Monday, November 30, 2009

Russia building arms plants in Venezuela
11.30.09, 07:51 PM EST
VENEZUELA-ARMS/RUSSIA:Russia building arms plants in Venezuela

By Walker Simon

CARACAS (Reuters) - Russia is building arms plants in Venezuela to produce AK-103 automatic rifles and cartridges and is finalizing contracts to send 53 military helicopters to the Andean nation, Moscow's envoy to Venezuela saidMonday.
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Ambassador Vladmir Zaemskiy told a news conference that Russian engineers and Venezuelan construction firms were building the rifle and cartridge plants which, when operational, would employ more than 1,500 workers.

He gave no completion date for the plants under construction in the central state of Aragua.

Details about Moscow's military shipments and projects have been scarce since socialist President Hugo Chavez's government began signing military agreements with Russia back in 2001.

In recent years, Venezuela has bought over $4 billion in weapons from Russia, including 24 Sukhoi fighter jets. Critics say Caracas is fueling an arms race in Latin America. Chavez says he is modernizing the military for defensive purposes.

British Couple Held by Pirates Fear They Will be Killed

Anyone remember news about a British couple being held hostage by Somali pirates? Paul and Rachel Chandler were captured on Oct. 22, 2009 and made headlines for a couple of weeks, but I had to dig for the latest update, dated Nov. 20, 2009. Somalia has not had a functioning government for 18 years:

History and info on Mogadishu:

Reminded me about the film Black Hawk Down directed by Ridley Scott:

Currently recognized UN backed govt.

LONDON — A British couple being held hostage by Somali pirates said in an interview broadcast Friday that they fear they will be killed or handed to a terrorist group if a ransom is not paid soon.,2933,576031,00.html

Paul and Rachel Chandler were kidnapped by pirates on Oct. 22, who seized their 38-foot yacht — the Lynn Rival.

In an interview with Britain's Channel 4 news program, the Chandlers are seen surrounded by armed men, some of whom have their guns pointed directly at the retired couple.

"I have no doubt that they will not hesitate to kill us in a week or so from now," Paul Chandler, 59, said in the interview, filmed by a Channel 4 crew on Wednesday.

Britain's ITN — which produces Channel 4 News — said the Chandlers and their relatives had agreed that the footage, the first of the couple since their capture, could be aired.

Pirates have demanded $7 million to release the Chandlers, but Britain's government insists it won't pay ransoms to kidnappers.

"We are under threat and we are told that we will not be fed and given water, so we are very concerned about the future," Rachel Chandler, 55, said in the video.

"Our captors are very impatient now that nobody has been in touch to enter into negotiations. So we ask the government, and the people of Britain and our family, to do whatever they can to enter into negotiations with these people to buy back our lives," she said.

She said that the couple had been told by their captors that a terrorist cell is searching for them.

"We are also feeling very much under threat now that these people themselves won't hesitate to take our lives," she said.

An Islamic militia commander and a local elder in the central Somali village of Bahdo told the Associated Press previously that rival pirates and militia groups had fought for control of the British couple.

Britain's Foreign Office said Friday in a statement that it was aware of the video, and said the footage would likely "be distressing for the family."

But the ministry said government policy on ransom payments was clear.

"We do not make substantive concessions to hostage takers, including the payment of ransoms. These are innocent tourists, we seek the immediate release of Paul and Rachel," the Foreign Office said.

The Chandlers, married for 28 years, took early retirement about three years ago, sailing across the world. In an entry on a Web site in June they wrote that they were headed for Tanzania, after initially delaying a voyage there "because of the Somali pirate problem."

In the video footage, Paul Chandler insisted the couple were in reasonable health and unharmed.

"Mentally we are under great stress and threatened," he said. "Our kidnappers are losing patience. They are concerned that their has been no response at all to their demands for money."

The hostage, who had previously been permitted to conduct a telephone interview with a Britain's ITV News, urged the government to intervene before "we just sleepwalk to a tragic ending."

Yemen's coast guard said Friday that Somali pirates had hijacked a Panamanian cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, between the Arabian peninsula and the Horn of Africa. A coast guard official said the Red Sea Spirit was carrying an unknown number of crew when it was hijacked Friday morning, 36 nautical miles from the Yemeni port of Balhaf.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Plasma Device Kills Bacteria,Viruses, Fungi On Skin In Seconds

By Jason Palmer
Science and technology reporter, BBC News

Plasma bacteria killer (New Journal of Physics)
The prototype device can kill off bacteria, viruses, and fungi in just seconds

Researchers have demonstrated a prototype device that can rid hands, feet, or even underarms of bacteria, including the hospital superbug MRSA.

The device works by creating something called a plasma, which produces a cocktail of chemicals in air that kill bacteria but are harmless to skin.

A related approach could see the use of plasmas to speed the healing of wounds.

Writing in the New Journal of Physics, the authors say plasmas could help solve gum disease or even body odour.

Plasmas are known as the fourth state of matter, after solid, liquid, and gas. They are a soup of atoms that have had their electrons stripped off by, for example, a high voltage.

Plasmas are common elsewhere in the cosmos, where high-energy processes produce them, and they are even posited as a potential source of fusion energy. Their properties have recently been harvested for use in plasma televisions.

Deadly cocktail

But the new research focuses on so-called cold atmospheric plasmas.

Rather than turning a whole group of atoms into plasma, a more delicate approach strips the electrons off just a few, sending them flying.

You can even make it battery operated so you can use small devices - I have one in my hand right now
Gregor Morfill
Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics

Collisions with nearby, unchanged atoms slows down the electrons and charged atoms or ions they leave behind.

It has been known for some time that the resulting plasma is harmful to bacteria, viruses, and fungi - the approach is already used to disinfect surgical tools.

"It's actually similar to what our own immune system does," said Gregor Morfill, of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, who led the research.

"The plasma produces a series of over 200 chemical reactions that involve the oxygen and nitrogen in air plus water vapour - there is a whole concoction of chemical species that can be lethal to bacteria," he told BBC News.

Professor Morfill and his colleagues have worked out the precise details of the plasma production that effectively kills off such bugs without doing harm to skin, and demonstrated a number of prototype devices that do the job efficiently.

"To produce plasmas efficiently at low cost so you can really mass produce these things for hospitals, that's the big breakthrough of the last year," Professor Morfill said.

The team says that an exposure to the plasma of only about 12 seconds reduces the incidence of bacteria, viruses, and fungi on hands by a factor of a million - a number that stands in sharp contrast to the several minutes hospital staff can take to wash using traditional soap and water.

More applications

Professor Morfill said that the approach can be used to kill the bacteria that lead to everything from gum disease to body odour.
'Clean hands' warning in hospital (PA)
Hospital staff can spend hours cleaning hands by traditional means

"The idea is scalable to any size, it can be produced in any shape; it's very flexible," he said.

"You can even make it battery-operated so you can use small devices - I have one in my hand right now."

A similar approach, using the element argon instead of plain air, has been demonstrated for application directly to wounds, and initial indications are that it speeds healing.

Michael Kong, a bioelectrics engineering researcher at Loughborough University, said it remains unclear whether those effects are through the chemical cocktail that the plasma produces, or simply from the effect of reducing the number of bacteria crowding a wound.

"Either way, it is still a very important breakthrough," Professor Kong told BBC News.

"The ideas are not new - but only recently, collectively, has this community of researchers come up with plasma sources that achieve disinfection but also have minimal impact on skin cells."

Professor Morfill said that more testing of the devices is necessary before they end up in widespread use, but he said that there is already significant interest from industry.

Cuba conducts war games with invasion by U.S. in mind


HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba began its biggest military maneuvers in five years on Thursday, saying they were needed to prepare for a possible invasion by the United States.

Despite a thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations and assurances last week by President Barack Obama that the United States has no intention of invading the island 90 miles from Florida, Cuba's state-run press quoted military leaders as saying there "exists a real possibility of a military aggression against Cuba."

Most of Cuba's materiel dates from the Soviet era, but Russia recently agreed to modernize the arsenal as part of a renewal of friendship between the former allies.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Iran's Ahmadinejad visits Hugo Chavez to deepen ties

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in Venezuela on the third leg of his tour of South America to boost ties.

He is set to sign business and industrial accords with his close ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Mr Chavez, who has said he wants to develop nuclear energy, has backed Iran's right to a nuclear programme.

The Iranian leader arrived from Bolivia where he and President Evo Morales stressed the right of all nations to a peaceful nuclear programme.

