Daily Archives: May 22, 2009

Proposed law could make comparing Soviet rule with that of the Nazis a crime

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A woman holds a portrait of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin during a demonstration in central Moscow on Victory Day, commemorating the end of World War II, on May 9. The Kremlin announced the creation of a special 28-member panel tasked with examining and combating examples of “historical revisionism” that harm Russia’s image. Alexander Natruskin/Reuters

A proposed law could make comparing Soviet rule with that of the Nazis a crime. Intellectuals fear a manipulation of Russia’s past.

Russia plans to battle attempts to ‘falsify history’ with a Kremlin commission that opponents say is part of a drive to silence those who dare to challenge Moscow’s view of the Soviet empire.

Christian Science Monitor | May 21, 2009

Russian history 2.0: Kremlin wants to ‘correct’ the record.

By Fred Weir

Moscow – A bitter joke from the Soviet-era has it that Russia is the world’s only country with an unpredictable past.

That jibe has come winging back in recent days, after the Kremlin announced the creation of a special 28-member panel tasked with examining and combating examples of “historical revisionism” that harm Russia’s image.

The committee, which has no legal power, is chaired by the head of President Dmitry Medvedev’s administration, Sergei Naryshkin, and includes a sprinkling of historians but also lawmakers, Kremlin officials, the armed forces’ chief of staff, and members of the FSB security service.

But a companion law, drafted by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party and soon due to be introduced into the State Duma, will stipulate fines and prison sentences of up to five years for anyone found guilty of “denying the decisions of the Nuremberg Tribunal.”

This is a reaction to a growing body of historiography in former Soviet and Eastern European countries that depicts the long years of Soviet domination as similar in nature to the Nazi occupation, and suggests that for these nations, liberation arrived only when the USSR collapsed. Even more irritating for the Russians are perceived attempts in some places, like Ukraine and Latvia, to “rehabilitate” citizens who wore German uniforms during World War II to fight against the oncoming Red Army.

“It is high time to make a study of what is going on here, and to decide what kind of documents we need to dig up and publish to counter these new interpretations,” says Natalya Narochnitskaya, a historian, former Duma deputy, and member of the new commission. “If a nation is unable to come to a united view in interpreting its own past, it will be unable to formulate its national interests.”

Ms. Narochnitskaya insists that the panel’s brief is to study the problem and make recommendations, not to impose a Sovietesque party line. “All nations have this problem of balance and need to find their own path between humiliation and normal self-criticism,” she says.

Critics are alarmed by what they see as a blatant throwback to Soviet methods of intellectual control.

“You cannot struggle against falsifications of history by creating bureaucratic commissions,” says Sergei Solovyov, editor of Scepsis, a Russian quarterly journal that aims to promote cross-cultural debate. “Either it will be completely useless or it will become a tool for suppressing people with different points of view.”

Former Soviet states have a different view of the facts

The Kremlin has been infuriated by what it sees as attempts to “revise” the results of World War II in some Eastern European and former Soviet countries. The removal of Red Army war memorials in Poland and the Baltic states has drawn particular ire, as have street marches by Latvian SS veterans, a Lithuanian law banning the public display of Soviet symbols, and an Estonian prosecution of a decorated Soviet war veteran, Arnold Meri, on charges of genocide for his alleged role in postwar deportations of Estonians to Siberia. (Mr. Meri died two months ago, before the trial finished.)

Another sore point has been Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s public praise for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which fought a CIA-backed guerrilla war against the USSR for nearly a decade following the end of World War II, as well as official Ukrainian efforts to get world governments to classify as an act of “genocide” the mass famine caused by farm collectivization in the early 1930s, which killed millions of Soviet peasants and is known in Ukraine as the “Holodomor.”

In his recently launched blog, Mr. Medvedev recently complained that “such attempts [to revise history] are becoming more hostile, more evil, and more aggressive…. We find ourselves in a situation in which we have to defend the historical truth and once again prove facts that not long ago seemed most clear. But it is necessary to do.”

War history a touchy subject

A public opinion survey conducted last month by the state-run VTsIOM agency found that almost two-thirds of Russians agree that attempts to “deny the Soviet victory in the Great Patriotic War” should be outlawed, referring to the Russian term for World War II. Many older Russian historians appear to agree that the panel, and its brief of fighting revisionism, is a good thing.

