Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition!
I already did. It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

As you probably know, some times ago, I wrote an article called Society of Giving. It discussed the fact that our body has a mechanism of pleasure that is activated when we give or share. I must admit, I was very proud of this article, since it was really quite an insight for me. But the confirmations on this kept on coming. Recently I read that if you want to become closer with someone, you should ask him/her for a little favor - this will make that person feels better for you. No matter that intuitively, we would do a favor ourselves to show we're interested in someone. So obviously, people really like doing stuff for others, sharing with them and helping them. As long as we feel our actions are well-placed and also appreciated adequately, we're more than happy to do "good" things. "Good", because this word kind of lost its idea after centuries of "do it, because you have to" instead of "do it, because you want to"!

Now, I'd like to continue this way of thinking with new articles that confirm the theory that cooperation is our natural state and that the Nature is in eternal dynamical equilibrium between cooperation and individualism. Because I don't have much time - 0bviously since I haven't posted anything for more than a week - I won't discuss the articles one by one. I want to make only a brief overview of the information provided in them.

What we see is that cooperation in Nature has a very firm position - studies on yeast prove that cooperation has an evolutionary benefit for those organisms, studies on hyenas show that they are much better than primates and chimps in cooperation and that they integrate cooperation for reward in their society without a problem (very interesting article, btw). The other two articles are about humans and discuss the value of rewarding people as compared to punishing them, saying that rewards can be just as stimulating (if not more) as punishment in conditions where anonymity of the punishment is not an option. The last article is about sharing and its value to the society as a whole - it doesn't go as far as I would like but still, it's good to know that my point of view is shared by other people.

Ultimately, I think we all have to take a moment and consider what sharing is for us, how we feel when we do it, why we do it. Don't take someone else's opinion on it, make you own. How do you feel when you share your thoughts, experiences with others. Because by doing this you give them valuable experience - so yes, this is sharing! Go further, how do you feel when you help someone, when you do a friend a favor. Understand what sharing and giving is for you. Does it feel good? I don't know about you, it feels good to me. I like it. Which is the reason why I spend all this time writing in my blogs. I feel useful this way. Now, after we have decided our values, it's much easier to try to spread them and to create this better society. Society based on happiness and "I give" rather than on misery and "I want". Note, "giving" is connected to "having". You cannot give someone you don't already have. This way, you're not supposed to get robbed away of everything you like, quite on the contrary, you're supposed to gain real pleasure on what you have by understanding you REALLY have it, not merely thinking you do.

That's it from me for now, I hope you will read the articles and that you'll enjoy them. Have a wonderful day!

Game theory study: Cooperative behavior meshes with evolutionary theory

April 6th, 2009 By Anne Trafton
(PhysOrg.com) -- One of the perplexing questions raised by evolutionary theory is how cooperative behavior, which benefits other members of a species at a cost to the individual, came to exist.

Cooperative behavior has puzzled biologists because if only the fittest survive, genes for a behavior that benefits everybody in a population should not last and cooperative behavior should die out, says Jeff Gore, a Pappalardo postdoctoral fellow in MIT's Department of Physics.

Gore is part of a team of MIT researchers that has used to understand one solution use to get around this problem. The team's findings, published in the April 6 online edition of Nature, indicate that if an individual can benefit even slightly by cooperating, it can survive even when surrounded by individuals that don't cooperate.

In short, the study offers a concrete example of how cooperative behaviors can be compatible with evolutionary theory.

Unlike humans, yeast have no emotions or thoughts that interfere with rational decision-making; their actions are solely driven by their genetic response to the environment.

Game theory, traditionally employed by economists and military strategists, uses mathematics to predict individuals' behavior in certain situations.

Working with MIT physics professor Alexander van Oudenaarden, Gore developed an experimental setup involving yeast sucrose metabolism. Sucrose is not yeast's preferred food source, but they will metabolize it if no glucose is available. To do so, they must secrete an enzyme called invertase, which breaks sucrose into smaller sugars that the yeast can absorb.

Much of that sugar diffuses away and is freely available to other yeast cells in the environment. In this scenario, yeast that secrete invertase are known as cooperators, while those that don't secrete invertase and instead consume the simple sugars produced by others are called cheaters.

If all of these simple sugars diffused away, with no preferential access to the yeast that produced it, then it would always be better to cheat, and the cooperators would die out.

The researchers observed that cooperating yeast have preferential access to approximately 1 percent of the sucrose they produce. That benefit outweighs the cost of helping others, allowing them to successfully compete against cheaters.

In addition, no matter the initial starting numbers of yeast in a given population, the microbes always come into an equilibrium state, with both cooperators and cheaters present. "It doesn't matter where you start. You always end up with equilibrium," says Gore.

