Daily Archives: June 14, 2011

Author: Machiavelli was a good fella

Book spawned term ‘Machivellian’ – meaning cunning and unscrupulous

Machiavelli was NICE: New biography claims arch plotter was a caring family man who doted on his six children

Daily Mail | Jun 14, 2011

By Daniel Bates

Arch schemer: Niccolo Machiavelli, who wrote 'The Prince' on how to get ahead using dirty tactics, was in fact a caring father to his six children, a new biography claims

He wrote the world’s most famous manual on how to cheat and scheme your way to the top.

But in real-life Niccolo Machiavelli was a caring family man who loved and doted on his six children.

A new biography has revealed that far from being a conniving plotter, the writer and diplomat was actually an appreciative husband.

He wrote his most famous work, ‘The Prince’, about how to get ahead using dirty tactics after losing his government job and wanting to impress his new boss.

It spawned the word ‘Machiavellian’, which means cunning and unscrupulous, especially in politics or in advancing one’s career.

According to Miles Unger in ‘Machiavelli: A Biography’ he was in reality a committed family man who appears completely different from how we imagine.

The book reveals that Machiavelli, who was born in 1469 and died in 1527, had his outlook shaped by the tumultuous events that took place during his lifetime, to which he had a front row seat.

Machiavelli carried out spying missions on behalf of the Italian government, was good friends with Leonardo and Michelangelo and dealt with Pope Alexander VI and his notorious son Cesare Borgia, who became the inspiration for ‘The Prince’.

According to Unger it was written in 1513 after he’d lost his job with the government and was briefly jailed due to powers shifting in his home city of Florence.

There was no intention to create a book that would become what Unger says is ‘the most notorious and influential political tract ever written’.

He also reveals that Machiavelli was a playwright, a poet and a caring husband to wife Marietta Corsini who cared deeply for his family.

Unger says that today Machiavelli’s name ‘has been turned into an adjective to describe any cynical act or the pursuit of power without conscience’.

Such a stereotype is unfair and wrong, he says in the introduction to the book, which is published by Simon and Schuster and is out now.

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Mysterious humming noise bedevils tiny English village


Residents of Woodland, Country Durham, England, have been complaining of a low hum that lasts between midnight and 4 a.m. every night.

A persistent humming sound is annoying residents of the tiny English village of Woodland. Similar unexplained Hums have been heard in North America and Australia in recent decades.

A 2009 story in Britain’s Daily Mail reports that many hearers have attributed The Hum, as it is known, to secret government experiments, satellites…

CSMonitor.com | Jun 14, 2011

By Eoin O’Carroll

Residents of a tiny English village have been kept awake for the past two months by a persistent low hum, which arrives every night at midnight and goes until 4 a.m., and nobody knows what causes it.

People in Woodland, County Durham, variously describe the sound as a throbbing, a buzzing, and a droning – all occurring just at the edge of perception. Many have likened it to the sound of an idling diesel engine.

“In certain areas of the house you can hear it more loudly. It is definitely from outside, it’s in the air, all around, very faint,” Woodland resident Marylin Grech told the The Telegraph’s Richard Alleyne.

“It sounds like an overhead power line with this constant humming buzz,” another resident told the BBC.

Not everyone can hear it. The BBC reports that most of the complainants are between 50 and 60 years old.

Related

Tiny village is latest victim of the ‘The hum’

The Durham Hum, as it has become known, is not the world’s first unexplained low frequency rumble. In the 1970s, thousands of people in Bristol, England, complained of a deep throbbing sound. Nobody ever discovered the the source, and one day the Bristol Hum simply stopped.

Similar hums have been heard in Taos, New Mexico; Kokomo, Indiana; Bondi, Australia; Largs, Scotland; and on Hawaii’s Big Island.

What’s more, those attempting to record the resonating thrum usually end up with sound tracks that are completely silent.

Many have sought to explain the source of these maddening drones. Potential culprits have ranged from the conventional – such as abandoned mine shafts, colliding ocean waves, automobile traffic, airplanes, and factory equipment – to the crackpot. A 2009 story in Britain’s Daily Mail reports that many hearers have attributed The Hum, as it is known, to secret government experiments, satellites, and even UFOs.

The phenomenon inspired an episode in Season 6 of the “X-Files,” in which a secret government experiment in extremely low-frequency radio transmissions caused people’s heads to explode.