“We had to do this long ago,” says General Makhmut Gareyev, a war hero and president of the official Academy of Military Sciences in Moscow. “One cannot tolerate historical falsifications, particularly of World War II. Once the state organs make their decision, some things will possibly be corrected in the near future.”

Roy Medvedev, a dissident historian from the Soviet period, told the independent Ekho Moskvi radio station that the commission is not an objectionable idea in principle – if it sticks to reviewing history and opening up archive access. But he added, “I have strongly protested against any measures for criminal prosecution for falsification because this would be a restoration of Soviet practices…. It will be very bad if publishing various kinds of theories and research ends up being banned.”

In search of a stable past

Russia’s own national identity has been in flux since the collapse of the USSR, along with its ideology and multi-ethnic empire. The early post-Soviet years were marked by excoriating self-criticism and widespread public demoralization. Vladimir Putin came to power nearly a decade ago amid a patriotic backlash, which aimed to banish that pervasive sense of national humiliation by restoring pride in Russia and recognizing the positive achievements of the Soviet years.

Some ultranationalist thinkers, such as Alexander Dugin, who heads the influential International Eurasian Movement, suggest that the creation of a national myth that will unite Russians is a worthy goal.

“We should fix some limits to freedom of speech in order to establish a national consensus and preserve it for future generations,” Mr. Dugin says. “To have a myth that provides a stable point of reference for society is necessary to define our historical path. That’s not false.”

But critics have long complained that the downside of the Putin-era “feel good” approach to Russian history includes a tendency to minimize a multitude of past crimes, including mass murders carried out by Joseph Stalin’s NKVD security service.

“I don’t even think [the commission] is legal. Our Constitution forbids the establishment of a state ideology and mandates ideological pluralism in Russia,” says Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former independent Duma deputy. “You can debate history, but it shouldn’t be imposed by those who happen to be in power. For centuries, our history has been written and rewritten by czars and commissars. So, this new commission can only raise doubt and protest.”

Aerosol delivery of drugs via nanoparticles to increase patient compliance

Aerosol Delivery of Antibiotics via Nanoparticles Provide a Means to Improve Drug Delivery

AZoNano | May 19, 2009

Aerosol delivery of antibiotics via nanoparticles may provide a means to improve drug delivery and increase patient compliance, thus reducing the severity of individual illnesses, the spread of epidemics, and possibly even retarding antibiotic resistance.

Delivery of antibiotics via nanoparticles has shown promise as a drug delivery mechanism, particularly for controlled release or depot delivery of drugs to decrease the number of doses required to achieve a clinical effect. The effectiveness of this delivery mechanism has not been confirmed directly either in infection models or in patients, but according to new data to be presented on Tuesday, May 19, at the American Thoracic Society’s 105th International Conference in San Diego, this delivery technique appears indeed promising.

Carolyn L. Cannon, M.D., Ph.D. from Washington University School of Medicine, and colleagues from the Center for Silver Therapeutics Research at the University of Akron in OH investigated the efficacy of nanoparticle-encapsulated silver-based antibiotics for treating pulmonary infections in a mouse model of pneumonia. Treatment with antibiotic-laden nanoparticles effectively eliminated respiratory infections in mice that had been inoculated with Pseudomona aeroginosa, a common bacterial species that often infects the respiratory tract in humans, particularly immunocompromised patients, ventilated patients or those with cystic fibrosis.

Infected mice that inhaled aerosolized nanoparticles encapsulating silver carbene complexes (SCCs), a novel class of silver-based antimicrobials with broad-spectrum activity, showed a significant survival advantage over the control mice that received nanoparticles without the SCCs. Treated mice also had decreased lung bacterial burden and spread, compared to the control mice. Moreover, the treatment with nanoparticles occurred once every 24 hours, a regimen that is known to increase compliance in human patients, versus the usual dosing interval of inhaled antibiotics for P. aeruginosa, which is twice daily.

