Monthly Archives: November 2012

Scientists in Kazakhstan invent “an elixir of youth and energy” to extend rule of dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev


Kazakh President Nursulatn Nazarbayev  Photo: REUTERS

Scientists in Kazakhstan say they have invented a life-lengthening yogurt drink after the country’s veteran leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, pleaded for “an elixir of youth and energy” in order to continue his rule.

Telegraph | Nov 6, 2012

The drink, called “nar” (nourishment), “will enable the improvement of quality of life and its prolongation” said Zhaksybay Zhumadilov a researcher at Nazarbayev University in the capital, Astana.

Mr Nazarbayev, 72, has been president of the Central Asian state since 1990 but he recently began musing on the benefits of immortality.

When an ethnic Korean delegate at Kazakhstan’s People’s Assembly proposed in 2010 that the leader should stay in power for another decade, Mr Nazarbayev answered: “Maybe, then, you’ll offer me an elixir of youth and energy – maybe you have such potions in Korea … I’m willing to go on until 2020, just find me an elixir.”

Cleopatra was famed for bathing in asses’ milk in an attempt to preserve her looks, but Mr Nazarbayev made clear he desired nothing less than the secret of eternal life. “Anti-ageing medicine, natural rejuvenation, immortality,” he mused to a government science committee. “That’s what people are studying these days.”

He added: “Those who do are the most successful states in the world – those who don’t will get left on the sidelines.”

Mr Zhumadilov said his yogurt drink would aid digestion and improve health but admitted: “A bioproduct alone will not solve the problem of longevity. It’s just one of the factors.”

Related

Why is Tony Blair lending credibility to Kazakhstan’s dictator?

The world’s enduring dictators: Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan

Oil rich dictator of Kazakhstan recruits Tony Blair to help win Nobel peace prize

The dictator with a Royal warrant: Why HAS Prince Andrew been to Kazakhstan six times in seven years?

The global war on free speech


The Leveson Inquiry’s findings will be crucial to the future of the press Photo: Getty Images

It’s not just China and Russia: editors in Greece and Hungary are being harassed, while Britain’s straitened press is in danger of being cowed by powerful interests and excessive regulation

Freedom of expression – the bedrock of democracy – is under threat in Britain, as it is around the globe.

Telegraph | Nov 28, 2012

By John Kampfner

Look back at the big events of the past decade and ask yourself: did we find out too much or too little of what the powerful did in our name? Did we know too much or too little about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Did we enquire too much or too little about the cheating of the bankers?

When I posed this question during my testimony to the Leveson Inquiry back in January, I swear I saw the judge’s eyes roll. I fear Lord Justice Leveson had been persuaded long before that journalism was a problem for society, not part of the solution to its ills. He could have been forgiven for coming to this instant conclusion, having listened to the heart-rending testimony of Milly Dowler’s parents, or Kate and Gerry McCann, or of other victims of hounding and despicable behaviour.

Even though I have worked in the profession, or trade, for more than two decades, I hold no candle for the press as an institution. My concern is broader. Freedom of expression – the bedrock of democracy – is under threat in Britain, as it is around the globe.

Wherever you look, someone with power, somewhere in the world, is trying to prevent the truth from getting out. In dictatorships they often resort to violence. But usually those with power hide behind laws that, while technically legitimate, are designed to chill free speech.

We think such measures are the preserve of places like China and Russia. And they are. In China the media are severely censored. Dissidents are routinely jailed. Western media are blocked online when they become inconvenient, as the New York Times was recently after revealing details of premier Wen Jiabao’s family wealth.

In Russia, investigative journalists are killed when they find out too much. The internet is now severely restricted. Members of the punk band Pussy Riot languish in penal colonies for protesting in church.

But dangers also lurk in so-called democracies. In Greece, a magazine editor yesterday went on trial for having the temerity to publish details of the tax avoidance schemes of the super-rich, as ordinary people suffer greatly from austerity. If normal ethical standards were applied, Costas Vaxevanis would have been celebrated for his intrepid reporting. But shooting the messenger has become the norm for politicians and business leaders, as a means of diverting attention from their crimes and misdemeanours – and frightening whistleblowers and journalists. In France, presidents and ministers have for years hidden behind privacy clauses to keep their dodgy financial affairs secret. Hungary’s recent press law, requiring media outlets to be licensed, has led to a spate of overly critical editors being sacked and radio stations taken off air.

What is so dispiriting is that we in Britain appear now to be leaning in this direction. We increasingly regard free speech as a danger.