But some experts say that the truth may not be out there, as such, but originating in the heads of those hearing it. One man who has studied this phenomena for years, Dr. David Baguley, director of audiology at the Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, has concluded that the hum is created when people fixate on innocuous background noises and train their hearing to become sensitized to it, even continuing to “hear” it after the original noise is gone.

“It becomes a vicious cycle,” Baguley told the BBC. “The more people focus on the noise, the more anxious and fearful they get, the more the body responds by amplifying the sound, and that causes even more upset and distress.”

But Woodland residents insist that the hum is very real.

“If I put my fingers in my ears it stops,” Marylin Grech told the Telegraph. “So I know it’s not in my head.”

Bill Gates Pledges $1 Billion For ‘Vaccines Rich Kids Take For Granted’

“The world today has 6.8 billion people. That’s heading up to about nine billion. Now if we do a really great job on new vaccines…we could lower that by perhaps 10 or 15 percent.”

– Bill Gates

forbes.com | Jun 13, 2011

“It’s not every day we give away a billion dollars,” Bill Gates said this morning in London, when he announced — to a whooping and cheering audience — that he’ll be giving that sum to help vaccinate children in the world’s poorest countries against preventable diseases.

Gates made the $1 billion pledge at today’s Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunisation summit (GAVI), a partnership between his foundation, the World Bank, and a handful of governments, charities and businesses.

The Microsoft founder is already the most charitable person on the planet, having gifted $28 billion to his Gates Foundation to date, and creating the Giving Pledge with friend Warren Buffett to spur fellow billionaires to follow suit.

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In his speech as GAVI host, Gates said he was stunned to hear half a million children a year were being killed by the rotavirus infection, a preventable form of gastroenteritis. The $4.3 billion total pledged today by Gates, Britain and other countries will provide a rotavirus vaccine and others “that rich kids take for granted” to children worldwide over the next five years, Gates said.

See the video of Gates announcing his $1 billion pledge below.

. . .

Related

Bill Gates’ Children Mock Him With ‘Billionaire’ Song

“I wanna be a billionaire so frickin bad

Buy all of the things I never had

I wanna be on the cover of Forbes Magazine

Smiling next to Oprah and the Queen

Oh every time I close my eyes

I see my name in shining lights, yeaaah

A different city every night oh I swear

The world better prepare for when I’m a billionaire.”

(Travie McCoy)

“Yeah I would have a show like Oprah

I would be the host of

Everyday Christmas give Travie a wish list

I’d probably pull an Angelina and Brad Pitt

and adopt a bunch of babies that ain’t never had s—

Give away a few Mercedes like here lady have this

And last but not least grant somebody their last wish”

F.B.I. Agents Get Leeway to Push Privacy Bounds


Valerie E. Caproni, the F.B.I. general counsel, said the bureau had carefully considered each change to its operations manual. Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times

NY Times | Jun 12, 2011

By CHARLIE SAVAGE

WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.

The F.B.I. soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, according to an official who has worked on the draft document and several others who have been briefed on its contents. The new rules add to several measures taken over the past decade to give agents more latitude as they search for signs of criminal or terrorist activity.

The F.B.I. recently briefed several privacy advocates about the coming changes. Among them, Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent who is now a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that it was unwise to further ease restrictions on agents’ power to use potentially intrusive techniques, especially if they lacked a firm reason to suspect someone of wrongdoing.

“Claiming additional authorities to investigate people only further raises the potential for abuse,” Mr. German said, pointing to complaints about the bureau’s surveillance of domestic political advocacy groups and mosques and to an inspector general’s findings in 2007 that the F.B.I. had frequently misused “national security letters,” which allow agents to obtain information like phone records without a court order.

Valerie E. Caproni, the F.B.I. general counsel, said the bureau had fixed the problems with the national security letters and had taken steps to make sure they would not recur. She also said the bureau, which does not need permission to alter its manual so long as the rules fit within broad guidelines issued by the attorney general, had carefully weighed the risks and the benefits of each change.

“Every one of these has been carefully looked at and considered against the backdrop of why do the employees need to be able to do it, what are the possible risks and what are the controls,” she said, portraying the modifications to the rules as “more like fine-tuning than major changes.”

Some of the most notable changes apply to the lowest category of investigations, called an “assessment.” The category, created in December 2008, allows agents to look into people and organizations “proactively” and without firm evidence for suspecting criminal or terrorist activity.

Under current rules, agents must open such an inquiry before they can search for information about a person in a commercial or law enforcement database. Under the new rules, agents will be allowed to search such databases without making a record about their decision.

