Business Insider By Michael Kelley 1 September 2013
Over the course of the 29-month Syrian conflict, Russia has provided the regime of Bashar al-Assad with supplies including guns, grenades, tank parts, fighter jets, advanced anti-ship cruise missiles, long-range air defense missiles, military officers as advisors, diplomatic cover, and lots of cash.
So why does the Kremlin back Assad so staunchly?
There are three primary reasons, as illustrated by this report from Krishnadev Calamur of NPR.
1) Strategic: Syria's port of Tartus hosts the only remaining international military base outside of the former Soviet Union.
2) Financial: As of June 2012, Russia’s economic interests in Syria total approximately $20 billion, about $5 billion of which are weapons sales.
3) Philosophical: Andranik Migranyan, director of the New York-based Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, a nongovernmental organization funded by private Russian donors that is considered close to the leadership in Moscow, told NPR's Robert Siegel: "Russia's position is very easy to understand."
"First, Russia is against any regime change from outside of Syria or any other country because according to Russia, any attempt to change the regimes, they are ended up in a chaos and results are quite opposite what were the intentions," Migranyan said. "This was proved in Iraq after the invasions of Americans over there. This was proved in Libya. This was proved in Egypt. And Russia is against principally this regime changes."
Transparent Artificial Muscle Plays Music to Prove a Point
In a materials science laboratory at Harvard University, a transparent disk connected to a laptop fills the room with music -- it's the "Morning" prelude from Peer Gynt, played on an ionic speaker.
No ordinary speaker, it consists of a thin sheet of rubber sandwiched between two layers of a saltwater gel, and it's as clear as a window. A high-voltage signal that runs across the surfaces and through the layers forces the rubber to rapidly contract and vibrate, producing sounds that span the entire audible spectrum, 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz.
But this is not an electronic device, nor has it ever been seen before. Published in the August 30 issue of Science, it represents the first demonstration that electrical charges carried by ions, rather than electrons, can be put to meaningful use in fast-moving, high-voltage devices.
"Ionic conductors could replace certain electronic systems; they even offer several advantages," says co-lead author Jeong-Yun Sun, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).
For example, ionic conductors can be stretched to many times their normal area without an increase in resistivity -- a problem common in stretchable electronic devices. Secondly, they can be transparent, making them well suited for optical applications. Thirdly, the gels used as electrolytes are biocompatible, so it would be relatively easy to incorporate ionic devices -- such as artificial muscles or skin -- into biological systems.
After all, signals carried by charged ions are the electricity of the human body, allowing neurons to share knowledge and spurring the heart to beat. Bioengineers would dearly love to mesh artificial organs and limbs with that system.
"The big vision is soft machines," says co-lead author Christoph Keplinger, who worked on the project as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard SEAS and in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. "Engineered ionic systems can achieve a lot of functions that our body has: they can sense, they can conduct a signal, and they can actuate movement. We're really approaching the type of soft machine that biology has to offer."
The audio speaker represents a robust proof of concept for ionic conductors because producing sounds across the entire audible spectrum requires both high voltage (to squeeze hard on the rubber layer) and high-speed actuation (to vibrate quickly) -- two criteria which are important for applications but which would have ruled out the use of ionic conductors in the past.
The traditional constraints are well known: high voltages can set off electrochemical reactions in ionic materials, producing gases and burning up the materials. Ions are also much larger and heavier than electrons, so physically moving them through a circuit is typically slow. The system invented at Harvard overcomes both of these problems, opening up a vast number of potential applications including not just biomedical devices, but also fast-moving robotics and adaptive optics.
"It must seem counterintuitive to many people, that ionic conductors could be used in a system that requires very fast actuation, like our speaker," says Sun. "Yet by exploiting the rubber layer as an insulator, we're able to control the voltage at the interfaces where the gel connects to the electrodes, so we don't have to worry about unwanted chemical reactions. The input signal is an alternating current (AC), and we use the rubber sheet as a capacitor, which blocks the flow of charge carriers through the circuit. As a result, we don't have to continuously move the ions in one direction, which would be slow; we simply redistribute them, which we can do thousands of times per second."
Sun works in a research group led by Zhigang Suo, the Allen E. and Marilyn M. Puckett Professor of Mechanics and Materials at Harvard SEAS. An expert in the mechanical behaviors of materials, Suo is also a Kavli Scholar at the Kavli Institute for Bionano Science & Technology, which is based at SEAS.
Suo teamed up with George M. Whitesides, a prominent chemist who specializes in soft machines, among many other topics. Whitesides is the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, co-director of the Kavli Institute at Harvard, and a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.