President Ahmadinejad was assured of a warm welcome from his Venezuelan host, Hugo Chavez.

The two outspoken critics of the US have visited each other several times and co-operation between their countries has grown in recent years.

"We have a solid foundation, a solid base that we have created over this decade in our relationship, and it shows how false are the attacks of the world empire," said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro.


The two men are expected to sign some 270 agreements in fields such as agriculture, industry, technology and energy during Mr Ahmadinejad's visit.

Opposition parties and Venezuela's Jewish community expressed opposition to the presence of the Iranian president.

Former deputy foreign minister Adolfo Tayllardhat told BBC Mundo that the deep ties were just between the two leaders.

"We've lost count of the number of accords signed between Chavez and Ahmadinejad. But I insist these are just personal relations, not between Venezuela and Iran, because the only thing that links the two countries is that they are oil producers and members of Opec."

Mr Ahmadinejad began his tour in Brazil, where President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva criticised attempts to isolate Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

But he also urged the Iranian leader to engage with the West.

Western powers fear Iran is developing nuclear weapons technology, rather than civilian uses as it claims.

"We feel at home here and among our brothers ... we're going to be together until the end," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez during a visit to Latin America on Wednesday.

Both leaders roundly denounced US "imperialism," and Chavez also called Israel "a murderous arm of the Yankee empire."

Chavez said he had just returned from an unannounced visit to Cuba, where he met with his mentor Fidel Castro as well as President Raul Castro. "They asked me to give you a hug for them," he told Ahmadinejad.

Also during Ahmadinejad's visit, the two leaders agreed on the inception of a direct flight route between Teheran and Caracas, according to a report by AFP.

Monday, November 23, 2009

V Television Series Product Placement by MetLife

Watching V episode 3 on, there is a shot with a ship hovering over the city in which there is a sign for MetLife. Somewhere around the 7:45-8:00 min. mark.

That probably explains the strong budget for the series and the allegory about the Visitors offering universal healthcare.

China activist Huang Qi sentenced to three years

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Chinese rights activist Huang Qi
Activist Huang Qi has spent a decade fighting for people's rights

Chinese activist Huang Qi has been sentenced to three years in prison for "illegally holding state secrets".

Mr Huang was arrested after helping families whose children died during the earthquake in Sichuan in May last year.

The activist's wife, Zeng Li, said the verdict was "revenge" for his involvement in the earthquake cases.

Amnesty International said Mr Huang was a victim of China's "vague" state secrets laws and should be released immediately.

The verdict was delivered at a 10-minute hearing at Wuhou District People's Court in the city of Chengdu - although there were few details given about the charge.

School buildings collapsed

The activist's wife and mother were allowed to enter the court to hear the sentence, the maximum jail term for this crime.

Zeng Li said: "This is clearly revenge because he helped parents who lost their children during the Sichuan earthquake."

She said any government information that her husband had was freely available to the public.

Mr Huang was taken by the police in Chengdu in June 2008 and has been held in custody ever since.

He was giving advice to the families of five dead children who wanted to bring a legal case against the local authorities following the earthquake.

In some places schools were the only buildings to collapse and many believe this was because they were shoddily built. China's central government denies the accusation.

This is clearly revenge because he helped parents who lost their children during the Sichaun earthquake
Activist's wife Zeng Li

"The Chinese government is penalising someone who is trying to help the victims of the Sichuan earthquake," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia Pacific director.

"Huang Qi should be treated as a model citizen, committed to the rule of law, but instead he has fallen victim to China's vague state secrets legislation."

Amnesty said the activist had been treated badly while in custody and denied proper medical help.

"According to local sources, the police interrogated Huang Qi for many hours at a time, sometimes depriving him of sleep," said the rights group.

Huang Qi has championed the rights of ordinary people for a decade and has been previously been prosecuted.

He served a five-year sentence for "inciting the subversion of state power" in connection with material published on his website.

He is not the only activist to investigate the Sichuan schools issue - and not the only one to be prosecuted for his efforts.

Tan Zuoren called for volunteers to travel to Sichuan to compile a list of pupils who died when their schools fell down. He was tried in August and is awaiting the verdict.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Russia 'is now a criminal state', says Bill Browder

Russia has now turned into a "criminal state", according to the man who was once its leading foreign investor.

Bill Browder of Hermitage Capital was reacting to the news that his lawyer had died in prison in Russia after being held for a year without charge.

He told the BBC that his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, had effectively been "held hostage and they killed their hostage."

Through Hermitage Capital Bill Browder campaigned against corruption at some of Russia's largest companies.

Russian officials say they are investigating Mr Magnitsky's death.

He was their hostage and they killed their hostage by denying him medical attention
Bill Browder, Hermitage Capital

In 2005 Mr Browder was banned from Russia as a threat to national security, after allegations that his firms evaded tax, but Mr Browder says his company was targeted by criminals trying to seize millions of pounds worth of his assets.

Mr Browder says he was punished for being a threat to corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.

Since then, a number of Mr Browder's associates in Russia - as well as lawyers acting for his company - have been detained, beaten or robbed.

Before the accusations of tax evasion were raised, for many years Mr Browder had been one of the most outspoken defenders of the Russian government and its then-president Vladimir Putin.

'False confession'

According to Mr Browder, Sergei Magnitsky developed stomach and pancreas problems in prison which were diagnosed by a prison physician. He claims Mr Magnitsky was then moved to a new prison and then deprived of medical treatment.
Sergei Magnitsky's picture on his coffin
Sergei Magnitsky died in prison

"They basically said to him if you sign the following false confessions then we'll give you medical treatment - otherwise we wont," claims Mr Browder.

Mr Magnitsky apparently wrote numerous complaints to the court, prosecutors and the prison authorities requesting medical treatment. Mr Browder claims that Mr Magnistky's pleas were first ignored and then denied.

Mr Browder believes that Mr Magnitsky's death is a direct result of tax evasion allegations against him.

"They're trying to come up with any kind of charges they can against me and they were using him as their tool. He was their hostage and they killed their hostage by denying him medical attention, " he says.

Sergei Magnitsky was one of the lawyers hired by Mr Browder to investigate whether fraud had been committed against his firms.

Mr Browder claims that when the police raided his office they took away corporate documents which they then used to steal his companies.

We're not going to let it rest until the people responsible for the death face justice
Bill Browder, Hermitage Capital

"Sergei Magnitsky was one of the lawyers who discovered the whole crime, figured out who was responsible and then testified against the police officers and after he testified against the police officers the very same police officers had him arrested on spurious charges."

The circumstances surrounding Mr Magnitsky's death has caused Bill Browder to question his attitude to Russia under Putin.

'Criminal state'

"When Putin first showed up and said he was going to tame the oligarchs I was the biggest fan of that particular concept. Then I realised that what he meant by taming the oligarchs was by sticking law enforcement people in their place," he says.

"Now you have a bunch of law enforcement people who are essentially organised criminals with unlimited power to ruin lives take property and do whatever they like and that's far worse than I have ever seen in Russia before. Russia is essentially a criminal state now."

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin won the 2000 Russian presidential election

Mr Browder says he is going to do all he can to get justice for Sergei Magnitsky.

"We're not going to let it rest until the people responsible for the death face justice," he said.

Responding to Mr Magnitsky's death, Russian Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov said he needed more evidence that the prisoner did not receive adequate medical care.

"I would be grateful to human rights activists for providing specific information. In every case where there are doubts that assistance was timely and of good quality, there has to be a probe".

The investigative committee for the Prosecutor's office said they were conducting a full investigation in the death.

"As of now, we don't see a justification for starting a criminal case," said Moscow Investigative Committee chief, Anatoly Bagmet.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cyberattacks on US military jump sharply in 2009

China is blamed as attacks on Department of Defense systems are on pace to rise 60 percent
Robert McMillan (IDG News Service) 20/11/2009 08:12:00

Cyberattacks on the U.S. Department of Defense -- many of them coming from China -- have jumped sharply in 2009, a U.S. congressional committee reported Thursday.

Citing data provided by the U.S. Strategic Command, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said that there were 43,785 malicious cyber incidents targeting Defense systems in the first half of the year. That's a big jump. In all of 2008, there were 54,640 such incidents. If cyber attacks maintain this pace, they will jump 60 percent this year.

The committee is looking into the security implications of the U.S.' trade relationship with China. It released its annual report to Congress Thursday, concluding that a "large body of both circumstantial and forensic evidence strongly indicates Chinese state involvement in such activities."