There are a number of reasons: some of it is the result of bad law; some of it is economic. Politicians, lawyers and the public are struggling to come to terms with rapid technological changes. The internet was supposed to be the vehicle that broke down old rules and hierarchies. We suddenly acquired a voice through emails, blogs and social networking. We could bear witness to events through sound recording and cameras on our mobile phones.

The power relationship shifted. Gone were the days when a mere citizen would have to send a letter to their MP, who would occasionally deign to reply. Mostly they didn’t, seeing engagement or accountability as an intrusion on their valuable time.

That has changed, thank goodness, and cannot be reversed. The moment George Osborne’s assistant queried, possibly innocently, his standard-class train ticket, that episode was in the public domain.

Yet at the same time we struggle with Twitter and Facebook and the freedoms they afford. Online, the extremely poor joke and the offensive remark have now become matters not for peer groups to sort out, but for the authorities. So the hapless young man who tweets in frustration about blowing up an airport is arrested; a stupid boy who insults the Olympic diver Tom Daley is visited by the police; and the equally pathetic young man who makes an ill-judged “joke” about the disappeared Welsh schoolgirl April Jones is taken in, too.

I am as angered by these remarks as anyone, but is it the state’s job to arbitrate matters of taste and decency? When Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, was invited on to the BBC’s Question Time a couple of years ago, to howls of outrage, I saw it as important to defend his right to appear – and to make a fool of himself, which he duly did. To misquote Voltaire, the only free speech worth defending is that of the person whose views you find most obnoxious.

Everywhere around the world, it seems, the right to take offence has been elevated into a human right. Usually, but not always, this “right” is exercised through religious belief. Most cases are seen through the prism of “insults” to Islam. But this “right” now seems to be exercised by whoever wants it.

What does all this have to do with our press? The best word I can find is “raucous”. A raucous, argumentative society is a healthy society. Of course we need laws to protect people – from child pornography to incitement to violence. We need state secrets. But the Official Secrets Act has often been used for the wrongful purpose of protecting the reputations of ministers and officials. We need anti-terrorism measures, but not the outrageous Communications Data Bill currently being discussed in Parliament, that would give not just the security services but dozens of lesser public bodies the right to demand emails and social media traffic from any citizen in the land. These plans are dangerous; they are also manna from heaven for the Russians and Chinese, who love to point to the West’s double standards when their records are held up to scrutiny.

We need libel laws, but not those that for years have indulged sheikhs, oligarchs and other super-rich figures, preventing anyone from writing about them. These laws are being changed, but I fear the end result will fall far short of the improvements the libel reform campaign I helped to lead has sought.

Throw in the economics: many newspapers have closed or been pared to the bone, particularly in the regions. Whose interests are served when local councils know that planning decisions and other dodgy dealings will go unreported? The same goes on a national scale, not just about politicians, but sports stars and their agents and businesses on the take. Investigative journalism takes time, requires patience and indulgence from editors, and costs money. That is the area that is being cut back most of all – to everyone’s detriment.

So how come a general view has been allowed to take hold that our press is out of control? The terrible acts of a few, hacking the phones of the vulnerable with no possible public interest, have handed the moral ground and political power to those who want journalists to be more “respectful”.

I have attended a number of press conferences over the years involving prime ministers and US presidents. When the two leaders marched into the room, the Americans would stand to attention; the Brits would sit sullenly. I know which I prefer.

Nobody sensible will defend the old-style boys’-club regulation of newspapers. Of course, something more vigorous must emerge from the Leveson Inquiry. But I have worked in many countries – not just under authoritarian regimes – where journalists are seduced by the offer of a seat at the top table, or are persuaded not to ask that extra question. “Go easy, we don’t want trouble” could all too easily become the mantra here. Would, I ask myself, this newspaper have had the courage to break the story about MPs’ expenses in the post-Leveson world? I would like to think so, but I’m not sure.

We all want to strike the right balance. But perfection is elusive. Forced to choose, I would rather have a public space that goes too far than one that – like so many countries around the world – is pliant in the face of power.

Scientist Frank Olson was drugged with LSD and ‘murdered by CIA’


Eric Olson composes his thoughts Thursday, Aug. 8, 2002, during a news conference at his house in Braddock Heights, Md. concerning the death of his father, Fort Detrick scientist Frank Olson Photo: AP

During his travels in Europe he “witnessed extreme interrogations in which the CIA committed murder using biological agents that Dr Olson had developed”.