This suggests that the yeast are playing what game theorists call a snowdrift game. The name of the game comes from a situation in which two drivers are trapped in cars behind a snowdrift. Each one can choose to get out and clear a path or stay put. If one driver does not shovel, the other must.

The best option is to "cheat" by staying in the car while the other driver shovels. However, the worst-case scenario occurs if both drivers cheat and no one gets home. Therefore, the best strategy is always the opposite of your opponent's strategy.

The same rules apply to the cheating and cooperating yeast: Like the driver who grudgingly gets out and shovels so that both she and her fellow motorist — snug inside his car — may continue on their journeys, the yeast who cooperate do so because there is a slight benefit for themselves. However, when most of the yeast are cooperating, it becomes advantageous for some individuals to cheat, and vice versa, which allows co-existence between cheaters and cooperators to arise.

Studies have shown that in the wild, yeast carry different numbers of copies of the invertase gene. This genetic diversity in the wild may be similar to the long-term coexistence of cooperators and cheaters observed in the laboratory, says Gore. source

Hyenas cooperate, problem-solve better than primates

September 28th, 2009 By DeLene Beeland
(PhysOrg.com) -- Spotted hyenas may not be smarter than chimpanzees, but a new study shows that they outperform the primates on cooperative problem-solving tests.

Captive pairs of spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) that needed to tug two ropes in unison to earn a food reward cooperated successfully and learned the maneuvers quickly with no training. Experienced hyenas even helped inexperienced partners do the trick.

When confronted with a similar task, and other often require extensive training and cooperation between individuals may not be easy, said Christine Drea, an evolutionary at Duke University.

Drea's research, published online in the October issue of Animal Behavior, shows that social carnivores like spotted hyenas that hunt in packs may be good models for investigating cooperative problem solving and the evolution of . She performed these experiments in the mid-1990s but struggled to find a journal that was interested in non-primate social cognition.

"No one wanted anything but primate cognition studies back then," Drea said. "But what this study shows is that spotted hyenas are more adept at these sorts of cooperation and problem-solving studies in the lab than chimps are. There is a natural parallel of working together for food in the laboratory and group hunting in the wild."

"One thing that was different about the captive hyena's behavior was that these problems were solved largely in silence," Drea said. Their non-verbal communication included matching gazes and following one another. "In the wild, they use a vocalization called a whoop when they are hunting together."

In the second and third experiments, Drea found that social factors affected the hyenas' performance in both positive and negative ways. When an audience of extra hyenas was present, experienced animals solved the task faster. But when dominant animals were paired, they performed poorly, even if they had been successful in previous trials with a subordinate partner.

"When the dominant females were paired, they didn't play nicely together," Drea said. "Their aggression toward each other led to a failure to cooperate."

When a naďve animal unfamiliar with the feeding platforms was paired with a dominant, experienced animal, the dominant animals switched social roles and submissively followed the lower-ranking, naďve animal. Once the naďve animal became experienced, they switched back.

Both the audience and the role-switching trials revealed that spotted hyenas self-adjust their behavior based upon social context. source


Carrots are better than sticks for building human cooperation

September 3rd, 2009

Rewards go further than punishment in building human cooperation and benefiting the common good, according to research published this week in the journal Science by researchers at Harvard University and the Stockholm School of Economics. While previous studies have focused almost exclusively on punishment for promoting public cooperation, here rewards are shown to be much more successful.

The new study, which finds that rewards robustly build compliance and , could help in developing solutions for thorny problems requiring the cooperation of large numbers of people to achieve a greater good. It was conducted using a computer-based public goods game, a classic experiment for measuring collective action in a laboratory setting. The study contradicts previous research, which has stated that peer punishment is the only effective mechanism for promoting public cooperation.

"In these types of domains, where people interact repeatedly with each other to solve a group social dilemma, our work suggests that rewards result in better outcomes than punishment," Rand says. "Rewards can change individuals' behavior and encourage cooperation without the destructive negative consequences that come with punishment."

Rand and his colleagues, headed by Martin A. Nowak of Harvard's Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, examined cooperation among 192 participants in a public goods game probing the fundamental tension between the interests of an individual and a group.

Over 50 rounds of interaction, each of four participants in a group would decide how much to contribute toward a common pool that benefited all four equally. Each participant was then able -- at a cost to him or herself -- to either or punish each of the three other subjects for their contributions to the group, or lack thereof.

As in real life, Rand says, study subjects tend to resent "free riders" who fail to contribute to a group yet reap the benefits of membership in it.