“We were surprised and thrilled to see a 100 percent survival advantage in mice treated daily with SCC22-loaded nanoparticles at doses significantly lower than those used to achieve a similar survival advantage in twice-daily dosing of unencapsulated SCC22. During a 72 hour period, all of the infected control mice died, whereas all of the mice that received just two doses of SCC22-loaded nanoparticles spaced 24 hours apart survived.”

“My collaborators, Wiley Youngs, Ph.D., and Yang Yun, Ph.D., and I are eager to complete toxicity studies that would enable us to start clinical trials,” said Dr. Cannon. “While the mouse studies are tantalizing, the goal that propels our research is realizing the promise of these novel antibiotics and delivery mechanisms through an analogous survival advantage in patients.”

Soldiers bonding with their robot comrades

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Concept art shows a human resistance fighter facing off against a Hydrobot from the movie “Terminator Salvation.” Warner Bros.

The United States military sees robots as tireless warriors capable of striking fear into enemies, and is not shy about finding inspiration from “Terminator.”

Fox News | May 21, 2009

Real Soldiers Love Their Robot Brethren

By Jeremy Hsu

Human warriors have long spoken of the bonds forged in combat and of becoming a “band of brothers.” The fact that some of those fellow soldiers are made of metal has not discouraged human feelings toward them.

Thousands of robots now fight with humans on modern battlefields that resemble scenes from science fiction movies such as “Terminator Salvation.” But the real world poses a more complex situation than humans versus robots, and has added new twists to the psychology of war.

“One of the psychologically interesting things is that these systems aren’t designed to promote intimacy, and yet we’re seeing these bonds being built with them,” said Peter Singer, a leading defense analyst at the Brookings Institution and author of “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century” (Penguin Press HC, 2009).

Singer highlights many accounts of human soldiers feeling strong affection for their robots — especially on the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams where Packbots and Talon robots undertake the risk of disabling improvised explosives planted by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One EOD soldier brought in a robot for repairs with tears in his eyes and asked the repair shop if it could put “Scooby-Doo” back together. Despite being assured that he would get a new robot, the soldier remained inconsolable. He only wanted Scooby-Doo.

Robot in arms

The United States military sees robots as tireless warriors capable of striking fear into enemies, and is not shy about finding inspiration from “Terminator.”

“One scientist said he was trying to build the Hunter-Killer drone from ‘Terminator,'” Singer told LiveScience.

Terror aside, Singer and other experts point out how battlefield robots have also proved capable of inspiring love from their human comrades, such as the EOD soldier.

“It sounds silly, but you have to remember that he’s been through the most psychologically searing experience: battle,” Singer said. “That machine has saved him time and time again.”

Sometimes such bonds led soldiers to risk their lives for their robots, in a strange inverse of the idea that robots would spare human lives. Singer recounted another EOD soldier who ran 164 feet under machine gun fire to retrieve a robot that had been knocked out of action. And several teams have given their robots promotions, Purple Heart awards for being wounded in combat, and even a military funeral.

This attachment to robots stems in part from the human brain’s mirror-neuron system, which fires up whenever watching the movement of someone or something, Singer noted. The system helps form the foundation for empathy and understanding the mindset of another being, but can also lead people to project personalities and emotions onto objects.

Eyes in the sky

The growing numbers of battlefield robots have also changed the human relationship to war itself, especially as the United States has already fielded more than 12,000 ground robots and more than 7,000 flying drones in regions such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Armed drones in particular have proved effective in loitering over target areas for hours until targets come in sight, and then firing their missiles at suspected insurgents — all while being controlled by human operators sitting thousands of miles away in Nevada.

The drone operator’s war often looks surreal and disconnected from reality, given that they coordinate strikes via online chat and view their targets as small infrared figures moving around. Many media stories have referenced the example of a 19-year-old drone operator, who honed his skills from playing Xbox to become a top operator and eventually an instructor.

That has led some members of the U.S. military to look down on drone operators for not sharing the risks of ground forces or even pilots, as Singer discovered. One Special Operations officer remained enraged years later by a “bogus weather call” that prevented a drone from supporting his unit in Afghanistan. His contempt for the Predator operators was such that he expressed more respect for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – the insurgent mastermind who was behind hundreds of bombings and killings.

Still, Singer said that the operators “know lives are at stake,” and take pride in the role that they play in helping demoralize the enemy. And the U.S. military has clearly invested much of its future in the capabilities of robots.

