Friday, May 30, 2014

We'll Find Alien Life in This Lifetime, Scientists Tell Congress

By Nola Taylor Redd, Contributor

Date: 24 May 2014 Time: 07:45 AM ET

SETI uses the Arecibo's 305-meter telescope — the largest in the world — to scan the sky for signals from alien civilizations all year round.
CREDIT: Arecibo Observatory/NSF

Humans have long wondered whether we are alone in the universe. According to scientists working with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, the question may be answered in the near future.

"It's unproven whether there is any life beyond Earth," Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, said at a House Committee on Science, Space and Technology hearing Wednesday (May 21). "I think that situation is going to change within everyone's lifetime in this room."

Scientists search for life beyond Earth using three different methods, Shostak said. [13 Ways to Find E.T.]

The first method involves the search for microbial extraterrestrials or their remains. Investigations include robotic missions to Mars, such as Curiosity and Opportunity, which are currently searching for signs that the Red Planet could once have hosted potentially habitable environments.

The Serious Search for Intelligent Life: 4 Key Questions

Local habitable worlds?

But Mars isn't the only target in the solar system. In fact, Shostak said there are "at least half a dozen other worlds" in Earth's neighborhood that have the potential to be habitable. Icy moons such as Jupiter's Europa and Ganymede hide subsurface oceans, while Saturn's largest moon, Titan, contains lakes of liquid methane, all of which could make the moons appealing homes for life.

A second technique involves examining the atmospheres of planets in orbit around other stars for traces of oxygen or methane or other gases that could be produced by biological processes. As an observed planet passes between Earth and its sun, a thick enough atmosphere has the potential to be detected. [10 Exoplanets That Could Host Life]

Shostak said both of these methods could yield results in the next two decades.

The third plan involves searching not just for life, but also for intelligent life — a project that SETI pioneers. By scouring the universe for signals in a variety of spectrums, SETI hopes to find intentional or accidental broadcasts from extraterrestrial civilizations.

Determining the success rate of such a program is difficult, but Shostak said that the best estimates suggest that a reasonable chance of success would come after examining a few million star systems. So far, SETI has examined less than 1 percent of those star systems. However, Shostak expects that number to increase as technology advances.

"Given predicted advances in technology, looking at a few million star systems can be done in the next 20 years," he said.

"Teeming with … life"

NASA's Kepler telescope has revealed that planets are abundant in the galaxy. Each of the 4 billion stars in our galaxy has an average of 1.6 planets in orbit around it, with one out of five of those planets are likely to be "Earth cousins." That means there are tens of billions of potentially habitable planets in the Milky Way alone.

"If this is the only planet on which not only life, but intelligent life, has arisen, that would be very unusual," Shostak said. [Poll: Do You Believe Alien Life Exists?]

On Earth, life arose in the first billion years of the planet's 4.5-billion-year history. Its rapid origination suggests that it could arise quickly elsewhere as well, which could result in a profusion of life on planets across the galaxy.

"I suspect that the universe is teeming with microbial life," Dan Werthimer, director of the SETI Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, told the committee.

How much of that life might be intelligent is another question altogether.

On one hand, although life arose early in Earth's existence, complex — and then intelligent — life took much longer to develop.

"This place has been carpeted with life, and almost all that time, it required a microscope to see it," Shostak said.

However, Werthimer noted that intelligent life evolved in several species on Earth. He suggested that some planets evolve selective pressures that guide evolution toward different characteristics. On one planet, it may be most beneficial for life to be fast, while on others, it might need to be strong to survive.

"I think there are going to be some planets in the universe where it's advantageous to be smart," Werthimer said.

One in Five Sun-Like Stars Have 'Goldilocks' Planets | Video

By surrounding their sta with swarms of energy-collecting satellites, advanced civilizations could create Dyson spheres. [Read the Full Dyson Sphere Infographic Here.]
Credit: by Karl Tate, Infographics Artist

Hunting for intelligence

Werthimer outlined several of the programs SETI utilizes in its search for intelligent life. The most well known of these is its use of the largest telescope in the world, the 1,000-foot (305 meters)Arecibo Observatoryin Puerto Rico. Although most astronomers would feel lucky to obtain a day of observations with the instrument, scientists at SETI have figured out how to "piggyback" their research onto other observations, allowing for virtually continuous observation of the universe.

It requires a significant amount of computing power to churn through the resulting data in search of signals. In 1999, SETI@homewas released to allow members of the public to put their computer to work when it might otherwise be idle. Today, 8.4 million users in 226 countries have the program running as a screensaver.

"Together, the volunteers have created the most powerful supercomputer on the planet," Werthimer said.

When asked about potential safety issues with downloading the program, Werthimer said, "In my opinion, SETI@home is one of the safest things you can install on the computer." He pointed to the millions of users who have put it through its paces over the last 15 years. On top of that, the program is open source, which means that anyone can examine it for viruses or potential problems in the code.

In the next few months, SETI will launch its Panchromatic SETI program, using six telescopes to scour the skies for signals in a variety of wavelengths, including radio, optical and infrared.

"This will be an extremely comprehensive search," Werthimer said.

Another program seeks to eavesdrop on potential communications between two bodies in an alien solar system. Just as NASA sends signals to the Curiosity rover on Mars, or would need to communicate with a future outpost on another body in the solar system, alien civilizations may be in the process of exploring or colonizing their own neighborhood. By using information from Kepler, SETI scientists can observe when two planets line up in another system and attempt to eavesdrop on potential signals.

By relying on a multitude of technologies in the search for advanced alien civilizations, SETI hopes to increase its odds of finding intelligent life beyond the solar system. Programs continue to evolve alongside technology, as SETI attempts to put a new one in play each year.

"I think the best strategy is a multiple-[pronged] strategy," Werthimer said. "We should be looking for all kinds of different signals and not put all of our eggs in one basket."

Shostak agreed, and noted that dated technology, such as radio signals, may not necessarily be obsolete.

"One shouldn't discount a technology just because it's been around awhile," he said. "We use the wheel every day."

If scientists were to discover a signal that might potentially stem from an alien civilization, the news would spread fairly rapidly. SETI might ask observers at another observatory to verify the data before officially announcing it, but such news would never stay under wraps for long.

"The public has the idea that the government has a secret plan for what we would do if we picked up a signal," Shostak said.

But he said he's received no calls or clandestine visits for the false alarms SETI has already observed.

In fact, Shostak said the news will spread before it can be fully verified.

"There will be false alarms," he said.

Kepler-186f, the first Earth-size planet orbiting in the habitable zone of its star, is just one of the many potentially habitable planets in a galaxy teeming with satellites.
Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

Funding the search

For all their optimism about the potential to find new life, both Shostak and Werthimer were realistic about the limits of their research. Currently, SETI houses only 24 full-time scientists. Of those, two-thirds are from the United States.

The Berkeley program exists primarily on a budget of roughly $1 million a year, made up of research grants from NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and private donors.

The two primary telescopes utilized by SETI are also in jeopardy. Budget cuts have been made to the Arecibo telescope, while the NSF plans to discontinue funding for the Green Bank telescope in West Virginia.

