Monthly Archives: September 2010

Human or Cow, PositiveID Has an Implantable Microchip for You | Sep 17, 2010

By Jim Edwards

Two months ago, PositiveID (PSID) said it was giving up on its implantable radio-frequency medical records microchip, and conspiracy theorists everywhere breathed a sigh of relief: Previously, the only market PositiveID had found for the chip was a group of Alzheimer’s patients in Florida who may not have consented to being implanted.

Indeed, on Sept. 8, PositiveID sold its Health Link business — the product that linked your implanted RFID chip to your online medical records — to “Health Plexus LLC” for $1 million. CEO Scott Silverman described it as “a non-core asset.” (Oddly, Google cannot find a company named Health Plexus LLC on the web. Maybe it’s Plexus Health, a medical billing company. Or Health Plexus India, which operates clinics. Or, a web site for geriatric physicians.)

But don’t worry too much about that, for I have good news, dystopia lovers! PositiveID — formerly known as VeriChip – just announced a partnership with Siemens (SI) that may yet put PSID back in the business of persuading us all to carry microchips under our skin. The purpose of their deal is as creepy-sounding as you’d expect….

Full Story

White House: Global Warming Out,’Global Climate Disruption’ In

White House science adviser John Holdren speaks at the National Press Club in Washington Oct. 8, 2009. (AP Photo) | Sep 16, 2010

From the administration that brought you “man-caused disaster” and “overseas contingency operation,” another terminology change is in the pipeline.

The White House wants the public to start using the term “global climate disruption” in place of “global warming” — fearing the latter term oversimplifies the problem and makes it sound less dangerous than it really is.

White House science adviser John Holdren urged people to start using the phrase during a speech last week in Oslo, echoing a plea he made three years earlier. Holdren said global warming is a “dangerous misnomer” for a problem far more complicated than a rise in temperature.

The call comes as Congress prepares to adjourn for the season without completing work on a stalled climate bill. The term global warming has long been criticized as inaccurate, and the new push could be an attempt to re-shape climate messaging for next year’s legislative session.

“They’re trying to come up with more politically palatable ways to sell some of this stuff,” said Republican pollster Adam Geller, noting that Democrats also rolled out a new logo and now refer to the Bush tax cuts as “middle-class tax cuts.”

He said the climate change change-up likely derives from flagging public support for their bill to regulate emissions. He said the term “global warming” makes the cause easy to ridicule whenever there’s a snowstorm.

“Every time we’re digging our cars out — what global warming?” he said. “(Global climate disruption is) more of a sort of generic blanket term, I guess, that can apply in all weather conditions.”

It’s unclear why Holdren prefers “global climate disruption” over “climate change,” the most commonly used alternative to “global warming.”

Asked about the speech, Holdren spokesman Rick Weiss said only that the Office of Science and Technology Policy has been transparent about Holdren’s remarks.

“The PowerPoint for Dr. Holdren’s Oslo presentation has been public on our website since the day after he returned,” he said.

In a 2007 presentation, Holdren suggested a similar phrase change — “global climatic disruption.”

The explanation he gave last week was that the impact from greenhouse gas emissions covers a broad “disruption” of climate patterns ranging from precipitation to storms
to hot and cold temperatures. Those changes, he said, affect the availability of water, productivity of farms, spread of disease and other factors.

He’s not the first scientist to publicly veer away from “global warming.” NASA published an analysis on its website in 2008 explaining that it avoids the term because temperature change “isn’t the most severe effect of changing climate.”

“Changes to precipitation patterns and sea levels are likely to have much greater human impact than the higher temperatures alone,” the report said.

But Republicans predicted that re-branding the issue would have limited effect on the legislative effort. GOP strategist Pete Snyder said he doubts the term is going to change hearts and minds.

“Are they going to change the name of weathermen to disruption analysts?” he quipped. GOP lawmakers already exploited a terminology change of their own by re-branding the “cap-and-trade” bill as “cap-and-tax.”