"The quantity of malicious computer activities against he United states increased in 2008 and is rising sharply in 2009," the report states. "Much of this activity appears to originate in China."

"The cost of such attacks is significant," the report notes. Citing data from the Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations, the report says that the military spent $100 million to fend off these attacks between September 2008 and March 2009. A Defense Department spokesman did not have any immediate comment on the report's numbers Thursday.

Attacks on department systems have been rising steadily for years. In 2000, for example, only 1,415 incidents were reported. The increase is in part due to the fact that the U.S. military is simply better at identifying cyberthreats than it used to be, said Chris Poulin, the chief security officer of Q1 Labs, and formerly a manager of intelligence networks within the U.S. Air Force. The department figures are "probably more accurate now," than they were nine years ago, he said.

Security experts have long known that many computer attacks originate from Chinese IP (Internet Protocol) addresses, but due to the decentralized nature of the Internet, it is very difficult to tell when an attack is actually generated in China, instead of simply using Chinese servers as a steppingstone.

Q1's Poulin says that his company's corporate clients in the U.S. are seeing attacks that come from China, North Korea, and the Middle East. "We do definitely see patterns coming from specific nation states."

He said that because China's government has taken steps to control Internet usage in the country, it could probably throttle attacks if it wanted to. "China's defiantly initiating attacks," he said. "State-sponsored? Who knows. But they're certainly not state-choked."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Intel: Chips in brains will control computers by 2020
Brain waves will replace keyboard and mouse, dial phones and change TV channels
By Sharon Gaudin
November 19, 2009 02:40 PM ET

Computerworld - By the year 2020, you won't need a keyboard and mouse to control your computer, say Intel Corp. researchers. Instead, users will open documents and surf the Web using nothing more than their brain waves.

Scientists at Intel's research lab in Pittsburgh are working to find ways to read and harness human brain waves so they can be used to operate computers, television sets and cell phones. The brain waves would be harnessed with Intel-developed sensors implanted in people's brains.

The scientists say the plan is not a scene from a sci-fi movie -- Big Brother won't be planting chips in your brain against your will. Researchers expect that consumers will want the freedom they will gain by using the implant.

"I think human beings are remarkable adaptive," said Andrew Chien, vice president of research and director of future technologies research at Intel Labs. "If you told people 20 years ago that they would be carrying computers all the time, they would have said, 'I don't want that. I don't need that.' Now you can't get them to stop [carrying devices]. There are a lot of things that have to be done first but I think [implanting chips into human brains] is well within the scope of possibility."

Intel research scientist Dean Pomerleau told Computerworld that users will soon tire of depending on a computer interface, and having to fish a device out of their pocket or bag to access it. He also predicted that users will tire of having to manipulate an interface with their fingers.

Instead, they'll simply manipulate their various devices with their brains.

"We're trying to prove you can do interesting things with brain waves," said Pomerleau. "Eventually people may be willing to be more committed ... to brain implants. Imagine being able to surf the Web with the power of your thoughts."

To get to that point Pomerleau and his research teammates from Intel, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, are currently working on decoding human brain activity.

Pomerleau said the team has used Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) machines to determine that blood flow changes in specific areas of the brain based on what word or image someone is thinking of. People tend to show the same brain patterns for similar thoughts, he added.

For instance, if two people think of the image of a bear or hear the word bear or even hear a bear growl, a neuroimage would show similar brain activity. Basically, there are standard patterns that show up in the brain for different words or images.

Pomerleau said researchers are close to gaining the ability to build brain sensing technology into a head set that culd be used to manipulate a computer. The next step is development of a tiny, far less cumbersome sensor that could be implanted inside the brain.

Such brain research isn't limited to Intel and its university partners.

Almost two years ago, scientists in the U.S. and Japan announced that a monkey's brain was used to to control a humanoid robot. Miguel Nicolelis, a professor of neurobiology at Duke University and lead researcher on the project, said that researchers were hoping its work would help paralyzed people walk again.

And a month before that, a scientist at the University of Arizona reported that he had successfully built a robot that is guided by the brain and eyes of a moth. Charles Higgins, an associate professor at the university, predicted that in 10 to 15 years people will be using "hybrid" computers running a combination of technology and living organic tissue.

Today, Intel's Pomerleau said various research facilities are developing technologies to sense activity from inside the skull.

"If we can get to the point where we can accurately detect specific words, you could mentally type," he added. "You could compose characters or words by thinking about letters flashing on the screen or typing whole words rather than their individual characters."

Pomerleau also noted that the more scientists figure out about the brain, it will help them design better microprocessors. He said, "If we can see how the brain does it, then we could build smarter computers."

Fox Interviews Obama in China Nov. 17th 2009

Part 1

Part 2

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Latest Douche Bags of Recycled Music

Not long ago I heard a "heavy?" cover of 'Land of Confusion' by Phil Collins and I thought 'What the...and why?' I actually like Genesis and Phil Collins has his solo moments, plus he helps me to relax when they're buffing my incisors. But, Land of Confusion wasn't the strongest song he ever made and in combination with the bizarre political puppets from Spitting Image I prefer to wash it from my memory along with Don Johnson's pink linen jacket. I'll just stick to Paperlate.

But no, here comes Land of Confusion once again, only this time I have to hear it unconvincingly shrieked by a band called 'Disturbed'. about a band who imitates Metallica covering Phil Collins? That not just necrophilia, surely that must be inbred necrofilial cannibalism. Hey, maybe that's the name of the next album by 'Disturbed'.

I must admit, I liked Van Halen's version of 'Pretty Woman' and later learned about Roy Orbison, so perhaps I was just as much of an oblivious and eager consumer.

Regardless, last week I was flipping through the radio while driving down 316 and, I shit you not, along comes the new fangled version of 'Careless Whisper' by a band called Seether.

George Michael, you sure as hell DID dance again, only this time in a much more butch fashion by these douche bags who know that they can rip it off and then sell it to kids who don't know any better. If I may regress for just a moment, this is gayer than gay. At least George made his own music and had the balls to sing it in his own way.

Since the youtube clip for Seether's version is just a place holder graphic, I had to look at another Seether video just to see what these people look like. It's the same flawed rationale as leering to see the face of a bad driver when someone does something dumb or annoying in traffic, hoping that the face and the actions match. And, no disappointments here. Seether, it looks like the teacher kept you in detention for about twenty years too long. These are the bands who make the music for our recruiting ads, seriously. Same target market.

Visit the infamous "Hall of Douchebags" at


Liu Mingjie created a computer-aided design that superimposed US President Barack Obama's face over that of China's late Chairman Mao.

So it's now Obama's face sporting that famous green Communist Party cap with a red star on T-shirts, bags and coin purses sold at Liu's shop, Stefan, located in the trendy, touristy lakeside shops of Houhai in central Beijing.

"American people who come in say, 'Omigosh. That's fantastic,' Liu said, perfectly mimicking a Southern California accent.

"Chinese people see Obama's face where Mao's should be, and they laugh," said Liu, 39, a native of Beijing.

Liu, who also goes by Stefan, the English-language name he adopted for his store, has sold more than 300 T-shirts and more than 1,000 ObaMao coin purses since he introduced the design two months ago at his store at No 20 Yandai Xiejie in the neighborhood near China's famed Bell and Drum towers. The cotton T-shirts, with white or black backgrounds, come with the re-engineered image on the front and the word ObaMao on the back.

Liu learned that what many of his local and foreign customers have in common is that they think Obama is a good-looking politician, he said.

So Liu added a new item: a small sticker designed to resemble the cover of US-based Time magazine with the ObaMao figure on the cover. The Chinese words on the mock magazine cover translate to: "Chairman Mao says I'm very handsome."

US tourist Santiago Nomen of Orange County, California, and his family walked into Liu's shop one day this week after seeing an ObaMao canvas bag hanging in Liu's shop window.

"It's amazing," Nomen said, laughing as he and family members examined the T-shirts.

Liu said he's had US customers who like or dislike Obama, but both kinds buy his T-shirts. "It's a win-win," he said.

German tourist Alice Steinert, 19, of Berlin, started laughing, too, when she walked into Liu's shop with her parents.

"They're really funny," she said, choosing an ObaMao T-shirt with a white background.

Steinert said she and her fellow Germans are fans of the new US president.

"In general, they're very glad Obama is president. We were happy when he got elected," she said.

Liu is a fan, too, "He talks about his family, which is important to Chinese people. And he's very friendly with African people and Asian people," he said.