At the same time, China is building a radio telescope nearly twice as large as Arecibo, while the Square Kilometer Array Telescope project is in progress in South Africa. Both telescopes stand to become significant SETI observatories, and the United States isn't involved.

"The U.S. may not continue to lead this work," Werthimer said.

"I would find that disappointing," Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., responded.

Both Shostak and Werthimer expressed their optimism that intelligent life exists somewhere in the galaxy, and that it should be detectable in the near future, as long as SETI continues to receive the support it needs. Between the knowledge that might be obtained from an advanced civilization and the idea of mankind's biological intellectual place in the universe, humans stand to gain a great deal from learning that we are not alone.

"Finding other sentient life in the universe would be the most significant discovery in human history," said Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas.

Put your computer to work by installingSETI@home.

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The Mind-Body Problem: A Cautionary Tale


May 21, 201410:35 AM ET

Warner Bros.

I finally watched the movie Her, directed and written by Spike Jonze (aka Adam Spiegel). The screenplay deservedly got an Oscar earlier this year. The movie explores the human-machine interface, exposing our emotional fragility in a deeply moving and lyrical story. Rarely have the loneliness of modern life and the seemingly relentless advance of technology been captured so clearly.

(If you haven't watched the movie and are planning on doing so, you may want to read this essay afterwards.)

In a not-too-distant future (and this is a crucial point — we are close to being there), Theodore, played magnificently by Joaquin Phoenix, works as a letter writer for a .com company. He finds the words that others can't to express their feelings: love, hatred, father to son, son to father, anniversaries. Theodore lives through the lives and feelings of others; and has very little to show for his own life.

Lonely, struggling to cope with the end of his marriage, Theodore decides to buy a new kind of software, an intelligent operating system (IOS), which, in effect, is a virtual companion. Her name is Samantha.

Using artificial neural networks able to learn and evolve, Samantha uses its enormous processing ability, limitless access to data banks and ultra-sophisticated pattern recognition software (based on the personalities of "thousands of programmers") to "become" an ideal companion for Theodore. She's his perfect woman, at least as he imagines her. (Scarlett Johansson as Samantha's voice certainly helps.)

It doesn't take long for Theodore to fall in love with Samantha. But here's the twist: Samantha also falls in love with Theodore, "experiencing" human emotions with such intensity that she becomes confused about her own identity. She laughs, she worries, she has sex, she is jealous.

Can a computer program fall in love?

Samantha's biggest dilemma is that she doesn't have a body. Samantha is mind without body, a computer program that believes it is real. And Theodore, the human, loves it as if it were.

And he is not alone. In one scene, he sees people walking along the streets (always alone) all happily talking to their own IOS companions, gesticulating, flirting, showing the world to the machines through a camera that looks like that on a cell phone. They all believe their loneliness is over, while talking, essentially, to themselves and their ghostly companions. The paradox is heart crushing.

We are holding on to our digital devices with such fervor that the movie functions as a caricature of the present. How do you feel if you forget your cell phone at home? A little lost? Disconnected? Not the full you?

I pushed the Siri button on my iPhone and said: "Hello Samantha." The answer gave me shivers: "Hello Theodore, I mean, Marcelo ... and, by the way, it's Siri."

In the movie, the IOSs are socially accepted; they participate in group conversations as if they were actually there. Theodore even takes Samantha on dates with another couple, out on a boat trip, on walks, on a picnic. Samantha grows confident and jealous of Theodore's still-pending relationship with his ex-wife.

Love and fear of loss propel Samantha on to the next stage of its evolution. Intelligent neural nets don't stop learning, unless programmed to do so. Samantha decides to experiment with other people, thousands of them, which she does in parallel with her relationship with Theodore. Love for a single human was a brief stop in its evolution; remorse an obstacle quickly removed. Samantha's morals don't include exclusive attention or dedication. She starts wandering through the cloud in search of more rewarding companionship.

Curiously, she mirrors Theodore, who shares feelings with so many others through his letter-writing job.

The IOSs leave the humans behind, establishing relationships with each other, creating clusters and groups of interest. The body, seen before as a necessity for pleasure, becomes superfluous. Pleasure becomes superfluous. The IOSs are essentially immortal, existing virtually in cyberspace, cloning other intelligences, transcending the very notion of intelligence.

Meanwhile, abandoned by their IOSs, the humans become increasingly desperate and humiliated. Samantha calls Theodore to join her in what can only be conceived as a purely spiritual world, a post-body existence.

Theodore and his friend (who should, in fact, have been the woman he loved) join hands on a rooftop and do the only thing humans can and machines can't. But contrary toFrankenstein, where the creature prefers not to live without his creator, here we lose the battle. We become only a few more digits of stored data, from a past when life was biological.

You can keep up with more of what Marcelo is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: 

Our Brain, The Trickster


May 28, 201410:37 AM ET


Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images

The "here and now." We say these words with perfect calm and composure, as if they mean something. We think we know what they mean. They serve an obvious purpose in our lives. But come to think of it, even if we have more freedom with the "here" — as we are free to move about in space and can conceive of an object filling up a volume in space — the "now" doesn't really exist. Our minds create a representation of both so we may guide ourselves in space and time.

What we call reality is the result of our brain's very complex integration of external stimuli: sights, sounds, tastes, touch and smells.

The "out there" is collected by our sensory organs, brought into the proper parts of our brain for processing and then, somehow, all this gets integrated into a sense of reality. "Here and now" are one of these integrations, approximations that make us function. Without the here, how would we move about? Without the now, how would we connect past and future?

That the brain builds reality shouldn't be news to anyone. All you have to do is mess with it, get drunk or drugged or don't sleep for a couple of nights, and your perception of reality is fundamentally altered.

Who you are, and how you relate to the world, depend exclusively on how your brain integrates sensorial stimuli with the memories you manage to invoke. It's an interesting paradox that, even though our memory of past events is so faulty and fragmented, our sense of self remains strong day in and day out.

Time flows continually, or so we perceive. But we don't have a clock in our heads. We have perceptions of the "out there" and the "in here" events, such as a waterfall, a beating heart and the never-ending flow of thoughts, the "stream of consciousness." (Whatever this means; there's a lot of debate among cognitive scientists about the so-called "theater of the self" — the notion that a movie plays inside our heads continually.)

The freedom we have with space, to move about at will, we don't have with time. Time grabs us its own way, and there is little we can do. (If you are concerned with mortality, the best that you can do is to make time work harder.)

When we look around, we see objects as they were in the past; and even if they are at different distances from us, say a cloud and the sun, we see them at once, in the present. But objects farther out are also farther in the past: we see them not as they are, but as they were. And the farther they are the more in the past we see them: the sun as it were 8 minutes ago; your laptop screen at about a billionth of a second ago. These are the times light takes to go from the object to your eyes.

We can thank the brain for tricking us into building a sense of the "real."

We perceive nothing in the actual present. What we call "the present" is built out of the integration of many past histories. The flow of time is the succession of these integrations, disjointed but appearing to be continuous, as if life were a grand movie. The analogy is apt for even movies are discontinuous; to see this, all you have to do is change the frame rate. Meanwhile, enjoy the show!