"But despite this anger at free riders, rewarding good behavior is as effective as punishing bad behavior for maintaining public cooperation and leads to better outcomes for the group," Rand says. "When both options are available, reward leads to increased contributions and payoff for the group, while punishment has no effect on contributions and leads to lower payoff for the group."

Previous research has suggested that punishment can compel cooperation in anonymous two-time interactions where individuals need not worry about reputation or retaliation -- a scenario Rand, Nowak, and colleagues find unrealistic, since most of our real-life interactions are recurring, with our reputations always at stake source

Share and share alike: How the modern world affects our tendency to share

August 24th, 2009

From giving directions to a stranger to cooking a meal for loved ones, sharing is an essential part of the human experience.

"Sharing is a fundamental consumer behavior that we have either tended to overlook or to confuse with commodity exchange and gift giving," writes author Russell Belk (York University, Toronto). In his study, Belk explores differences between sharing, gift giving, and exchanging marketplace commodities.

"Rather than absolute distinctions, I see these as categories that share fuzzy boundaries," writes Belk. "Although both sharing and gift-giving have some elements that often (but not always) make them more communal, loving, and caring than marketplace exchange, sharing differs from gift-giving in that it is non-reciprocal. The infant who receives his or her mother's nurturing care and sustenance does not incur a debt. Nor does the child who receives food, shelter, and love from parents receive an itemized bill upon leaving the nuclear family home."

Societal changes can affect the nature of sharing, notes Belk. Examples of threats to sharing may be the individualization of family phones and meals, the decline of free public education, and the shrinking of public broadcasting.

On the other hand, the Internet provides many healthy models for increased sharing. Belk notes that forums, bulletin boards, blogs, , wikis, open-source software development projects, and websites where people share expertise, advice, and opinions all contribute to a sharing community. source


Yep, back on weapons.
Please, republicans reading this - know that this text isn't about the right to own a gun. I disagree with the idea that weapons should be like candies and I think this opinion happens to match in a big part of the non-US part of the world, but in the case, I won't discuss this. This article goes well beyond the idea of personal weapons and if you haven't read it, I think you'll find it interesting.
Now, on my favorite tasers. I really don't know what idiot considered it's safer to use a taser than to use a gun, but let's pretend it is so. In this New Scientists article, you can see the "glorious" improvements on the new taser series. No, they didn't become safer, they got long-range! And now you can shock not only for seconds, you can do it for minutes. But don't worry, tests on cadavers proved the taser is safe!
Ok, sarcasm aside, I don't understand why people and governments are not more interested on the potential damage done by tasers. If you shoot a person with hearth problem with a gun in the leg, s/he's likely to get only a wound in the leg. If you shoot him/her with a taser, it's very likely to die. I don't know how it is in the USA, but hearth problems are the number one health problem in Bulgaria. I cannot even imagine what would happen if police starts shooting with those stuff.
No matter what we like to think, but sometimes there are errors. Sometimes the police can yell to someone to lie down and that someone, feeling perfectly innocent, to tell them to fuck off and die. And then the police will shoot. And what happens if this person is a pregnant woman? What happens if this person has epilepsy (or increased risk of convulsions - something that you get as a bonus for a head trauma)? It's hard to predict what would happen but the fact is that there are many groups of people for which minutes of electric current are not safe. And those people are not always terrorists. Sometimes they go on an unapproved protest against something. Sometimes they are in the wrong place in the wrong time (and in the wrong mood). Sometimes they are drunk or maniac (or depressed or simply ill) and won't respond on police orders immediately (or at all). Such stuff happen. That's why, it is very important that the police or whoever wants to use the tasers be clearly instructed when to use them.
Obviously, I don't know how the police use the tasers, I've seen only the movie with the Polish (?) guy that was killed on an airport. But I think that the use of tasers must be regulated just as the use of guns. Otherwise, with improved space-time range for the damage done by tasers, police can kill people when they don't intend to do it. That's bad for everyone.
And note, tests done on cadavers are ridiculous! That can prove only that electricity won't burn the tissues. But not what it would do to the heart, the lungs, the brain and so on - organs which are affected not so much by the power (that burns) but by the seizures and the change of the rhythm (though strongly speaking, if the organs burn, they burn). That's why, the government and its agencies, before happily ordering the new treats, they should make sure what are the effects of them on living people. I just don't know what people would volunteer to test a gun with unknown effects on the brain and the heart. It would be tough...

Long-range Taser reignites safety debate

THE manufacturer of the Taser stun gun is sparking new controversy with the commercial launch of a long-range version that can be fired from a 12-bore shotgun.

Government-funded tests on initial versions of the new Extended Range Electronic Projectile (XREP) have revealed possible health risks to people on the receiving end, New Scientist has learned. The manufacturer, Taser International of Scottsdale, Arizona, says the issue has been addressed in redesigned devices, but these have yet to be independently tested.