Holdren’s “global climate disruption” isn’t the most convoluted term to grace the climate debate, however.

According to the NASA article, early studies on the impact humans had on global climate referred to the relationship as “inadvertent climate modification.”

Early winter cold snap to strike in September after Britain shivered through coldest August in 17 years

Britain Set To Shiver as Cold Snap Brings Frost

Britain will be hit by winter’s first frosts | Sep 18,2010

By Sarah Westcott

BRITAIN will be hit by the first frosts of winter this weekend – with warnings of snow in the hills.

The freak cold snap has come weeks early, after the coldest August for 17 years. Temperatures could plummet to -1C (30F) at night – 12 degrees C below the seasonal average, forcing millions to switch the heating on.

The chilly conditions come before the official end of summer – the autumn equinox on September 23 – and will see Britons digging out their duvets to keep warm at night. Forecasters warned the Midlands and Wales would be worst hit and the cold snap is a headache for farmers still harvesting spring barley.

Positive Weather Solutions’ senior forecaster Jonathan Powell said yesterday: “September has turned decidedly colder, with a definite night-time chill. The coldest places on Saturday night will be the Midlands and Wales, with temperatures falling as low as -1C and causing frost.

“There is the possibility of a slight covering of snow over hills – and with the coldest air situated south of Scotland, it’s England which is most at risk.

“This is a precursor for a cold October with a running threat of frost.”

Temperatures today will also be noticeably colder – just 12 or 13C (55F) across Britain compared with a normal 15 or 16C (61F).

Brian Gaze, of independent forecasters The Weather Outlook, said even parts of the South were at risk or frost. “This is a really cold snap,” he said. “The last time there was a cold outbreak this widespread in September was 2003, when northern England was below freezing.”

England’s coldest-ever September night was in Wark, Northumberland, on September 29, 1993, when the mercury dipped to -4.8C (23F).

Weather experts confirm that Britain shivered in its coldest August for 17 years, despite forecasts of a better summer than last year. MeteoGroup says the mercury dropped as low as 12.8C (55F) in Edgbaston, ­Birmingham – the coldest in August since 1987.

Army still can’t handle truth behind Pat Tillman’s story

Arizona Republic | Sep 10, 2010

by E. J. Montini

According to The Army Times, theaters on Army and Air Force installations will not show “The Tillman Story” and instead will feature “The Expendables.”

Apparently, the military brass believe their personnel can handle a film rated “R” for violence, but not one rated “T” for truth.

This would come as no surprise to Pat Tillman’s family, particular his mother, who has worked for six years to expose the cover-up of her son’s death by friendly fire in Afghanistan, and to have those responsible held accountable.

It hasn’t worked. It will never work.

The bravery and honesty of one soldier is no match for the deceit of his government.


One of the first times I spoke to Mary Tillman (known to her friends and family as “Dannie”), she told me, “They (the military) could have told us up-front that they were suspicious that it was fratricide, but they didn’t. They wanted to use Pat for their purposes. It was good for the administration. It was before the elections. It was during the (Abu Ghraib) prison scandal. They needed something that looked good, and it was appalling that they would use him like that.”

Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals player who gave up millions to join the Army, was posthumously awarded a Silver Star after he was killed in 2004. The citation was read at his televised memorial service. It says in part:

“Corporal Tillman put himself in the line of devastating enemy fire as he maneuvered his Fire Team to a covered position from which they could effectively employ their weapons on known enemy positions. While mortally wounded, his audacious leadership and courageous example under fire inspired his men to fight with great risk to their own personal safety, resulting in the enemy’s withdrawal and his platoon’s safe passage from the ambush kill zone.”

It was pure fiction. Tillman had acted bravely on the day he was killed, but it was his guys who shot him while he waved at them on a hill, shouting his name. From the moment it happened, everyone knew it was fratricide.

The circumstances that followed, along with a look back at Tillman’s life, are described through eyewitness testimony in “The Tillman Story,” a documentary now playing at Harkins Camelview 5 at Scottsdale Road and Goldwater Boulevard.