"We'd like to change people's attitudes about where ionics can be used," says Keplinger, who now works in Whitesides' research group. "Our system doesn't need a lot of power, and you can integrate it anywhere you would need a soft, transparent layer that deforms in response to electrical stimuli -- for example, on the screen of a TV, laptop, or smartphone to generate sound or provide localized haptic feedback -- and people are even thinking about smart windows. You could potentially place this speaker on a window and achieve active noise cancellation, with complete silence inside."
Sam Liss, Director of Business Development in Harvard's Office of Technology Development, is working closely with the Suo and Whitesides labs to commercialize the technology. Their plan is to work with companies in a range of product categories, including tablet computing, smartphones, wearable electronics, consumer audio devices, and adaptive optics.
"With wearable computing devices becoming a reality, you could imagine eventually having a pair of glasses that toggles between wide-angle, telephoto, or reading modes based on voice commands or gestures," suggests Liss.
For now, there is much more engineering and chemistry work to be done. The Harvard team chose to make its audio speaker out of very simple materials -- the electrolyte is a polyacrylamide gel swollen with salt water -- but they emphasize that an entire class of ionically conductive materials is available for experimentation. Future work will focus on identifying the best combinations of materials for compatibility, long life, and adhesion between the layers.
In addition to Keplinger, Sun, Whitesides, and Suo, coauthors included Keith Choon Chiang Foo, a former postdoctoral fellow at Harvard SEAS, now at the Institute of High Performance Computing in Singapore; and Philipp Rothemund, a graduate student at Harvard SEAS.
This research was supported by the National Science Foundation through a grant to the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at Harvard University (DMR-0820484) and by the Army Research Office (W911NF-09-1-0476). It was also enabled in part by the Department of Energy (ER45852) and the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR), Singapore.
Fukushima radiation levels 18 times higher than previously thought
Operator of Japanese nuclear power plant claims there has been no leak but has yet to discover cause of radiation spike.
Justin McCurry in Tokyo
Sunday 1 September 2013 05.22 EDT
Radiation levels 18 times higher than previously reported have been found near a water storage tank at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, prompting fresh concern over safety at the wrecked facility.
The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), said radiation near the bottom of the tank measured 1,800 millisieverts an hour – high enough to kill an exposed person in four hours.
Tepco said water levels inside the tank had not changed, indicating there had not been a leak. But the firm said it had yet to discover the cause of the radiation spike.
Last month Tepco said another storage tank of the same design as the container causing concern this weekend had leaked 300 tonnes of radioactive water, possibly into the sea.
Japan's nuclear watchdog confirmed last week it had raised the severity of that leak from level 1, an "anomaly", to level 3, a "serious incident", on an eight-point scale used by the International Atomic Energy Agency for radiological releases.
Earlier, the utility belatedly confirmed reports that a toxic mixture of groundwater and water being used to cool melted fuel lying deep inside the damaged reactors was seeping into the sea at a rate of about 300 tonnes a day.
Experts said those leaks, which are separate from the most recent incidents, may have started soon after the plant was struck by a powerful tsunami on 11 March 2011.
The tsunami smashed into the plant after Japan's north-east coast was rocked by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake. The waves killed almost 19,000 people, while the resulting triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi forced 160,000 people to abandon their homes.
The high radiation levels announced on Sunday highlighted the dangers facing thousands of workers as they attempt to contain, treat and store water safely, while preventing fuel assemblies damaged in the accident from going back into meltdown.
Japan's nuclear workers are allowed an annual accumulative radiation exposure of 50 millisieverts. Tepco said radiation of 230 millisieverts an hour had been measured at another tank, up from 70 millisieverts last month. A third storage tank was emitting 70 millisieverts an hour, Tepco said. Radiation near a pipe connecting two other tanks had been measured at 230 millisieverts.
Tepco admitted recently that only two workers had initially been assigned to check more than 1,000 storage tanks on the site. Neither of the workers carried dosimeters to measure their exposure to radiation, and some inspections had not been properly recorded.
The firm responded to growing criticism of its handling of the water problem by increasing the number of workers patrolling the tanks from the current total of eight to 50.
The firm's inability to safely store contaminated water and prevent more damage to the environment has prompted doubts about its ability to lead the Fukushima Daiichi cleanup. Decommissioning the plant is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars and last around 40 years.
Tepco recently set up a committee to focus on the water leaks and said it would seek advice from foreign decommissioning experts. The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has said the government will play a bigger role in preventing water contamination.
The chairman of the country's Nuclear Regulation Authority, Shunichi Tanaka, said: "We cannot fully stop contaminated water leaks right away. That's the reality. The water is still leaking in to the sea, and we should better assess its environmental impact."
Tepco's handling of the leaks has drawn an angry response from local fishermen, who had to abandon plans to conduct a trial catch at the end of August. Fishermen south of Fukushima Daiichi have not been able to fish commercially since the disaster, while those north of the plant can catch only octopus and whelks.
