Daily Archives: February 12, 2009

U.S., Russia: A Mysterious Satellite Collision

Statistically speaking, the enormous scale of space makes the chance that this kind of direct collision would occur completely by accident infinitesimal.

Stratfor | Feb 12, 2009

A U.S. Iridium communications satellite and an old Russian communications relay satellite collided over Siberia on Feb. 10, according to reports that surfaced late Feb. 11. Nicholas Johnson, NASA’s chief scientist for orbital debris at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael Carey, deputy director of global operations with U.S. Strategic Command, have both confirmed the incident. Iridium Satellite LLC, which provides satellite phone service, has released a statement acknowledging the collision.

Multiple sources have now reported the collision. Some 600 pieces of debris are already being tracked from the event, which reportedly took place over northern Siberia at an altitude of 491 miles. This is well within the most popular band of low Earth orbit for satellites. The collision appears to have involved the Iridium 33 (NORAD ID 24946) communications satellite, launched in 1997, which had been reported by Iridium to be operational. The Russian craft was the Cosmos 2251 (NORAD ID 22675) communications relay satellite, launched in 1993 and widely reported to be nonoperational.

This is the first case in history of two satellites colliding. The orbital altitude where the collision took place is among the most crowded in low Earth orbit, but statistically speaking, the enormous scale of space makes the chance that this kind of direct collision would occur completely by accident infinitesimal.

This unlikelihood is compounded by the fact that the U.S. Air Force Space Surveillance Network provides space situational awareness and tracks some 18,000 satellites, orbital debris and other objects orbiting the earth. Though the network’s tracking of each of these objects is not constant, all objects of a certain size or larger are catalogued; potential collisions or near misses are generally spotted, and satellites can usually be maneuvered to avoid them.

As an operational satellite providing regular service, Iridium 33’s orbit should have been stable. (Iridium has said that its global service has been only minimally affected.) The same is true of Cosmos 2251, even though it is likely slowly decaying. Stratfor notes this event first and foremost as anomalous — an important part of the intelligence process. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.

10 Diseases Linked To Soda

Mercola.com | Feb 10, 2009

coke-pepsiStatistics shows that Americans drink more soda than ever before. They account for more than 25 percent of all drinks consumed in the United States. More than 15 billion gallons were sold in 2000 — about one 12-ounce can per day for every man, woman and child.


But here’s some information that may keep you away from opening the can:

1. Extra pounds

Soda is a significant contributor to obesity. Drinking a single can a day of sugary drinks translates to more than a pound of weight gain every month. And diet soda is just as likely to cause weight gain as regular, or even more — it may sound counterintuitive, but people who drink diet soft drinks actually don’t lose weight. Artificial sweeteners induce a whole set of physiologic and hormonal responses that actually make you gain weight.

2. Liver damage

Soda damages your liver. Consumption of too many soft drinks puts you under increased risk for liver cirrhosis similar to the increased risk faced by chronic alcoholics.

3. Tooth decay

Soda dissolves tooth enamel. Soft drinks are responsible for doubling or tripling the incidence of tooth decay. Soda’s acidity is even worse for teeth than the solid sugar found in candy.

4. Kidney stones and chronic kidney disease

Colas of all kinds are well known for their high phosphoric acid content, a substance that changes the urine in a way that promotes kidney stone formation. Drinking one quart (less than three 12-ounce cans) of soda per week may increase your risk of developing kidney stones by 15 percent.

5. Diabetes

Anything that promotes weight gain increases the risk of diabetes. Drinking soda also stresses your body’s ability to process sugar. Some scientists now suspect that this may explain why the number of Americans with type 2 diabetes has tripled from 6.6 million in 1980 to 20.8 million today.

6. Heartburn & acid reflux

Heavy consumption of soda is a strong predictor of heartburn. Many carbonated beverages are very acidic. They also deliver a lot of air in the form of carbon dioxide, which can cause distension of your stomach. And that distension appears to be associated with more reflux.

7. Soft drinks = Soft Bones = Osteoporosis

Soft drinks containing phosphoric acid are definitely linked to osteoporosis (a weakening of your skeletal structure) because they lead to lower calcium levels and higher phosphate levels in your blood. When phosphate levels are high and calcium levels are low, calcium is pulled out of your bones.