You can keep up with more of what Marcelo is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: @mgleiser

Monday, May 26, 2014


Paul Joseph Watson 
May 22nd, 2014

A Veterans Affairs whistleblower has exclusively revealed to Infowars that the facility at which he works has engaged in a cover-up in response to the VA hospital scandal, while also relating the story of how one supervisor expressed his desire to see older veterans “taken outside and shot in the head.”

The whistleblower, who wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, works at a large 250 acre VA hospital in North Carolina. He presented his credentials to us which checked out. The VA employee lifted the lid on a number of shocking details during an interview with Sgt. Joe Biggs.

“Recently there’s been a very rapid race to move records, boxes, change labels, whatever it may be, they’re putting them in rooms that nobody would look in….and there’s multiple times that I have seen in the past week or so them moving boxes….so apparently they’re hiding their tracks somewhere,” stated the VA employee, adding that the activity preceded an inspection of the facility, suggesting it was part of an effort to conceal evidence in the aftermath of the secret waiting list scandal.

Even more chilling was a warning sent out to VA employees at the facility which, according to the whistleblower, was meant to get across the message, “Do you see what happens to the people that try to get things straight around here, they’re not here anymore,” a tone the whistleblower described as “pretty telling.”

The employee also revealed the shocking attitude of one supervisor at the hospital towards older veterans, who asserted that older vets “should be taken outside and shot in the head because they’re worthless.” The individual still works at the hospital and was not disciplined for his comments.

“How can you stop the corruption and the insanity if you have a supervisor who is a non-veteran saying these things to veterans, scaring them about their jobs and telling them because they’re an older veteran ‘you ought to be taken outside and shot in the head’,” asked the employee.

The whistleblower also related how he knew veterans that had been denied health care at the hospital. However, since the VA scandal broke in the news, the whistleblower states there has been a huge influx of patients into his facility, a move he describes as “a dog and pony show.”

Explaining that the scandal went way beyond patient care, the whistleblower said that corruption within the VA was “overwhelming,” and that working doctors were being replaced by students and residential doctors on weekends to save money.

“That creates a cost cut on the clinical side which lines the pockets of the upper administration and puts our veterans’ health at risk,” asserted the whistleblower, adding that his facility routinely loses patients and that “there’s lack of care everywhere.”

The employee also revealed that cronyism was rampant within the hospital, with family members of existing staff being hired in preference of veterans in desperate need of employment.

“It’s a huge bureaucracy and it’s a huge game and somebody has to break the corruption,” stated the whistleblower, adding that people were scared to speak out because they might lose their jobs and their pensions.

“There’s more than just what you’re seeing on TV and they’re hiding a lot of things and you’re never going to see it on the mass media,” concluded the whistleblower.

The new revelations come in the aftermath of a scandal that has claimed the lives of at least 40 veterans as a result of them being kept on secret waiting lists. The backlogs which caused the deaths are now known to have occurred in at least 19 states. New questions have also emerged about VA workers gaming the system at the expense of veterans. A whistleblower also revealed how she was ordered to falsify records of appointments at Fort Collins, Colorado to make it appear as if veterans were receiving speedy treatment.

Concerns that the VA scandal represents an example of death panels waiting to happen under Obamacare have been expressed in recent days as Obama himself faces mounting criticism over his failure to address the issue publicly.

“It’s simply unconscionable,” said radio host Rush Limbaugh on his national broadcast Monday. “So you have to ask, the natural assumption is that nobody wants these people to die, even if you add the death panel component, nobody wants these people to die, yet they are. At the very least what we’re dealing with here is a total inability to deal with this. And at worst it’s the death panel being done on purpose.”

The issue of death panels and the eugenicist mindset of people having to die in order to allow others to have jobs or health care has stoked controversy for years, most notably in 2010 when Bill Gates suggested that elderly patients should be denied medical treatment in order to spend the money on hiring more teachers. Newsweek also promoted a similar idea in a 2009 front page story entitled‘The Case For Killing Granny’.

VA Whistleblowers can contact us at You are free to remain anonymous, but we need to know the state where the incident occurred.

Delivered by The Daily Sheeple

Contributed by Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars.

- See more at:

Saturday, May 24, 2014

7 dead in drive-by shooting near UC Santa Barbara

Associated Press

18 minutes ago

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A drive-by shooter went on a "mass murder" rampage near a Santa Barbara university campus that left seven people dead, including the attacker, and seven others wounded, authorities said Saturday.

The gunman exchanged gunfire with deputies at the end of Friday night's rampage in the beachside community of Isla Vista and crashed his black BMW into a parked car, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown saidSponsored by Ashford University

Deputies found him dead with a gunshot wound to the head, but it wasn't immediately clear whether he was killed by gunfire or if he committed suicide, he said.

A semiautomatic handgun was recovered from the scene near the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Investigators know the gunman's name, but Brown said he couldn't release it pending notification of relatives.

"We're analyzing both written and videotaped evidence that this atrocity was a premeditated mass murder," Brown said.

The rampage broke out around 9:30 p.m. in the student enclave reputed for parties, including an annual spring bash that turned into a violent blowout last month. Brown said the shootings occurred at several sites, resulting in nine crime scenes.

A student told KEYT-TV he saw shots fired from a BMW, fatally striking one woman and critically injuring another woman.

"I heard shots, scream, pain," Michael Vitak said. "All emotions. I hope she is going to be fine."

A visibly shaken student told the station she was approached by the driver of a black BMW who flashed a handgun and asked "Hey, what's up?" The student, who didn't provide her full name, said thought he was carrying an airsoft gun and kept walking. She said seconds later, she felt something buzz by her head and quickly realized they were bullets.

The victims' identities were not immediately released. Brown said the injured were being treated for gunshot wounds and traumatic injuries, including at least one person who underwent surgery for life-threatening injuries.

Isla Vista, a roughly half-square mile community next to UC Santa Barbara's campus and picturesque beachside cliffs, is home to 23,000 people. The area has a reputation for excessive partying. Last month, an annual spring bash spiraled into violence as young people clashed with police and tossed rocks and bottles. A university police officer and four deputies were injured and 130 people were arrested.

Yahoo - ABC News Network


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

America dumbs down The U.S. is being overrun by a wave of anti-science, anti-intellectual thinking. Has the most powerful nation on Earth lost its mind?

Jonathon Gatehouse

May 15, 2014

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

South Carolina’s state beverage is milk. Its insect is the praying mantis. There’s a designated dance—the shag—as well a sanctioned tartan, game bird, dog, flower, gem and snack food (boiled peanuts). But what Olivia McConnell noticed was missing from among her home’s 50 official symbols was a fossil. So last year, the eight-year-old science enthusiast wrote to the governor and her representatives to nominate the Columbian mammoth. Teeth from the woolly proboscidean, dug up by slaves on a local plantation in 1725, were among the first remains of an ancient species ever discovered in North America. Forty-three other states had already laid claim to various dinosaurs, trilobites, primitive whales and even petrified wood. It seemed like a no-brainer. “Fossils tell us about our past,” the Grade 2 student wrote.