A US government scientist was drugged by CIA agents and then thrown to his death from the 13th floor of a Manhattan hotel after he learned about secret torture sites in Europe, according to a lawsuit filed by his family.

Telegraph | Nov 28, 2012

By Raf Sanchez, New York

The sons of Dr Frank Olson claim that their father was murdered in 1953 after he discovered that his biological research was being used to torture and kill suspects in Norway and West Germany.

After raising concerns about the killings, Dr Olson was allegedly given LSD in a glass of brandy and then executed by the CIA, triggering what his family claims is “a multi-decade cover-up that continues to this day”.

The scientist began working with the spy agency in the 1950s and focused on biological weapons that could be transmitted through the air.

According to the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Washington DC, he traveled to research sites in Norway, France and West Germany as well as Porton Down, a British government facility in Wiltshire.

During his travels in Europe he “witnessed extreme interrogations in which the CIA committed murder using biological agents that Dr Olson had developed”.

The lawsuit gives no details about the reported deaths in Europe and the Ministry of Defence would not comment on Dr Olson’s activities in Britain.

A MoD spokesman said that Porton Down had been used to develop countermeasures to biological weapons and “part of this work included ongoing collaboration with our international allies, including the US”.

US CIA Drug Dealing, Torture, Milgram Experimentation on Humans

Dr Olson was apparently shaken by what he had seen and returned to the US resigned to resolve from the agency. On November 19, 1953 he was taken to a secret meeting Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, where he was given LSD hidden in a glass of brandy.

Days later he was brought to New York for “psychiatric treatment” by CIA officials who allegedly told his family that he had become unstable and violent.

At 2.30am on November 28, Dr Olson went through the window of the Statler Hotel’s room 1018a, which he was allegedly sharing with a CIA doctor, and died in the street below.

The CIA initially claimed his death was an accident but in the 1970s, as its activities were investigated in the wake of the Watergate scandal, it admitted that he had been drugged and said that his death was a suicide.

Dr Olson’s family was paid a settlement and invited to the White House by President Gerald Ford, who apologised for the government’s concealment of the drugging.

However, the family remained unsatisfied with the government’s account and in 1996 exhumed Dr Olson’s body and claimed to have found evidence of a blow to the head suffered before his fall.

Prosecutors in New York re-opened an investigation and although they were unable to turn up new evidence decided to change Dr Olson’s cause of death from “suicide” to “unknown”.

The family are now suing the government, claiming that the CIA is continuing to conceal files relating to their father’s death.

“The evidence shows that our father was killed in their custody. They have lied to us ever since, withholding documents and information, and changing their story when convenient,” said Eric Olson.

A CIA spokeswoman said that its covert programmes of the 1950s had been “thoroughly investigated” and that “tens of thousands of pages related to the program have been declassified and released to the public.”

Britain faces coldest winter for 100 years


Snow has fallen on mountains and other areas of high ground but it is expected to fall in other areas towards next week

Temperatures to plummet to minus 3°C this week and could fall as low as 20°C in December

Fears that snow blizzards could close roads and shut down rail networks as winter takes hold

MINUS 20C? Britain faces coldest winter for 100 years as Big Freeze

Daily Mail | Nov 27, 2012

By Vanessa Allen

Britain will shiver tonight as temperatures plummet in the first taste of what promises to be one of our coldest winters for a century.

The cold snap is expected to last until the end of the week, creating dangerous conditions on the roads and adding to the misery of those already battling floods.

Temperatures could fall to as low as minus 3°c (27°f) in some places, with snow already falling in the Pennines. In Saltburn, North Yorkshire, northerly winds have become so strong that they are pushing water back up a cliff.

They fear snow blizzards could close roads and shut down rail networks across the country as winter takes hold.

The cold, drier spell that starts tonight could be only a brief respite from the rain. More heavy showers are expected to return early next week, causing more misery to those trying to combat flood damage.

‘The weather will be much colder and drier across most of the UK today,’ said Meteogroup forecaster John Lee.

‘Northerly winds and clearer skies will make it feel much colder and we can expect widespread frost overnight when temperatures drop below freezing.

‘Wintry showers will bring sleet, snow and hail to higher ground tomorrow and there’s a risk of heavy snow showers in northern Scotland on Friday.

Local authorities say they are prepared for a harsh winter and have taken steps to avoid a repeat of two years ago, when a lack of gritters and snowploughs caused roads and transport networks to grind to a halt.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, said councils had stockpiled 1.3million tons of road salt and had ‘hundreds’ of gritters on standby.

