Sunday, April 30, 2006

Indian President Kalam believes Bio-tech can alleviate human suffering

Speaking at the inauguration of the Indian Institute of Advance Research (IIAR) at Koba in Gandhinagar district, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, who was till recently the President of India, said that the convergence of bio, info and nano technology will provide solutions to critical health problems. These technologies, he said, are "knocking at our doors and we should use that for the advantage of our people".

President Kalam is a scientist, so he should of course say such things and, as he is a humanitarian at heart, it is no surprise that he does so.

But he does not appear to have any understanding of the way in which science- and technology-based businesses function.

The convergence of bio, info and nano technology will certainly provide solutions to critical health problems - of the rich. And these industries will certainly make money for their investors sooner or later. Whether these industries and their products do much for the poor of India (or the world) remains to be seen.

Certainly if the history of the last 60 years or so is any guide, there are very few grounds to be hopeful. But one should never lose heart and one should consistently work to reverse the inhuman trends that have come to dominate ever since atheistic Darwinistic philosophies began to be systematically promoted in the world by those members of the global elite whose gods are money and selfish pleasure.

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Do we need to create a police force in relation to space exploration?

A fascinating if brief report of an ethical discussion on this subject is available at:

Australian cosmologist and space exploration advocate Professor Paul Davies of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University in Sydney, agrees space exploration is a "free for all" but does not think regulation is needed.

He says he supports the views of US physicist and futurologist Emeritus Professor Freeman Dyson of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton, who sees space as "an escape from the straight jacket of an over-regulated Earth".

Freemarket fundamentalists regularly complain of too much regulation.

And we probably do have too much regulation in many areas.

However, the existence of too much regulation, or the wrong kind of regulation, means only that those particular kinds of regulation should be attacked and campaigned against so that those are removed from the books.

But that still leaves vast areas where we still need regulation. Not only intergalactic regulation for the future, but right now, specifically in terms of minimum global health, safety, education, income, transparency, accountability, democracy and environment.

"We could find whole new ways of organising society (in space)," says Professor Davies.

Touchè. But we need these new ways of organising society on earth right now, as the quality of life is deteriorating so fast, even in those parts of the world where humanity had achieved great victories till say the middle of the last century.

And one final problem with Professor Davies's approach is: who is the "we" that Professor Davies thinks should find these new ways of organizing society?
How do we know that the rest of us can trust the people that Professor Davies includes in his "we" category?

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Best magazine on the Indian Diaspora?

Which is the best magazine on the Indian diaspora?

Here is my vote: The International Indian magazine, published from Dubai.

Though it naturally has a bias towards people of Indian origin in the Middle East, it also covers developments in the rest of the world.

Unlike many other rags produced on the subject, TII is beautifully produced and has a lively balance of fun subjects (humour, films, music, literature, food, cartoons, jokes) and more weighty subjects (business, politics, marriage, future of the diaspora....).

Unfortunately, it does not yet have a website worthy of the magazine:

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Legislation making GM seed manufacturers liable for damages

The biotech industry wants us to be reassured that genetically modified (GM) seeds are safe. So why does it oppose legislation allowing manufacturers of genetically engineered seeds to be liable for damages if pollen from their products drifts into neighbouring (non-GM) fields and causes harm?

This week, in the USA, the House and Senate of the state of Vermont passed a bill making such liability possible. However, the bill got through only on the basis that corn and soybean seed manufacturers were exempted! These are, naturally, the largest varieties of GM seeds planted up to now....

Apparently, we should be reassured by lack of any research evidence so far that pollen drift affects GM soybean.

In any case, there is lack of agreement regarding whether the legislation adequately defines terms such as "genetically altered", "genetically modified", "genetically engineered", "proof", and "administrative funding".

The legislation is now headed to the desk of Governor Jim Douglas, and I am sure that readers will be reassured to know that he is expected to veto this poorly-drafted legislation. Without any persuasion from the GMO lobby, of course.

In the meanwhile, no one that I know of has even attempted to introduce legislation on the far more crucial matter of making manufacturers of GM seeds liable for damages if their products result in disease or disability for humans who end up consuming GM crops, whether knowingly or - given that the GM industry does not want us to know when we are eating GM food - unknowingly.

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Friday, April 28, 2006

New Book on the History of Tibet (Shangri-La discovered?)

Fascinating new evidence,1518,413526,00.html
that both the Chinese and the Tibetans have provided their own versions of Tibet's history… the true history may be very different.