8. Hypertension (high blood pressure)

Experts have reasons to believe that overconsumption of soda leads to an increase in blood pressure. It doesn’t matter if the soda is regular or diet.

9. Heart disease

Heavy soda drinkers are more likely to develop risk factors for heart disease. Research shows that drinking more than one soft drink a day is associated with an increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome — a group of symptoms such as central obesity, elevated blood pressure, elevated fasting blood sugar, elevated fasting triglycerides, and low levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol. Having three or more of the symptoms increases your risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

10. Impaired digestion (gastrointestinal distress)

Gastrointestinal distress includes increased stomach acid levels requiring acid inhibitors, and moderate to severe gastric inflammation with possible stomach lining erosion. Drinking sodas, especially on an empty stomach, can upset the fragile acid-alkaline balance of your stomach and other gastric lining, creating a continuous acid environment. This prolonged acid environment can lead to inflammation of your stomach and duodenal lining.

Full Story

Pentagon Spending Billions on PR to Sway World Opinion

pentagon-logo-bgAssociated Press finds that over the past five years, the money the military spends on winning hearts and minds at home and abroad has grown by 63 percent, to at least $4.7 billion this year

The fastest-growing part of the military media is “psychological operations,” where spending has doubled since 2003.

AP | Feb 5, 2009

WASHINGTON– As it fights two wars, the Pentagon is steadily and dramatically increasing the money it spends to win what it calls “the human terrain” of world public opinion. In the process, it is raising concerns of spreading propaganda at home in violation of federal law.

An Associated Press investigation found that over the past five years, the money the military spends on winning hearts and minds at home and abroad has grown by 63 percent, to at least $4.7 billion this year, according to Department of Defense budgets and other documents. That’s almost as much as it spent on body armor for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2004 and 2006.

This year, the Pentagon will employ 27,000 people just for recruitment, advertising and public relations — almost as many as the total 30,000-person work force in the State Department.

“We have such a massive apparatus selling the military to us, it has become hard to ask questions about whether this is too much money or if it’s bloated,” says Sheldon Rampton, research director for the Committee on Media and Democracy, which tracks the military’s media operations. “As the war has become less popular, they have felt they need to respond to that more.”

Yet the money spent on media and outreach still comes to only 1 percent of the Pentagon budget, and the military argues it is well-spent on recruitment and the education of foreign and American audiences. Military leaders say that at a time when extremist groups run Web sites and distribute video, information is as important a weapon as tanks and guns.

“We have got to be involved in getting our case out there, telling our side of the story, because believe me, al-Qaida and all of those folks … that’s what they are doing on the Internet and everywhere else,” says Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., who chairs the Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee. “Every time a bomb goes off, they have a story out almost before it explodes, saying that it killed 15 innocent civilians.”


On an abandoned Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas, editors for the Joint Hometown News Service point proudly to a dozen clippings on a table as examples of success in getting stories into newspapers.

What readers are not told: Each of these glowing stories was written by Pentagon staff. Under the free service, stories go out with authors’ names but not their titles, and do not mention Hometown News anywhere. In 2009, Hometown News plans to put out 5,400 press releases, 3,000 television releases and 1,600 radio interviews, among other work — 50 percent more than in 2007.

The service is just a tiny piece of the Pentagon’s rapidly expanding media empire, which is now bigger in size, money and power than many media companies.

In a yearlong investigation, The Associated Press interviewed more than 100 people and scoured more than 100,000 pages of documents in several budgets to tally the money spent to inform, educate and influence the public in the U.S. and abroad. The AP included contracts found through the private FedSources database and requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. Actual spending figures are higher because of money in classified budgets.

The biggest chunk of funds — about $1.6 billion — goes into recruitment and advertising. Another $547 million goes into public affairs, which reaches American audiences. And about $489 million more goes into what is known as psychological operations, which targets foreign audiences.

Staffing across all these areas costs about $2.1 billion, as calculated by the number of full-time employees and the military’s average cost per service member. That’s double the staffing costs for 2003.

Recruitment and advertising are the only two areas where Congress has authorized the military to influence the American public. Far more controversial is public affairs, because of the prohibition on propaganda to the American public.

“It’s not up to the Pentagon to sell policy to the American people,” says Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., who sponsored legislation in Congress last year reinforcing the ban.