Unlike the current Taser X26, which fires darts attached to short wires, the XREP is wire-free. Its projectile, the size of a shotgun cartridge, is designed to pierce the target's skin and contains battery-powered circuits that deliver a debilitating shock. It has a range of 20 metres or more, compared with 5 metres for previous Tasers.

A team led by Cynthia Bir, a trauma injury specialist at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, found that some of the 275 XREP cartridges that Taser supplied for testing last year were capable of delivering an electric shock for more than 5 minutes, rather than the 20 seconds of shocking current they are supposed to generate. Previous Taser stun guns shock for only 5 seconds per discharge, though that can be repeated.

The effects of prolonged shocking are not known, he says, but the finding raises concerns about the potential damage to a victim's mental health.

Bir also found problems with the weapon's accuracy.

Steve Tuttle, a vice-president of Taser International, says the XREP munitions supplied for Bir's tests were early pre-production versions. He says a redesign of the projectile has greatly improved its aerodynamic accuracy, and the fault in the munition's "firmware" - its built-in software - that led to it being capable of providing an extended shock has also been corrected.

Tuttle says, however, that Taser did ship some pre-production batches to US police departments.

Bir and her team have not had a chance to test the newly modified production rounds that Taser says are more accurate and reliable. Some of them have, however, already been purchased, delivered and used by unnamed "agencies" in the US, Tuttle says. Tests funded by Taser showed the rounds to be safe in terms of their impact effects on cadavers, he says. "There was no internal damage in the vicinity of the XREP impact." There is no requirement under US law for them to undergo independent pre-sales testing.

Shooting cadavers is one thing. But what happens when the weapons are fired at pregnant women, people with health problems or the very young, Wright asks.

source

Happy day of Sofia!

Today, in Bulgaria, we have a glorious day :) We celebrate the day of our capital Sofia and also, the eastern orthodox day of st. Sophia and her three daughters - Faith, Hope and Love. I discovered that the Catholic version of the legend refers to the 3d sister as Charity, but for us it is Love.

sofia


The legend of the mother and her brave children is very very sad. And obviously, it's not only a legend, since the remaining of them can be found in a church in France. Here is the story in short:

"According to an Eastern allegory explaining the cult of Divine Wisdom, Faith, Hope, and Charity were the daughters of Wisdom (known as Sofia in the Roman Martyrology on September 30th), a widow in Rome. The daughters suffered martyrdom during Hadrian's persecution of Christians: Faith, twelve, was scourged and went unharmed when boiling pitch was poured on her, was beheaded; Hope, ten, and Charity, nine, were also beheaded after emerging unscathed, from a furnace; and Wisdom died three days later while praying at their graves"

I'm sure you can google the story if you want to know more. Today I don't have a lot of time to go into details, but obviously, our beloved city shares a common faith with st. Sophia.

Founded by the Thracians at least 2009 years ago, and maybe even a thousand more, it saw the fall of the Thracians, the Roman Empire, the Bulgarian Empire and the Bulgarian kingdoms. Until current moment, the third Bulgarian (phase) state and our general misery. I love my city and it's really sad to see it covered with garbage, at least this is what I see outside when I walk the dog. It's not a good publicity, but I hate publicity when it doesn't deliver. And right in this moment, Sofia is a disaster. I don't talk about the traffic jams - this is normal for every big city. The problem is the attitude of people - to pollute, to hide behind some already old cliches - like the false belief that the problems of the city comes from the non-native people that flood Sofia. When it is exactly the opposite, precisely those non-natives support the progress of the city. The problem is that people don't know how to take care of the city, they don't know how to express their love to this city. They don't want to feel the city.

And I do feel it. I feel every city I visit. And Sofia is so sad. What it really need is colors and to be clean and to be full with people that are happy to exist. It needs joy. Not the case so far. But nothing is permanent. Sooner or later, the city would have fun. So yeah, dear tourists, please visit our city. Don't be scared by my bad publicity. The city has it's shiny glasses, it has its share of history for sight-seeing. Please, come and bring your joy to our city, because it badly needs you. We all need to remember that there are good and happy people. People that are content with their existence. I'm sure you will have fun in our city, we all have fun here. The problem is that we have pure fun only for a minute fraction of our time, the rest of the time, we're in lethargy. While you, you'll be happy all of the time. I'm sure.

And last but not least, I wanted to share with you the gnostic legend of Sophia. There is so much to be said on this matter, but unfortunately, some of us really have to work :) So, I leave it uncommented. I'm sure, you'll all find out the meaning for yourself. (credit: Wikipedia)

I wish you all wisdom!