It appears that Buddhism came into Tibet carrying the sword, and that it erased the indigenous culture, in much the same way that the communists later wiped out the Buddhists.

The book in question is: "The Silver Palace of Garuda: The Discovery of Tibet's Last Secret," by Bruno Baumann, published by Verlag Malik in Munich.

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Greenspan's legacy ... and America-bashing

Dr Greenspan's fans credit him with steering the USA (and therefore the world) through four major crises: the 1987 stock market crash, the 1994 Mexican Peso crisis, the emerging markets meltdown of 1997-1998 and the impact of 9/11 in 2001. During his tenure, there were only two mild recessions, compared with four deep ones in the previous 20 years. So there is admiration for the fact that he was able to maintain strong growth and raise living standards while keeping inflation low.

However, the critics of Dr Greenspan point to the build up of the biggest imbalances in US history: in the housing market, in consumer debt and in the current account. These underlying problems, they argue, mean that the US economy is now a house of cards that could be about to tumble. If that is true of the largest economy in the world, to what extent is that true of the rest of the world economy, now that we are all going the same way as America, thanks to the WTO?

One of the most comprehensive and articulate of Greenspan critics is Professor Ravi Batra, whose book, GREENSPAN'S FRAUD (Macmillan Palgrave, USA), accuses Greenspan of pursuing two decades of policies that have undermined the global economy, bankrupted the US social security system and left ordinary Americans worse off.

The jury is still out. The US economy is still growing strongly, unemployment and inflation are low. But the current-account deficit is at record (and, in the medium-term, unsustainable) levels, consumer debt has rocketed, savings have plummeted and the housing market is still, according to the latest figures out this week, going through the roof.

Pray that the day of judgement will be put off.

What is bad for the US economy is also bad for the rest of the world. That is why America-bashers need to be careful about when and how they bash America.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

What is the starting date of the current Roman Catholic Church?: a short lesson in understanding the various kinds of Christianity

It is fairly well-known that the oldest part of the Christian Church is the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and so on).

The leaders of the church headquartered in Rome attempted to establish their superiority over all the other "sister" churches and failed to do so.

This resulted in the split between the "Eastern" churches and the Western Church.

The Western Church had individuals who were genuine followers of Jesus the Lord (think of the Waldensians, think of Luther and Calvin and Erasmus and so on). However, it also had individuals who were certainly not followers of Jesus. The authenticity of the followership of even some Popes (such as Adrian, the only Englishman to be Pope) can be doubted.

In any case, this uneasy mixture continued, with the unfaithful often persecuting the faithful (e.g. the Waldensians) till the Reformation, when what had till this point been the united Western Church vomited out the faithful who tried to reform the united Church.

So the united Western Church split into the *current* Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed or Protestant Churches.

That is why it is clearly the case that the current Roman Catholic Church starts at the point where it decisively rejected the Reformation (which it still does). It is only after this time that what is the Roman Catholic Church takes its present character. And there is indeed a unity of development in it (as the Roman Catholic Church teaches) from this time onwards.

However, the period before the Reformation is often claimed by the current Roman Catholic Church as its own when, in truth, that pre-Reformation period belongs both to the current Roman Catholic Church and to what became the Reformed Churches.

The defining difference between the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed Churches was that the Reformers committed themselves to the principles of "sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fidei, sola Christus" (that is, God's character and will are revealed by the scriptures alone, and salvation is by grace alone, by faith alone and by Christ alone). The current Roman Catholic Church on the other hand, committed itself to the authority of tradition rather than Scripture. The Roman Catholic point of view is that it is the Church that created the Bible, so the Church is superior to the Bible. The position of the Reformers was that the authority of the Bible derives from God not the Church, and that it is the Bible that must judge the Church.

So much for the Eastern Orthodox, Roman and Reformed (Protestant) Churches.

What about the Anglicans or Episcopalians or the Church of England? As the name implies, this is the Church that was established by law in England, and its position has always been as mixed as the United Western Church had been before the split between the Roman and Reformed wings. In other words, the Anglican/Episcopal/Church of England has people who are thoroughly Reformed as well as people who are almost Roman ("almost Roman" because almost the only difference between them and the Romans is that the Anglicans do not accept the authority of the Pope).

This is an elementary lesson in history. But I am astonished at how many Christians need that lesson, let alone others.

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Another Fair Trade outlet - but one that also builds community

I am always delighted to hear of individuals doing positive things, however small, to help make the world a better place.