"We think that contaminated water management by your company has completely fallen apart," Hiroshi Kishi, chairman of the Japan Fisheries Co-operative, told Tepco's president, Naomi Hirose, during a meeting in Tokyo last week.
"This has dealt an immeasurable blow to the future of Japan's fishing industry, and we are extremely concerned."
MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian news agency Interfax says President Vladimir Putin hopes to send a delegation of lawmakers to the U.S. to discuss the situation in Syria with members of Congress.
Russian legislators Valentina Matvienko and Sergei Naryshkin proposed that to Putin on Monday, saying polls have shown little support among Americans for armed intervention in Syria to punish its regime for an alleged chemical weapons attack.
The lawmakers said maybe U.S. legislators can be persuaded to take a "balanced stance" on the issue. Putin supported the initiative, which would require formal approval by the Foreign Ministry.
Russia has been a stalwart ally of Syria's Bashar Assad, and Putin spoke out on Saturday against the prospect of U.S. military intervention in Syria, calling such a move "foolish nonsense" that "defies all logic."
Military Intervention: Germany Caught in the Middle on Syria
By Ralf Neukirch 2 September 2013
Part of the art of effective foreign policy is keeping all options open in difficult situations. Last week, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle discovered how quickly this can go wrong. The Foreign Ministry issued a statement in English to explain the German position on Syria to the world. If the allegations surrounding the Damascus regime's use of chemical weapons prove to be true, the statement read, "Germany will be among those calling for action to be taken."
This sounded clear, but that wasn't the intention. An hour later, the ministry issued a revised statement, citing a "translation error." Germany was no longer calling for action. The new statement announced, far less decisively, that Berlin would "consider that some consequence will have to be drawn."
Westerwelle's linguistic maneuvering is an expression of political circumstances. The poison gas attack in Syria could be very explosive for the German government in the midst of an election campaign. Three weeks before Germany's parliamentary election, Westerwelle and Chancellor Angela Merkel cannot openly support a quick American military strike against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. They are too concerned about its possible negative impact on the campaign.
On the other hand, even though the German government seriously questions the rationale for a military strike, Berlin cannot rebuff the Americans again, after Germany's abstention in the Libya conflict. This time, Washington spelled out ahead of time what the Americans expect from their allies. US National Security Advisor Susan Rice made it clear in several conversations with Merkel's foreign policy advisor, Christoph Heusgen, that although Washington doesn't expect military support from the Germans, it does want Berlin's political backing.
Merkel's Careful Delay
But how does one frame a position on a military strike in such a way that the Americans interpret it as support and voters as rejection? For Westerwelle and Merkel, the answer was to play for time and avoid clarity. The Germans first tried to delay a decision on military action. Merkel made an attempt to convince key allies to take the arduous route through the United Nations before deciding on a strike.
In a conversation last Wednesday, the German chancellor and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed that London would take a draft resolution to the Security Council. But Cameron convinced Merkel that an interim report and not the final report by UN inspectors would be sufficient as the basis of the resolution.
The next day, Merkel implored US President Barack Obama to wait for the UN inspectors' report and a possible Security Council resolution. But Obama showed little inclination to comply with Merkel's request, arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin had shown no goodwill to date and was unlikely to do so in the future.
Even though Merkel shared this assessment, she wanted the debate in the Security Council to counter the opposition's charge that not all political options had been exhausted. French President François Hollande, with whom Merkel spoke by phone on the same day, supported Berlin's position.
She also spoke with Putin over the phone this weekend, and, according to German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert, both agreed the conflict should be resolved politically. On Sunday night's pre-election TV debate, Merkel said that a reaction to Syria's chemical weapons attack should be channeled through the United Nations and that Germany would not participate in a military intervention.
Fear of Alienating the USA
For foreign policy reasons, Merkel cannot afford to openly criticize the Americans. Instead, she has to dispense her views on an American attack in such a way that they are seen as criticism in Germany and support in the United States. It's a method Merkel has, to a certain degree, perfected.
Westerwelle also faces a delicate situation. The foreign minister, who has advocated a culture of military restraint, enjoys little support within his ministry for a course that is critical towards the Americans. At a conference of German ambassadors last Monday, Westerwelle received thundering applause when he said that the United States remained Germany's most important strategic partner outside the European Union. "The ambassadors wanted to make it clear to him that he should act accordingly," says a participant.
Middle East friends and foes alike seem to find President Obama's lack of decisiveness confounding.
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Jeffrey Fleishman and Paul Richter September 2, 2013, 7:00 a.m.
BEIRUT — President Obama's surprise decision to seek congressional approval for military strikes on Syria reinforces a growing image across much of the Middle East of a regional U.S. policy that is adrift at a time of perilous change.