It’s the same story Dannie Tillman told in her book, “Boots on the Ground by Dusk.” It’s the story the Tillmans told to Congress.

None of it has worked.

I asked the Army back in 2005 if the wording of Tillman’s citation would be corrected. An Army spokesman said, “Presently there are no plans.” The citation was never changed.

Dannie Tillman once told me of her son, “He was a very big-hearted person and honest to a fault. When he was little, he wouldn’t even steal a cookie. He just harassed me into giving him one. I used to think, ‘Let me be the good parent. Just steal the cookie.’ But . . . ”

That’s why she has persisted in spite of those who suggest that she should just “get over it.”

“I really object to people who say things like that,” she told me. “If it were their child, they would not let it go. At least I hope not . . . (Pat) would have wanted the truth to come out. The bad and the good. He deserves that much.”

Tillman’s brother Kevin, who served with him in the Army, summed it up best in an essay he wrote for the website

“Somehow lying is tolerated. Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma and nonsense. Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world. Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.”

Stalin-era repressions ‘justified’ claims new ‘anti-Semitic’ Russian textbook

Critics claim the textbook offers a pro-Stalinist and anti-Semitic view of Soviet and Russian history  Photo: AP

Stalin-era repressions, including the Gulag camp system and the deportation of entire ethnic groups were justified according to a new history textbook published in Russia, which critics claim is anti-Semitic.

Telegraph | Sep 16, 2010

“A History of Russia, 1917-2009,” written by two Moscow State University academics, Alexander Barsenkov and Alexander Vdovin, attempts to justify forced collectivisation and the mass arrests and executions of the 1930s.

Supporters say the book is filled with patriotism and love of the Motherland.

But critics claim the textbook offers a pro-Stalinist and anti-Semitic view of Soviet and Russian history.

Describing the mass arrests and executions of the 1930s, the authors write that the authorities had a justified fear of enemies within the Soviet Union.

“All those millions of people offended by the policies of the Soviet authorities formed a potential for a ‘fifth column’ that was far from imaginary,” they write.

The textbook also offers a rationalisation for Joseph Stalin’s deportations of whole peoples, including the Crimean Tatars, Chechens, Ingushs and Kalmyks to Siberia and Central Asia.

“The reason that some were deported was their heightened readiness to collaborate with the occupiers and suspicions of this,” the book claims. This theory has been widely rejected by Western historians and many Russian experts.

The textbook places strong emphasis on the number of Jews who held positions of power in Soviet culture and media.

It alleges that the Soviet authorities blocked Jews from occupying top posts after the Second World War because of “the growing pro-Western sympathies of citizens of Jewish origin, which increased the possibility of their being used in the interests of American strategy”.

Anatoly Utkin, one of the textbook’s supporters and reviewers, said it was popular with some of the country’s “elite institutes” such as the academies of the Interior Ministry and the FSB security agency, successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

“This is a textbook in which patriotism serves as the guiding thread,” Mr Utkin, history professor at Moscow State University, told The New Times, an opposition magazine.

“This textbook is filled with love of the motherland and patriotism and it is important that the continuity between the Soviet and post-Soviet epochs can be seen there.”

But the Public Chamber, a state-run government oversight body, last week criticised the book in a report.

The book interpreted the country’s history “in the spirit of radical nationalism” and distorted historical facts, it said.

Novaya Gazeta, the opposition newspaper, also attacked the book.

“The publication of this latest pro-Soviet, pro-Communist and pro-Stalin textbook is made possible because the crimes committed by Lenin and Stalin’s party against humanity were never legally condemned,” it wrote.

Moscow State University’s history faculty said in a statement on Thursday that it would suspend the use of the book in classes.

President Dmitry Medvedev, 45, has made attempts to distance himself from the country’s past, saying he had no desire to return to the Soviet Union.

By comparison, Mr Medvedev’s 57-year old mentor, Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, once famously described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.