"Almost all Gnostic systems of the Syrian or Egyptian type taught that the universe began with an original, unknowable God, referred to as the Parent or Bythos, or as the Monad by Monoimus. It can also be equated to the concept of Logos (The 'Unknown Root') as well as the Ein Sof of the Kabbalah and Brahman in Hinduism. From this initial unitary beginning, the One spontaneously emanated further Æons, being pairs of progressively 'lesser' beings in sequence. The lowest of these pairs were Sophia and Christ. The Æons together made up the Pleroma, or fullness, of God, and thus should not be seen as distinct from the divine, but symbolic abstractions of the divine nature.

In the Nag Hammadi, Sophia is the lowest Æon, or anthropic expression of the emanation of the light of God. She is the syzygy of Jesus Christ (i.e. she forms a unity with Christ, being cojoined with him), and Gnostics believed that she was the Holy Spirit of the Trinity. Sophia is depicted as the creator of the material universe in On the Origin of the World. Furthermore, the planet Earth and everything on it was indeed created by the Old Testament God, but he is depicted as fundamentally corrupt. Because Sophia created the material universe and its god either without her syzygy Jesus Christ or, in another tradition, because she tried to breach the barrier between herself and the unknowable Bythos.

Furthermore, she is also depicted as the destroyer of both this material universe, and Yaldabaoth and all his Heavens. Later in "On the Origin of the World," it states:

She [Sophia] will cast them down into the abyss. They [the Archons] will be obliterated because of their wickedness. For they will come to be like volcanoes and consume one another until they perish at the hand of the prime parent. When he has destroyed them, he will turn against himself and destroy himself until he ceases to exist. And their heavens will fall one upon the next and their forces will be consumed by fire. Their eternal realms, too, will be overturned. And his heaven will fall and break in two. His [...] will fall down upon the [...] support them; they will fall into the abyss, and the abyss will be overturned. The light will [...] the darkness and obliterate it: it will be like something that never was.

Sophia's fear and anguish of losing her life (just as she lost the light of the One) caused confusion and longing to return to it. Because of these longings, matter and soul accidentally came into existence through the four elements: fire, water, earth, and air. The creation of the lion-faced Demiurge is also a mistake made during this exile, according to some Gnostic sources as a result of Sophia trying to emanate on her own, without her male counterpart. The Demiurge proceeds to create the physical world in which we live, ignorant of Sophia, who nevertheless managed to infuse some spiritual spark or pneuma into the creation of the Demiurge.

After this the savior (Christ) returns and lets her see the light again, bringing her knowledge of the spirit. Christ was then sent to earth in the form of the man Jesus to give men the gnosis needed to rescue themselves from the physical world and return to the spiritual world. "

This one will be extremely short from my side, since I have so much work to do and so little time to finish it. So, here's a very interesting article I stumbled upon twice. The first time when I met the issue, I decided to leave it for another day, especially since circumcision is something I'm not that familiar with. It's not very popular here, I guess. But when I met the same issue for a second time, I decided I have to spread the word.

Now I'm going to leave the details aside. My very very simple opinion is that it's inhumane to perform surgeries on babies for other reasons than purely medical. As someone who commented the article said - babies don't have sex, they don't need this operation! And it's absolutely correct! Why should we mutilate the baby's body, when the research doesn't even make sense! The HIV virus is usually found in body fluids, especially blood. Which means that if you have unsafe and not very passionate (or way too passionate) sex, you have a big chance of getting the virus. It's as simple as that. There's no much difference if you have that skin on your penis, or you don't have it. As someone very clearly said it - circumcision doesn't protect you from HIV, condoms do. It might make some sense against the human papiloma virus, but this is not very well-proved too. And if there is not a proof, then the operation is unnecessary. And which case, it shouldn't be done. 

And anyway, I really cannot understand why circumcision is so popular in USA. It's so weird. If it's your religion, or you have medical reasons to do it, ok, but to cut a piece of you just like that is VERY odd. 

So this is all from me, and please, read the comments under the source page. They are very interesting!

CDC Officials Consider Promoting Circumcision to Prevent HIV’s Spread

In an effort to stop the spread of HIV, public health officials are considering initiating a program

that would encourage circumcision for all newborn boys in the United States.

Studies have shown that heterosexual adult men reduce their risk of HIV by 50 percent by being circumcised. “We have a significant H.I.V. epidemic in this country, and we really need to look carefully at any potential intervention that could be another tool in the toolbox we use to address the epidemic…. What we’ve heard from our consultants is that there would be a benefit for infants from infant circumcision, and that the benefits outweigh the risks” [The New York Times], says CDC epidemiologist Peter Kilmarx.