Spending on public affairs has more than doubled since 2003. Robert Hastings, acting director of Pentagon public affairs, says the growth reflects changes in the information market, along with the fact that the U.S. is now fighting two wars.

“The role of public affairs is to provide you the information so that you can make an informed decision yourself,” Hastings says. “There is no place for spin at the Department of Defense.”

But on Dec. 12, the Pentagon’s inspector general released an audit finding that the public affairs office may have crossed the line into propaganda. The audit found the Department of Defense “may appear to merge inappropriately” its public affairs with operations that try to influence audiences abroad. It also found that while only 89 positions were authorized for public affairs, 126 government employees and 31 contractors worked there.

In a written response, Hastings concurred and, without acknowledging wrongdoing, ordered a reorganization of the department by early 2009.

Another audit, also in December, concluded that a public affairs program called “America Supports You” was conducted “in a questionable and unregulated manner” with funds meant for the military’s Stars and Stripes newspaper.

The program was set up to keep U.S. troops informed about volunteer donations to the military. But the military awarded $11.8 million in contracts to a public relations firm to raise donations for the troops and then advertise those donations to the public. So the program became a way to drum up support for the military at a time when public opinion was turning against the Iraq war.

The audit also found that the offer to place corporate logos on the Pentagon Web site in return for donations was against regulations. A military spokesman said the program has been completely overhauled to meet Pentagon regulations.

“They very explicitly identify American public opinion as an important battlefield,” says Marc Lynch, a professor at George Washington University. “In today’s information environment, even if they were well-intentioned and didn’t want to influence American public opinion, they couldn’t help it.”

In 2003, for example, initial accounts from the military about the rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch from Iraqi forces were faked to rally public support. And in 2005, a Marine Corps spokesman during the siege of the Iraqi city of Fallujah told the U.S. news media that U.S. troops were attacking. In fact, the information was a ruse by U.S. commanders to fool insurgents into revealing their positions.


The fastest-growing part of the military media is “psychological operations,” where spending has doubled since 2003.

Psychological operations aim at foreign audiences, and spin is welcome. The only caveats are that messages must be truthful and must never try to influence an American audience.

In Afghanistan, for example, a video of a soldier joining the national army shown on Afghan television is not attributed to the U.S. And in Iraq, American teams built and equipped media outlets and trained Iraqis to staff them without making public the connection to the military.

Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, director of strategic communications for the U.S. Central Command, says psychological operations must be secret to be effective. He says that in the 21st century, it is probably not possible to win the information battle with insurgents without exposing American citizens to secret U.S. propaganda.

“We have to be pragmatic and realistic about the game that we play in terms of information, and that game is very complex,” he says.

The danger of psychological operations reaching a U.S. audience became clear when an American TV anchor asked Gen. David Petraeus about the mood in Iraq. The general held up a glossy photo of the Iraqi national soccer team to show the country united in victory.

Behind the camera, his staff was cringing. It was U.S. psychological operations that had quietly distributed tens of thousands of the soccer posters in July 2007 to encourage Iraqi nationalism.

With a new administration in power, it is not clear what changes may be made. Obama administration officials have said they intend to go through the Department of Defense budget closely to trim bloated spending.

The emphasis on influence operations started with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In 2002, Rumsfeld established an Office of Strategic Influence that brought together public affairs and psychological operations. Critics accused him of setting up a propaganda arm, and Congress demanded that the office be shut down.

Rumsfeld has declined to speak to the press since leaving office, but while defense secretary he spoke bluntly about his desire to revamp the Pentagon’s media operations.

“I went down that next day and said, ‘Fine, if you want to savage this thing, fine, I’ll give you the corpse,”‘ Rumsfeld said on Nov. 18, 2002, according to Defense Department transcripts of a speech he delivered. “‘There’s the name. You can have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.”‘

In 2003, Rumsfeld issued a secret Information Operations Roadmap setting out a plan for public affairs and psychological operations to work together. It noted that with a global media, the military should expect and accept that psychological operations will reach the U.S. public.

“I can tell you there wouldn’t be a single American disappointed with anything that we’ve done that might be out there, that they don’t know about,” says Col. Curtis Boyd, commander of the 4th PSYOP Group, the largest unit of its kind. “Frankly, they probably wouldn’t care because maybe they are safer as a result of it.”