Older Chinese people know very little about Obama, "but young people - students and those in their 30s and 40s - know him. They see Obama on CCTV," Liu said.

Liu said it was an easy Eureka to design a likeness of Obama wearing Mao's uniform.

"On the streets in Beijing, they like the Mao hats and green T-shirts. The foreigner wants to show he loves Chinese culture," Liu said.

Friends recently convinced him to send a complimentary T-shirt to Obama, so Liu shipped one to an acquaintance in the United States to deliver to the White House. He hasn't heard back yet, he said.

Before engineering the ObaMao T-shirts, Liu was a design engineer for the Beijing operations of Germany's Siemens AG and US-based Cisco Systems.

Then Liu decided to become an entrepreneur, opening up his Stefan shop three years ago, he said.

His first T-shirt designs focused on Beijing cultural scenes, including Beijing Opera images, he said, and they still are popular sellers at his store.

Now that his ObaMao line is proving a hit, Liu said he's working on a new product to introduce before the Christmas shopping season - ObaMao underwear.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jet Fighter Laser Cannon

More info on laser weapons:

(MATRIX), a laser that is mounted on a truck, can shoot down small aircraft:

YAL-1 AirBorne Laser is a 747 that shoots a laser from its nose that is powerful enough to bring down an ICBM:

Video: Airborne laser test

DARPA fridge laser. Advantage: Shark

By Lewis Page • Get more from this author

Posted in Science, 17th November 2009 17:15 GMT

Free whitepaper – Dell IT infrastructure services brochure

US military boffinry chiefs have stated that they will shortly issue a brace of contracts for "refrigerator sized" laser blaster cannons. One of the deals will see a full-power ground prototype built which will be the final stage prior to America's first raygun-equipped jet fighter.

The news comes in a pair of notices issued by renowned Pentagon propellerhead bureau DARPA, under the agency's High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defence System (HELLADS) programme. The notices, required by federal acquisition rules, reveal DARPA's intention to award two sole-source contracts to Textron Defence Systems and famous tech firm General Atomics.

The idea of HELLADS is to make a battle-strength 150 kilowatt laser light enough to be carried in a "tactical" aircraft, ie a fighter or similar rather than a massive lumbering transport plane. Current combat rayguns require at the very least a Hercules hauler to lift them, or even a jumbo jet in the case of the biggest. Such monster systems are of questionable usefulness in normal warfare - they are only seen as having a niche in unusual tasks such as shooting down nuclear missiles or unattributably burning holes in truck bonnets.

But a smaller HELL-beam mounted on a fighter that one could send out above the battlefield could be a lot handier. At height, allowing the line-of-sight laser beams to dominate a broad horizon, it could sweep the skies of such things as artillery or mortar shells, bombardment rockets etc - hence the "area defence" bit. If any pitiful fool tried to tackle the HELL-fighter with outmoded trash such as anti-aircraft missiles, these too would be beamed out of existence.

According to DARPA, the maximum feasible size for a tactical jet HELL-ray is "refrigerator sized", and the maximum weight is 750kg.

The two DARPA deals foreshadowed today will see the HELLADS Demonstrator Laser Weapon System (DLWS) assembled. According to DARPA this is the penultimate stage, a ground unit intended to prove that a fighter blaster-cannon pod can indeed be built:

This unit cell demonstration will validate the ability to produce output power and beam quality required to meet the full scale 150kW performance within the weight and volume goals through integration of replicated unit cells.

Quite apart from the raygun fighter plan, one should note that the competing HELL-beams offered by GA and Textron are to be assembled from many lesser laser "cells". Overall the technology is intended to produce blaster weaponry of "<5 kg/kW" weight-to-power ratio, scalable up and down in size.

If it scales down far enough, this would seem to put handheld HELL-guns within an order of magnitude of the striking power offered by conventional small-arms. A 9mm pistol bullet has about 750 joules muzzle energy: a 5kg portable HELL-ray weapon would put out this much energy in a blast less than a second long.

HELL-beam carbines and possible battlefield-dominating raygun fighters are all very well, of course, but by now our apparently large readership of evil billionaires will be impatiently skipping ahead to find out the consequences in terms of home/lair defence applications. Specifically, defence against tiresome government agents and/or their scantily-clad feminine assistants, black-clad SWAT-commando frogman allies etc, implemented by execution-pool sharks employing head-mounted energy weapons.

Well, a dolphin can carry a human being weighing up to 100kg along for a ride. A thoroughbred shark in good training can surely match this. Thus, we seem to be looking at practicable head-lazor output in the 20-kilowatt range, roughly equating to a submachinegun with a cyclic rate well over 1500 rounds per minute. This is more than double that offered by the Heckler & Koch MP5 favoured by government SWAT operatives worldwide.

Israeli settlement plan denounced

The US and UN have criticised Israel's approval of 900 extra housing units at a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the move would hamper Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Their remarks came after Israel's interior ministry approved planning applications for the new units.

The planning and construction committee authorised the expansion of Gilo, which is built on land captured in 1967.

The land was later annexed to the Jerusalem municipality.

US 'dismay'

With the project yet to be reviewed, the public can still make objections.

Settlements on occupied territory are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Jerusalem is Israel's capital and will remain as such
Mark Regev
Israeli premier's spokesman

Mr Gibbs said: "We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee's decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem.

"Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations."

It is the second time in two months that the Obama administration has spoken out on settlements.

In September the White House said it regretted reports that Israel planned to approve new construction in the West Bank.

The BBC's Paul Adams in Washington says the conventional wisdom in the US is that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has successfully thwarted Barack Obama's first foray into the stalled Middle East peace process, rebuffing American calls for a complete settlements freeze.

State department spokesman Ian Kelly said the planning decision was dismaying

But some Washington observers say it's too early to write off the president's efforts, he says.

They believe Mr Obama is playing a long game and that the frosty relations between Mr Netanyahu and the White House could cause problems for the Israeli leader in the future, our correspondent adds.

Mr Ban's spokeswoman said the UN chief believed the Israeli action would "undermine efforts for peace and cast doubt on the viability of the two-state solution".

'Envoy's request'

Israeli media reported earlier that the government had rejected a request from Washington to freeze the construction work at Gilo.

Mr Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, is said to have made the request to Mr Netanyahu at a meeting in London on Monday.

Mr Netanyahu replied that the project did not require government approval and that Gilo was "an integral part of Jerusalem", according to Israel Army Radio.

His spokesman, Mark Regev, declined to comment on the reports, but repeated Israel's refusal to include areas annexed to Jerusalem as part of any accommodation of Mr Obama's call for "restraint" in settlement construction.

Map showing Gilo

"Prime Minister Netanyahu... is willing to adopt the policy of the greatest possible restraint concerning growth in the West Bank, but this applies to the West Bank," he told the Reuters news agency. "Jerusalem is Israel's capital and will remain as such."

The Palestinian Authority has demanded a halt to all settlement construction before it will attend new peace talks, which were suspended last year.

The BBC's Tim Franks in Jerusalem says Tuesday's announcement represents by far the largest batch of planning approvals for building on occupied territory since Mr Netanyahu became prime minister.

The 900 housing units, which will be built in the form of four-to-five-bedroom apartments, will account for a significant expansion of Gilo.

The interior ministry said construction work would be unlikely to start for another three or four years.

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the planning approval was "yet another step that shows and proves Israel is not ready for peace".

Nearly 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built on occupied territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.


Israel brushes off Obama criticism over Jerusalem

By BEN HUBBARD (AP) – 21 hours ago

JERUSALEM — Israel broke ground on a new housing complex for Jews in east Jerusalem on Wednesday, brushing off President Barack Obama's criticism that construction in the disputed part of the holy city undermines efforts to relaunch Mideast peace talks.

The groundbreaking came a day after Israel defied American, European and Palestinian demands to stop settlement activity by announcing it will press forward with construction of 900 apartments in another Jewish area in east Jerusalem.

Speaking to Fox News in Beijing on Wednesday, Obama criticized the plan to build hundreds of homes in Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood, saying such moves make it harder to achieve peace in the region and embitter the Palestinians in a way he said could be dangerous.

The Palestinians claim the West Bank and east Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — for their hoped-for state and have refused negotiations until Israel stops settlement construction in these areas. The Palestinians say the continued growth of settlements on land they claim will make it impossible for them to establish a viable country of their own.

The Israeli government declined to respond to Obama's comments. But earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel had no intention of stopping the Gilo construction. He called the neighborhood "an integral part of Israel, an integral part of Jerusalem."