‘Keeping the country moving is a community effort,’ said Peter Box, chairman of the LGA’s economy and transport board.

‘Councils will be treating as  many roads as they can and have  also installed and filled thousands of extra grit bins for people living in  side streets, villages and housing estates.

‘They’ve given equipment to  parish councils, community groups and snow wardens who have volunteered to grit hard-to-reach areas, and farmers will be helping out on country lanes.

‘Highways, street-cleaning and park staff could also be drafted in to help clear snow and ice around places like shops, schools and sheltered accommodation.’

He said councils would be using  social media, including Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, to keep people up to date about how weather is affecting their area.

British Freemasons sell Christmas membership packs for £80


Membership to the Freemasons is now available as a Christmas gift

Its ‘secret’ handshakes and elaborate rituals have long been a mystery to outsiders, but the world of freemasonry is opening up by selling membership Gift Packs for people to give their loved ones for Christmas.

By James Hall

telegraph.co.uk | Nov 26, 2012

The Masonic Christmas Gift Pack costs £80 and includes a tour of the local Masonic Lodge, an invitation to meetings with masons, and – subject to approval by the local Lodge – a year’s membership to the group.

The British Federation of Co-Freemasonry described the pack, which is available until the end of December, as “truly a life-changing gift”.

The federation is one of a number of freemasons’ groups that operate worldwide. It was founded in 1893 and has been operational in Britain since 1902. The federation is open to both men and woman and is open to people from all backgrounds and walks of life.

Freemasons are networking groups and charitable organizations who convene in local ‘Lodges’, or meeting houses. They are non-religious and non-political, and membership involves taking place in a series of rituals and ceremonies.

The British Federation of Co-Freemasonry is different to the United Grand Lodge of England, where membership is limited to men only.

Judges no longer have to declare Freemasonry

The British Federation of Co-Freemasonry said it is the first Masonic organisation to make membership available as a Christmas gift. It said that the initiative is part of a wider campaign to raise awareness amongst the general public.

A spokeswoman said that new members applying to join through the Christmas Gift Pack initiative will have their application confirmed after an interview by members at their nearest lodge.

She said: “We are hoping to reach some people who perhaps have never considered becoming a Freemason before. It seemed to us that Christmas was the perfect time to offer a Masonic Gift Pack and we hope many will take it up to surprise a loved one.”

“It is certainly a unique Christmas gift – to our knowledge nothing like this has ever been done before. Of course, if they subsequently change their minds before joining, we will provide a full refund. Equally if their local Lodge feel they aren’t suited to becoming a Mason we will fully refund the package as well.

The spokeswoman said that there are “huge benefits” to becoming a freemason.

“It provides a wonderful spiritual framework for life. We are hoping many more people will get the chance to experience it for themselves by being gifted our packs this Christmas,” she said.

To make flying as dangerous as driving, a 9/11 event would have to occur every month, or How the TSA Kills People


A U.S. Transportation Security Administration employee passes a metal-detecting wand over a traveler’s chest at O’Hare International Airport. Photograph by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Airport Security Is Killing Us

businessweek.com | Nov 18, 2012

by Charles Kenny

This week marks the beginning of the busiest travel time of the year. For millions of Americans, the misery of holiday travel is made considerably worse by a government agency ostensibly designed to make our journeys more secure. Created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Transportation Security Administration has largely outlived its usefulness, as the threat of a terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland continues to recede. These days, the TSA’s major role appears to be to make plane trips more unpleasant. And by doing so, it’s encouraging people to take the considerably more dangerous option of traveling by road.

The attention paid to terrorism in the U.S. is considerably out of proportion to the relative threat it presents. That’s especially true when it comes to Islamic-extremist terror. Of the 150,000 murders in the U.S. between 9/11 and the end of 2010, Islamic extremism accounted for fewer than three dozen. Since 2000, the chance that a resident of the U.S. would die in a terrorist attack was one in 3.5 million, according to John Mueller and Mark Stewart of Ohio State and the University of Newcastle, respectively. In fact, extremist Islamic terrorism resulted in just 200 to 400 deaths worldwide outside the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq—the same number, Mueller noted in a 2011 report (PDF), as die in bathtubs in the U.S. alone each year.

Yet the TSA still commands a budget of nearly $8 billion—which is why the agency is left with too many officers and not enough to do. The TSA’s “Top Good Catches of 2011,” reported on its blog, did include 1,200 firearms and—their top find—a single batch of C4 explosives (though those were discovered only on the return flight). A longer list of TSA’s confiscations would include a G.I. Joe action doll’s 4-inch plastic rifle (“it’s a replica”) and a light saber. And needless to say, the TSA didn’t spot a single terrorist trying to board an airline in the U.S., notes Bruce Schneier.