Particularly when those individuals become friends. This is the case with Nathan George, whose newish effort, Ambata, I am happy to recommend. "Ambata" is a Swahili word, meaning "to join, connect, hold together". What is special and different about Ambata is that it tries to use its products to help strengthen the communities that buy its products.

For full details of how you can become an associate, providing fair trade products to your friends and helping to strengthen your community, please go to

I should mention that I hold no shares in Ambata, and benefit in no way from Ambata, beyond the warm glow of satisfaction in helping another "good business" effort on its way.

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Muslims, Jews and peace

Recently, I received an e-mail asking me to think about the following:

The global Muslim population is approximately 1.2 billion (or 20%) of the world population. They have received the following Nobel Prizes:

1988 - Najib Mahfooz.
1978 - Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat
1994 - Yaser Arafat
1990 - Elias James Corey
1999 - Ahmed Zewail
1960 - Peter Brian Medawar
1998 - Ferid Mourad

The global Jewish population is approximately 14 million (about 0.2%) of the world population. They have received the following Nobel Prizes:

1910 - Paul Heyse
1927 - Henri Bergson
1958 - Boris Pasternak
1966 - Shmuel Yosef Agnon
1966 - Nelly Sachs
1976 - Saul Bellow
1978 - Isaac Bashevis Singer
1981 - Elias Canetti
1987 - Joseph Brodsky
1991 - Nadine Gordimer

1911 - Alfred Fried
1911 - Tobias Michael Carel Asser
1968 - Rene Cassin
1973 - Henry Kissinger
1978 - Menachem Begin
1986 - Elie Wiesel
1994 - Shimon Peres
1994 - Yitzhak Rabin

1905 - Adolph Von Baeyer
1906 - Henri Moissan
1910 - Otto Wallach
1915 - Richard Willstaetter
1918 - Fritz Haber
1943 - George Charles de Hevesy
1961 - Melvin Calvin
1962 - Max Ferdinand Perutz
1972 - William Howard Stein
1977 - Ilya Prigogine
1979 - Herbert Charle s Brown
1980 - Paul Berg
1980 - Walter Gilbert
1981 - Roald Hoffmann
1982 - Aaron Klug
1985 - Albert A. Hauptman
1985 - Jerome Karle
1986 - Dudley R. Herschbach
1988 - Robert Huber
1989 - Sidney Altman
1992 - Rudolph Marcus
2000 - Alan J. Heeger

1970 - Paul Anthony Samuelson
1971 - Simon Kuznets
1972 - Kenneth Joseph Arrow
1975 - Leonid Kantorovich
1976 - Milton Friedman
1978 - Herbert A. Simon
1980 - LawrenceRobert Klein
1985 - Franco Modigliani
1987 - Robert M. Solow
1990 - Harry Markowitz
1990 - Merton Miller
1992 - Gary Becker
1993 - Robert Fogel

1908 - Elie Metchnikoff
1908 - Paul Erlich
1914 - Robert Barany
1922 - Otto Meyerhof
1930 - Karl Landsteiner
1931 - Otto Warburg
1936 - Otto Loewi
1944 - Joseph Erlanger
1944 - Herbert Spencer Gasser
1945 - Ernst Boris Chain
1946 - Hermann Joseph Muller
1950 - Tadeus Reichstein
1952 - Selman Abraham Waksman
1953 - Hans Krebs
1953 - Fritz Albert Lipmann
1958 - Joshua Lederberg
1959 - Arthur Kornberg
1964 - Konrad Bloch
1965 - Francois Jacob
1965 - Andre Lwoff
1967 - George Wald
1968 - Marshall W. Nirenberg
1969 - SalvadorLuria
1970 - Julius Axelrod
1970 - Sir Bernard Katz
1972 - Gerald Maurice Edelman
1975 - Howard Martin Temin
1976 - Baruch S. Blumberg
1977 - Roselyn Sussman Yalow
1978 - Daniel Nathans
1980 - Baruj Benacerraf
1984 - Cesar Milstein
1985 - Michael Stuart Brown
1985 - Joseph L. Goldstein
1986 - Stanley Cohen [& Rita Levi-Montalcini]
1988 - Gertrude Elion
1989 - Harold Varmus
1991 - Erwin Neher
1991 - Bert Sakmann
1993 - Richard J. Roberts
1993 - Phillip Sharp
1994 - Alfred Gilman
1995 - Edward B. Lewis

