Daily Archives: October 24, 2008

French EU presidency celebrates Knights of Malta exhibition in the heart of Paris

Titled ‘Between the Battlesword and the Cross: Masterpieces of the Armoury of Malta’, the exhibition is one of the highlights of the cultural season of the French EU Presidency

Times of Malta | Oct 21, 2008

An exhibition that gives a taste of Malta’s rich history as the home of the Knights of St John was opened last night at the Hotel des Invalides in the heart of Paris.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who inaugurated the exhibition, said it not only showcased Malta’s rich cultural history, but it also symbolised the deep and long-standing relationship that exists between France and Malta.

Titled ‘Between the Battlesword and the Cross: Masterpieces of the Armoury of Malta’, the exhibition is one of the highlights of the cultural season of the French EU Presidency and features artefacts from the museums managed by Heritage Malta as well as from the Invalides, the Musée de la Marine, Epernay, and the Royal Armouries, Leeds.

Poster from the Les Invalides military museum complex in Paris.

Among them are suits of armour, cannon, paintings and the sword and dagger of Grand Master La Valette, from the Louvre Museum.

A public conference is also being organised with various speakers from Malta, France and the UK.

Dr Gonzi said that it was by further exploiting its heritage that Malta would like to continue transforming itself into a unique Mediterranean tourist destination.

The Prime Minister praised the collaboration which exists between Malta and France in education. He also observed that France is one of Malta’s top three trading partners and trade between the two countries remains healthy.

“In spite of this, there is still room for improvement. Malta continues to invest in creating an enabling environment that has the potential to foster new business activity with France and attract high quality investment, especially in our fast-growing high value-added sectors.”

Dr Gonzi thanked Maltese Ambassador Vicki Ann Cremona, who together with the respective French and Maltese authorities made this exhibition possible.

“Let us use this exhibition not only as a recollection of our past and common heritage but, it should also engender faith and hope in what is to come in the future through our shared effort and unity.”

The exhibition remains open until January 11.

‘Flying syringe’ mosquitos get Bill Gates funding


The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded 100,000 dollars each on Wednesday to scientists in 22 countries including funding for a Japanese proposal to turn mosquitos into “flying syringes” delivering vaccines.

AFP | 22, 2008

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded 100,000 dollars each on Wednesday to scientists in 22 countries including funding for a Japanese proposal to turn mosquitos into “flying syringes” delivering vaccines.

The charitable foundation created by the founder of software giant Microsoft said in a statement that the grants were designed to “explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve global health.”

The grants were awarded for research into preventing or curing infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis and limiting the emergence of drug resistance.

They are the first round of funding for the Gates Foundation’s “Grand Challenges Explorations,” a five-year 100-million-dollar initiative to “promote innovative ideas in global health.”

The funding was directed to projects that “fall outside current scientific paradigms and could lead to significant advances if successful,” the Gates Foundation statement said.

“We were hoping this program would level the playing field so anyone with a transformational idea could more quickly assess its potential for the benefit of global health,” said Tachi Yamada, president of global health at the Gates Foundation.

The Gates Foundation said 104 grants were awarded from nearly 4,000 proposals. The recipients included universities, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and six private companies.

“It was so hard for reviewers to champion just one great idea that we selected almost twice as many projects for funding as we had initially planned,” Yamada said.

Among the proposals receiving funding was one from Hiroyuki Matsuoka at Jichi Medical University in Japan.

“(Matsuoka) thinks it may be possible to turn mosquitoes that normally transmit disease into ‘flying syringes,’ so that when they bite humans they deliver vaccines,” the Gates Foundation said.

It said Pattamaporn Kittayapong at Mahidol University in Thailand received a grant to “explore new approaches for controlling dengue fever by studying bacteria with natural abilities to limit the disease.”

Founded in 1994, the Seattle, Washington-based Gates Foundation is the largest private philanthropical organization in the world.

NWO Inc: World Depopulation & Eugenics

New York city council extends term limit so mayor Bloomberg can run for a third term

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg addresses the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual winter meeting at the National Building Museum in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008.

Bloomberg welcomed the decision as the “the right choice.”

Reuters | Oct 23, 2008

By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Mayor Michael Bloomberg won the right to seek re-election as New York’s City Council voted on Thursday to extend the two-term limit for elected officials as the city grapples with the global financial crisis.

Bloomberg, a former Wall Street trader and self-made billionaire who was elected in 2001 and in 2005, wants to run again on grounds that his financial experience will be valuable in guiding the city through lean fiscal times ahead.

The 51-member council voted 29-22 to approve the measure. About two-thirds of the council would have been forced out of office under the two-term limit, but they can now run for a third term in the November 2009 election.