Russian authorities have approved history textbooks that sparked controversy by justifying Soviet leaders and praising the country’s modern leadership.

In 2007, authorities approved a textbook that praised then-President Putin and justified the imprisonment of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was arrested in 2003 in an inquiry seen by critics as steered by the Kremlin.

Pentagon Plots Insta-Vaccines for Mystery Bugs

If the method does take off, it’d offer a major boost for civilian vaccine production, too. Photo: U.S Air Force

Wired | Sep 14, 2010

By Katie Drummond

The Pentagon’s efforts at speedier responses to infectious diseases is getting turbocharged, as researchers at Arizona State University kick off a program to develop vaccines that can inoculate against unknown pathogens — and do it within a week.

Darpa, the military’s out-there research agency, has given $5.3 million for the project to ASU’s Biodesign Institute. And the grant is only one part of a much bigger Darpa initiative, called Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals. Earlier this year, the agency funded programs to produce vaccines using tobacco plants and a prophetic almanac that would anticipate pathogenic mutations before they happen.

Tobacco-based production would turn a year-long process into a four-week one. But for at-risk troops, Darpa wants something even faster: a vaccine to address any pathogen, developed in seven days and ready for injection shortly after.

“I don’t know if we can pull this off, but I think this basic idea might work,” ASU researcher Dr. Steven Albert Johnson says of his team’s plan. Using thousands of synthetic antibodies, called synbodies, they’ll create an immunity toolkit that can be combined in myriad ways to tackle virtually any pathogen.

“Take the bug, put it on a slide and then find appropriate bindings,” Johnson says. “If somebody gave you a Bug X, and you already had basically a Lego system of pre-made peptides, you find two that will bind and make a high-affinity agent.”

About 10,000 synbodies would be sufficient to stave off — in theory — any imaginable pathogen. But researchers estimate that around 100 will suffice for Darpa’s needs. Once the synbodies are made, they can be stockpiled and pulled out whenever a new threat emerges.

And if the method does take off, it’d offer a major boost for civilian vaccine production, too. But short of a massive deadly outbreak, we’d likely not get our vaccines quite so fast. For deployed troops, the Pentagon could invoke “emergency protocol” — meaning Darpa’s one-week timeline would skip over clinical trials and FDA approval, which can take up to a decade to complete.

Are Airport Body Scanners Worth the Health Risk?

“The officer said, either you go through the body scanner or you leave the airport or we’re going to call the police and they’re going to come and arrest you.”

NY Times | Sep 7, 2010


THE next time you go through security at the airport, you might be told to empty your pockets, put your hands over your head and stand still while an X-ray machine looks for anything hidden under your clothing.

If this body scanning option sounds unappealing, you have another choice: an “enhanced pat down” conducted by a Transportation Security Administration employee, which some travelers have described as quite intimate.

The new screening measures have been hotly debated, but mostly in theory. Now that there are nearly 200 body scanning machines in about 50 domestic airports, with 800 more on the way, passengers are facing real-life decisions about what to do. Here’s some information to help you choose.

How Do the Machines Work?

If you somehow missed the hoopla, there are two types of machines being installed, which have raised concerns about privacy, health risks and even their effectiveness at catching terrorists. The more controversial “backscatter” devices project an X-ray beam onto the body, creating an image displayed on a monitor viewed by a T.S.A. employee in another room. The “millimeter wave” machines, which are considered less risky because they do not use X-rays, bounce electromagnetic waves off the body to produce a similar image.

Unlike metal detectors, these machines can detect objects made with other materials, like plastic and ceramic. But they can’t see anything hidden inside your body, or detect certain explosives.

So why bother? That’s a question a federal oversight body and members of Congress are asking, especially since the T.S.A. plans to spend billions to buy the devices and hire more screeners to operate them — using the $5 to $10 security fee included in the price of any airline ticket (fees that the government wants to raise).