On the other hand, circumcision has not been shown to reduce HIV risk among men who have sex with men–the U.S. demographic with the highest risk of contracting the virus. And the American Academy of Pediatrics does not currently endorse routine circumcision, as it doesn’t consider the procedure essential to a baby’s well-being. Finally, nearly four-fifths of American men are circumcised, so it’s not clear whether a policy recommending circumcision would have much impact.Връзка

source

Please, read the comments below the blog. They are very very informative. Also, NYTimes link. And if you google neonatal skin, you can get an idea why this type of skin might be useful.

A little late post, I admit, but I had the extremely important task to recover these days. Well, I still recover, but I decided I can as well write a post or two meantime. And I'm working too, so, it's not much of a rest ...
Now, when I read that, I was amazed something like this could ever happen. But it happened and it happened in the USA and I desperately hope that Europe will try not to copy this too. Though this wish might be a little too late, since new Bulgarian passports will have biometric data. I just don't know if they will beam them out for everyone to read.
So, what's the issue. It's the RFID tags embedded in new US documents, that enable anyone with enough money to gather the data from your ID or driving license and to use it as s/he want to. There are many things to be said here, like that new technologies require new ways to deal with crime and so on, but that's all nonsense. The essential part is that with new technologies, new definitions of privacy should come. And this privacy should always be protected. Nobody will have fun to live in a police state and a place where the government know where you are and what you do in every minute of your life is exactly a police state.
But apart from philosophy, let's be practical. Let's think carefully, why should a passport need an RFID. Why there should be a chip to store your biometric data? If we think about that, why would anyone needs this storage? If it's about security, what is needed is a barcode that can connect the id you give to the authorities with the data-base where the biometric data should be stored. Why should the id itself store them?! This is an absolute nonsense. What the police must be able to do is to take your biometric data and to compare it with the data they have on their server. So why do we need a RFID? For faster border control? Thank you very much, I'd rather go more slowly. Who needs that, that's what I ask. Who needs that your id beams out information about yourself. It's not so important what it beams, it's important that it does and that this is personal data allowing people to track your movement across the world. Do you want this? I do not. And I don't believe someone would ever want something like this.
I think that before any innovations is allowed in our life, we must be perfectly clear why we need them, what are the good and what are the bad sides and to decide whether the outcome is worthy.
I'm leaving you to read the shortened version of the articles, please visit the source pages, because I cut a lot of information that I'm sure you'll find very interesting. But for me, the only place of RFID should be found is in stores, making sure nobody steals the products or in other commercial application. Nowhere else. Our body and its position in space and time, as long as we don't commit a crime, should be entirely our business.

P.S. After the two articles, I posted some articles about other types of privacy that aim to alarm you how easy and quickly we lose our privacy.

Chips in official IDs raise privacy fears

July 11th, 2009 By TODD LEWAN , AP National Writer

Climbing into his Volvo, outfitted with a Matrics antenna and a Motorola reader he'd bought on eBay for $190, Chris Paget cruised the streets of San Francisco with this objective: To read the identity cards of strangers, wirelessly, without ever leaving his car.

It took him 20 minutes to strike hacker's gold.

Zipping past Fisherman's Wharf, his scanner detected, then downloaded to his laptop, the unique serial numbers of two pedestrians' electronic U.S. passport cards embedded with , or RFID, tags. Within an hour, he'd "skimmed" the identifiers of four more of the new, microchipped PASS cards from a distance of 20 feet.

Embedding identity documents - passports, drivers licenses, and the like - with RFID chips is a no-brainer to government officials. Increasingly, they are promoting it as a 21st century application of technology that will help speed border crossings, safeguard credentials against counterfeiters, and keep terrorists from sneaking into the country.

But Paget's February experiment demonstrated something privacy advocates had feared for years: That RFID, coupled with other technologies, could make people trackable without their knowledge or consent.

He filmed his drive-by heist, and soon his video went viral on the Web, intensifying a debate over a push by government, federal and state, to put tracking technologies in identity documents and over their potential to erode privacy.

On June 1, it became mandatory for Americans entering the United States by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean to present identity documents embedded with RFID tags, though conventional passports remain valid until they expire.

Among new options are the chipped "e-passport," and the new, electronic PASS card - credit-card sized, with the bearer's digital photograph and a chip that can be scanned through a pocket, backpack or purse from 30 feet.

Alternatively, travelers can use "enhanced" driver's licenses embedded with RFID tags now being issued in some border states: Washington, Vermont, Michigan and New York. Texas and Arizona have entered into agreements with the federal government to offer chipped licenses, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has recommended expansion to non-border states. Kansas and Florida officials have received DHS briefings on the licenses, agency records show.