Bloomberg welcomed the decision as the “the right choice.”

“Those of us who work on both sides of City Hall must now move forward with the important decisions that face us, particularly finding ways to soften the fallout from the economic downturn and balancing our budget as revenues decline,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

“We have a lot of work to do together to get New York through these tough times,” said Bloomberg, a longtime Democrat who was elected mayor as a Republican but is now an independent.

In 1993 and 1996, New Yorkers voted to limit the mayor and other city officials to two four-year terms. A Quinnipiac University poll on Tuesday found 89 percent of voters say a referendum, not a council vote, should decide the issue.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn told the council that New Yorkers could express any disagreement with the council’s decision at next year’s election by not voting for Bloomberg or other members seeking a third term.

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Scientists try to stop hunger with retooled foods

“Humans are a very messy group to control,” said Alice H. Lichtenstein, a nutritionist at Tufts University.

AP | Oct 23, 2008


LONDON – Want to lose weight? Try eating. That’s one of the strategies being developed by scientists experimenting with foods that trick the body into feeling full.

At the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, England, food expert Peter Wilde and colleagues are developing foods that slow down the digestive system, which then triggers a signal to the brain that suppresses appetite.

“That fools you into thinking you’ve eaten far too much when you really haven’t,” said Wilde. From his studies on fat digestion, he said it should be possible to make foods, from bread to yogurts, that make it easier to diet.

While the research is preliminary, Wilde’s approach to curbing appetite is one that some doctors say could be key in combating the obesity epidemic.

“Being able to switch off appetite would be a big help for people having trouble losing weight,” said Steve Bloom, a professor of investigative medicine at London’s Imperial College, who is not connected to Wilde’s research.

Scientists in North America and elsewhere in Europe are also trying to control appetite, including through chemical injections or implantable devices that interfere with the digestive system.

Bloom said that regulating appetite through modified foods is theoretically possible. Other mechanisms in the body, like cholesterol production, are already routinely tweaked with medicines.

But Bloom warned that controlling appetite may be more challenging. “The body has lots of things to prevent its regulatory mechanisms from being tricked,” he said.

For instance, while certain hormones regulate appetite, the brain also relies on nerve receptors in the stomach to detect the presence of food and tell it when the stomach is full.

Wilde’s research hinges on the body’s mechanisms for digesting fat.

Fat normally gets broken down in the first part of the small intestines. When you eat a high-fat meal, however, the body can only digest the fat entirely further down in the intestines. That sparks a release of hormones that suppress appetite.

Wilde’s approach copies what happens with a high-fat meal: He coats fat droplets in foods with modified proteins from plants, so it takes longer for the enzymes that break down fat to reach it.

That means that the fat isn’t digested until it hits the far reaches of the intestines. At that point, intestinal cells send a signal telling the brain it’s full.

Even though the body hasn’t had a high-fat meal, it suppresses the appetite as if it has. If the fat had been digested earlier in the intestines, no such signal would be sent.

Wilde said the technique should work with any foods that contain fat, like dairy products, precooked sauces, mayonnaise, breads and pastries, and that taste would probably not be affected.

If all goes well, products could be on shelves within a few years, he said.
In another technique, scientists at the University of Newcastle have been testing a seaweed extract called alginate that reduces fat absorption by cutting the level of glucose digested by the body before it gets broken down in the large intestine.

That is somewhat similar to how some diet drugs work, such as orlistat, marketed as Xenical by Roche Holding AG, and Alli by GlaxoSmithKline PLC.

Orlistat blocks fat absorption, but can result in side effects like gas and diarrhea. Scientists think that those side effects could be avoided if fiber intake is increased.

In taste tests by several dozen people, participants found that alginate-enhanced bread tasted as good as or even better than regular bread, said molecular physiology professor Jeffrey Pearson, who is leading the Newcastle research.

“It would be very helpful to reduce people’s calorific levels by stealth, so they don’t notice there’s been a change,” Pearson said. “People don’t want to completely change their lifestyle and stop eating. … This lets them indulge again.”

Food companies and pharmaceutical firms are also exploring ways to tinker with appetite. In 2004, Unilever bought the rights to a South African plant traditionally chewed by tribesman to ward off hunger.

A small study found that people given the plant extract, hoodia gordonii, for 15 days had slashed their food intake by 1,000 calories compared to people on a placebo. A Unilever spokesman said the extract would be added to a food or beverage and could hit the market within a few years.

Not all experts are convinced appetite-stopping foods will be a cure-all for obesity.