The future of east Jerusalem is the most intractable issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The area includes Jerusalem's walled Old City — home to sensitive Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites. Israel annexed east Jerusalem immediately after the 1967 war and claims all of the city as its eternal capital. The annexation was never recognized by other countries.

Speaking in parliament Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not address the tensions with the U.S. and ignored an Arab lawmaker who asked why he was allowing the new construction in Gilo.

Instead, Netanyahu reiterated his call for an immediate resumption of peace talks and criticized the Palestinians for refusing to return to the table.

"I hope the Palestinians answer our calls for negotiations," he said. "The Palestinians have groomed themselves with unrealistic expectations."

As he spoke, however, Israel faced a growing torrent of international criticism. The European Union expressed "dismay" over the Gilo project. It said that settlement activity, demolition of Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem and evictions of Palestinian families from contested properties undermine negotiations and "threaten the viability of a two-state solution."

In the West Bank, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat welcomed the international criticism.

He said the Gilo project "provides 900 more reasons why hopes for salvaging the two-state solution and restarting genuine negotiations are rapidly fading, and why Israel is not a partner for peace."

Obama has made restarting the peace talks a top foreign policy goal. To that end, he has demanded that Israel cease building or expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. But so far, the U.S. has not backed up its criticism with threats against Israel, a close ally.

Some 300,000 Israelis now live in West Bank settlements, while an additional 180,000 Israelis live in Jewish neighborhoods built in east Jerusalem.

Israel has offered to restrain construction in the West Bank, but it says it will build homes anywhere it wants in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem municipality on Thursday issued a statement detailing plans to build 5,000 new housing units for Palestinians in three neighborhoods in the eastern sector. Jerusalem's Israeli mayor, Nir Barkat, rejected U.S. criticism of the building projects for Jews.

"The city is working to respond to the needs of its Jewish and Arab residents equally," Barkat was quoted as saying.

Underscoring Israel's claim to the city, a member of the Israeli parliament and American Jewish visitors held a groundbreaking ceremony for another construction project in east Jerusalem on Wednesday.

The lawmaker, from Netanyahu's Likud Party, accused Obama of making a "racist demand" by ordering Israel to halt settlement activity.

"President Obama should not interfere with the rights of the Jewish people to live in Jerusalem," said lawmaker Danny Danon. "This ... is a racist demand, saying that Jews cannot live in Jerusalem, only Arabs."

The ceremony kicked off construction of 124 new apartments in a Jewish housing complex called Nof Zion, or "View of Zion," near the Arab neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber.

Six salmon-colored condo buildings and a playground already stand on the hillside, with a commanding view of a number of Arab neighborhoods and Jerusalem's Old City. A number of Arab homes and shops lie nearby.

The entire complex, expected to be complete in 2015, will contain a synagogue, a community center, a luxury hotel and 400 apartments, priced at between $371,000 to $690,000, said Rinat Sylvester, head of marketing for the complex.

At the ceremony, New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind said Obama's call to stop Jewish settlement amounted to "segregation."

Critics call settlements discriminatory since they provide roads, housing and infrastructure for Jewish residents, while they are off limits for Arabs living nearby.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Super Computing

Pictured, left. What of my old pipe dreams of evil supercomputers who will one day network the minds of humans to satisfy their thirst for memory and processing power, the spinal cords buckling at capacity.

Likely such configurations will be surpassed by quantum computers and the humans will merely serve as data storage. Or more simply, the DNA will be employed for the computing and the humans will be obsolete.

China Joins Supercomputer Elite

China has become one of a handful of nations to own one of the top five supercomputers in the world.

Its Tianhe-1 computer, housed at the National Super Computer Center in Tianjin was ranked fifth on the biannual Top 500 supercomputer list.

The machine packs more than 70,000 chips and can compute 563 trillion calculations per second (teraflops).

It is used for petroleum exploration and engineering tasks such as simulating aircraft designs.

However, the fastest machine is the US-owned Jaguar supercomputer, which now boasts a speed of 1.759 petaflops.

One petaflop is the equivalent of 1,000 trillion calculations per second.

I also read about the Sequoia, only slightly slower, which puts usage into context:,6955.html

"...the Sequoia will not arrive at the government facility until sometime in 2012. The 20 Teraflops speedster will have 1.6 Petabytes (note: 1 Petabyte = over one million gigabytes), connected to its 1.6 million cores. Beyond that, the details are scarce.

So what will the Sequoia be doing? Plotting world domination? Tracking down alien life forms? Its primary purpose will be to calculate nuclear explosions, along with analyzing the entire U.S. nuclear stockpile. The Sequoia was one of four bids considered by the National Nuclear Security Administration and the U.S. Dept. of Energy. "These powerful machines will provide NNSA with the capabilities needed to resolve time-urgent and complex scientific problems, ensuring the viability of the nation's nuclear deterrent into the future," said NNSA administrator Thomas D'Agostino. "This endeavor will also help maintain U.S. leadership in high performance computing and promote scientific discovery."

The Petaflop barrier was originally broken in June of 2008, when IBM announced that its Roadrunner supercomputer would be able to consistently calculate at such a high level. With the Sequoia topping out at around 20Tflops, the bar has been raised tremendously in the span of only seven months.

Analyzing nuclear weapons is all well and good, but we're hoping the scientists in Livermore try running Crysis on this bad boy during their downtime."

So, I wanted to brush up on my prefixes:

10008 1024 yotta Y 1991 Septillion Quadrillion 1000000000000000000000000
10007 1021 zetta Z 1991 Sextillion Trilliard 1000000000000000000000
10006 1018 exa E 1975 Quintillion Trillion 1000000000000000000
10005 1015 peta P 1975 Quadrillion Billiard 1000000000000000
10004 1012 tera T 1960 Trillion Billion 1000000000000
10003 109 giga G 1960 Billion Milliard 1000000000
10002 106 mega M 1960 Million 1 000 000

...and I then found an eccentric post which ventures beyond and on into speculative naming conventions:

Giga Tera Peta Exa Zetta Yotta Xona Weka Vunda Uda Treda Sorta Rinta Quexa Pepta Ocha Nena Minga Luma 10 To The Power Of 63 Because I Went As Far As 10 To The Power Of 105
And Named It Alexa Then I Thought This Is Not The End Just The Start So I Carried On And Went To 10 To The Power Of 108 And Named It Venta Then To 10 To The Power Of 111 And Named It Dutra And Then I Realized That Going To Infinity Can Never Be Possible!
What Is My Mind Thinking And Is Anyone Else Out There On This Planet Or Beyond That Is Enquiring Their Mind!
This Is Just The Beginning...
Thanks For Your Input No Matter What!
Cape Town
Republic Of South Africa
South Of The Equator
Close To The Antarctic Ocean And South Pole
Visible From Venus Sometimes
And What Happened To Pluto
Arrivederla A Presto

Friday, November 13, 2009

Obama seeks to ease Japan tension

US President Barack Obama arrives in Haneda Airport in Tokyo, 13 November
Mr Obama is to spend 24 hours in Japan and three days in China

US President Barack Obama has arrived in Japan at a time of uncertainty in relations with America's old ally over foreign policy and US military bases.

Japan's new Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, has signalled he wants closer ties with Asia and that he opposes plans to relocate a US base on Okinawa.

Mr Obama's first Asian tour as US leader is aimed at boosting economic growth and reassuring key allies.

He called for a growth strategy "that is both balanced and broadly shared".

His eight-day tour will take him to Singapore, China and South Korea and includes an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit.

Friday 13 November: Arrives in Japan
Saturday 14: Leaves Tokyo for Apec summit in Singapore
Sunday 15: Has talks with Russia's President Medvedev among others at the summit before leaving for China
Tuesday 17: Summit in Beijing with Chinese President Hu Jintao
Wednesday 18: Ends tour with visit to South Korea

He told Reuters news agency China was a "partner" as well as rival but warned of "enormous strains" in relations between the world's two most powerful nations if economic imbalances between them were not corrected.

Climate change and the North Korean and Iranian nuclear disputes are also likely to be on the agenda for his talks with Asian leaders.

Jonathan Marcus, the BBC's diplomatic correspondent, says that while Mr Obama will push for increased Chinese co-operation in containing the two countries, his real challenge will be to allay the concerns of his non-Chinese hosts about the rise of Beijing's power in the region.

His message will be that the US is back as a player on the region's diplomatic chess board, our correspondent adds.