1907 - Albert Abraham Michelson
1908 - Gabriel Lippmann
1921 - Albert Einstein
1922 - Niels Bohr
1925 - James Franck
1925 - Gustav Hertz
1943 - Gustav Stern
1944 - Isidor Issac Rabi
1952 - Felix Bloch
1954 - Max Born
1958 - Igor Tamm
1959 - Emilio Segre
1960 - Donald A. Glaser
1961 - Robert Hofstadter
1962 - Lev Davidovich Landau
1965 - Richard Phillips Feynman
1965 - Julian Schwinger
1969 - MurrayGell-Mann
1971 - Dennis Gabor
1973 - Brian David Josephson
1975 - Benjamin Mottleson
1976 - BurtonRichter
1978 - Arno Allan Penzias
1978 - Peter L Kapitza
1979 - Stephen Weinberg
1979 - Sheldon Glashow
1988 - Leon Lederman
1988 - Melvin Schwartz
1988 - Jack Steinberger
1990 - Jerome Friedman
1995 - Martin Perl

The Jews do not demonstrate with their dead on the streets, yelling and chanting and asking for revenge. The Jews do not promote the brain washing of children in military training camps, teaching them how to blow themselves up and cause maximum deaths of Jews and other non-Muslims. The Jews don't highjack planes, nor kill athletes at the Olympics, the Jews don't buy and sell slaves, nor have leaders calling for Jihad and death to all Infidels. Jews don't have the economic strength that comes from petroleum or oil, nor do they apply force to compel the world's media to see "their side" of the question.

Perhaps if the world's Muslims could invest more in normal education and less in blaming the Jews for all their problems, we could all live in a better world."

The e-mail ended by asking me to "THINK ABOUT IT".

Dear friends, I am thinking about it. Specially because I try to genuinely submit myself to God (so I consider myself spiritually Muslim) and, as a follower of Jesus, I consider myself to be spiritually Jewish as well). Certainly, I have learnt and benefited an enormous amount from both communities.

However, lest my statements above sound boastful or offensive, let me say that, at the least, whether we are Jews or Muslims or HIndus or atheists or whatever, we are all finally human beings. And it is the quality of humanity which ultimately can distinguish us.

That is what finally builds community and progress and civilisation.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

For Non-Muslims, Is this the best web-site on Islam?

Following my earlier post on the best web-sites on various subjects, Dr Mohammad Osman Gani kindly recommends the following web-site:

Helpfully, it provides a rapid-search facility by key words, so that the relevant verses from the Koran appear almost instantly.

If you are interested in the appropriate references in the Hadith, those are available on a separate search facility on the right within the same home page.

Comments and suggestions on or regarding other web-sites also welcome.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Who are the worst human beings on the earth today?

Today's edition of Washington Post has an article titled "DEPT. OF MORAL OUTRAGE" with some nominations that are worth considering for the worst human beings on earth today:

Here the nominations:

- Islam Karimov, President, Uzbekistan
(nominated by Democratic Party Senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kerry, who is a Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee)

- King Gyanendra of Nepal
(nominated by Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group)

- Teodoro Obiang Nguema, President, Equatorial Guinea
(nominated by Republic Senator from Arizona, John McCain)

- Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia
(nominated by Kenneth Roth, Director, Human Rights Watch)

- Saparmurad Niyazov, President, Turkmenistan
(nominated by Aryeh Neier, President, Open Society Institute)

- Isaias Afwerki, President, Eritrea
(nominated by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Chairman, House International Relations subcommittee on Africa, global human rights and international operations)

- Alexander Lukashenko, President, Belarus
(nominated by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee)

- Joseph Kony, Leader, Lord's Resistance Army, Uganda
(nominated by Nina Shea, Director, Freedom House's Center For Religious Freedom)

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Should we trust those who would like to reassure us about the safety of new technologies?

The "reassurance machinery" staffed by corporate and technological high priests is working overtime on telling us that today's new high priests have everything in control and we don't need to worry about anything at all….

For example, on the new nano technologies, see the statement in the last day or so available on:

however, given the history of the failure of such corporate and technological high priests (think silicom implants, think asbestos, think tobacco and smoking, think DDT…the list is endless), anyone who trusts such reassurances is an idiot.

Let's first find out why cancer has become a plague (and the reassurance industry keeps telling us that it's all to do only with our better and better ability to spot cancer).

