I wanted Alex to know something of the origin of the Universe, and astronomy. We studied far more history than schools do, including overviews of Rome, China and Britain. We looked at the Second World War, using DVDs of the superb Channel 4 series on it. We started learning Italian. But all parents would have different ideas of what they want their children to know. You can go for whatever you think important. This is freedom, thrilling freedom. You don’t have to teach just what some civil servant in Whitehall has lighted upon and stuck in the national curriculum.

It is strange that children all over the country study the same bits of history – all knowing certain periods and hardly studying outside them. It verges on the totalitarian. With home education, there can be enormous diversity. At the same time, there is nothing to stop one’s child taking the same GCSEs and Alevels that others are taking.

But some of the greatest gains from home education are not easily measured or tested. They come from the daily flow of conversation – the times when your child asks you a question and a conversation follows.

You may make an observation, or your child may see something and become interested in it. If that happens, you can encourage the interest. This is developing the ability to think and discuss. It is a big contrast with what happens at school where it is impossible in a class of 25 to chase the individual interests of everyone present or to enter separate conversations. It may even be the case that schools can damage a child’s curiosity and enthusiasm for learning. I have seen children totally turned off education and making no attempt to hide how bored they are.

The widespread concern is that a home-educated child misses out on “socialisation”. But I have never heard anyone offer any evidence for this. As far as I know, the evidence from America is rather the other way – home-educated children are better socialised. We know that young children left in inferior nurseries and not given much attention can get withdrawn or aggressive. It is possible, to put it no higher, that being left at school and not given much attention can, in some cases, have a similar, if milder, damaging effect on older children.

You don’t have to educate a child for all his or her years of learning. It could be for just one or two. Several teachers have told me that they would love to take their children on a round-the-world journey, perhaps when their offspring are aged somewhere between 11 and 14. I would recommend it.

Home education, however you structure it, can bring you and your child closer together. You can both learn. You will have shared experiences that will enrich your relationship for ever. Yes, there will also be arguments and tears. But children and parents who never experience it are missing out badly.

James Bartholomew is the author of The Welfare State We’re In

Many New York 9/11 Workers, Residents Still Sick

ENS | Sep 4, 2008

NEW YORK, New York, September 4, 2008 (ENS) – Nearly seven years after the terrorist attacks that demolished the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, many people exposed to the dust, smoke and chemical fumes released into the environment by the airplane strikes on the twin towers continue to experience illnesses.

Rescue and recovery workers, residents of Lower Manhattan, and area workers are still suffering physical and mental health problems related to 9/11 exposure, according to the first report of the WTC Medical Working Group, released today by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

After reviewing more than 100 scientific articles published since 2001, the group of physicians and researchers found that thousands of people have been treated for physical and mental health problems. But more people still need medical help, so the mayor today launched a citywide publicity campaign to promote awareness of medical and mental health treatment options for those who are still suffering.

“We have answered the call for help from those who have suffered health problems as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “We’re helping people heal, both physically and emotionally, and we will continue to reach out to those in need.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, respiratory symptoms were common among people who breathed in the contaminants released by the collapse of the World Trade Center, the WTC Medical Working Group reports.

Respiratory symptoms have subsided over time for many, but have persisted for some including firefighters, 25 percent of whom had symptoms two to four years after the event. Lung function also has declined among some workers.

In surveys conducted two to three years after 9/11, rescue and recovery workers, Lower Manhattan residents and area workers developed new cases of asthma at two to three times the expected rate.

Studies on cancer risk or increased risk of death are underway, but the results are not yet available because of long latency periods of many potentially fatal diseases.

The new $5 million citywide advertising and grassroots marketing campaign will debut on subways, print, radio, and television next week. The campaign, which will run in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Polish, urges the public to seek care for 9/11-related health problems with its tagline, “Lived There? Worked There? You Deserve Care.”

The campaign directs New Yorkers to the WTC Environmental Health Center or to dial 311 for help.

“Many New Yorkers are suffering from wheezing, shortness of breath, stomach and other medical or emotional problems related to their 9/11 exposure and its aftermath. Yet too many don’t connect their continuing health problems to 9/11 or believe that help is only available to WTC rescue and recovery workers,” said Alan Aviles, who heads the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation.

“This awareness campaign – devised collaboratively with concerned community organizations – has been designed to get people to the health care they need,” Aviles said. ”

“We hope it will resonate deeply with those potentially affected – families who lived and stayed in their downtown homes, young people who went to school in the area, local business owners who kept their shops open, local office workers who commute from many parts of the city and the region, clean-up workers who cleared dust from nearby offices, and those who still struggle with the psychological and emotional trauma of losing a loved one or witnessing the horrific devastation,” he said.

“The World Trade Center Medical Working Group Report represents remarkable consensus among scientists, doctors, and experts on what the research tells us about 9/11 health problems,” said Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs, who co-chaired the group. “Our objective review will inform the city’s ongoing commitment to targeting resources and research where they are needed and ensure that those affected receive the treatment they deserve.”

Mayor Bloomberg is appealing to the federal government for more funding to support the research and treatment already underway.”We will keep fighting for the support these critically important programs deserve,” he said.

The city has secured more than $108 million from Congress for fiscal year 2008, including first time funding for community members and area workers suffering from 9/11 health problems.

“This was gained with crucial support from members of the New York delegation, labor leaders, members of the community, and local health and environmental organizations,” the mayor said.

City actions also prompted the release of $30 million of these funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide services for residents, workers and students.

“The city has not waited to get treatment to those who are sick because of the 9/11 attacks, but the federal government must make the long-term investments necessary to ensure that we can continue to conduct vital research and treat those who are sick or who could become sick,” said Deputy Mayor Edward Skyler. “To accomplish that, Congress must pass the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2008.”