When Singer asked one U.S. Air Force officer about how he envisioned the psychological impact of the drones on the enemy, the officer compared the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants to the human resistance fighters in the “Terminator” movies — hiding in their bunkers and caves from the technological onslaught.

How to fight a robot

The ever-watchful eyes in the sky have clearly unnerved human fighters to some extent. The New York Times reported in March that some Pakistani locals had given up drinking Lipton tea for fear of the teabags acting as homing beacons for drones. And the Los Angeles Times noted that a six-month campaign of Predator strikes has sown distrust within Al Qaeda, so that the militants have begun violently purging their own ranks.

However, Singer and others point out that the use of robots may also make the United States look weak, even cowardly to cultures in the Middle East and elsewhere. People of those cultures see a powerful nation that wages distant war with incredible technologies but refuses to risk its own troops, and they grow defiant.

“One side thinks that its very duty is to do everything to bring its soldiers home to its families,” Singer noted. “For the other side, the very act of dying is almost the main goal.”

Singer spoke with two insurgents for his book, and they acknowledged the technological prowess of U.S. robots and drones. But they also said they were not at all intimidated — one with an engineering background expressed eagerness to get his hands on his own robot.

Previous attempts to rely solely on technological shock and awe through “Gunboat Diplomacy” and airpower have not proven incredibly successful in the long run, said Douglas Peifer, a researcher at the Air War College of Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.

“No doubt robots and unmanned combat systems will discourage our opponents and minimize our losses,” Peifer said in an article for Small Wars Journal. “But betting that the latest iteration of revolutionary technology will magically compel a resolute enemy to come to terms is unwise.”

On the modern battlefield, Iraqi insurgents have adapted by targeting EOD robots and capturing robots for their own use. U.S. soldiers have even encountered crude but innovative insurgent bots, Singer explained in his book — such as a remote-controlled skateboard rigged with explosives that scooted along as though pushed by the wind.

Guess who has the terminators

“We don’t have to be in the year 2018 with Skynet and the terminators all around us, for those huge policy and military dilemmas to take form,” Singer said. “They’re already here.”

As the U.S. military and others rapidly deploy a growing swarm of robots on sea, land and air, some experts cited in “Wired for War” could not help but make another “Terminator” comparison. They warned that the United States runs the risk of looking like the evil empire from Star Wars, if not the heartless Skynet and its army of relentless terminator robots.

Still, robot researchers and the military continue to embrace ideas born from “Terminator” and science fiction. Singer attended one presentation on the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR) — a long-range robot that refuels itself on “grass, broken wood, furniture, dead bodies,” according to a list reeled off by one scientist.

“I really hope Skynet doesn’t learn about that kind of system,” Singer said.

Motorcyclist electronically tagged for dropping mints

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Tagged for dropping sweets. Thomas Payne, 19

Motorcycle News | May 15, 2009

By Steve Farrell

A motorcyclist has told how he was electronically tagged for four months and given a 36-hour community order – for dropping mint imperials while riding.

Thomas Payne, 19, must be at home from 8pm till 6am under the terms of his ankle tag after police spotted the trail of sweets left by his Yamaha DT175.

A police charge notice said he had ‘intentionally and without authority or reasonable cause, caused sweets to be on a road, namely Lancaster Circus, in such circumstances that it would have been obvious to a reasonable person that to do so would be dangerous’ contrary to the Road Traffic Act.

Payne insists: “They were just falling out of my pocket. Because of the time they followed me for they said I should have known.”

Payne was stopped in Birmingham on March 16. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced at Birmingham Magistrates Court on March 24. He was ordered to pay £50 costs.

He said: “For a 19-year-old being housebound every night is hell.”

He must also spend three hours every Saturday taking part in group activities including woodwork classes until his community order is completed. “I count myself lucky I’m still allowed to eat sweets,” he said.

West Midlands Police confirmed: “A man aged 19 was arrested on the March 16 in Lancaster Circus, Birmingham, on suspicion of endangering road users.

“He was charged on March 17 and appeared at Birmingham Magistrates Court on March 24.”