The purpose of using RFID is not to identify people, says Mary Ellen Callahan, the chief privacy officer at Homeland Security, but rather "to verify that the identification document holds valid information about you."

Likewise, U.S. border agents are "pinging" databases only to confirm that licenses aren't counterfeited. "

RFID, he wrote, has a fundamental flaw: Each chip is built to faithfully transmit its unique identifier "in the clear, exposing the tag number to interception during the wireless communication."

Once a tag number is intercepted, "it is relatively easy to directly associate it with an individual," he says. "If this is done, then it is possible to make an entire set of movements posing as somebody else without that person's knowledge."

Echoing these concerns were the AeA - the lobbying association for technology firms - the Smart Card Alliance, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Business Travel Coalition, and the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security has been promoting broad use of RFID even though its own advisory committee on data integrity and privacy warned that radio-tagged IDs have the potential to allow "widespread surveillance of individuals" without their knowledge or consent.

For now, chipped PASS cards and enhanced driver's licenses are optional and not yet widely deployed in the United States. To date, roughly 192,000 EDLs have been issued in Washington, Vermont, Michigan and New York. source

Special alloy sleeves urged to block hackers?

July 12th, 2009 By TODD LEWAN , AP National Writer

(AP) -- To protect against skimming and eavesdropping attacks, federal and state officials recommend that Americans keep their e-passports tightly shut and store their RFID-tagged passport cards and enhanced driver's licenses in "radio-opaque" sleeves.

That's because experiments have shown that the e-passport begins transmitting some data when opened even a half inch, and chipped passport cards and EDLs can be read from varying distances depending on reader techonology.

The cover of the e-passport booklet contains a metallic sheathing that can diminish the distances travel, presumably hindering unwanted interceptions. Alloy envelopes that come with the PASS cards and driver's licenses do the same, the government says.

The State Department asserts that hackers won't find any practical use for data skimmed from RFID chips embedded in the cards, but "if you don't want the cards read, put them in an attenuation sleeve," says John Brennan, a senior policy adviser at the Office of Consular Affairs.

Gigi Zenk, a spokeswoman for the Washington state Department of Licensing, says the envelope her state offers with the enhanced driver's license "ensures that nothing can scan it at all."

But that wasn't what researchers from the University of Washington and RSA Laboratories, a company in Bedford, Mass., found last year while testing the data security of the cards.

The PASS card "is readable under certain circumstances in a crumpled sleeve," though not in a well maintained sleeve, the researchers wrote in a report.

Another test on the enhanced driver's license demonstrated that even when the sleeve was in pristine condition, a clandestine reader could skim data from the license at a distance of a half yard.

source

Swedish court rules out Pirate Bay retrial
Kazakh lawmakers back restrictive Internet law
PC makers race to comply with China's Web filter

After Outcry, China Delays Requirement for Web-Filtering Software

Toxins in our life, August 2009

Hi all! Just when you think this subject has been depleted, new articles come up to show us how wrong you are. This is a little compilation from stories that should make us consider very carefully what we think of modern chemistry and its impact on our lives.
To cut the philosophy short, these are the articles:

  1. Corn, soy yields gain little from genetic engineering: study
  2. Unprecedented use of DDT concerns experts
  3. Federal study shows mercury in fish widespread
They try to fight trough different angles with the widespread idea that chemistry and biotechnology in their current state will save the world from hunger, diseases and general misery. Well, they wont. And I have the unpleasant feeling that they don't even intend to.

What I mean? First the GMo effect on population and production is something I often discuss, pasting you articles that clearly defy the positive effects of GMo plants. So, in this article, you can see that even the purely economical effects are a lie. Pure lie. Not that we didn't know this, but anyway. Notice that ~80% of the soy and ~60% of the corn are modified. How do you feel now about your soy-rich diet? Even if you're not on a diet, you eat so much soy since it's already in everything-from bread to baby-milk. And most of it is modified. Yes, I guess this might be a good point for its safety, though it's not like we could trace the reasons behind every disease in USA. Anyway, what bothers me the most is that soy is connected with female hormones. Even if they might have good effect on women, why should men consume them???Why should men be more feminine...

Which leads me to the second article. That they use DDT in Africa to fight malaria could have some positive explanation. If you have to choose between bad life and no-life, it's obvious what you'd choose. What impressed me is that the effect of DDT is decreased male fertility. Interesting way to fight hunger in Africa...by decreasing the population trough DDT. Ok, this is just a guess, but it looks very very suspicious. And since they have to choose between corporations producing DDT and corporation producing medicaments, I don't understand why they preferred the DDT ones. Hmmm....

