Daily Archives: October 28, 2008

Some see dangers in all-seeing eye of Big Brother government

New surveillance plans remind some of ‘1984’ and prompt warnings

New technological advances are giving government the ability to track people “every second of every day, in everything we do”.

Chicago Tribune | Oct 27, 2008

‘Big Brother’ bothers Britain

By Laurie Goering

LONDON—Each day, the average London resident is filmed 300 times as he or she walks their children to school, takes the train to the office or relaxes after work at a sidewalk cafe. Britain has 4.2 million closed-circuit surveillance cameras, one for every 15 people in the country, security experts say.

In a nation that, like the United States, worries about the potential for terrorist attacks as well as regular crime, most people are hardly bothered by the lack of privacy.

“I wouldn’t say I’m worried by it. It’s become a way of life,” said Louise Hughes, a lawyer living in south London. “Its very presence is a reassurance.”

But a new round of government proposals—to dramatically expand surveillance and data collection and to strengthen other anti-terror measures—has some public officials warning that the government must not go too far in this city where George Orwell set “1984,” the famous novel about the dangers of an all-seeing “Big Brother” government.

“We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom’s back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security state,” warned Sir Ken Macdonald, Britain’s director of public prosecutions, in a speech last week.

Surveillance data have helped Macdonald’s office successfully prosecute 90 percent of terrorism cases, he said, a conviction rate far higher than that in the U.S.

But new technological advances are giving government the ability to track people “every second of every day, in everything we do,” he warned. Before passing laws permitting the government to do just that, “we should take very great care to imagine the world we are creating before we build it. We might end up living with something we can’t bear.”

Like Chicago, London has an ever-growing number of discreet security cameras keeping an eye on schools, trains and city streets, particularly in high-crime areas. A growing number of London’s cameras can automatically read license plates on cars, compare passing faces to those of criminal suspects and notify authorities about suspicious behaviors.

British spy agencies, like those in the U.S., also have access to telephone records.

But Britain’s government wants to begin keeping databases of e-mails sent, calls made on Skype, exchanges on social networking sites, chats on gaming sites, communications made through eBay and a variety of other Internet interactions.

In addition, the government proposes to begin requiring registration of all mobile phones in the country—today more than half are unregistered pre-paids—and it hopes to issue a national identity card for everyone living in Britain, with details stored on a central database. It also proposes giving each newborn child an identity number that will follow them through life.

Jacqui Smith, Britain’s home secretary, has called such changes “vital” to the country’s anti-terrorism efforts. She emphasizes that the content of e-mails and phone calls would not be recorded. But with more and more people—including terrorists—exchanging information online through a multitude of “chatting” options, tracking the flow of communication on the Web is crucial, she said.

“The communication revolution has been rapid in this country, and the way in which we intercept communications and collect communication data needs to change too,” she said in a speech this month. “If it does not, we will lose this vital capability that we currently have and all take for granted.”

Privacy protections and civil liberties have eroded around the world in recent years as nations struggle to balance cherished freedoms with efforts to effectively combat terrorism.

The Bush administration has been heavily criticized for setting up in Cuba the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for terror suspects, and Privacy International, a London-based privacy watchdog group, has criticized Congress for approving a presidential spy program that lets the government track any overseas communications on U.S. e-mail providers including Gmail and Hotmail.

Britain’s government, faced with a revolt by legislators, recently dropped plans to extend detention of terror suspects without charge from 28 to 42 days. But, in a separate initiative, it appears to be pressing ahead with plans to issue national identity cards that would include chips holding biometric data like fingerprints and photos. A former head of Britain’s MI5 domestic spy agency last week called such an effort an overreaction to terrorist threats.

“The British, like the Americans, know there are terrorist cells out there that want to cause mayhem. But they don’t yet know how to strike a balance between doing what is absolutely necessary to stop those attacks and preserving the civil liberties that are the essence of Western civilization,” said Robin Shepherd, a foreign policy expert at Chatham House, a leading London think tank.

Britain’s government has shown some signs of responding to the growing criticism. Many of the security changes, once expected to be formally proposed this year, are now being delayed until next year, officials say, and some may be revised.