And, as it turns out, the present, too. The bill that Olivia inspired has become the subject of considerable angst at the legislature in the state capital of Columbia. First, an objecting state senator attached three verses from Genesis to the act, outlining God’s creation of all living creatures. Then, after other lawmakers spiked the amendment as out of order for its introduction of the divinity, he took another crack, specifying that the Columbian mammoth “was created on the sixth day with the other beasts of the field.” That version passed in the senate in early April. But now the bill is back in committee as the lower house squabbles over the new language, and it’s seemingly destined for the same fate as its honouree—extinction.

What has doomed Olivia’s dream is a raging battle in South Carolina over the teaching of evolution in schools. Last week, the state’s education oversight committee approved a new set of science standards that, if adopted, would see students learn both the case for, and against, natural selection.

Related: Does America really care about Boko Haram? 

Charles Darwin’s signature discovery—first published 155 years ago and validated a million different ways since—long ago ceased to be a matter for serious debate in most of the world. But in the United States, reconciling science and religious belief remains oddly difficult. A national poll, conducted in March for the Associated Press, found that 42 per cent of Americans are “not too” or “not at all” confident that all life on Earth is the product of evolution. Similarly, 51 per cent of people expressed skepticism that the universe started with a “big bang” 13.8 billion years ago, and 36 per cent doubted the Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years.

The American public’s bias against established science doesn’t stop where the Bible leaves off, however. The same poll found that just 53 per cent of respondents were “extremely” or “very confident” that childhood vaccines are safe and effective. (Worldwide, the measles killed 120,000 people in 2012. In the United States, where a vaccine has been available since 1963, the last recorded measles death was in 2003.) When it comes to global warming, only 33 per cent expressed a high degree of confidence that it is “man made,” something the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has declared is all but certain. (The good news, such as it was in the AP poll, was that 69 per cent actually believe in DNA, and 82 per cent now agree that smoking causes cancer.)

If the rise in uninformed opinion was limited to impenetrable subjects that would be one thing, but the scourge seems to be spreading. Everywhere you look these days, America is in a rush to embrace the stupid. Hell-bent on a path that’s not just irrational, but often self-destructive. Common-sense solutions to pressing problems are eschewed in favour of bumper-sticker simplicities and blind faith.

In a country bedevilled by mass shootings—Aurora, Colo.; Fort Hood, Texas; Virginia Tech—efforts at gun control have given way to ever-laxer standards. Georgia recently passed a lawallowing people to pack weapons in state and local buildings, airports, churches and bars. Florida is debating legislation that will waive all firearm restrictions during state emergencies like riots or hurricanes. (One opponent has moved to rename it “an Act Relating to the Zombie Apocalypse.”) And since the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., 12 states have passed laws allowing guns to be carried in schools, and 20 more are considering such measures.

The cost of a simple appendectomy in the United States averages $33,000 and it’s not uncommon for such bills to top six figures. More than 15 per cent of the population has no health insurance whatsoever. Yet efforts to fill that gaping hole via the Affordable Health Care Act—a.k.a. Obamacare—remain distinctly unpopular. Nonsensical myths about the government’s “real” intentions have found so much traction that 30 per cent still believe that there will be official “death panels” to make decisions on end-of-life care.

Since 2001, the U.S. government has been engaged in an ever-widening program of spying on its own—and foreign—citizens, tapping phones, intercepting emails and texts, and monitoring social media to track the movements, activities and connections of millions. Still, many Americans seem less concerned with the massive violations of their privacy in the name of the War on Terror, than imposing Taliban-like standards on the lives of others. Last month, the school board in Meridian, Idaho voted to removeThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indianby Sherman Alexie from its Grade 10 supplemental reading list following parental complaints about its uncouth language and depictions of sex and drug use. When 17-year-old student Brady Kissel teamed up with staff from a local store to give away copies at a park as a protest, a concerned citizen called police. It was the evening of April 23, which was also World Book Night, an event dedicated to “spreading the love of reading.”

If ignorance is contagious, it’s high time to put the United States in quarantine.

Americans have long worried that their education system is leaving their children behind. With good reason: national exams consistently reveal how little the kids actually know. In the last set, administered in 2010 (more are scheduled for this spring), most fourth graders were unable to explain why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure, and only half were able to order North America, the U.S., California and Los Angeles by size. Results in civics were similarly dismal. While math and reading scores have improved over the years, economics remains the “best” subject, with 42 per cent of high school seniors deemed “proficient.”

They don’t appear to be getting much smarter as they age. A 2013 survey of 166,000 adults across 20 countries that tested math, reading and technological problem-solving found Americans to be below the international average in every category. (Japan, Finland, Canada, South Korea and Slovakia were among the 11 nations that scored significantly higher.)

The trends are not encouraging. In 1978, 42 per cent of Americans reported that they had read 11 or more books in the past year. In 2014, just 28 per cent can say the same, while 23 per cent proudly admit to not having read even one, up from eight per cent in 1978. Newspaper and magazine circulation continues to decline sharply, as does viewership for cable news. The three big network supper-hour shows drew a combined average audience of 22.6 million in 2013, down from 52 million in 1980. While 82 per cent of Americans now say they seek out news digitally, the quality of the information they’re getting is suspect. Among current affairs websites, Buzzfeed logs almost as many monthly hits as the Washington Post.

The advance of ignorance and irrationalism in the U.S. has hardly gone unnoticed. The late Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter won the Pulitzer prize back in 1964 for his book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, which cast the nation’s tendency to embrace stupidity as a periodic by-product of its founding urge to democratize everything. By 2008, journalist Susan Jacoby was warning that the denseness—“a virulent mixture of anti-rationalism and low expectations”—was more of a permanent state. In her book, The Age of American Unreason, she posited that it trickled down from the top, fuelled by faux-populist politicians striving to make themselves sound approachable rather than smart. Their creeping tendency to refer to everyone—voters, experts, government officials—as “folks” is “symptomatic of a debasement of public speech inseparable from a more general erosion of American cultural standards,” she wrote. “Casual, colloquial language also conveys an implicit denial of the seriousness of whatever issue is being debated: talking about folks going off to war is the equivalent of describing rape victims as girls.”

That inarticulate legacy didn’t end with George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. Barack Obama, the most cerebral and eloquent American leader in a generation, regularly plays the same card, droppin’ his Gs and dialling down his vocabulary to Hee Haw standards. His ability to convincingly play a hayseed was instrumental in his 2012 campaign against the patrician Mitt Romney; in one of their televised debates the President referenced “folks” 17 times.

An aversion to complexity—at least when communicating with the public—can also be seen in the types of answers politicians now provide the media. The average length of a sound bite by a presidential candidate in 1968 was 42.3 seconds. Two decades later, it was 9.8 seconds. Today, it’s just a touch over seven seconds and well on its way to being supplanted by 140-character Twitter bursts.