In January 2008, a new report by the Defense Science Board recommended resurrecting the Office of Strategic Influence as the Office of Strategic Communications. But Congress refused to fund the program.

In February, the Army released a new eight-chapter field manual that puts information warfare on par with traditional warfare.

The title of an entire chapter, Chapter 7: “Information Superiority.”

‘Boys and Girls Alone’ documentary condemned as child abuse


A typical scene from “Boys and Girls Alone” (Photo: Daily Mail)

The Times | Feb 12, 2009

By Alexandra Frean and Patrick Foster

Social services have demanded that Channel 4 axe a controversial series in which 20 primary school children are left without adult supervision for a fortnight.

Cornwall Children’s Services Authority said that it would have stopped Boys and Girls Alone being filmed in its area had it known about it. It is considering seeking an injunction to stop more episodes being shown.

Two out of four have been aired, leading to an outcry from child psychologists, who say the programme amounts to “abuse and neglect” of the children, aged 8-11. Left to their own devices in isolated cottages in Cornwall, the youngsters are shown fighting and tormenting each other and dissolving into tears.


In a letter to Channel 4 and the regulator Ofcom, Ruby Parry, the authority’s assistant director for social care and family services, said that the programme raised serious child-protection issues. “Whilst it appears that parental consent was obtained for filming, such consent was, in our view … ill-advised and naive,” she said.

“Some of the children were greatly distressed and this in our view is abusive. This distress has now been publicly broadcast to all of these children’s peers and is therefore likely to have long-term consequences for some of them. In addition, given the current national concerns in relation to the safeguarding of children in this country, it is in our view highly irresponsible for Channel 4 to broadcast a programme which demeans and to some extent demonises children and thus reinforces negative public perceptions of children and their vulnerability.”

Ms Parry said programme-makers had breached laws requiring local authority approval for any child performance. “One of the children involved is from Cornwall but no licence has been sought from this authority. Given that any such application would have resulted in detailed inquiries from the authority about the nature of the programme and the safeguarding issues involved, we can only surmise that this was a deliberate omission.”

Ofcom is investigating after receiving more than 100 complaints. It is understood to have written to Channel 4 to ask why the show was considered appropriate for transmission.

Melanie Gill, a child forensic psychologist, who asked Cornwall social services to investigate, said the programme could cause psychological damage to the participants. “There is deliberate torment by adults of children in obvious distress,” she said. “By exposing these scenes to millions of viewers, the programme-makers are publicly humiliating these children (and their parents) for their failure to cope with what amounts to an abnormal, perverse and cruel money-making peep show.”

Michelle Elliott, a child psychologist and founder of the anti-bullying charity Kidscape, said: “If you put children together, unsupervised, as sure as day follows night, there will be bullying… How much worse will it be for them to know they have been bullied in front of the whole nation?”

Andrew Mackenzie, Channel 4’s head of factual entertainment, said the programme was a “stimulating and happy experience” for the children. It had conformed with Ofcom guidelines and the channel’s own strict production protocols, he said, adding that the children had been screened by a clinical psychologist. The children and parents had access to expert advice at all stages, there had been constant security and trained chaperones intervened when appropriate. The families had been paid only expenses, he said.

US to increase troops in Afghanistan by 30,000

An estimated 30,000 additional troops will be sent to Afghanistan as the US increases its forces there, the nation’s top military officer told soldiers on Monday.

Telegraph | Feb 9, 2009

Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen also called US efforts in Iraq a success, even though “we’re not done”.

Adm Mullen, speaking to troops and military wives, sought to boost morale and soothe concerns at the Army base that has seen a constant revolving door for troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan over the last eight years.

“I don’t see us growing a force well beyond the 20,000 to 30,000 for Afghanistan – American soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines – beyond that 30,000 or so,” Mullen told about 800 soldiers and specialists gathered for a town-hall meeting.

He added: “It’s got to be met with a commensurate surge from the other agencies, particularly the State Department, in order for us to start generating success in 2009.”

Adm Mullen’s comments mark the first time he has capped the number of soldiers to be sent to Afghanistan amid some predictions that the U.S. will be there for at least a decade.

An estimated 33,000 US troops are in Afghanistan, and the Pentagon is set to announce at least three more brigades – about 16,000 soldiers – to be deployed in coming months.