Critics of the measures say they hope the plans will ultimately be either scaled back or abandoned altogether.

“Decisions taken in the next few months and years … are likely to be irreversible. They will be with us forever,” Macdonald warned.

The better route to standing up to terrorists, he suggested, “is to strengthen our institutions rather than to degrade them.”

Today’s smokers more addicted to nicotine than ever before

Study: 73 percent of those trying to quit are highly dependent

MSNBC | Oct 28, 2008

WASHINGTON – Smokers who are seeking medical treatment to give up cigarettes are more highly addicted to nicotine than smokers who sought help two decades ago, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

The researchers examined nicotine dependence levels of about 600 smokers who entered treatment programs in northern California to quit smoking during three periods starting in 1989 and ending in 2006.

Seventy-three percent of those seeking medical help to quit smoking in 2005 to 2006 were deemed highly nicotine dependent using scores from a questionnaire given to assess the severity of nicotine addiction, the researchers said.

That compares to 55 percent of those seeking such help from 1989 to 1990 and 66 percent of those seeking treatment in 1994, Dr. David Sachs of the Palo Alto Center for Pulmonary Disease Prevention in California told a meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians.

Sachs said the findings suggest nicotine dependence is worsening among U.S. smokers as a whole, although researchers don’t know why.

More nicotine in cigarettes

A report published by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in 2006 found that levels of nicotine in most cigarettes rose by nearly 10 percent from 1998 to 2004.

Medical treatment to help people quit smoking may include nicotine replacement therapy such as a patch that delivers nicotine through the skin and into the bloodstream, nicotine gums, nasal sprays and inhalers, and antidepressant medication that raises the level of a brain chemical called dopamine.

The new study’s findings are “important because what studies have consistently shown is that the more physically dependent a cigarette smoker is, the more intensive the treatment needs to be if the patient is going to be able to have a good treatment outcome and be able to stop smoking,” Sachs said in a telephone interview.

“If you look at all of the cigarette smokers that we have around the United States, roughly three-fourths of them are going to be highly physically nicotine dependent,” Sachs said.

An estimated 21 percent of U.S. adults — 45 million people — are smokers, including 24 percent of men and 18 percent of women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The questionnaire, used to determine the degree of a person’s of nicotine dependence, asked a smoker a number of questions such as whether they smoke their first cigarette within 30 minutes of waking up in the morning.

Other questions include whether they find it difficult to refrain from smoking in places where it is forbidden, how many cigarettes they smoke daily and whether they smoke even when they are so ill that they are bed-ridden.

Research seeks to replace service dogs with robots

EE Times | Oct 28, 2008

By R. Colin Johnson

PORTLAND, Ore. — Service dogs assist the disabled by fetching medications and opening drawers and doors, but they are expensive–about $16,000 per dog. They also take two years to train and there are not enough service dogs to meet the growing demand.

By designing a robot that obeys the same verbal commands as service dogs, Georgia Tech researchers said they are aiming to increase the supply of inexpensive robots to fill the multi-year waiting list for service dogs.

“There are a lot of things that able-bodied people take for granted that people with disabilities are just not able to do, or have difficulty with,” said Charlie Kemp, a professor in Georgia Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. “We have been looking for awhile now at how can we make robots that can help them.”

The first phase of the research yielded a point-and-click laser that allows the disabled to gesture by painting the object to be fetched with a laser pointer. The device directs the robot to see the object needed.

The simple interface allows disabled persons to accurately indicate objects to be fetched. By itself, however, it cannot communicate more complex tasks like opening a door or drawer. Luckily, verbal commands already exist for service dogs to accomplish these tasks, which is what prompted Kemp to develop the robotic service dog.

Georgia Tech’s robot obeys the same commands as service dogs to help disabled people perform tasks.

“We developed this laser pointer interface so the robot can go and fetch objects for people, where they would command therobot by just pointing at things,” said Kemp. “We wanted to integrate verbal communications with the pointing, and it turns out that is exactly how people interact with dogs–they gesture and then they give a verbal command. So we were able to combine our laser pointer, that’s used as a gesture, with just a short verbal command which is identical [to] what’s used with dogs.”