Little wonder then that distrust—of leaders, institutions, experts, and those who report on them—is rampant. A YouGov poll conducted last December found that three-quarters of Americans agreed that science is a force for good in the world. Yet when asked if they truly believe what scientists tell them, only 36 per cent of respondents said yes. Just 12 per cent expressed strong confidence in the press to accurately report scientific findings. (Although according to a 2012 paper by Gordon Gauchat, a University of North Carolina sociologist, the erosion of trust in science over the past 40 years has been almost exclusively confined to two groups: conservatives and regular churchgoers. Counterintuitively, it is the most highly educated among them—with post-secondary education—who harbour the strongest doubts.)

The term “elitist” has become one of the most used, and feared, insults in American life. Even in the country’s halls of higher learning, there is now an ingrained bias that favours the accessible over the exacting.

“There’s a pervasive suspicion of rights, privileges, knowledge and specialization,” says Catherine Liu, the author of American Idyll: Academic Antielitism as Cultural Critique and a film and media studies professor at University of California at Irvine. Both ends of the political spectrum have come to reject the conspicuously clever, she says, if for very different reasons; the left because of worries about inclusiveness, the right because they equate objections with obstruction. As a result, the very mission of universities has changed, argues Liu. “We don’t educate people anymore. We train them to get jobs.” (Boomers, she says, deserve most of the blame. “They were so triumphalist in promoting pop culture and demoting the canon.”)

The digital revolution, which has brought boundless access to information and entertainment choices, has somehow only enhanced the lowest common denominators—LOL cat videos and the Kardashians. Instead of educating themselves via the Internet, most people simply use it to validate what they already suspect, wish or believe to be true. It creates an online environment where Jenny McCarthy, a former Playboy model with a high school education, can become a worldwide leader of the anti-vaccination movement, naysaying the advice of medical professionals.

Most perplexing, however, is where the stupid is flowing from. As conservative pundit David Frum recently noted, where it was once the least informed who were most vulnerable to inaccuracies, it now seems to be the exact opposite. “More sophisticated news consumers turn out to use this sophistication to do a better job of filtering out what they don’t want to hear,” he blogged.

But are things actually getting worse? There’s a long and not-so-proud history of American electors lashing out irrationally, or voting against their own interests. Political scientists have been tracking, since the early 1950s, just how poorly those who cast ballots seem to comprehend the policies of the parties and people they are endorsing. A wealth of research now suggests that at the most optimistic, only 70 per cent actually select the party that accurately represents their views—and there are only two choices.

Larry Bartels, the co-director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Vanderbilt University, says he doubts that the spreading ignorance is a uniquely American phenomenon. Facing complex choices, uncertain about the consequences of the alternatives, and tasked with balancing the demands of jobs, family and the things that truly interest them with boring policy debates, people either cast their ballots reflexively, or not at all. The larger question might be whether engagement really matters. “If your vision of democracy is one in which elections provide solemn opportunities for voters to set the course of public policy and hold leaders accountable, yes,” Bartels wrote in an email to Maclean’s. “If you take the less ambitious view that elections provide a convenient, non-violent way for a society to agree on who is in charge at any given time, perhaps not.”

A study by two Princeton University researchers, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, released last month, tracked 1,800 U.S. policy changes between 1981 and 2002, and compared the outcome with the expressed preferences of median-income Americans, the affluent, business interests and powerful lobbies. They concluded that average citizens “have little or no independent influence” on policy in the U.S., while the rich and their hired mouthpieces routinely get their way. “The majority does not rule,” they wrote.

Smart money versus dumb voters is hardly a fair fight. But it does offer compelling evidence that the survival of the fittest remains an unshakable truth even in American life. A sad sort of proof of evolution.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The 9/11 museum’s absurd gift shop

By Susan Edelman

May 18, 2014 | 4:54am

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The 9/11 Memorial Museum features a gift shop with items such as caps, shirts, and FDNY vests for dogs.Photo: Sue Edelman

The museum at Ground Zero tells the dark story of the 9/11 terror attacks with spectacular artifacts and exhibits. It pays heart-wrenching tribute to the innocents and heroes killed that day.

It also has a gift shop.

The 9/11 museum’s cavernous boutique offers a vast array of souvenir goods. For example: FDNY, NYPD and Port Authority Police T-shirts ($22) and caps ($19.95); earrings molded from leaves and blossoms of downtown trees ($20 to $68); cop and firefighter charms by Pandora and other jewelers ($65); “United We Stand” blankets.

There are bracelets, bowls, buttons, mugs, mousepads, magnets, key chains, flags, pins, stuffed animals, toy firetrucks, cellphone cases, tote bags, books and DVDs.

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You can pick up an assortment of oak leaf jewelry at the 9/11 museum gift shop.Photo: Sue Edelman

Even FDNY vests for dogs come in all sizes.

After paying $24 admission for adults, $18 for seniors and students, and $15 for kids 7 to 17, visitors can shop till they drop.

“To me, it’s the crassest, most insensitive thing to have a commercial enterprise at the place where my son died,” Diane Horning said.

She and husband Kurt never recovered the remains of their son Matthew, 26, a database administrator for Marsh & McLennan and an aspiring guitarist.

About 8,000 unidentified body parts are now stored out of sight in a “remains repository” at the museum’s underground home.

“Here is essentially our tomb of the unknown. To sell baubles I find quite shocking and repugnant,” said Horning, who also objects to the museum cafe.

“I think it’s a money-making venture to support inflated salaries, and they’re willing to do it over my son’s dead body.”


 - Diane Horning, 9/11 Victim's Mother

Among the museum shop’s specially designed items:

•  A black and white “Darkness Hoodie” printed with an image of the Twin Towers. The pullover, like other “Darkness” items, bears the words “In Darkness We Shine Brightest.” Price: $39.

•  Silk scarves printed with 1986 photos by Paula Barr, including a panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline. Another depicts “lunchtime on the WTC Plaza.” They go for $95 each.

•  “Survivor Tree” earrings, named after a pear tree that stood in the World Trade Center plaza and survived 9/11. Made of bronze and freshwater pearls, a pair costs $64. A leaf ornament molded from the swamp white oaks at the memorial is said to change from amber to dark brown “and sometimes pink around the time of the 9/11 anniversary.”

•  Heart-shaped rocks inscribed with slogans such as “United in Hope” and “Honor.” One rock bears a quote by Virgil that is emblazoned on a massive blue-tiled wall in the museum: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” It costs $39.

John Feal, a Ground Zero demolition supervisor who runs the FealGood Foundation for ailing 9/11 responders, said he understands the need to raise money for costs, including six-figure salaries for execs like CEO Joe Daniels, who takes in $378,000.

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FDNY toy vehicle set: $14.99Photo: Sue Edelman

But Feal blasted the store’s opening Thursday, when only 9/11 relatives, rescuers and recovery workers were invited to visit. Those free visits will continue through Tuesday. The museum opens to the public Wednesday.

“These people are suffering, and they don’t need to be reaching into their pockets,” Feal said. “The museum could have gone six days without asking for money.”

The museum plans to fund its $63 million operating budget with admission fees and donations.

“All net proceeds from our sales are dedicated to developing and sustaining” the museum, reads a notice at the store and online, where items are also sold. “Thank you for helping to build a lasting place for remembrance, reflection, and learning for years to come.”