Friction with Tokyo

Mr Obama was due to hold a summit with Mr Hatoyama on Friday before delivering a keynote speech on Saturday in which he is expected to reaffirm the strength of Washington's alliance with Japan.

A view of planes at Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, February 2007

Most of the 47,000 US soldiers in Japan are based on the island
The US military favours Okinawa as it is closer to China and Taiwan
The US governed the island directly for nearly 30 years after World War II
The US wants to move its airbase at Futenma away from residential areas to another location on the island
Pollution from the US bases has angered local people
A number of sexual assaults by US servicemen on Japanese civilians and accidents involving military hardware have fuelled opposition to the bases
Japan's new PM has suggested moving Futenma off the island completely

Mr Hatoyama has promised to end Japan's Indian Ocean refuelling mission that supports US-led forces in Afghanistan.

He also promised to review the Okinawa base agreement that Washington thought was settled three years ago.

However, correspondents say the issue is likely to be downplayed during their talks.

Mr Hatoyama stressed on Friday that the Japanese-US alliance was a "cornerstone of Japan's diplomacy".

"There's no question about the need to maintain that," he added, speaking just before the US leader's arrival.

Japanese peace activists demonstrated near the US embassy in Tokyo on Thursday against plans to move the Okinawa base to another part of the island and also criticised Mr Obama for not taking time to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Mr Obama said he would visit the sites of the first atomic bomb attacks on another occasion.

During his visit, he is also due to meet Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, who have just celebrated 20 years on the throne.

Afghan pledge

China's growing economic and military power and its effect on relations with Washington are also concerns for some Japanese.

Obama flasks on sale in Shanghai, 12 November
Obama souvenirs are on sale in the countries he is visiting

Three days of the tour are being devoted to the Chinese leg during which Mr Obama hopes to discuss a revaluation of the Chinese currency.

He is also set to discuss opening Chinese markets further to US goods and encouraging Chinese consumers to spend more.

China signalled on Wednesday that it might allow an appreciation of the yuan.

Mr Obama spent several years in Indonesia as a child and is seen as the first president with an "Asia-Pacific orientation", the BBC's Kim Ghattas reports from Washington.

He will try to capitalise on this as he seeks to build on and improve crucial relationships with allies and rivals across the Pacific, our correspondent adds.

Mr Obama stopped off in Alaska on his way, touching down at Elmendorf Air Force Base where he spoke to a military audience about his strategy in Afghanistan.

"I will not risk your lives unless it is necessary to America's vital interests," he told troops.

The US administration has been locked in an intense debate over a request from the American commander in Afghanistan for thousands of extra troops amid doubts over the competence and integrity of the Afghan government.

No decision on the surge request is expected during Mr Obama's visit to Asia, said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Speaking of Capitalism...

Russia recently declared that China represents the ultimate model of government. When I read about President Medvedev's call for economic reform, I couldn't help but marvel at the hat he is tipping to capitalism. China's state controlled businesses drive a very lean and efficient capitalist model because the state does not have to wade through the levels of bureaucracy that exist within a democracy. But, China certainly does not strive to serve the good of the people in the way that Communism might romanticize. The result is much like a caste system in which the privileged are those who ultimately serve very near to the state while others suffer heavily from neglect and fall prey to the burgeoning networks of organized crime including such horrors as human trafficking and sex slavery.

Neglect is the key correlation between big government and the propagation of organized crime. Russia, China, and increasingly the U.S. all suffer from both internal corruption and large organized crime operations whose agendas begin to coalesce within the state structure. Propaganda: the guise of authority, control and progress is projected through the statement of good intentions for the sake of public support and control, while actual activity is off the radar. By the time damage is exposed, the bandits are away, leaving only a few artifacts, scapegoats and casualties scattered in the wake of the exit. Tax dollars are no longer serving 'the common good' but rather are funding unseen agendas and ultimately weakening the state itself for short term gains, leaving it vulnerable to collapse and domination by more powerful entities.

The counter to Chinese-style state-run capitalism would be big businesses running the state or 'economic fascism'. Fascism...communism...either way, they are two extremes which equate to totalitarian regimes, and the U.S. seems to teeter and flirt between these two extremes in it's eight-year bipolar pendulum swing. Perhaps a strong independent would lend balance to quell the contest, and recent polls indicate that voters are more open to an independent now than ever before: 40% conservative, 40% independent, and 20% liberal.

Otherwise, China will continue to lunge forward in economic power through gentrification, gobbling up the pits of vulnerability in Africa, South America, and now in the collapsing economy of the United States. Russia will perhaps follow suit, increasing her ties with Venezuela and other states of South America. And the U.S. will continue to spin it's facade, spinning in circles, chasing its tail ineffectually to win the war of 'Tastes Great' vs. 'Less Filling' partisanship. After all, a spinning circle makes for a better target.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sets out economic reform

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called for profound reform of the economy in his annual state of the nation address.

The Soviet model no longer worked, he said, and Russia's survival depended on rapid modernisation based on democratic institutions.

An oil and gas-based economy had to be reworked with hi-tech investments.

Inefficient state giants should be overhauled and issues of accountability and transparency addressed, he said.

"Instead of a primitive economy based on raw materials, we shall create a smart economy, producing unique knowledge, new goods and technologies, goods and technologies useful for people," Mr Medvedev said.

"Instead of an archaic society, in which leaders think and decide for everybody, we shall become a society of intelligent, free and responsible people."


A year ago, in his first such address, Mr Medvedev made a surprise announcement about deploying missiles close to Poland.

This time the focus was on transforming Russia into a more modern and open country, by introducing sweeping reforms.

We need to launch modernisation of the entire industrial base
Dmitry Medvedev

More than one million Russians were at risk of losing their jobs, he said, and pressing social issues needed to be addressed.

"We can't wait any longer. We need to launch modernisation of the entire industrial base. Our nation's survival in the modern world will depend on that," Mr Medvedev said.

Government had to become more transparent, he said, and corruption should be punished. The giant state companies created by his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, had "no future", he said.

"Inefficient enterprises must go through bankruptcy proceedings or leave the market," he said. "We won't be protecting them forever."

Mr Medvedev promised to strengthen democratic institutions but warned that any attempts to disrupt national stability with "democratic slogans" would be stopped.

"Freedom means responsibility and I hope everyone understands that," he said.

And he promised a pragmatic foreign policy that would focus on improving Russians' living standards.

In other comments, Mr Medvedev

• Called for a "joint reliable platform" to strengthen Europe's security, saying such a body would have prevented the war with Georgia

• Described the situation in the North Caucasus as Russia's most serious internal problem and pledged to fight "terrorist crimes" there

• Suggested that the number of time zones in Russia - currently 11 - should be reduced

Putin's shadow

The Russian president gave a bleak assessment of the current situation and issued a clarion call for change, reports the BBC's Richard Galpin in Moscow.

There was much in the speech that implied deep criticism of Mr Putin, who is now prime minister.

The president is keen to prove he is his own man and has his own identity as a political leader, rather than remaining under Mr Putin's shadow.

But the question is whether the president can deliver on his pledges and bring about real significant political and economic reform, our correspondent adds.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Chavez Says Venezuela to Prepare for War as Deterrent

By Daniel Cancel

Nov. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told the military and civil militias today to prepare for war as a deterrent to a U.S.-led attack after American troops gained access to military bases in neighboring Colombia.

Chavez said a recently signed agreement that gives American troops access to seven Colombian bases is a direct threat to his oil-exporting country. Colombia has handed over its sovereignty to the U.S. with the deal, he said.

“Generals of the armed forces, the best way to avoid a war is to prepare for one,” Chavez said in comments on state television during his weekly “Alo Presidente” program. “Colombia handed over their country and is now another state of the union. Don’t make the mistake of attacking: Venezuela is willing to do anything.”

The U.S. agreement with Colombia is part of an effort to “strengthen and increase ties with countries in the region,” Robin Holzhauer, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, said by telephone. “We’ve done that with governments who want to have partnerships with us.” Colombia has said the agreement would help combat drug trafficking.

Ties between Venezuela and Colombia have deteriorated this year after President Alvaro Uribe accused Chavez of financing leftist Colombian rebels. Chavez, a self-proclaimed socialist revolutionary, said he would stop importing goods from Colombia due to the U.S. military pact. The two countries are each other’s second-largest trading partners after the U.S.

Colombian Exports

Colombian exports to Venezuela plunged 45.7 percent in August from a year earlier, according to data from the Colombian statistics institute.