Or why the proporition of diabetics keeps increasing (the reassurance industry can only squeak about better identification in addition to more old people and more obesity and the need for more exercise, when we know lots of young slim exercisaholics suffering from diabetes…)

Or why the sperm count has fallen continues to fall and why and female barrenness/ period pains/ PMT/gynaelogical problems continue to increase in all industrialised countries (the reassurance industry just keeps mum on this as it does not know what to say).

When we have such issues satisfactorily sorted, then it will be a good time to start thinking of whether to trust the reassurances offered by the contemporary high priests in companies, universities and laboratories on the newer technologies that are being hatched now.

Don't get me wrong: I do believe in scientific and technological progress, I do think it important to praise and reward inventors, and I do think that investors should make money from successful innovations, discoveries and technologies - but only when these really enhance human life, not when they worsen the quality of human life around the globe.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Are there business leaders who work for sensible policies?

Fortunately, yes, there are many (see for example the website of Business Leaders for Sensible Policies:

The bad news is that there aren't enough business leaders involved. In one of the most advanced countries of the world, the USA, how many years did the BLSP take to grow from the East Coast to even the West Coast?

And the sad thing is that BLSP focuses only on trying to re-prioritise the US budget, to decrease military spending to sensible levels and then to put that money to the most emotionally-moving issue of kids and education.

This should undoubtedly be the easiest of areas for which to get support.

How much support have they got? To date, as far as I can make out, they have only about 650 members. How very expensive is it to join this elite group? It costs only $250 a year….

Has BLSP had much effect? Not yet…..

This is not to say that there are no other business leaders fighting for sensible priorities. I know some who are committed to fighting global poverty, human trafficking, environmental abuse and the challenges being posed by the new technologies.

So each of us is called to work for what is true and beautiful and lovely and best, though we may do it in different arenas and at different points of the globe.

It is not for us to belittle what others are doing. Rather, it is for us to draw strength from them, and from God, so that we continue doing what is right.

That is why my concluding word, before I shut down for Good Friday, is the following: whether or not you are a business leader, if you have not yet read THE PARADOXICAL COMMANDMENTS, there can hardly be a better season in which to get acquainted with them.

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What do we need to do to feed the world? (apart from getting rid of dictators and corrupt politicians?)

At the BioETHICS 2006 conference held the other day in the USA, Craig Winters of The Campaign to Lable Genetically Engineered argued that if everyone in the U.S. cut back beef consumption by only 10 percent, there would be more than enough grain released to feed very many more people than the entire current world population. And if U.S. agriculture policies stopped subsidizing beef, this would not only be a boon to taxpayers, but people would also eat less beef because the price would go up,and the result would be less obesity and better health.

However, I see that the EU has just approved of five more GM products. My choice to avoid GM food is being reduced every day because the biotech lobby insists that I should not know when I am eating GM food. If GM food is so good for us, why do they want to stop us from knowing when we are eating GM food?

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The best websites and blogs

As I'm on Sabbatical at present, I'm doing a bit of research into blogs and websites. Here are the best sites that I have found so far:

- on government waste in the USA:

- on corporate wrongdoing:

- on renewable energy:

- on social justice issues:

- on bioethics:

- on nanoethics:

On the ethics of robotics, I can find nothing authoritative, nor on the ethics of Artificial Intelligence. Indeed, not on the ethics of space exploration either.

- on Judaism:

- on Christianity:

- on Indian topics:

Regretfully, I have not yet found a site that is sufficiently representative of either Buddhist, Confucian or Islamic thought - though there are of course plenty of such sites, they seem to represent a particular side or the other of these philosphies/religions.

Anyway, nominations welcome for the best websites on the ethics of robotics, of artificial intelligence and space exploration, or on Buddhist, Confucian, Islamic and Chinese topics. Sphere: Related Content

Swiss Philanthropy in 2005

It seems that 2005 was a record year for Swiss philanthropy. At least that is the conclusion of research just published by one of Switzerland's leading market and social research institutes (Forschungsinstituts gfs-zurich:

Because the website exists only in the German language, and the research (as is often the case in this part of the world) is published only in that language, I provide a summary as well as some reflections below.

According to GFS, 81% of the Swiss population contributed to philanthropic organisations. I am not sure if that makes Switzerland the country with the highest percentage of people giving money for philanthropic purposes, but it must be pretty close to the top.

The total amount given was 1.34 billion Swiss Francs (CHF), outdoing the last record year, 2001, when 990 million CHF were donated.