“This is all done to keep the traveling public safe,” said Nicholas Kimball, a T.S.A. spokesman. Maybe so, but there are still questions about how effective these machines are at achieving that goal.

What Can Screeners See?

What these images reveal is also unclear. Mr. Kimball said that the T.S.A. uses filters to blur the images, and the agency has posted samples of the kinds of images screeners see and a video of the screening process on its Web site, But critics say these samples aren’t detailed enough for travelers to judge how explicit they are, especially if a screener zooms in on a specific area.

Another concern is whether the images can be saved or transmitted. The T.S.A. first said this wasn’t possible, then later admitted the machines can save photos, but that this feature had been disabled. This kind of backtracking has added to the agency’s credibility problem.

How Safe Are They?

The main concerns are how much radiation the scanners give off (the manufacturers say the amount is very low), whether the scanners might malfunction and emit more radiation than they are supposed to, and what the health effects may be for travelers. Since there is no precedent for routinely screening so many people with X-rays — other than in prisons — there are a lot of unknowns.

Another issue is that the devices haven’t been thoroughly tested. The T.S.A. claims that the machines have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, the Commerce Department’s National Institute for Standards and Technology and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. But when I called these organizations to ask about their evaluations, I learned that they basically tested only one thing — whether the amount of radiation emitted meets guidelines established by the American National Standards Institute, a membership organization of companies and government agencies.

But guess who was on the committee that developed the guidelines for the X-ray scanners? Representatives from the companies that make the machines and the Department of Homeland Security, among others. In other words, the machines passed a test developed, in part, by the companies that manufacture them and the government agency that wants to use them.

That’s one reason Peter Rez, a physics professor at Arizona State University, has been pushing for more data to be shared so that academics can do their own analysis.

“The scary thing to me is not what happens in normal operations, but what happens if the machine fails,” Professor Rez said. “Mechanical things break down, frequently.”

Other medical experts are worried that the government has not adequately evaluated the health risks of such extensive X-ray screening, particularly for children, pregnant women, cancer patients and people who are sensitive to radiation. One concern is that the data the government is relying on underestimates the amount of radiation absorbed by the skin, potentially raising the risk of skin cancer.

“It’s premature to put a whole population through this thing, not without much more due diligence and much more independent testing,” said John Sedat, a biochemistry professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who, along with several colleagues, sent a letter to the Obama administration calling for independent evaluations of the X-ray scanners.

So far, the T.S.A. and government regulators have disputed their concerns. “If there is any risk, it’s very, very small,” said Daniel Kassiday, an F.D.A. radiation official who was co-chairman of the committee that created the standard for the machines.

Mr. Kassiday said an individual could receive up to 1,000 screenings a year before reaching recommended annual limits for this type of radiation exposure, but added that more tests are being conducted and that once the T.S.A. has redacted the relevant reports, more information will be released.

Can You Opt Out?

Mr. Kimball said passengers can choose not to go through the scanner and opt for the metal detector and a pat down instead, information that is also on the T.S.A.’s Web site. But the message travelers are getting at the airport isn’t that clear.

“It definitely didn’t feel optional at all,” said Drew Hjelm, an Army veteran who recently encountered the X-ray machine at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. After asking to go through the metal detector, being turned down and even speaking with a supervisor, he was given other choices.

“The officer said, either you go through the body scanner or you leave the airport or we’re going to call the police and they’re going to come and arrest you,” Mr. Hjelm said. “After I went through the body scanner, they still patted my pants down.”

Since other passengers have said they weren’t given a choice, or were subjected to an aggressive pat down if they declined to be X-rayed, the Electronic Privacy Information Center has created an online form for travelers to report problems.

The advocacy group has also filed a motion in court to suspend the body scanner program, saying that it violates the Fourth Amendment (and other statutes) by imposing search procedures that are more intrusive than the courts have allowed for routine screening.

“We’re not denying that threats exist,” said Marc Rotenberg, the privacy center’s executive director, referring to concerns about terrorism. “The question is, are the solutions proposed effective and are they legal?”