Mr. German said the change would make it harder to detect and deter inappropriate use of databases for personal purposes. But Ms. Caproni said it was too cumbersome to require agents to open formal inquiries before running quick checks. She also said agents could not put information uncovered from such searches into F.B.I. files unless they later opened an assessment.

The new rules will also relax a restriction on administering lie-detector tests and searching people’s trash. Under current rules, agents cannot use such techniques until they open a “preliminary investigation,” which — unlike an assessment — requires a factual basis for suspecting someone of wrongdoing. But soon agents will be allowed to use those techniques for one kind of assessment, too: when they are evaluating a target as a potential informant.

Agents have asked for that power in part because they want the ability to use information found in a subject’s trash to put pressure on that person to assist the government in the investigation of others. But Ms. Caproni said information gathered that way could also be useful for other reasons, like determining whether the subject might pose a threat to agents.

The new manual will also remove a limitation on the use of surveillance squads, which are trained to surreptitiously follow targets. Under current rules, the squads can be used only once during an assessment, but the new rules will allow agents to use them repeatedly. Ms. Caproni said restrictions on the duration of physical surveillance would still apply, and argued that because of limited resources, supervisors would use the squads only rarely during such a low-level investigation.

The revisions also clarify what constitutes “undisclosed participation” in an organization by an F.B.I. agent or informant, which is subject to special rules — most of which have not been made public. The new manual says an agent or an informant may surreptitiously attend up to five meetings of a group before those rules would apply — unless the goal is to join the group, in which case the rules apply immediately.

At least one change would tighten, rather than relax, the rules. Currently, a special agent in charge of a field office can delegate the authority to approve sending an informant to a religious service. The new manual will require such officials to handle those decisions personally.

In addition, the manual clarifies a description of what qualifies as a “sensitive investigative matter” — investigations, at any level, that require greater oversight from supervisors because they involve public officials, members of the news media or academic scholars.

The new rules make clear, for example, that if the person with such a role is a victim or a witness rather than a target of an investigation, extra supervision is not necessary. Also excluded from extra supervision will be investigations of low- and midlevel officials for activities unrelated to their position — like drug cases as opposed to corruption, for example.

The manual clarifies the definition of who qualifies for extra protection as a legitimate member of the news media in the Internet era: prominent bloggers would count, but not people who have low-profile blogs. And it will limit academic protections only to scholars who work for institutions based in the United States.

Since the release of the 2008 manual, the assessment category has drawn scrutiny because it sets a low bar to examine a person or a group. The F.B.I. has opened thousands of such low-level investigations each month, and a vast majority has not generated information that justified opening more intensive investigations.

Ms. Caproni said the new manual would adjust the definition of assessments to make clear that they must be based on leads. But she rejected arguments that the F.B.I. should focus only on investigations that begin with a firm reason for suspecting wrongdoing.

150 Chemicals Are No Longer Incognito


green.blogs.nytimes.com | Jun 13, 2011

By JOANNA M. FOSTER

This month the Environmental Protection Agency made public the names of 150 chemicals that were investigated in health and safety studies but whose identities were withheld as confidential business information.

Fresh crude and oil broken down by dispersant in the Gulf of Mexico in May 2010. Several ingredients of Corexit, the chief dispersant that BP used to dissolve the oil after the Deepwater Horizon spill, are among 150 chemicals whose identities have been disclosed by the E.P.A.European Pressphoto AgencyOil broken down by dispersant in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Some ingredients of the dispersant Corexit were among 150 chemicals whose identities were disclosed by the E.P.A.

The release of the information, which identified chemicals researched in 104 studies, reflects a slow but determined effort by the E.P.A. to reform what it views as a flawed system for regulating toxic substances. It is the second disclosure of its kind this year, after the release of 40 chemicals’ names in March.

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Gulf Coast Residents Still Sick From BP Oil Spill

The agency is working to remedy what it views as the abuse of so called C.B.I. privileges, which prevent the public from learning that a specific chemical may pose risks.

The chemicals’ identities were withheld under the Toxic Substances Control Act, a 1976 law that gives the E.P.A. the authority to set reporting and testing requirements for chemical substances. (Food, drugs, cosmetics and pesticides are exempted from that law.) Critics have faulted the measure as ineffective in protecting the public, noting that 17,000 of the 84,000 chemicals on the agency’s toxic substances inventory are not publicly identified at the manufacturers’ request.