The initial prototype used off-the-shelf robotic components combined with a custom manipulator that emulates a dog’s mouth. Service dogs accomplish tasks that would ordinarily require complex hand motions. Towels are often attached to door knobs and drawer handles so that service dogs can open them on command.

By designing a robotic manipulator with a camera to zero in on the towels, along with sensors to measure the pressure exerted to grip them, the robot is able to perform the same tasks as a service dog, Kemp said.

Maltese freemasons go public on the internet

Bribery allegations against former Magistrate Patrick Vella and former Chief Justice Noel Arrigo, rekindled the debate on the alleged close links between the judiciary and freemasonry, when TVM programme Bondiplus aired secret footage of Maltese freemasons gathered in ritual.

Malta Today | Oct 26, 2008

by Matthew Vella

After years of notoriety as a secret society, and a raging debate over the alleged membership of public officials, Malta’s freemasons have gone public with a fully-fledged website describing their activities, history and also their statute.

Malta’s freemasons now welcome the public to go beyond its portrayal “as a secret, self-serving, or sinister society”, to one whose motivation centres on “humility, tolerance, and charity”.

Malta’s lodges from the English, Scottish and Irish Constitutions congregated in one single Grand Lodge in 2004, when the Leinster, Abercorn and Fenici lodges of the Irish Constitution resolved to create a Maltese grand lodge, with ‘Brother’ Joseph P. Cordina as its “most worshipful grand master”.

And with that comes a more transparent approach to their activities, after years attracting some of the most sensationalist of coverage.

“We abide by the laws of the State and are critical of those in violation, and expect similar from those around us. We recognise there are some who regard our titling of officers, our terminology, our formal dress codes, and our conduct, as rather quaint in a modern society: but we are unapologetic in adhering to our traditions,” the grand master writes in his welcoming statement.

Freemasonry was largely viewed with suspicion in Malta, mainly due to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and its antipathy towards masonic lodges.

The acrimonious relationship was best characterised when Lord Gerald Strickland, the leader of the Constitutional Party, was said to have been seen wearing the freemasons’ garb, in an affidavit signed by Ettore Bono, who was working as a waiter during a freemasons’ activity in Valletta.

The pre-electoral effect of ‘Terinu’, as Bono was nicknamed, was devastating for Strickland.

Then in 1990, news that Magistrate Carol Peralta had been the “Worshipful Master” of Leinster lodge before being appointed magistrate, fuelled speculation about the impartiality of public officers.

A decade later, the bribery allegations against former Magistrate Patrick Vella and former Chief Justice Noel Arrigo, rekindled the debate on the alleged close links between the judiciary and freemasonry, when TVM programme Bondiplus aired secret footage of Maltese freemasons gathered in ritual.

That turbulent period does not go unnoticed in the Sovereign Grand Lodge’s ‘history’ in its website:

“The autumn of 2002 was to provide an unlikely catalyst for changes in matters Masonic on Malta. The national television channel aired a sensationalist ‘exposé’ programme, based on secretly filmed Masonic Lodge proceedings by a brother,” with reference to the secret footage filmed by the private investigator Joe Zahra – a former freemason who at the time worked for the Bondiplus team.

The freemasons say the programme “served to embarrass Maltese masons living and working in a dominantly Catholic environment known to disfavour freemasonry. An understandable furore over disciplinary action ensued and there can be no doubt but that wavering opinions as to the potential creation of an independent Maltese Grand Lodge were swayed in favour at this time.”
Since that time however, Maltese freemasonry does not seem to have dwindled, with three subordinate lodges, the Hospitaliers Lodge, the Ars Discendi Lodge, and the Loggia Flos Mundi, being constituted in recent years.

The grand lodge’s main quarters is at Casa Viani in Valletta, which housed the Lodge of St John and St Paul, founded in 1815 by Walter Rodwell Wright, Chief Justice of Malta from 1814 to 1826.