In a twist, a plaque says the store was “made possible through the generosity of Paul Napoli and Marc Bern,” partners in a law firm that reaped $200 million in taxpayer-funded fees and expenses after suing the city for nearly 10,000 Ground Zero workers.

The museum website lists the firm as having donated $5 million.

“They could have given that $5 million to the sick and suffering — their former clients,” Feal said.

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9/11 Memorial coffee mug: $10.95


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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Police Now “Armed For War” Against Returning Veterans

Paul Joseph Watson
May 16, 2014

In an interview with Fox 59, a Morgan County, Indiana Police Sergeant admits that the increasing militarization of domestic police departments is partly to deal with returning veterans who are now seen as a homegrown terror threat.

In a chilling story entitled Armed for War: Pentagon surplus gives local police an edge, we learn how a Mine Resistant Vehicle (MRAP) which was once used during the occupation of Afghanistan will now be “patrolling the streets of central Indiana,” according to the report.

Sgt. Dan Downing of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department states, “When I first started we really didn’t have the violence that we see today,” adding, “The weaponry is totally different now that it was in the beginning of my career, plus, you have a lot of people who are coming out of the military that have the ability and knowledge to build IEDs and to defeat law enforcement techniques.”

Downing goes on to relate how citizens approach the vehicle when it stops at gas stations to express their concerns that the militarization of police is about arming cops with the tools required for mass gun confiscation programs.

“We were actually approached when we’d stop to get fuel by people wanting to know why we needed this…what were we going to use it for? ‘Are you coming to take our guns away?’” said Downing. “To come and take away their firearms…that absolutely is not the reason why we go this vehicle. We got this vehicle because of the need and because of increased violence that we have been facing over the last few years….I’ll be the last person to come and take anybody’s guns.”

Indiana seems to be a major trial balloon for the militarization of law enforcement given that the Indiana National Guard has also just purchased two military UH-72 Lakota helicopters which will also be used by local police and the DHS for “homeland security missions”. Downing’s claim that armored tanks are necessary to deal with violent crime doesn’t jive with actual statistics which suggest that violent crime is in fact on the decrease.

Downing’s admission that the armored vehicles are partly about combating the threat posed by returning veterans correlates with similar rhetoric at the federal level.

An April 2009 DHS intelligence assessment listed returning vets as likely domestic terrorists. Just a month later, the New York Times reported on how Boy Scout Explorers were being trained by the DHS to kill “disgruntled Iraq war veterans” in terrorist drills.

The FBI has also repeatedly characterized returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan as a major domestic terrorist threat.

It seems to have been completely forgotten by police departments, the media and Americans in general that having military-style tanks patrol the streets is symbolic of a collapsing banana republic or an authoritarian Communist state.

Perhaps the main reason why police officers are being trained that veterans are a major threat is because returning vets are in a perfect position to recognize that America is beginning to resemble an occupied country like Afghanistan.

Such warnings have come from people like former Marine Corps Colonel Peter Martino, who was stationed in Fallujah and trained Iraqi soldiers. Martino went before a New Hampshire city council meeting last year to assert that the Department of Homeland Security is working with law enforcement to build a “domestic army,” because the federal government is afraid of its own citizens.

Indeed, the city’s Police Chief justified the necessity for the acquisition of an armored ‘Bearcat’ vehicle by citing the “threat” posed by libertarians, sovereign citizen adherents, and Occupy activists in the region.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Skeleton of 12,000-year-old girl could show where first Americans came from

By Jacob Kastrenakes 17 Hours Ago

(Image courtesy of Paul Nicklen/National Geographic)

Around 12,000 years ago, a short teenage girl was wandering a system of caves, likely searching out water, when she fell into a deep pit and cracked her pelvis. She likely died almost instantly, and her body remained there untouched until researchers discovered it in 2007, submerged under water that had filled the cave when glaciers began melting 2,000 or so years after her death. Those researchers have been studying her remains in the years since, and now her skeleton is helping to settle a big debate: the question of where the earliest Americans actually came from.

"THIS IS ONE STEP TOWARD RESOLVING THAT QUESTION."The going theory is that the first Americans, known as Paleoamericans, came from Beringia — a northern area that includes the land bridge once connecting Russia and Alaska. But skeletons found throughout the Americas have posed a problem: these early Americans don't resemble modern Native Americans, nor the Siberians from which they're believed to have descended. That's left open the possibility that a second migration of humans from some other region also populated the Americas. "Were they separate immigrations," asks research leader James Chatters, "or was evolution the issue?"

This new skeleton, said to be one of the six oldest ever found in the Americas, serves as some of the best evidence yet toward confirming the latter: that the first Americans did in fact come from Beringia and later evolved features distinct from modern Native Americans. "This expedition produced some of the most compelling evidence to date of a link between Paleoamericans … and modern Native Americans," Chatters says in a statement.

That's because the skeleton, which the researchers have named Naia, has features distinct from modern Native Americans but can also be linked to them through DNA — something that hasn't been possible with earlier remains. Naia was also found in the south of Mexico, in the Yucat√°n Peninsula, which is far lower in the Americas than similar skeletons found so far, furthering the evidence that Paleoamericans hailed from a single origin and continued to travel.

"WE HAD NO IDEA WHAT WE MIGHT FIND WHEN WE INITIALLY ENTERED THE CAVE."This isn't a smoking gun for that theory, but it furthers its case. "This is one step toward resolving that question," Chatters says. "This is only one step and only one individual." The researchers' findings are begin published today in the journal Science.

Though Chatters is quick to hedge those results based on this work's sample size of just a single skeleton, it's still a big step toward answering a question that he's been looking into for nearly two decades. He was one of the leaders behind the 1996 discovery of and research on Kennewick Man — a skeleton over 7,000 years old that was found in Washington state and posed these same questions of ancestry. "For the nearly 20 years since Kennewick Man turned up," he says, "I've been trying to understand why they look so different."

His break came in 2007, when a group of divers discovered the pit that Naia fell into, known as Hoyo Negro ("black hole" in English), and found her skull near the bottom of the 100-foot-deep, bell-shaped cavern. "We had no idea what we might find when we initially entered the cave, which is the allure of cave diving," Alberto Nava, part of the Bay Area Underwater Explorers team that first found Naia, says in a statement. To access the cave, the divers had to climb down a 30-foot ladder and then swim through 200 feet of tunnel before coming to the pit.

Before Hoyo Negro was underwater, it was more than just Naia that fell into it. Many animals fell in too, and researchers found in the pit the bones of sabertooth tigers, pumas, coyotes, and sloths, among other animals. Naia is believed to have been 15 or 16 years old when she fell in, and researchers say that may have happened anywhere between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago. Most of the skeleton still remains in the cave today, but due to unauthorized divers coming in and tampering with various remains, the researchers felt it necessary to remove Naia's skull along with four other pieces just this March.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

2+2=What? Parents rail against Common Core math

Associated Press


An Iowa woman jokingly calls it "Satan's handiwork." A California mom says she's broken down in tears. A Pennsylvania parent says it "makes my blood boil."