However, the average gift was a pitiful 562 CHF for the country - up to 763 CHF from 599 CHF in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, as against 261 CHF (up from 199 CHF) in the French-speaking part.

That amounts to just under 50 CHF a month across the whole country, about the same as a main course and drink for two at a cheap restaurant in Switzerland.

Not exactly generous for one of the most wealthy and least-taxed countries in the world.

Among those who give regularly, the second and third most popular objectives were to support children and the disabled but, surprisingly, the number objective was medical research. That money goes of course to medical research companies – and I do not understand why people think it philanthropic to give money to medical research, when that has become entirely a game of investment and returns. Natural catastrophes in the country got twice as much support as international ones.

How do the Swiss decide which philanthropic organisation to support? The most-quoted criteria were: the trustworthiness and professionalism of the organisation, and personal identification with the objects supported by the organisation. Surprisingly, but perhaps instructively, how well-known the organisation is comes in only fourth among the criteria in Switzerland, well below the other criteria.

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Cats, dogs and other pets - watch out!

If you don't yet know about Pleo, you certainly should. This robot is a lifelike long-neck dinosaur with smooth skin, and movements that are not jerky but smooth. Weighing slightly over 3 pounds, Pleo is packed with sensors that can detect sounds, light, touch and motion. Because it can manage 60 million calculations per second, it can cough, sneeze, blink, yawn and interact with humans. Pleo even turns his head around to see his back when someone touches him.

Pleo sheds no hair so that does not need to be cleaned out, has no odour that needs to be countered, will not die if its not fed (though it does need a bit of electricity from time to time), does not need to be taken for walks, or indeed have to be washed or brushed - and, best of all, is not moody! A pet that is really no bother at all!

What astronomical amount of money does it cost to purchase this miracle of technological creativity? Actually, $200.

Fewer and fewer people seem to have pets nowadays anyway. Am I alone in thinking that it will become even more rare to see real cats and dogs as pets?

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Why exactly do we need biotech?

I see that Former President Bill Clinton continues to hype genetically engineered food. The latest instance was in a speech at the Biotechnology Industry Conference held the other day in Chicago, when he told a standing-room crowd that biotech was key to a sustainable future.

This is exactly the sort of double-talk that President Clinton used in his 1992 election campaign, when his public stance was that of opposing NAFTA but, the moment he was elected, he claimed to have changed his mind and applied all the weight of his new position to muscling in the NAFTA agreement (that included deceiving the public by describing it as a "free trade" agreement when it was about evading democratic controls for the investing class, and further deceiving people by describing what was in fact a *treaty* as an "agreement"; why did he do that? because, according to the US Constitution, an agreement requires only a simple majority in order to be accepted, whereas a treaty requires a 75% majority). With all that deception, it would still be something if NAFTA actually worked for the people of the countries concerned. In fact, NAFTA has been an unmitigated disaster for the majority of the people of Canada, the US and Mexico, while it has of course been a great boon to the investor class, specially the top 1% of the population who are super-wealthy.

So why is Mr Clinton now pushing biotech so hard, when that involves designing seeds that produce sterile plants (plants that will not reproduce), so farmers who use genetically-modified seeds must buy them each year from Monsanto, along with Monsanto's Round Up Ready weedkiller, which destroys everything except Monsanto's patented seeds.

Mr Clinton and other biotech proponents constantly tell us that we need biotech in order to feed a hungry world. Which is nonsense. We already have enough food to feed the world. So what keeps certain parts of the world hungry? Dictators and corrupt politicians. That was thoroughly documented and demonstrated by the work of Noble Prize winning economist, Amartya Sen, decades ago.

Biotech may have many benefits, but feeding the world's hungry is certainly not one of them.

Mr Clinton is a well-read and intelligent man, so he presumably must know the truth. But he continues to tell lies.

What sustainably will biotech lead to? It will lead to sustainable profits for companies such as Monsanto. As a shareholder myself (though not in Monsanto or any other biotech company) I have no objection at all to shareholders profiting sustainably. The only problems is that, in this case, the sustainable profits for Monsanto and other such companies will come at the cost of making more people poor, reducing biodiversity and increasing the danger of ecological disaster.

Biotech may be able to find ways around such consequences, but it has not found them yet, and it is irresponsible as well as dishonest of Mr Clinton and the biotech industry to go around seeking to foist their half-ready products on us.