The 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2008 would provide a consistent funding stream for 9/11-related treatment and the re-opening of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.

The City of New York has committed $100 million in funds over five years for the 9/11-related health agenda.

The mayor said today that all 15 of the recommendations laid out in the city’s 2007 report, “Addressing the Health Impacts of 9/11” have been completed or are underway. Among those efforts:

Treatment services have been expanded at Bellevue Hospital, Elmhurst Hospital Center and Gouverneur Healthcare Services, where more than 2,800 New Yorkers have been treated for 9/11-related problems.

More than 1,000 New Yorkers have been enrolled in a new financial reimbursement program for people receiving 9/11-related mental health services.

Medical treatment guidelines for treating people exposed to 9/11 contaminants have been distributed to 40,000 health professionals, and health information has been sent regularly to more than 5,000 residents and city employees.

A comprehensive website for 9/11 health information and service listings has been established, and the site has had more than 300,000 visits to date.

“Help is available for people still suffering,” said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Frieden, co-chair of the World Trade Center Medical Working Group.

“Any New Yorker can call 311 or visit the 9/11 health website at http://www.nyc.gov to find information about treatment for a physical ailment or a mental health problem, he said. “Both post traumatic stress disorder and respiratory conditions are still common among those directly exposed. Treatment can help, so please seek care if you’re suffering.”

Jesuits apologize for the rapes, promise to do better

Jesuits apologize for rape by school founder

The Oregonian | Sep 5, 2008

by Maxine Bernstein

A 62-year-old woman, inspired by the courage of serial rapist Richard Gillmore’s victims, showed up this summer at Jesuit headquarters in Portland to report she had been raped three decades ago by a prominent priest who helped start Jesuit High School.

The Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus responded with a statement expressing sorrow for the woman’s pain and acknowledged that the now-deceased priest, the Rev. Joseph Perri, “did not live fully the vows he had professed.” The province also encouraged others who were abused by Perri to come forward.

Perri was one of the founders of Jesuit High School and served as its first principal from April 1956 until 1965. He died in March 1997 at age 77.

“On behalf of all Jesuits, I apologize for Joseph Perri’s failure, and pledge that we will continue to labor to heal past abuses, even while we labor to build a more just future,” the Rev. Patrick J. Lee, of the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, said in a statement.

The 62-year-old woman, a retired grade school teacher, said she brought copies of news stories about Gillmore’s victims when she went to the Jesuit headquarters last month. She said reading those women’s accounts in The Oregonian persuaded her to come forward and report her secret of 30 years.

“Holding like five of the articles in my hand, I just said I need to tell you what happened to me,” the woman said in an interview Friday.

The woman was 32 years old and teaching at a Portland grade school when she met Perri, who was working in the Jesuit province offices.

He took her to his Jesuit cottage near Champoeg State Park, where the sexual assault occurred, she said. She didn’t tell anyone, other than personal counselors in the past five years.

“I think I just went on with life and work” she said, “and pushed it away.”

This summer, she informed her family members and then reported the assault to the Jesuits.

Apparently, there had been some prior complaints involving the priest, though the province declined to give details. The province investigated the woman’s complaint as best as they could and determined it was credible. At the woman’s request, the province said it released a statement “as a means of support and encouragement of all victims of sexual abuse.”

The province acknowledged it also sought to avoid a lawsuit.

“The Oregon-based province seeks a pastoral solution that brings reconciliation and healing before something gets to court,” said Pat Walsh, a province spokesman.

The woman who brought the recent complaint said the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus was supportive. “They were really compassionate and really concerned about my healing,” she said.

Jesuit High School has removed Perri’s name from a school building on its campus and from its annual fundraising appeal. Previously, those contributing $2,500 to $4,999 annually to the high school were deemed part of the “Joseph Perri, S.J. Circle.”

In his statement, Lee wrote, “We are profoundly sorry for the pain caused to this woman and to her family by the actions of this Jesuit, who did not live fully the vows he had professed. Further, I apologize to others who will suffer from these revelations, especially those who knew and trusted Fr. Perri, including the members of his own family. The failure of any of our brothers to live respectfully and chastely harms us all, and for that I am sincerely sorry.”

In Oregon, Jesuit priests teach at colleges and schools and staff more than half a dozen parishes. Perri was a parish administrator of St. Henry Catholic Church in Dexter, a small community southeast of Eugene, during the nine years prior to his death.

Born in Seattle, he was ordained a priest for the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus on June 15, 1951. After serving as a vice principal of Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane, Perri came to Oregon in 1956 to help establish Jesuit High School. When he left as principal in 1965, he became executive vice president and vice president of university relations at Seattle University.

From 1977 to 1983, he worked in Portland as executive assistant to the Jesuit provincial. He then was pastor of St. Luke Parish in Woodburn until 1988, when he moved to St. Henry Catholic Church in Dexter, according to the Catholic Sentinel.

Jesuit High School’s principal, Sandy Satterberg, did not return calls Friday. The school’s communications director, Erika Tuenge, referred questions to the Oregon province.

The woman, now a retired teacher, said she feels empowered by what she did. She plans to participate in a community march in Beaverton today to raise awareness for a nonprofit group that supports rape survivors called Walk A Mile In My Shoes. She also wants to contact Gillmore’s sexual assault victims for support.

“I think a lot of women out there are keeping this story inside of themselves,” she said.

The woman said she was pleased with the statement the Jesuits released, adding, “I felt really relieved and felt so supported. There’s now a certain peace in my mind.”