Saudi ‘Killer Chip’ Implant Would Track, Eliminate Undesirables

Fox News | May 18, 2009

It could be the ultimate in political control — but it won’t be patented in Germany.

German media outlets reported last week that a Saudi inventor’s application to patent a “killer chip,” as the Swiss tabloids put it, had been denied.

The basic model would consist of a tiny GPS transceiver placed in a capsule and inserted under a person’s skin, so that authorities could track him easily.

Model B would have an extra function — a dose of cyanide to remotely kill the wearer without muss or fuss if authorities deemed he’d become a public threat.

The inventor said the chip could be used to track terrorists, criminals, fugitives, illegal immigrants, political dissidents, domestic servants and foreigners overstaying their visas.

“The invention will probably be found to violate paragraph two of the German Patent Law — which does not allow inventions that transgress public order or good morals,” German Patent and Trademark Office spokeswoman Stephanie Krüger told the English-language German-news Web site The Local.

Internet could tackle climate change, Prince Charles tells Google at “Zeitgeist” conference

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The Prince had told delegates that in order to have a stable and secure planet, the world would have to change the way it operated  Photo: GETTY IMAGES/ LEON NEAL

The power of the internet to “inform and challenge” people’s thinking could be used to tackle climate change, the Prince of Wales said.

Telegraph | May 20, 2009

The Prince described the internet as possibly “the most effective tool in history” as he gave a keynote speech at a Google Zeitgeist conference.

He said that, ultimately, the battle against climate change could only be won by every person on the planet making environmentally conscious choices.

The Prince had told delegates, who included leaders from the worlds of business, technology, publishing and the media that, in order to have a stable and secure planet, the world would have to change the way it operated and that what was now needed was “an extensive programme to inform and challenge the thinking of everyone on the planet, expressed clearly and simply, with no room for misunderstanding”.

He added: “The power of the internet is growing exponentially. While the problems the globe faces are greater than ever before, perhaps we do have the most effective tool in history to overcome them.

“Could perhaps the internet help us to change the zeitgeist of the remainder of this century?”

The Prince has already begun to build an online community to support his campaign to save the world’s rainforests.

He launched a YouTube film earlier this month featuring prominent supporters of his environmental aims, including the Dalai Lama, Hollywood actors Harrison Ford and Robin Williams and football legend Pele.

Speaking at a conference centre in Chandler’s Cross in Hertfordshire, the Prince told the audience that everyone needed to build a deeper understanding of “the manifold ways in which all human life depends on nature”.

“We need to reach a situation in which, each time we sit down to a meal, we think of the environment that provided it. When we turn on a light or a tap, we need to think about where the energy and the water come from.”

Speaking later, he added: “At the end of the day, this is a battle that can only be won through billions of individual choices made by each and every one of us in every nation.”

He was speaking at the two-day conference, now in its fourth year.

Among the audience was Amazonian tribal leader Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui, from the Surui tribe, who has been using Google Earth to highlight destruction to Brazil’s rainforest.

Australia expands navy as Chinese power grows

Australia is conducting the biggest expansion of its navy since the Second World War and will spend an extra £35 billion on the armed forces over the next 20 years.

Telegraph | May 19, 2009

By Bonnie Malkin in Sydney

The latest defence White Paper recommends buying 100 advanced F-35 jet fighters and 12 powerful submarines equipped with cruise missiles, a capability which no other country in the region is believed to possess.

The “potential instability” caused by the emergence of China and India as major world powers was cited as the most pressing reason for this military build-up. In particular, Australian defence planners are believed to be concerned about China’s growing naval strength and America’s possible retreat as a global power in the decades ahead.

Chinese officials say their country’s growing power threatens no-one. Behind the scenes, Beijing is thought to be unhappy about Australia’s White Paper, with one Chinese academic saying it was “typical of a Western Cold War mentality”.

But the Chinese navy has almost doubled the number of secret, long-distance patrols conducted by its submarines in the past year. The reach of its navy is extending into Australian waters. China is also acquiring new amphibious assault ships that can transport a battalion of troops.

Kevin Rudd, the prime minister, has explicitly denied that Australia is planning for a future war with China. But he said that his government would “make absolutely no apology” for taking whatever steps were needed to guarantee the country’s security.