Uribe’s office said Colombia hasn’t taken any steps toward a war and that it will take Chavez’s threats to the Organization of American States and the United Nations Security Council.

“Colombia hasn’t and won’t make a single gesture of war to the international community, and even less so, to a brother country,” it said in a statement posted on the Foreign Ministry’s Web site. “The only interest that moves us is overcoming the narco-terrorism that has mistreated Colombians for so many years.”

Chavez ordered an increase of troops along the more than 2,000-kilometer border between Venezuela and Colombia last week and said he may declare a state of emergency after two officials from the National Guard were shot and killed by supposed Colombian rebels.

Tank Battalions

In March 2008, Chavez sent 10 tank battalions to the border with Colombia after the Colombian military attacked leftist rebels in Ecuadorian territory, killing Raul Reyes, a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Chavez later called the tanks back from the border and helped dissipate tensions between Uribe and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.

Venezuela has purchased billions of dollars of weapons, tanks, fighter jets and helicopters from Russia since 2003. Chavez says the purchases are necessary to modernize the Armed Forces and to protect the country’s natural resources from a possible invasion from the U.S.

Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister Tarek El-Aissami said last month officers from Colombia’s domestic intelligence agency are operating clandestinely in his country to destabilize the government.

Accused of Spying

Venezuela is also holding three Colombian citizens accused of spying as agents of the Colombian intelligence agency, known as DAS. Colombia says two of the individuals don’t belong to the agency, Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, and that the other was on vacation in Venezuela when arrested.

Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez said that the military deal with the U.S. will help “end drug-trafficking and terrorism in Colombia” during the signing ceremony in Bogota on Oct. 30.

Colombia is the source of 80 percent of the cocaine sold in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Former Cuban president Fidel Castro expressed concern similar to Chavez’s on Nov. 6, saying the U.S. might send Colombian troops to crush Venezuela’s government.

“The empire hopes to send them to fight against their Venezuelan and Ecuadorean brothers and other Bolivarian and Alba peoples to crush the Venezuelan revolution, just as they tried to do with the Cuban revolution in April 1961,” Castro wrote in a “reflection” published on the Web site. The Alba bloc is a nine-member group of Latin American countries led by Chavez.

‘Foreign Intervention’

The presence of U.S. troops in Colombia is a “shameless foreign intervention in their internal affairs,” Castro said. The agreement amounts to the U.S.’s “annexation” of the South American country, he said.

The U.S. may try to help Colombia invade Venezuela, as the U.S. supported Iraq’s invasion of Iran in the 1980s, Chavez said.

A military attack on Venezuela would spread to other countries in the region because Venezuela has “friends” from Mexico to Argentina, Chavez said during the program.

“If the Yankee empire tries to use Colombia to attack Venezuela, the war of 100 years would begin,” he said. “The war would extend to other countries in the continent, from Mexico to Argentina. No one believes that a war against Venezuela would only be in Venezuela.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Cancel in Caracas at

Friday, November 6, 2009

China's 2010 Humanoid Robot Olympics

The international event will be held in the city of Harbin and will see robots take part in 16 different events.

Robots will be able to compete in familiar Olympic sports such as athletics as well as those more suited to machines such as cleaning.

Entry to the competition will be restricted to robots resembling humans. They must possess two arms and legs. Wheels are banned.

The organisers of the games expect from more than 100 universities from around the world to send competitors to the event.

Harbin has been picked as the venue because the city's Institute of Technology is the home of a robot football research group that manages a very successful team of soccer playing humanoids.

Professor Hong Rongbing, from the Harbin Institute of Technology, said the idea of the competition was to drive innovation and produce robots that are more flexible and helpful.

No specific date has been set for the games as its organisers are still rounding up sponsors to help pay for it.

The Chinese event will face competition from the RoboGames that also stages sports events for robots. The 2010 RoboGames will take in California in April.

The Harbin robot games will be one among an increasingly crowded calendar for robot sports and other competitive events. One event, Roboexotica, is for robots that can mix cocktails, light cigarettes and chat with bar patrons.

Robots already have their own world cup. The 2009 competition saw entries from 400 teams that hailed from 35 separate nations. The 2010 event will be held in June in Singapore. A rival event is run by the Federation of International Robot-Soccer Associations.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Smells like Halliburton: Al Gore's Convenient Half-Truth

Following the recent BBC article that deflates the hype about global warming:

...connect the dots to the latest headline:

Al Gore could become world's first carbon billionaire

Al Gore, the former US vice president, could become the world's first carbon billionaire after investing heavily in green energy companies.

Last year Mr Gore's venture capital firm loaned a small California firm $75m to develop energy-saving technology.

The company, Silver Spring Networks, produces hardware and software to make the electricity grid more efficient.

The deal appeared to pay off in a big way last week, when the Energy Department announced $3.4 billion in smart grid grants, the New York Times reports. Of the total, more than $560 million went to utilities with which Silver Spring has contracts.

The move means that venture capital company Kleiner Perkins and its partners, including Mr Gore, could recoup their investment many times over in coming years.

Few people have been as vocal about the urgency of global warming and the need to reinvent the way the world produces and consumes energy as Mr Gore. And few have put as much money behind their advocacy and are as well positioned to profit from this green transformation, if and when it comes.

Critics, mostly on the political right and among global warming sceptics, say Mr. Gore is poised to become the world's first "carbon billionaire," profiteering from government policies he supports that would direct billions of dollars to the business ventures he has invested in.

Representative Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, has claimed that Mr Gore stood to benefit personally from the energy and climate policies he was urging Congress to adopt.

Mr Gore had said that he is simply putting his money where his mouth is.

"Do you think there is something wrong with being active in business in this country?" Mr. Gore said. "I am proud of it. I am proud of it."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

N Korea plutonium and weapons claims

North Korea has completed the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods to extract weapons-grade plutonium, according to its official news agency.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) added that "noticeable successes" had been made in turning the extracted material into weapons-grade plutonium.

The statement comes one day after North Korea said it was ready for talks with the US on its nuclear programme.

It also threatened to "go its own way" if Washington refused direct talks.

Eight thousand spent fuel rods had been reprocessed, KCNA said. Analysts say this is enough plutonium to make at least one atomic bomb.

North Korea was already believed by some analysts to have enough weapons-grade plutonium for about six bombs, but had none small enough to place on a missile.

"Noticeable successes have been made in turning the extracted plutonium weapon-grade for the purpose of bolstering up the nuclear deterrent in the DPRK [North Korea]," said the KCNA statement.

'Grave insult'

The announcement is the latest move in stop-start attempts by the US and its allies to end North Korea's nuclear programme.

[North Korea] was compelled to take measures for bolstering up its deterrent for self-defence to cope with the increasing nuclear threat and military provocations of the hostile forces
Korean Central News Agency

The nuclear fuel cycle
Q&A: North Korea nuclear row

North Korea said on Monday that it was ready to return to six-party talks on rolling back its nuclear programme if the US first agreed to hold bilateral talks.

The six parties are the two Koreas, the US, China, Japan and Russia.

The US has repeatedly said bilateral talks can be held as part of the six-party process.

The forum had reached agreement in 2007 that North Korea would shut down the Yongbyon nuclear complex in return for fuel aid and political concessions for the isolated country.

But the deal unravelled late last year amid a disagreement over how to verify North Korea's account of its atomic activity.

When North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket in April brought UN censure, Pyongyang announced it was restarting the Yongbyon reactor and would begin to reprocess the spent fuel rods.

An underground nuclear test, the second since 2006, triggered UN sanctions.

In September, the North said it had entered the final phase of enriching uranium, which would give it a second path to making nuclear weapons.

In its latest statement, KCNA said the UN censure of what it called a peaceful attempt to launch a satellite was "a grave insult to the dignity of its people".

North Korea "was compelled to take measures for bolstering up its deterrent for self-defence to cope with the increasing nuclear threat and military provocations of the hostile forces," the statement said.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea claimed Tuesday that it has successfully weaponized more plutonium for atomic bombs, a day after warning Washington to agree quickly to direct talks or face the prospect of a growing North Korean nuclear arsenal.

The announcement underlined Pyongyang's impatience over securing one-on-one talks with Washington, as well as the difficulties in dealing with a regime that resorts to threats and provocations to get what it wants.

Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said North Korea had finished reprocessing 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods, which experts say would provide enough weapons-grade plutonium for at least one more nuclear bomb.