And the third article is the ultimate evil. As everybody knows, fish is food for the brain. It's extremely important for our neural system. So what do we do when this fish is contaminated with mercury-the ultimate killer for the neural system? Yes, most of it wasn't over the safety limit. But if you think about it, when you're exhausted, or with an injury, as in my case, you try to eat as much fish as you could. So imagine what this under-the-limit mercury could do while it accumulates inside your weakened body?! This really sucks.

Finally-it's up to us to decide in what world we want to live in. In polluted world where even the best food that the Nature gives you is contaminated, or in a clean and ordered world where
people don't just do harm because they can. Your choice. Just be careful with the fish!

P.S. Happy birthday to Vassil and Happy $2.3 billion fine to Pfizer! Fun! :)

Corn, soy yields gain little from genetic engineering: study

April 14th, 2009
The use of genetically engineered corn and soybeans in the United States for more than a decade has had little impact on crop yields despite claims that they could ease looming food shortages, a study released on Tuesday concluded.

The study evaluated the effect on corn and soybean crop yields of genetically engineered varieties commercialized in the United States over the past 13 years, examining peer-reviewed academic studies that date back to the early 1990s.

The report said genetically engineered soybeans account for 90 percent of soybeans grown in the United States, while genetically engineered corn accounts for 63 percent of the US corn crop.

"Overall, corn and soybean yields have risen substantially over the last 15 years, but largely not as a result of the GE traits," the report said. "Most of the gains are due to traditional breeding or improvement of other agricultural practices."

It found that corn and soybeans that were genetically modified to increase their tolerance to herbicides "have not increased operational yields, whether on a per acre or national basis, compared to conventional methods that rely on other available herbicides."

source

Unprecedented use of DDT concerns experts

May 4th, 2009

A panel of experts and citizens convened to review recent studies on the link between DDT and human health expressed concern that the current practice of spraying the pesticide indoors to fight malaria is leading to unprecedented - and insufficiently monitored - levels of exposure to it.

Although DDT has been largely abandoned as an agricultural pesticide worldwide, its use to combat was endorsed in 2006 by the World Health Organization (WHO) and by officials in the President's Malaria Initiative, a program led by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which was launched by former President George W. Bush in 2005. According to WHO, in 2006 alone there were 247 million cases of and 880,000 deaths from malaria. Most of the deaths were of young children in Africa.

In regions where malaria is endemic, the organochlorine pesticide is now sprayed inside buildings and homes to repel and kill the mosquitoes that spread the disease. This is being done despite a paucity of data on the impacts of DDT exposure at such high levels in currently exposed populations, according to the experts from fields ranging from environmental health to cancer biology.

After a review of nearly 500 epidemiological studies, to be published online Monday, May 4, ahead of print in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the researchers developed a consensus statement calling for increased efforts to reduce exposure to DDT, to understand the of exposure to DDT, and to develop alternatives to using DDT so that other methods could ultimately be relied upon for malaria control.

Examples of non-chemical measures to control malaria include the use of bed nets, draining sources of standing water or filling them up with soil, and the rapid diagnosis and treatment of malaria cases.

"We have to put our concerns in the context of people dying of malaria," said lead author Brenda Eskenazi, UC Berkeley professor of epidemiology and of maternal and child health at the School of Public Health. "We know DDT can save lives by repelling and killing disease-spreading mosquitoes. But evidence suggests that people living in areas where DDT is used are exposed to very high levels of the pesticide. The only published studies on health effects conducted in these populations have shown profound effects on male fertility. Clearly, more research is needed on the health of populations where indoor residual spraying is occurring, but in the meantime, DDT should really be the last resort against malaria rather than the first line of defense."

Of the studies published on human health, almost all have dealt with populations exposed to low, background levels of DDT. Nevertheless, some of those studies have suggested links between DDT and cancer risk, diabetes, developmental problems in fetuses and in children, and decreased fertility.
source

Federal study shows mercury in fish widespread

August 19th, 2009 By DINA CAPPIELLO

(AP) -- No fish can escape mercury pollution. That's the take-home message from a federal study of mercury contamination released Wednesday that tested fish from nearly 300 streams across the country.

The toxic substance was found in every sampled, a finding that underscores how widespread pollution has become.

But while all fish had traces of contamination, only about a quarter had mercury levels exceeding what the says is safe for people eating average amounts of fish.

The study by the U.S. Geological Survey is the most comprehensive look to date at mercury in the nation's streams. From 1998 to 2005, scientists collected and tested more than a thousand fish, including bass, trout and catfish, from 291 streams nationwide.

Mercury consumed by eating fish can damage the nervous system and cause learning disabilities in developing fetuses and young children. The main source of mercury to most of the streams tested, according to the researchers, is emissions from coal-fired power plants. source

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