Related

Freemasonry in Malta

Many knights of the Order of St. John and some of the Maltese nobility were freemasons. In 1756, the Grand Master of the Order was a freemason named E. Pinto de Fonseca. De Rohan, who was Grandmaster of the Order of St. John between 1775 and 1797, is reported also to have been a freemason, and is said to have helped the spread of freemasonry in Malta and to have been heavily censured by the Roman Catholic Church in Rome. The first Masonic lodges operated in Malta under French warrants generally obtained from Marseilles, but under the guidance of Count von Kollowrat, the Scotch Lodge of St. John of Marseilles petitioned the Grand Lodge of the Moderns in England to obtain an English warrant on the 30th June, 1788. This lodge noted in its petition that the most important members of the Order of St. John ranked amongst its membership. The lodge obtained an English warrant as the Lodge of St. John of Secrecy and Harmony.

Yes, global warming “is just propaganda”

A former editor of New Scientist, Nigel Calder has written three books on climate change. His latest is The Chilling Stars (Icon Books) co-authored with the Danish physicist Henrik Svensmark and described by The Times as ‘the new totem of the climate-change sceptics’.

News Letter | Oct 3, 2008

by Nigel Calder

Worldwide interest in my quite run-of-the-mill comment, on the need to debate the manmade global warming hypothesis, is pleasing but not surprising. It confirms that my fellow science writers have miscalculated badly. Most readers don’t want endless
scare stories about climatic doom, accompanied by authoritarian lectures about their carbon footprints. They’re hungry for a variety of opinions.

Unfortunately only 1% of the huge number of articles on climate change in the posh London newspapers deviate from the official line of the Intergovernmental Panel. That’s not my reckoning. It comes from researchers at Oxford University who complain about the more balanced reporting in the not-so-posh papers, with a deviancy rate of 23%. They say it has ‘skewed public understanding of human contributions to climate change’. In other words, kindly abandon the journalistic principle that different points of views should be heard on controversial matters, or else a lot of dreadful people out there (you or me) may not truly believe that climate change is their fault.

Yes, you’ve got it. Man-made global warming is just propaganda. My father Ritchie Calder was a science writer too, but during the Second World War he played a leading part in Allied propaganda against Nazi Germany. He told me quite a lot about the tricks, employed in what was then a good cause. Now I watch them being used every day by the global wamers.

For example: exaggerate small facts. A brilliant wartime example came when someone in occupied Belgium was chalking V on public walls. He meant V for Vrijheid, or freedom. But London announced that in occupied Europe people were writing V for Victory everywhere. So people listening secretly to the BBC went out and did just that, to annoy the Germans and hearten their neighbours.

The polar bears qualify as a similarly astute exaggeration from the global warming camp. Some years ago, a small family of bears was caught in a violent storm, and drowned. That could have happened a hundred or a thousand years ago. But no, the Disneyesque sob story is put about, by Al Gore and others, that bears are drowning because the Arctic ice is melting. Total rubbish, because the polar bears are thriving. But it’s dazzling propaganda.

Related

Global cooling soon to replace global warming

Another technique is to hush up unfavourable news. In wartime that can mean not informing even the bereaved relatives if an important warship has sunk without the enemy knowing. Again the polar ice provides a modern parallel. Last year you were told – shock, horror! — that Arctic sea ice was at its lowest extent since satellite measurements began. What went unreported was that Antarctic sea ice was simultaneously at a record high. The collusion of my fellow journalists in the deception is disturbing. Although the big freeze in Antarctica was plainly announced in a press release from the US weather bureau, NOAA, not a single newspaper in North America or Europe carried this unfavourable story.

My Dad’s chief opponent was Hitler’s propaganda minister Josef Goebbels. Among many meditations on his craft, he wrote, ‘The English follow the principle that when you lie, you should lie big, and stick to it.’ And of course Goebbels did the same himself – most wickedly in the case of the Jews.

One big lie about climate change is that man-made global warming is proven scientifically. Not so. On the contrary, any objective physicist would say that the evidence is strongly against it. The very mechanism for the supposed greenhouse warming, reinforced by that extra CO2, requires tropical air temperatures to rise faster at high altitudes (6 miles above the ground) than they do lower down. Weather balloons that routinely carry thermometers to those heights and beyond have shown no such trend over recent decades.

That negative result was an important element of what I had in mind when remarking, in my comment last Monday, that the scientific evidence is far stronger for a rival explanation of climate change. It’s the discovery that the Sun controls the cosmic rays that help to make the Earth’s clouds. The supporting observations and experiments are explained in simple terms by Dr Henrik Svensmark and me in our book The Chilling Stars.