The claim may not mean much, since North Korea is believed to already have enough weaponized plutonium for half a dozen nuclear weapons. But the timing—a day after Pyongyang warned it would beef up its nuclear arsenal if the U.S. refused to agree on bilateral talks—shows the communist regime is flexing its atomic might to push Washington to act, analysts said.

"North Korea is trying to show off its nuclear might as a way to pressure the United States to agree to the talks," said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University.

The U.S. Embassy in Seoul said it had no comment.

North Korea has long sought direct nuclear negotiations with the U.S., believing that it is the easiest, fastest and surefire way of ensuring the survival of the totalitarian regime and win economic concessions to rebuild its moribund economy.

On Monday, North Korea's Foreign Ministry warned that "if the U.S. is not ready to sit at a negotiating table with the (North), it will go its own way," an apparent threat to bolster its nuclear arsenal.

Pyongyang has claimed it needs atomic weapons to defend itself against the U.S., which fought against the North during the Korean War of the 1950s and has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea to protect the ally.

The U.S. says it has no intention of attacking the North.

But the North said Tuesday that it remains "compelled to take measures to bolster its deterrent for self-defense to cope with the increasing nuclear threat and military provocations of the hostile forces."

KCNA reported "noticeable successes" in weaponizing plutonium.

Washington has said it is willing to meet one-on-one with the North if the talks lead to the resumption of six-nation negotiations involving China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the U.S.

However, discussions between a North Korean envoy and a U.S. official last week did not yield an agreement to hold talks, both sides said.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters Monday that Sung Kim, the chief U.S. nuclear negotiator, recently had useful discussions with Ri Gun, North Korea's No. 2 official for nuclear talks. He said the U.S. is still considering North Korea's offer.

North Korea agreed in 2007 to disable its main nuclear facility in Yongbyon—a step toward its ultimate dismantlement—in exchange for much-needed energy aid and political concessions. However, Pyongyang halted that process more than a year ago and later abandoned the pact amid international censure for a series of nuclear and missile tests.

North Korean officials restarted the nuclear facilities in April in retaliation for a U.N. rebuke of a rocket launch widely criticized as an illicit test of its long-range missile technology. The country also kicked out international nuclear monitors.

The North then conducted its second-ever nuclear test in May and later launched a series of banned ballistic missile tests, prompting the U.N. Security Council to toughen sanctions against the regime.

In September, North Korea said it was in the final stage of reprocessing spent fuel rods, and claimed it had succeeded in enriching uranium, a process that would give the regime a second way to build atomic bombs.

Tuesday's announcement was designed to hurry along negotiations, analysts said.

"North Korea is pressuring the United States to decide quickly whether it wants to resolve the standoff through bilateral talks or allow the (plutonium) to be used for atomic weapons," North Korea expert Koh Yu-hwan of Dongguk University said.

Monday, November 2, 2009

E-books Rise in Popularity

"In a sign that ebooks are rising in popularity, a recent survey by mobile analytics company Flurry revealed that users may be using the iPhone for more intellectual pursuits, and not just the visual sizzle. The 'book-related' apps on the iPhone overtook games in terms of new apps released. According to the post, 'Book-related apps saw an upsurge in launches in September ... So much so that book-related applications overtook games in the App Store as a percentage of all released apps. The trend isn't an aberration. In October, one out of every five new applications launching on the iPhone was a book ... from August 2008 to the same month in 2009, more apps were released in the 'games' category than any other and, as a result, the iPhone (and iPod touch) became a new handheld gaming platform, one that impacted the Nintendo DS. '"

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Cannibalism of Care and Feeding

"When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic. Sell not liberty to purchase power."

- Ben Franklin

We as Americans should, of course, be concerned with the immediacy of specific, current events. But, to avoid becoming mere spectators addicted to awaiting, witnessing, and merely enumerating the passage of such events, one must be willing to disengage, step back and observe objectively to get the big picture.

The pendulum swings left, something goes horribly wrong, so then it swings right, and something goes horribly wrong again. And with each change in direction, the pendulum swings further in the opposite direction, and executive power increases - regardless of which party is running the show - as though reality tv culture was ushered in to set the mood for completely passive captivity. Like a connoisseur of atrocities, we are so hooked on the negative attention and over-stimulation of shock and disbelief that we have developed an appetite for disaster in spite of ourselves. The disconnect between seeing red flags from miles away and taking preventative measures is so far separated that we are better off planning trials and funerals at the moment of awareness than to think we can do anything but write our representatives (who would only send a form letter dismissing our concern as a federal issue anyway).

Our society will shriek like a baby snatched from its mother's teet when the time comes to shut off the political drama and go outside to play. And on that day, the day we have no choice but to participate rather than spectate, the play will be very rough. Polarization has induced an addiction anxiety disorder. If the programmers of our political saga can achieve a point where we, the consumers are willing to fight over changing the channel - that inevitable swing of the pendulum from from further left to further right - they can most certainly keep everyone on the couch and off the playing field. Don't turn off the set and go out to play; just sit back, relax, and pick a channel. Plenty of snacks and a remote control, and regardless of Tivo, the content itself IS commercial. And the White House is now, literally, buying up lots of air time. By the people, for the people, right? The partisan plots are predictable and both the casting and acting is either unapologetically neglectful or mercilessly predatory on ignorance and ego. But the cinematography is consistently decadent - to die for.

So, partisan people, just because someone doesn't subscribe to your show...or starts to get up off of that miserable couch...or doesn't sit on the couch at all...don't automatically assume that disengagement indicates a subscription to that OTHER show that you love so much to hate. Maybe the viewer saw enough, and just got fed up with the reruns and recurring characters portrayed by overpaid actors, season after season. Change, you say? Sure, we experience exponentially proportionate polar opposite change every eight years, each administration undoing whatever was set forth by the previous. Like a dog chasing it's tail, spinning in circles.

Anyone remember 'Dynasty' ('81-'89)? Maybe it was ahead of it's time. The Clinton Dynasty...the Bush Dynasty...huge government...huge corporations...tick...tock...

The Audacity of...Jeb. Guessing the obvious, 2012, maybe he has just let out his first giggle:

Jeb Bush: Obama trying to 'attack capitalism'

From the article: "I think President Obama has used the bully pulpit as a way to attack capitalism," he said, according to

Bush paused a moment, then acknowledged: "That'll make the news."


Clearly, our culture has become divided and our government ineffective as a result of a perverse preoccupation with media and marketing for partisan dominance. Broad strokes and accessible, emotional associations are employed to engage and rally the support of the masses. Politics are now reduced to explicit and literal symbols - palatable and packageable - fashionable, social accessories to be adorned and exchanged in the form of memes. But, like most fashions, only time tells on the abuses and profiteering which emerges long after the credits have rolled. Our leadership thinks as far as the next term, whereas Chinese singularity, for example, plans its future over hundreds of years and looks back on thousands. And, we bicker in a trance of oblivion amongst ourselves, spinning in circles and biting our own tail raw.

Our willingness and even insistence upon touting our symbolic labels can get dicey depending on context. Particularly in a bankrupt economy, belief can serve as a currency for outcome, and it can therefore be planted, cultivated, and harvested. The farmers encourage public labeling of seeds so that they can predict their yield; those seeds being our hopes and fears.

When questioned publicly about his religious views, Thomas Jefferson once said, "To their interested absurdities, I leave them to grope in the dark."

Jefferson culled his beliefs from a variety of sources, including but not limited to the Bible. Aren't we all truly a composite of our experiences and influences, both conscious and unconscious? If someone states themselves to be something explicitly, can we then reliably predict and count on their behavior? Uncertainty is a major driver of change, and so the world is very accepting and even demanding of symbolic representation. While some people are very cautious about labeling themselves, others will race to declare and relegate themselves to an explicit, especially in a social context. The new stereotypes are not born into; they are chosen and screamed from mountain tops in droves. I remember when voting used to be a private matter. Then there was MTV Rock the Vote. The average voter is now just that - average - at best, if even.

Maybe we are approaching the right time for our independent voices to mitigate the polarity and alleviate our identity crisis. Pick a channel? Most people only know the two big channels because the assumption is that anything else is a 'throw away'. Fine, pick your poison, couch potatoes, but there are independent candidates who run on ideology.

For the time being, let's be good to each other, regardless of whatever ineffectual accessory you encounter repeatedly in traffic or on facebook or other public trough, for these troughs feed the polarized zombies as the fabric of their framework begins to slowly unravel, whichever pole they claim. This may not be a recession after all. Perhaps it is the fall of the Republic, and a return to the State of Nature will recall many long forgotten codes of humility and respect.