“Humans are a very messy group to control,” said Alice H. Lichtenstein, a nutritionist at Tufts University. People are motivated to eat for various reasons, from taste to price to childhood nostalgia, she said.

Other experts worry about how such foods might be regulated once they are available. “If you have this magic bullet, how do you control who gets it? What do you do about anorexics or female adolescents?” asked Peter Fryer, a chemical engineer at the University of Birmingham who also researches modified foods.

But experts agree that foods that cut appetite could be an effective tool against obesity.

“Dieting is an awful bore and most human beings are very gullible,” Bloom said. “We need all the help science can provide.”

Greenspan “shocked” by financial meltdown

Sir Alan Greenspan after receiving his Knight of the British Empire from the Queen Sep 26, 2002

Reuters | Oct 23, 2008

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told Congress on Thursday he is “shocked” at the breakdown in U.S. credit markets and said he was “partially” wrong to resist regulation of some securities.

Despite concerns he had in 2005 that risks were being underestimated by investors, “this crisis, however, has turned out to be much broader than anything I could have imagined,” Greenspan said in remarks prepared for delivery to the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity — myself especially — are in a state of shocked disbelief,” said Greenspan, who stepped down from the Fed in 2006.

With a general election looming November 4, U.S. lawmakers were sharply divided along political lines in either blaming regulators or bickering for failure to prevent the crisis that has gripped financial markets around the world.

“The reasons why we set up your agencies and gave you budget authority to hire people is so you can see problems developing before they become a crisis,” Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, told a panel that included Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox and former U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow.

“To say you just didn’t see it, that just doesn’t satisfy me,” Waxman said.

Republicans, for their part, singled out government sponsored mortgage finance agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for their role in unsettling financial markets and faulted Congress, which has been led by the Democrats since 2006, for failing to pass measures to rein them in sooner.

They angrily protested a decision not to hold a hearing on the mortgage finance firms, which the government took over in September to restore financial health, until two weeks after the election.

Full Story

Europe could boost NATO Afghanistan troop levels

Reuters | Oct 23, 2008

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – European nations could contribute more to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan if Washington poured in more resources itself and provided a compelling strategy, the U.S. ambassador to NATO said on Thursday.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since U.S.-led forces toppled hard-line Taliban Islamist rulers after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States for harboring al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban and other insurgent groups are particularly strong in the south and east of Afghanistan and enjoy safe havens across the border in Pakistan, officials say.

The United States has long called for its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to offer more troops for Afghanistan and to place fewer restrictions, known as “caveats” in alliance jargon, on their operations.

The United States has about 32,000 troops in Afghanistan. Approximately 13,000 of them are in the NATO-led force of more than 50,000 troops.

Kurt Volker, the U.S. NATO ambassador, told reporters he believed other members of the Western security alliance would contribute more to the NATO effort if reassured on the U.S. strategy and commitment.

The Bush administration is engaged in a review of its Afghanistan policy, adding to uncertainty among its allies.

“You right now have allies who are concerned about some developments in Afghanistan and they are not sure what the U.S. is doing — people have talked about some review going on on Afghanistan policy,” Volker said. “Well the Europeans want to know what that’s about. Where does the U.S. come out on this?

“If you have a clear U.S. commitment to Afghanistan and backing that up with U.S. resources and a strategy that makes sense to people … then, yes, we could also get more input from our European allies as well,” Volker said.

Full Story…

U.S. policymakers mull creation of domestic intelligence agency

The RAND Corporation said one option would be for domestic intelligence to operate under the FBI.

•      Nonprofit think tank RAND outlines pros and cons at request of Congress

•      Group says government could create new agency specifically for domestic intel

•      Other option includes agency operating under Homeland Security or FBI

•      September 11 attacks renewed calls for domestic intel to help prevent future ones

CNN | Oct 20, 2008

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The United Kingdom has MI-5, which roots out spies and terrorists in the British Isles.

Canada has CSIS — the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Now Congress is asking: Should the U.S. have its own domestic intelligence agency?

On Monday, at the request of Congress, the RAND Corporation outlined the pros and cons of establishing a domestic intelligence agency. It also discussed different ways to organize a new entity, either as part of an existing department or as a new agency.

But there’s one thing you won’t find in the report — a recommendation on what to do.

“We were not asked to make a recommendation, and this assessment does not do so,” the report says.

Instead, says RAND’s Gregory Treverton, the report provides a “framework” for policymakers to use when deciding whether and how to reorganize counter-intelligence efforts at home.

RAND is a nonprofit think tank seeking to help improve policy and decision making through objective research and analysis.