The biggest lie of all, breathtaking in its audacity, is the insistence that mankind’s misbehaviour means that global warming is getting worse. The measurements for August 2008 are just in, and they confirm the world is distinctly cooler this year than last. It’s fair enough to argue about whether the Earth’s temperature has stopped rising, or merely paused, or gone into reverse. But the key fact is that, despite that indisputable increase of CO2 in the air, the Earth is no warmer now than it was 12 years ago.

Chuck Baldwin & Ron Paul are write-in candidates in California

NewsWithViews.com | Oct 27, 2008

by Sarah Foster

It’s official. Voters in the Golden State will be able to cast a ballot for Rev. Chuck Baldwin or Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) on Nov. 4. In a list posted Friday, California’s Secretary of State named both as certified write-in candidates for President, along with James Harris, of the Socialist Workers Party, and Frank Moore, independent.

This means that write-in votes for Baldwin and Paul in California will be counted, as will those for Harris and Moore, although it could be weeks before the actual numbers are reported.

“This is truly participatory democracy, something everyone talks about but seldom has the chance to do anything about,” said Gail Lightfoot of San Luis Obispo, a former chair of the Libertarian Party of California, who spearheaded the drive to gather the signatures needed to qualify Paul, and is listed as the vice-presidential candidate.

“Now if only a write-in candidate had a real chance to win the election. That would really change America in a very positive way,” she said.

Lightfoot’s efforts to qualify the Texas congressman as a write-in candidate has not been without its critics. There are concerns that this will take votes away from Baldwin, the Constitution Party’s nominee, that Paul endorsed last month, or from Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman from Georgia who is running for president on the Libertarian Party ticket.

Paul has also urged voters who are dissatisfied with the two major parties and their nominees to cast their votes for candidates of ballot-qualified third-parties — such as the Constitution and Libertarian parties — because write-in votes in many states are not counted.

But for Paul and Baldwin the political situation in California is different in certain respects from most other states.

First, votes for write-in candidates are counted if certain requirements are met — and they were. Namely, a slate of 55 presidential elector candidates must be filed on behalf of any write-in presidential candidate, and each of the 55 candidates must fill out and have notarized a declaration-of-candidacy form. However, the presidential candidate does not have to file a statement; and while Baldwin and his running mate Darrell Castle filed forms, Ron Paul did not.

Second, neither Baldwin’s name nor the Constitution Party are on the California ballot. Instead, Alan Keyes — a former ambassador to the United Nations — is the presidential candidate for the American Independent Party, the state affiliate of the Constitution Party.

The only way Baldwin himself can receive any votes in that state and have those votes counted is as an official write-in candidate. Had he not obtained write-in status, voters who supported Paul but are willing to vote for Baldwin were he on the ballot, would have been completely out of luck, along with those AIP members who might prefer to vote for Baldwin rather than Keyes.

Chuck Baldwin’s California Dilemma

But what’s going on here? Why is Keyes running instead of Baldwin on the AIP ticket, forcing the latter to go the write-in route.

According to an entry in Wikipedia, the American Independent Party has been the California affiliate of the national Constitution Party (formerly the U.S. Taxpayers Party), since 1992, but it is a separate organization. Earlier this year a faction within the AIP broke with the Constitution Party and gave the ballot line (which it controlled) to Alan Keyes, candidate of the similarly-named America’s Independent Party he had founded.

The dustup occurred at the Constitution Party’s national convention in Kansas City this past April. After three failed bids for the GOP’s presidential nomination (in 1996, 2000 and 2008), Keyes decided to throw his hat in the ring for top-spot on the CP ticket, although he had had little to do with the party before then and later admitted he never actually joined.

But while Keyes is a celebrity, recognized nation-wide for his fiery speech-making, Baldwin is better known within the party itself. In addition to being a talk-show host and syndicated columnist (his columns appear regularly in NewsWithViews.com and other publications), he was the party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2004. More importantly, his views are in sync with what the CP stands for as stated in its Platform.

Insiders within the CP say Keyes’ views are simply not a “good fit” with the party’s Platform and principles.