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How stupid is the market becoming?

As a small shareholder in a tiny company, Brainstore. So I find that I am on its "VIP mailing list". One year, I was surprised to receive a broom as a gift from the company. Another year a sort of sign that read simply "It's possible". This year, I received a flower that had, not surprisingly, become completely crushed by the time it reached me through the post. By now sufficiently irritated, I wrote to the CEO to express my concern.

He replied that the company's marketing policy was to produce and send material that is "provocative, polarising, surprising and bold…(but) not expensive". Fair enough. But flowers that are going to be crushed and fragmented by the time they arrive?

Apparently about 80% of the recipients have reacted "very positively" to the mailings. No doubt to get me on his side he tells me that a professor at a Business School rang to say: "My colleague got a crazy present from you, can I get one as well?"

The CEO tells me that the average size of the order to the company has gone up about 500% in 6 years, and he puts that growth down to his marketing strategy.

As a shareholder, I'm not complaining any more.

But I do wonder what is happening to the market and to simple commonsense.

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Robot murders ahead?

At a cocktail party yesterday, I was introduced to one of the world's top scientists in the field of robotics. Discussing all that he was involved in, I was duly impressed. Then I asked him who in his country is looking at the ethical, social and political implications of robotics. From his reaction, he had clearly never been asked that question earlier. And he could think of no one at all who was doing so.

This is the typical result of the sort of educational and employment system which a minority within the global elite has foisted upon the world – we have highly intelligent people working night and day, and using all their creativity and ability to produce "newer, faster, better" technologies with no thought for how those technologies are going to be actually used, or what might be the effect of deploying those technologies.

Over dinner later in the evening, I was with people from other countries, who I asked the same question. One of the guests could think of one person in her country who had organised a conference on the subject about two years ago. So all is not lost, and there are people thinking about these things – though probably far fewer than should be thinking about them.

My point is best illustrated by drawing attention to a press release a short while ago from Cyberhand Technologies International, Inc. The company's military defense division, Cylogic Aerospace has begun constructing its first "anti-personnel fighting robot prototype". In plain English, this is a machine or set of machines to kill people in a more targeted way than was possible through the use of mines and other such devices.

The prototype is the first in a series of Mobile Miniature Anti-Personnel (MMAP) devices. Designed as a sort of "Smart Mine" programmed for specific targets, is a hard-wired, six-legged scale model of an anti-personnel fighting robot. It is hard controlled via a three wire switching system that only allows movement and speed control. The prototypes that will result in a fully automated, all weather, miniature walking land mine and anti-personnel weapon system. The mobile field control distributor (MFCD) can at present theoretically coordinate up to 1000 MMAP units simultaneously in real time hostile conditions.

According to Mr. Michael Burke, CEO of Cyberhand Technologies, "This unit will be able to track targets in a given area for hours, days and even weeks before responding to a command to acquire and neutralize any individual target." Cyberhand Technologies International claims to provide the world's fastest controllers and most accurate target acquisition, generating the best field results, as well as innovative wireless ergonomic products for private and military purposes. Presumably, therefore the 3-wire system will be replaced by wireless systems as soon as the prototypes have been tested and developed to a suitable level.

The question is: *which" people will these machines kill? In the days of pitched battles between armies, it would have been a relatively simple matter of pointing the machines in the right direction. These days, most military encounters are long-distance or in small mobile groups, often relatively anonymous groups. So who are these robots meant to attack? How will they know who to attack and who to avoid?

You may or may not trust the US Army, but do you trust the rest of the world?

Why do I raise that apparently irrelevant question? Because I see that our wonderful Korean friends promise to begin marketing soon, the creepily attractive robot named Jupiter. The aim of the launch is to get every single household (initially in Korea, but then of course in the rest of the world) to buy one of these hugely capable robots. As with many such robots now, Jupiter is able to plug itself in to recharge without help. Jupiter can reportedly emulate emotions and respond to body language, and even recite stories to children. It also comes equipped with a handy flip out LCD display, so it can double as an entertainment unit -- and boasts pointy appendages whose purpose is not clear: are they sensory devices? are they for defensive/ offensive purposes? Jupiter will get its orders wirelessly over the net and, as it can respond to voice commands, the question is: will it also respond to pleas for mercy? With what result?