Collecting intelligence domestically always has been a sensitive issue, at least partially because of episodic abuses by the government, notably against civil rights leaders, unions, antiwar organizations or even communists and hate groups.

But the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks renewed calls for increased domestic intelligence to prevent future attacks. Critics said that in the lead-up to the attacks, the FBI devalued counterterrorism agents and failed to heed signs that an attack was imminent.

“If you didn’t carry a gun, you didn’t count so much,” Treverton said.

After the attacks, the FBI moved to transform its primary mission from law enforcement to counterterrorism intelligence and prevention. It now focuses on terrorism through its National Security Branch and the National Counterterrorism Center.

The RAND report focuses on two options to the current system.

In one, a new agency would be created using intelligence agencies from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and intelligence community. A second option is to create an “agency within an agency” in the FBI or DHS.

The first option would result in an organization with a clear, unambiguous mission, and might be able to draw on a more diverse recruitment pool, such as linguists and historians who are not normally attracted to law enforcement. On the flip side, such massive reorganizations typically involve political compromises that could affect its performance.

The second option — an “agency within an agency” — could involve less short-term disruption, but could be hindered by a “lack of clarity of a single mission,” the report says.

RAND also suggests a range of actions short of reorganization that could improve domestic intelligence gathering, such as increasing resources, improving leadership and changing bureaucratic cultures.

The report does not assess the FBI’s performance since 9/11, Treverton said, but he believes Congress should seek an independent assessment.

A panel of experts that RAND convened guessed that the probability of a terrorist attack had decreased about one-third since the September 11, 2001. But “they were not enthusiastic about alternatives” to current counterterrorism organizations.

In a cautionary note, the report says that while public acceptance of domestic intelligence activities is imperative, public attitudes about what is considered acceptable “can both be fragile and shift significantly over time.”

“Public demand for domestic intelligence is driven by the perceived threat, and those perceptions can change much more rapidly than the threat itself,” the report says. For instance, immediately after the 9/11 attacks, 49 percent of people surveyed were worried “a great deal” about more attacks. Two years later, that had dropped to 25 percent.


The RAND Corporation

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The RAND Corporation (Research ANd Development is a nonprofit global policy think tank first formed to offer research and analysis to the United States armed forces. The organization has since expanded to working with other governments, private foundations, international organizations, and commercial organizations.

RAND was set up in 1946 by the United States Army Air Forces as Project RAND, under contract to the Douglas Aircraft Company, and in May 1946 they released the Preliminary Design of an Experimental World-Circling Spaceship. In May 1948, Project RAND was separated from Douglas and became an independent non-profit organization. Initial capital for the split came from the Ford Foundation.

Current areas of expertise include: child policy, civil and criminal justice, education, environment and energy, health, international policy, labor markets, national security, infrastructure, energy, environment, corporate governance, economic development, intelligence policy, long-range planning, crisis management and disaster preparation, population and regional studies, science and technology, social welfare, terrorism, arts policy, and transportation.

Notable RAND participants over the last 60 years

▪     Henry H. Arnold — General, United States Air Force — RAND founder

▪     Harold L. Brode — physicist, leading nuclear weapons effects expert

▪     Samuel Cohen — inventor of the neutron bomb in 1958

▪     James F. Digby — American Military Strategist, author of first treatise on precision guided munitions 1949 – 2007

▪     Donald Wills Douglas, Sr. — President, Douglas Aircraft Company — RAND founder

▪     Francis Fukuyama — academic and author of The End of History and the Last Man

▪     H. Rowen Gaither, Jr. — Chairman of the Board, 1949-1959; 1960-1961

▪     Herman Kahn — theorist on nuclear war and one of the founders of scenario planning

▪     Zalmay Khalilzad — U.S. Ambassador to United Nations

▪     Henry Kissinger— US Secretary of State (1973-1977); National Security Advisor (1969-1975); Nobel Peace Prize Winner (1973)

▪     Lewis “Scooter” Libby — Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff

▪     Andrew W. Marshall — military strategist, director of the US DoD Office of Net Assessment

▪     Arthur E. Raymond — Chief Engineer, Douglas Aircraft Company — RAND founder

▪     Condoleezza Rice — former trustee 1991–1997 and current Secretary of State for the United States (as of May 2006), former intern

▪     Donald Rumsfeld — Chairman of Board from 1981–1986; 1995-1996 and Secretary of Defense for the United States from 1975 to 1977 and 2001 to 2006.

▪     James Schlesinger — former Secretary of Defense and former Secretary of Energy

▪     James Steinberg — Deputy National Security Advisor to Bill Clinton

▪  William Webster — Chairman of the Board, 1959-1960

RAND Official Website