At the time of the law’s passing, industrial chemicals were deemed innocent until proven guilty, meaning that it was the E.P.A.’s responsibility to show that a chemical posed a potential risk, not the manufacturer’s to demonstrate its safety. Since 1976, 22,000 new chemicals have been approved by the agency; 62,000 were already on the market when the law was passed.

Although the agency has the authority to review and challenge the confidentiality requests, it has lacked the capacity to cope with the tens of thousands filed each year. On average, only about 14 cases have been reviewed annually, although that pace is now accelerating.

When health and safety data have been submitted to the E.P.A. on a specific chemical, the bar in theory is supposed to be set higher, allowing the chemical’s name to be withheld only if a study reveals sensitive details of the chemical’s manufacturing process or a specific, proprietary formulation. Yet once a chemical’s name had been protected as confidential during its early development, its identity tended to remain confidential indefinitely.

Included on the list of 150 chemicals issued on Wednesday are several components of Corexit, a dispersant manufactured by Nalco that was used to break down oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill last year in the Gulf of Mexico.

Medical professionals and ecologists will now have access to the health and safety data for chemicals on the list, opening the way for a deeper understanding of the risks of exposure for humans and marine wildlife.

Bavarians mourn mysterious death of their Swan King

thelocal.de | Jun 11, 2011

Around 1,500 people gathered at Lake Starnberg outside Munich on Monday to mark the 125th anniversary of the death of Bavaria’s most famous monarch – “Mad” King Ludwig II. Conspiracy theories still linger over his apparent suicide.

The open-air memorial service was held near the cross that marks where Ludwig’s body was found.

In his sermon, the priest Johannes Eckert paid tribute to the monarch’s life. “He lived in a tension between idealism and reality,” he said, before adding that Ludwig constantly yearned to find beauty in everything.

But not all Bavarians are so reverential to their erstwhile king. A satirical “anti-monarchist swim” was also due to be held in the lake on Monday.

On top of that, the secret society known as the Guglmänner announced their plans to hold a ceremony. The Guglmänner see themselves as protectors of the Bavarian monarchy and are largely responsible for the conspiracy theories surrounding Ludwig’s death.

Ludwig II was found dead in shallow waters of the lake, along with a psychiatrist, on June 13, 1886. He had been declared unfit to rule a few days earlier by his government, apparently suffering from mental incapacity, thought to be clinical insanity – though this modern diagnosis has been disputed.

The official report returned a verdict of probable suicide, but conspiracy theorists believe he was shot.

Occasionally referred to as the Swan King, Ludwig is best known for his extravagance and fairytale obsessions, and was responsible for the construction of the spectacular Neuschwanstein palace, which remains one of Bavaria’s most popular tourist attractions.

He was also a devoted patron of the composer Richard Wagner.

Scientists engineer mother’s-milk cow

Germán Kaiser, a scientist involved in the project, dismissed the notion that the milk produced would be a “Frankenfood” that could be bad for babies.

ft.com | Jun 12, 2011

By Jude Webber in Buenos Aires

Scientists in Argentina – a country whose status as a world agricultural powerhouse was built on the cultivation of genetically modified crops – have engineered a cow that they say will deliver the next best thing to mother’s milk.

The red-haired calf, paraded on television in a white neckerchief, was given human genes carrying two specific proteins, one of which is present in human breast milk but virtually absent in cow’s milk. The aim is to produce a highly nutritional, baby-friendly cow’s milk with enhanced iron and anti-bacterial properties, they said.

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The team – incorporating scientists from the Institute for Biotechnology Research, the National Institute for Agricultural Biotechnology and the National University of San Martin – then cloned the cells to achieve a genetically modified embryo that was implanted in a surrogate. The calf, named Rosa-Isa, was born in April.

Germán Kaiser, a scientist involved in the project, dismissed the notion that the milk produced would be a “Frankenfood” that could be bad for babies.

“Since the proteins are identical to those in human milk, this cannot be harmful,” he said.

What is more, the idea of tailoring milk for special needs could be repeated in other uses – such as engineering cows to produce milk fortified with insulin.

Scientists in China have also incorporated human genes into cows to make more human-like milk, but the Argentine scientists added the two genes at the same time in a single site in the bovine genome – a first, Mr Kaiser said.

Julian Domínguez, Argentina’s agriculture minister, says that the development of baby milk in cows fulfils a “significant social goal”.