Adm Mullen also praised the soldiers for helping to stabilise Iraq, where the US is grappling with withdrawing all forces by the end of 2011 under an agreement signed late last year with the Iraqi government.

“You have turned it around in Iraq, and a year or two ago we were not in a situation that looked like we could succeed. And now we are,” Mullen said.

Even so, “we’re not done in Iraq,” he said, noting al-Qaida’s diminished but continuing threat there.

The White House is considering at least three options to withdraw troops from Iraq – either within 16 months, 23 months or a 19-month compromise. Even so, U.S. officials want to leave behind some noncombat brigades to help train and advise Iraqi security forces. The Iraqi government would have to agree in advance to let those troops stay behind.

Adm Mullen said he sympathised with the strain the dual wars is putting on soldiers and their families, citing one Fort Drum woman who told him her husband has so far been sent on year-long deployments to war zones five times since 2002.

Vatican buries the hatchet with Charles Darwin

The Times | Feb 11, 2009

Richard Owen in Rome

charles_darwinThe Vatican has admitted that Charles Darwin was on the right track when he claimed that Man descended from apes.

A leading official declared yesterday that Darwin’s theory of evolution was compatible with Christian faith, and could even be traced to St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. “In fact, what we mean by evolution is the world as created by God,” said Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture. The Vatican also dealt the final blow to speculation that Pope Benedict XVI might be prepared to endorse the theory of Intelligent Design, whose advocates credit a “higher power” for the complexities of life.

Organisers of a papal-backed conference next month marking the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species said that at first it had even been proposed to ban Intelligent Design from the event, as “poor theology and poor science”. Intelligent Design would be discussed at the fringes of the conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University, but merely as a “cultural phenomenon”, rather than a scientific or theological issue, organisers said.

The conference is seen as a landmark in relations between faith and science. Three years ago advocates of Intelligent Design seized on the Pope’s reference to an “intelligent project” as proof that he favoured their views.

Conceding that the Church had been hostile to Darwin because his theory appeared to conflict with the account of creation in Genesis, Archbishop Ravasi argued yesterday that biological evolution and the Christian view of Creation were complementary.

Marc Leclerc, who teaches natural philosophy at the Gregorian University, said that no scholar could “remain indifferent” to the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth tomorrow. There was, however, “no question of celebrating” it.

The Vatican would “take the measure of an event, which has left its mark for ever on the history of science and has influenced the way we understand our humanity”. The “time has come for a rigorous and objective valuation” of Darwin by the Church, he said.

Professor Leclerc said that too many opponents of Darwin – above all Creationists – had mistakenly claimed that his theories were “totally incompatible with a religious vision of reality”, as did proponents of Intelligent Design.

Darwin’s theories had never been formally condemned by the Roman Catholic Church, Monsignor Ravasi insisted. His rehabilitation had begun as long ago as 1950, when Pius XII described evolution as a valid scientific approach to the development of humans. In 1996 John Paul II said that it was “more than a hypothesis”.

Father Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, Professor of Theology at the Pontifical Santa Croce University in Rome, said that Darwin had been anticipated by St Augustine of Hippo. The 4th-century theologian had “never heard the term evolution, but knew that big fish eat smaller fish” and that forms of life had been transformed “slowly over time”. Aquinas had made similar observations in the Middle Ages, he added.

He said it was time that theologians as well as scientists grappled with the mysteries of genetic codes and “whether the diversification of life forms is the result of competition or cooperation between species”. As for the origins of Man, although we shared 97 per cent of our “genetic inheritance” with apes, the remaining 3 per cent “is what makes us unique”, including religion.

“I maintain that the idea of evolution has a place in Christian theology,” Professor Tanzella-Nitti added.

Creationism remains powerful in the US, however, notably among Protestants, and its followers object to evolution being taught in state schools.

The Church of England is seeking to bring Darwin back into the fold with a page on its website paying tribute to his “forgotten” work in his local parish, to illustrate how science and Church need not be at odds. Several pages celebrate Darwin’s “significant scientific progress” to mark his bicentenary and also the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species.

The Church wants to correct the impression that Darwin’s relationship with Anglicanism was contentious. The Anglican Church as a whole did not condemn Darwin or his beliefs. It says that although he lost his faith, he did not become antiChurch or antireligious.