How TSA Kills People

Flying and Driving after the September 11 Attacks

Business Week On TSA: Airport “Security” Is Making Americans Less Safe

According to one estimate of direct and indirect costs borne by the U.S. as a result of 9/11, the New York Times suggested the attacks themselves caused $55 billion in “toll and physical damage,” while the economic impact was $123 billion. But costs related to increased homeland security and counterterrorism spending, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, totaled $3,105 billion. Mueller and Stewart estimate that government spending on homeland security over the 2002-11 period accounted for around $580 billion of that total.

The researchers quote Rand Corp. President James Thomson, who noted most of that expenditure was implemented “with little or no evaluation.” In 2010, the National Academy of Science reported the lack of “any Department of Homeland Security risk analysis capabilities and methods that are yet adequate for supporting [department] decision making.” In short, DHS (and the TSA in particular) is firing huge bundles of large denomination bills completely blindly.

There is lethal collateral damage associated with all this spending on airline security—namely, the inconvenience of air travel is pushing more people onto the roads. Compare the dangers of air travel to those of driving. To make flying as dangerous as using a car, a four-plane disaster on the scale of 9/11 would have to occur every month, according to analysis published in the American Scientist. Researchers at Cornell University suggest that people switching from air to road transportation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks led to an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month—which means that a lot more people died on the roads as an indirect result of 9/11 than died from being on the planes that terrible day. They also suggest that enhanced domestic baggage screening alone reduced passenger volume by about 5 percent in the five years after 9/11, and the substitution of driving for flying by those seeking to avoid security hassles over that period resulted in more than 100 road fatalities.

That’s not to say TSA employees bear responsibility for making the roads more dangerous—they’re just following incentives that reward slavish attention to overbearing and ambiguous rules over common sense. And don’t blame the officials of Homeland Security, either. They’re merely avoiding the far greater backlash associated with doing nothing than with doing something—even if nothing is probably the right course in a lot of cases. Instead, the blame lies somewhere among the politicians, the media, and the electorate, who will happily skewer officials over a single fatal plane incident while ignoring car crashes, gun homicides, and even bathtub accidents, which kill far more Americans than terrorism does.

If Americans really care about saving lives this Thanksgiving travel season, for goodness’ sake, don’t beef up airport security any further. Slashing the TSA will ensure that more people live to spend future holidays with loved ones.

DARPA building drone submarines to patrol the sea


40 cm unmanned submarine is seen during testing a tank in Canberra (Reuters / Stringer Australia)

RT | Nov 24, 2012

Surveillance drones in US airspace is soon to be inevitable, but what about unmanned vehicles patrolling the seas? The Pentagon is working hard at perfecting a stealth underwater drone for maritime monitoring.

Science Applications International Corporation of McLean, Virginia was recently awarded a contract from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, valued at over $58 million. With that funding, researchers have already begun working on an underwater vessel that will take the surveillance abilities that make aerial drones such a hot commodity and use it to send an unmanned submarine to sweep the sea for potential hazards.

According to DARPA, enemy submarines are being built right now with competing technology, allowing America’s foes to perhaps find a way to sneak unmanned vessels of their own around US bases across the globe. That’s why the Pentagon has contracted a team to work on an Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel, or ACTUV, which they say will be able to address a serious emerging threat.

“The growing number of adversaries able to build and operate quiet diesel electric submarines is a national security threat that affects US and friendly naval operations around the world,” writes DARPA.

Still in the early days of testing, the Science Applications International Corporation is now in the midst of stages two through four of the process, which involve design, construction and demonstration of a submarine that can spend months underwater without requiring a single human operator on board. If their prototype proves successful, software will need to be scripted, a finalized ship will be built, and the drone sub will begin supporting at-sea government testing. DARPA predicts the ships will be ready to go underwater for their first test runs in mid-2015.

In addition to scoping out any underwater adversaries interesting in attacking the United States or its bases, these drone subs could also be deployed to search for any other vessels that could compromise America’s interest. Earlier this year RT reported on the growing number of stealth subs used to move narcotics from Central America into the US, and just this month it was reported that a nuclear-powered Russian attack submarine sailed to within 200 miles of the United States before it was first spotted. Sending subs into the sea to search for these types of hazards is already an option, but deploying unmanned vehicles in dangerous situations might soon be the norm.