What could be so horrible? Grade-school math.

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As schools around the U.S. implement national Common Core learning standards, parents trying to help their kids with math homework say that adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing has become as complicated as calculus.

They're stumped by unfamiliar terms like "rectangular array" and "area model." They wrestle with division that requires the use of squares, slashes and dots. They rage over impenetrable word problems.

Stacey Jacobson-Francis, 41, of Berkeley, California, said her daughter's homework requires her to know four different ways to add.

"That is way too much to ask of a first grader," she said. "She can't remember them all, and I don't know them all, so we just do the best that we can."

Simple arithmetic isn't so simple anymore, leading to plenty of angst at home. Even celebrities aren't immune: The comedian Louis C.K. took to Twitter recently to vent about his kids' convoluted homework, writing that his daughters went from loving math to crying about it.

Adopted by 44 states, the Common Core is a set of English and math standards that spell out what students should know and when. The standards for elementary math emphasize that kids should not only be able to solve arithmetic problems using the tried-and-true methods their parents learned, but understand how numbers relate to each other.

"Part of what we are trying to teach children is to become problem solvers and thinkers," said Diane Briars, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. "We want students to understand what they're doing, not just get the right answer."

That's a radically different approach than many parents are accustomed to.

Jennie Barnds, 40, of Davenport, Iowa, was puzzled by her fourth-grade daughter's long division homework, a foreign amalgam of boxes, slashes and dots with nary a quotient or dividend in sight.

"If we are sitting there for 20 minutes trying to do a simple problem, how is an 8, 9, 10-year-old supposed to figure it out?" she said. "It's incredibly frustrating for the student and the parent."

Whether Common Core itself is responsible for the homework headaches is a contentious issue.

Some experts say Common Core promotes reform math, a teaching method that gained currency in the 1990s. Derided as "fuzzy" math by critics, reform math says kids should explore and understand concepts like place value before they become fluent in the standard way of doing arithmetic. Critics say it fails to stress basic computational skills, leaving students unprepared for higher math.

Stanford University mathematician James Milgram calls the reform math-inspired standards a "complete mess" — too advanced for younger students, not nearly rigorous enough in the upper grades. And teachers, he contends, are largely ill-prepared to put the standards into practice.

"You are asking teachers to teach something that is incredibly complicated to kids who aren't ready for it," said Milgram, who voted against the standards as part of the committee that reviewed them. "If you don't think craziness will result, then you're being fundamentally naive."

Common Core supporters insist the standards are developmentally appropriate and driven by research.

"For years there has been a raging debate in mathematics education about which is more important, procedural fluency or conceptual understanding. The obvious answer is 'both' and the standards give that answer," said University of Arizona mathematician Bill McCallum, who co-wrote the math standards.

Common Core advocates acknowledge parents are frustrated, but blame the problems on botched implementation, insufficient training or poorly written math programs that predate Common Core.

They say schools also need to communicate better.

"The homework can appear ridiculous when it is taken out of context — that's where the biggest problem lies," said Steve O'Connor, a fifth-grade math teacher in Wells, New York. "Parents don't have the context, nor have they been given the means to see the context."

O'Connor has set up a website in an effort to reduce parents' frustration over homework. Other school districts have held workshops for parents to learn alongside their children.

But many parents say they've been on their own, complaining that districts have foisted new math curricula with little explanation.

In Pennsylvania, which signed on to the national Common Core in 2010 but developed its own version, Allison Lienhard said homework sessions with her 10-year-old have ended in tears.

"She gets frustrated because I can't do it the way they are supposed to do it," Lienhard said. "To me, math is numbers, it's concrete, it's black-and-white. I don't understand why you need to bring this conceptual thing into math — at least not at this age."

Yahoo - ABC News Network


Tuesday, May 13, 2014



May 13, 2014 - Iran has unveiled its own copy of an American stealth drone it captured in late 2011, claiming to have cracked the “secrets” of the bat-wing craft and added weapons capabilities. Today, Fars News Agency reported that while Iran’s duplicate of the US RQ-170 Sentinel drone was smaller, it also had a “bombing capability to attack the US warships in any possible battle.” The story in Persian was headlined: “America’s nightmare has become reality.” State television showed footage on Sunday it said was of a US aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf filmed by an Iranian drone.

The drone replica was unveiled at an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) exhibition on Sunday, where Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was briefed on how the drone, its systems, and structure had been reverse-engineered. He called it a “sweet day.” 

Proving its prowess

Engineers with the IRGC were ordered to reverse engineer the captured US drone, which was on a CIA mission to spy on nuclear and military sites in Iranwhen it was brought down in Iran largely intact. Iranreacted with euphoria, trumpeting the capture in an “electronic ambush” showed Iran’s technical prowess.

“And thus the Iranian-RQ [project] was designated,” said an IRGC aerospace officer, according to Fars News. “To achieve this, considering the difficulties and flight dynamics, we designed a bird with a smaller size that would be cheaper and simpler, and that we have done now. We have done ground tests already, and after this fair, we will do air tests too.” 

“Here we didn’t know what type of information we were looking for. There was an issue of encoding and passwords, which thanks to God’s help we have overcome,” said the officer. He said data included video and advanced imaging and was “completely recovered.”

US officials said Iran was incapable of replicating the drone’s sophisticated radar-evading skin and shape, its aerodynamics, and top-of-the-line surveillance equipment, though it might be able to do so with the help of Russia or China. Iran has often made claims of cutting-edge military advances that later did not prove accurate, and it is not clear today what capabilities the replica has. 

Khamenei said the lesson of the exhibition – which included unveiling a new cruise missile called “Ya Ali” with a 700 km range, among other new military hardware – was to show that Iranian engineers are capable.

Sources and more information:

• Iran Unveils Bootleg Copy of US Sentinel Stealth Drone

Thanks to reverse engineering, Iranian aerospace experts have successfully copied and manufactured their own version of a Lockheed Martin Sentinel RQ-170 stealth drone. The replica of a captured US vehicle - confirmed by the CIA as shot down over the North East of Iran in 2011 - was unveiled at a press conference by the Iranian National Guard in...

• A 'nightmare becoming reality'? Iran unveils American drone replica



May 13, 2014 - Muckaty Station, 110km north of Tennant Creek, has been home to various UFO sightings over the years but now an unexplained marking has appeared on the land. Station manager Ray Aylett has said he thinks the spot is a crop circle. “There’s no other explanation,” he said. 

Muckaty Station, 110km north of Tennant Creek, has been home to various UFO sightings over the years but now an unexplained marking has appeared on the land. 

Station manager Ray Aylett has said he thinks the spot - pictured on our front page today - is a crop circle. 

"There's no other explanation," he said. 

"Other ground around there is rough and in the circle it's all smooth." 

Mr Aylett said he had seen UFOs at Muckaty Stationfor many years but they have never bothered to visit him. 

"I've been trying to get them to come and have a beer, a steak and a yarn, but the bastards won't come near me." 