So it wasn’t surprising that in what observers describe as one of the most contentious convention battles in the CP’s 16-year history, Baldwin won by a wide margin, 384-to-126. Nonetheless, his victory over Keyes has been reported as being something of an upset.

In his acceptance speech, Baldwin tried to reach out to Keyes whom he considered a friend, asking him to work with the CP. But Keyes was not about to shake hands and endorse his opponent.

“No way, no how,” he told Prime Buzz, a politically-oriented section of the Kansas City Star newspaper. “[Baldwin’s] policies of appeasement and non-involvement [in foreign affairs] are irresponsible and unsustainable.”

But Constitution Party spokeswoman Mary Starrett sharply disagreed, and explained to reporters that Keyes “doesn’t square up on our platform on some very serious issues” — one of which is the war in Iraq.

Party members want to get out of the unconstitutional war now, while Keyes wasn’t as eager to withdraw, Starrett said.

Another key difference — Prime Buzz noted — was over U.S. membership in the United Nations. Starrett and other party members hold that the Constitution does not sanction the U.N. and that the U.S. needs not only to pull out of the body, but “kick its headquarters out of the country.” This is stated unequivocally in the Foreign Policy section of the CP Platform. (A similar plank demanding withdrawal from the U.N. was in the Libertarian Party Platform from its founding in 1972, but has recently been deleted).

Keyes had apparently not read the Platform, or if he had did not agree with it, and said such a move would be “unconstitutional” because U.S. treaties provide for America’s involvement with the U.N.

Clearly, certain lines were drawn in the sand at Kansas City and extended all the way to California where a faction within the AIP named Keyes as the party’s nominee — leaving Baldwin off the ballot in a key state. Being a write-in candidate may help overcome some of the damage, but his total vote count there will not be as great as could otherwise be expected.

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Officials Urge Florida Residents To Prepare For Record Low Temperatures

Related

Global Cooling: Record Low Temperatures Hit America

Global warming apocalypse debunked as big chill sets in

Record low temperatures have hit dozens of areas across America as a natural period of global cooling accelerates, leaving man-made global warming advocates with egg on their face as the big chill sets in.

Low temps drop near 1890 record

* * *

Cold Weather Forecasted For S. Fla. Tuesday

NBC6 | Oct 27, 2008

TALLAHASSE, Fla. — State officials are warning Florida residents to prepare for a cold front that is heading to the state Monday night.

State emergency management and fire officials are urging residents throughout Florida to check their heating appliances, smoke detectors and chimneys in preparation for significantly colder temperatures that will plunge into the state Monday night behind an arctic cold front.

NBC 6 meteorologist Trina Robinson said South Florida residents should expect “slightly cooler weather with a lower humidity” by Monday evening.

“This is going to be the coolest weather we’ve seen all season long and we really deserve it because we’ve had the heat and humidity all summer long thus far and it hasn’t felt like fall at all and summertime was really oppressive,” Robinson said.

Temperatures will drop down in South Florida to a low of 59 degrees. There will be mostly clear skies, but it will be breezy and cooler, Robinson said.

Officials said that by taking basic safety precautions, residents could reduce their chances of fire, property damage and loss of life.

“Record cold temperatures for late October will be possible on Tuesday and Wednesday nights statewide,” state meteorologist Ben Nelson said in a press release. “Freeze advisories will likely be issued by the National Weather Service for Tuesday night for most of north Florida, and wind chills may drop into the 30s as far south as interior south Florida. To ward off these winter-like temperatures, many residents may be turning on heaters and using fireplaces for the first time this fall and we are urging them to do so safely.”

Officials said that residents should check the operation of their smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and replace old batteries if necessary.

Electrical extension cords need to be in proper condition and correct rating for the heater. Homeowner should not overload wall plugs and individual circuits with multiple appliances, officials said.

Officials said that residents should take precautions since there are more than 65 fires in Florida homes every day. Last year, 198 Floridians died from fire-related causes and at least 750 were injured, officials said.

Of the structure fires reported in 2007 to the State Fire Marshal’s Office, only forty-one percent had a smoke detector. Thirty-nine percent had no smoke detector, and it could not be determined in twenty percent of the fires, officials said.