Perhaps you now understand the question I raised above. If you don't trust the US Army's intentions or its ability to keep its networks secure, do you trust the ability of these robots or the intentions of everybody in the world who can hack into the Korean wireless broadband system in Korea? The Korean government also plans to roll out robocops that can pursue suspects, and multi-legged or wheeled combat bots within the next five years. The bots will receive most of their commands via a wireless Internet connection, keeping costs down to as little as $1,000, and "allowing a malevolent AI or evil scientist to completely take over the nation's network of robots at will", as one website put it.

In any case, if my dear pet Jupiter is hacked into by my worst enemy and kills my best friend visiting me in my house, will it be I who am up for murder for not having my robot in my control, or will it be the company operating the Wired Broadband system, or perhaps the Korean government for having financed and sponsored the development of these new civilian killing machines?

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

How much longer before we can have solar-powered cars?

I saw a news item announcing that the US Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire have developed an entirely solar-powered vehicle which they expect to run for 500 km in the next few weeks. However, Cool Robot (as it is called) weighs only 61kg and measures only 1.2 x 1.2 x 1.0 metres. Designed for summer use in the Antarctica and Greenland, it can drive on soft snow entirely powered by its solar cells at a speed of 0.78m/s, providing the summer sun is above 16°C. For the techies among my readers, four brushless DC motors feed the wheels, and a maximum power point tracker controls the solar cells. Moreover, the vehicle can cross 0.3m high, 2m wavelength, wind-sculpted ice obstacles. The vehicle's power consumption averages 160W - which is not a lot but, considering that the sun is VERY much hotter than 16 degrees centigrade in many parts of the world, it should be possible to build at least small cars that can operate on solar power alone. As far as I can see, the technology involved could be scaled up very quickly - in theory.

But there are at least two practical problems. First, I have not yet been able to discover how much this one-metre cube (more or less) hulk of metal and machine actually cost.

Second, there is a host of vested private sector or commercial interests (i.e. investors in, and employees of, today's car industry) who are not too keen for solar cars to arrive too quickly in our markets.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Mobile Phones - Caution!!!

Did you see the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's announcement yesterday ( that it will review wireless phone safety following a recently published study that raises concerns about a heightened risk of brain cancer?

Apparently, researchers at the Swedish National Institute for Working Life compared data from 2,200 cancer patients and an equal number of healthy patients. Those who used wireless phones intensively had a 240 percent increased risk of a cancerous tumor on the side of the head where they used their phone, they reported. Their results, published in the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, defined heavy use of wireless phones as 2,000 or more hours, or about one hour per day for 10 years. The findings contradict a number of earlier studies and are "difficult to interpret," the FDA said in comments posted on its Web site. Still, the agency said it "plans to convene a meeting in the near future to evaluate research conducted to date in this area and identify gaps in knowledge that warrant additional research."

It also will continue to monitor studies for possible health problems stemming from exposure to radio frequency energy.

What is not clear in all this is what counts as "use" of mobile phones and what as "exposure to radio frequency energy".

Just as being in the vicinity of smokers is at least as dangerous as "actively smoking" yourself, will it turn out that being in the vicinity of radio energy is as harmful as actually using mobile phones yourself?

In any case, if there is a clear link between radio energy and cancer, that will provide at least one explanation for the exponential increase in cancer worldwide (which the political industry and the health industry constantly reassures is simply due to increased surveillance and better identification, but which I do not believe on the basis of the facts that are publicly available).

If you are a user of mobile phones, you might want to slacken off just a bit, at least.

And if you invest in mobile telephony related companies, you might want to consider the huge payments that were made by tobacco companies to those who suffered from cancer as a result.

Not comforting thoughts, either for phone users or for those investing in mobile telephony - though I hope that, if there is a link, humanity will also find ways of countering the carcinogenic tendencies and/or shielding us from them (mobile telephony is too useful simply to dump, I should have thought?).

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Monday, April 03, 2006

New dodge by airlines

There is now a trick being used by airlines to get money off the public.

They advertise that it is cheaper to book online than to trouble their staff.

So my son goes to the airline's website and is informed that a ticket is available, and it costs UK£26.

However, due to some technical problem or other, the website won't allow you to actually make the booking.

So when you, eventually, fed up, ring the office of the airline to complain about the website being down, you are told that it is being attended to… you ask how long it will take to sort out, and of course the member of staff is polite but has no idea...and when you ask the whether you can book the seat with him, you are told that it will cost you UK£134.

When something like this happened the first time, we put it down to bad luck. But when it happened again, I decided that the minimum I ought to do is put this experience on a Blog.

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