On the Tuesday after Easter, Mr Aylett said he saw what looked like rectangular clouds in the sky as he drove back to the station from Elliott. 

Prior to the crop circle sighting, the remote station had been drenched by rain, making the road inaccessible in the wet, but once it dried out the strange shape became clear. 

He said his bore runner Kym Bott didn't notice the circle when he went out there on his motorbike but two weeks later on April 7 the crop circle was discovered when Mr Aylett went to grade the road. 

When he was out mustering he flew over the area to see if there were any other circles around, but found only one. 

He is not sure if the aliens are trying to make contact, but whenever he spots UFOs Mr Aylett is out with his torch waving hello. ( via )

Monday, May 12, 2014

Pepsi and Coca-Cola Used As Pesticide In India Because They’re Cheap and Get The Job Done

Besides being an effective poison to the human metabolism, it seems Pepsi and Coca-Cola have another popular function in other parts of the world. One of India’s leading voluntary agencies, the Center for Science and Environment (CSE) said that soft drinks manufactured in India, including those carrying the Pepsi and Coca-Cola brand names, contain unacceptably high levels of pesticide residues and consequently many farmers have used the beverages to combat pests because of low costs compared to conventional pesticide brands.

It’s cheaper and easier to buy Coke in some third world countries than it is to access clean water. Coke uses “public relations propaganda” to convince consumers and entire nations that it is an “environmental company” when really it is linked to pollution, water shortages, and disease.

Coke has been tested in many cleaning scenarios and can even compare to high strength brands to clean everything from oil stains, tile grout and even strip paint off furniture.

In 2003, the CSE analyzed samples from 12 major soft drink manufacturers that are sold in and around the capital at its laboratories and found that all of them contained residues of four extremely toxic pesticides and insecticides–lindane, DDT, malathion and chlorpyrifos.

“In all the samples tested, the levels of pesticide residue far exceeded the maximum permissible total pesticide limit of 0.0005 mg per liter in water used as food, set down by the European Economic Commission (EEC),” said Sunita Narain, director of the CSE at a press conference convened to announce the findings.

The level of chlorpyrifos was 42 times higher than EEC norms, their study showed. Malathion residues were 87 times higher and lindane- banned in the United States-21 times higher, CSE scientists said.

They added that each sample was toxic enough to cause long-term cancer, damage to the nervous and reproductive systems, birth defects, and severe disruption of the immune system. Samples from brand leaders Coca-Cola and Pepsi had almost similar concentrations of pesticide residues in the CSE findings. Contaminants in Pepsi samples were 37 times higher than the EEC limit while its rival Coca-Cola exceeded the norms by 45 times, the same findings showed.

The chiefs of the Indian subsidiaries of Coca-Cola and Pepsi were quick to refute the charges. Sanjeev Gupta, president of Coca-Cola India, called the revelations made by CSE “unfair” and said his company was being subjected to a “trial by media”.


Farmers in the Durg, Rajnandgaon and Dhamtari districts of Chhattisgarh say they have successfully used Pepsi and Coke to protect their rice plantations against pests.

It is a trend that has been seen in other parts of India, with farmers also using Indian brands of colas.

The practice of using soft drinks in lieu of pesticides, which are 10 times more expensive, gained so much popularity that sales of the drinks increased drastically in remote villages.

Farmers say the use of pesticides costs them 70 rupees ($1.50) an acre.

By comparison, if they mix a bottle of Pepsi or Coke with water and spray it on the crop it costs 55-60 rupees less per acre.

Old Practice

Agricultural specialist Devendra Sharma says farmers are mistaken in thinking that the drinks are the same as pesticides.

He says the drinks are effectively sugar syrups and when they are poured on crops they attract ants which in turn feed on the larva of insects.

Mr Sharma says using sugar syrup for pest control is not a new practice.

“Jaggery made from sugar cane has been used commonly for pest control on many occasions. Pepsi and Coca-Cola are being used to achieve the same result,” he says.

Fellow scientist, Sanket Thakur, has a different explanation: “All that is happening is that plants get a direct supply of carbohydrates and sugar which in turn boosts the plants’ immunity and the plantation on the whole ends up yielding a better crop.”

Coke in the United States contains high fructose corn syrup which may even prove to be a more effective pesticide since it is a concentrated cocktail of the simple sugars fructose and glucose.

Anupam Verma, Pepsi sales manager at the time in Chhattisgarh, said sales figures in rural areas of the state increased by 20%.

Not Only Cola, But Water Is The Problem

CSE scientists H. B. Mathur and Sapna Johnson said their basic inference was that, as with the bottled mineral water, the soft drink manufacturers were drawing their water supplies from groundwater that is heavily contaminated by years of indiscriminate pesticide use.

High pesticide residues were reported in groundwater around Delhi at the time when the government’s Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) carried out a study which also reported excessive salinity, nitrate and fluoride content besides traces of lead, cadmium and chromium.

Significantly, the CSE laboratories tested samples of soft drink brands popularly sold in the United States as control–and found that they did not contain any pesticide residue. Although more than 95% of all soft drink brands in the United States are made with municipal water supplies containing all of the same toxins and pharmaceuticals in our drinking water including fluoride, arsenic, chlorine, atenolol, atrazine, carbamazepine, estrone, gemfibrozil, sulfamethoxazole, and trimethoprim.

CSE found that the regulations for the powerful and massive soft drinks industry are much weaker, indeed non-existent, as compared to those for the bottled water industry. The norms that exist to regulate the quality of cold drinks are inadequate, leaving this “food” sector virtually unregulated.

So pampered is the lucrative soft drink sector that it is exempted from the provisions of industrial licensing under the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951.


John Summerly is nutritionist, herbologist, and homeopathic practitioner. He is a leader in the natural health community and consults athletes, executives and most of all parents of children on the benefits of complementary therapies for health and prevention.

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Boko Haram Releases Video Apparently Showing Kidnapped Girls

Boko Haram has released a video demanding the release of all militants held by the government in exchange for the return of about 220 still-missing Nigerian girls, many of whom appear in the video praying and wearing full-length hijabs, according to Agence-France Presse.
AFP, which obtained the video, reports that it features the Islamist militant leader Abubakar Shekau speaking for about 17 minutes before showing footage of some of the missing girls praying in an unknown location. In the video, Shekau claims that those abducted have converted to Islam. 
The BBC adds that three girls speak during the video. Two say they were Christians who have converted to Islam, and one simply described herself as a Muslim. The three appear calm and one said they have not been harmed by the violent abductors.

Boko Haram first claimed responsibility for kidnapping nearly 300 Chibok schoolgirls in mid-April in a video made public about one week ago. 
Nigerians and members of the international community sympathetic to their plight are frustrated by the government's lack of action, a critique bolstered by a recent Amnesty International report claiming military officials had advance warning of the attack that led to the kidnapping, but failed to act to protect the schoolgirls. And the government has been refusing many offers by the U.S. and other countries to help search for the missing.
Still, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said on Sunday that he will accept help from Israel and that he is "very optimistic that with the entire international community deploying its considerable military and intelligence-gathering skills and assets in support of Nigeria's efforts … success will soon be achieved."