The announcement Saturday, after a week of tough rhetoric on Syria, comes at the end of a hard summer for Obama on thorny issues stemming from the "Arab Spring" uprisings two years ago. In Egypt, the U.S. appears to have alienated not only the new military-led government, but Islamists, nationalists and liberals as well with its approach to the July 3 coup that ousted the country's first democratically elected government.
On Syria, Obama has been deeply reluctant to get involved militarily. But he finds himself ensnared in his own rhetoric of a year ago establishing a "red line" against the use of chemical weapons.
Looming in the background is another issue that is a major concern, not only for Washington but for many of its allies — including Israel. That is Iran.
George W. Bush was derided in much of the region as wrongheadedly decisive, especially in ordering the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Obama took office promising a new beginning in relations with the Islamic world. But he has been assailed as vacillating and unable to craft a coherent strategy for multiple crises.
The new military-backed government in Egypt, a strategic ally for decades, is increasingly dismissive of U.S. interests. Money from the Persian Gulf is pouring in to replace U.S. aid and U.S. influence. And the conflict in Syria serves as the focus for deep animosities between Sunni and Shiite Muslims — which also have reemerged with force in Iraq.
The U.S. threat to launch cruise missiles against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons in Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21 could be partly aimed at reestablishing a sense of U.S. control in the region, said Moataz Salama of Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "But the situation in the region is too big for the U.S."
In Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad said Sunday during a meeting with a visiting parliamentarian delegation from Iran, Syria's close ally, that his country "is capable of facing up to any external aggression."
Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad was quoted in official media accounts saying that Obama "was clearly hesitant, disappointed and confused" during his statement Saturday.
Key U.S. allies such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Syrian opposition were pushing for a quick strike against Assad's government — and already disappointed by Obama's declaration that military action would be limited and not aimed at removing Assad from power.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had assailed the U.S. plan as a "hit-and-run" attack, and called for a sustained bombardment to push Syria's government "to the point of collapsing." In Cairo on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal urged the Arab League to back a U.S. strike against Syria.
Both of their countries have supported an effort to arm the Syrian rebels. But neither Saudi Arabia nor Turkey, which has a large, modern military and a 500-mile border with Syria, has indicated a willingness to join a U.S. attack.
Egypt, meanwhile, was among several nations at the Arab League meeting opposed to foreign intervention in Syria's civil war.
Analysts say that although not all the region's problems are Washington's fault, the U.S. tends to get the blame — and its inability to establish some coherence in the region makes matters worse.
"Everyone is accusing them of things that may not necessarily be real, but in any case there are negative feelings toward American policy in the region," said Gamal Soltan, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo. "There are many examples of how their policy here is confused."
In one much-cited instance, the Obama administration seemed to agonize about whether to label as a coup the military takeover that ousted Egypt's Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, and ultimately declined to do so.
Now, in a sign of growing disdain for Obama, placards waved by pro-military demonstrators in Cairo depict Obama as wearing a beard like Osama bin Laden's. They accuse Obama of siding with Morsi in a struggle between Islamists and secularists over Egypt's future.
The outgoing U.S. ambassador, Anne Patterson, had to defend herself against accusations by a prominent newspaper editor that she was complicit in a plot that would have seen Egypt's south secede.
Islamists are no happier, citing Washington's decision not to cut $1.3 billion in annual military aid to protest the coup.
The way forward in Syria is no clearer. Washington says it seeks to deter Damascus' alleged use of chemical weapons and degrade its military capacity, while backing Assad's ouster. But U.S. policymakers are also keen to avoid the sudden collapse of the Syrian state and a takeover by radical Islamist groups that increasingly dominate the fragmented rebel forces.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel and the U.S. conducted a joint missile test over the Mediterranean on Tuesday, in a display of military prowess as the Obama administration seeks congressional support for strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Any U.S. strikes, in retaliation for alleged chemical weapons use by the Assad regime, are not expected before next week when Congress returns from summer recess.
The Israeli Defense Ministry said the test of its Arrow 3 missile-defense system was performed together with the U.S. Defense Department.
The system successfully detected and tracked a medium-range decoy missile that was not carrying a warhead, the ministry said, but did not intercept it.
"A successful test was held to check our systems," Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said. "We will continue to develop and research and equip the Israeli military with the best systems in the world."
In Washington, there was no immediate White House comment.
Experts and defense officials said the test had been scheduled weeks ago and was not directly connected to the current tensions in the region.
Uzi Rubin, former head of the Arrow system, said the test was "completely technical. Nothing connected to Syria." He said the "only message" it would send was that Israel has "good missile defense systems."
Nonetheless, it served as a reminder to Syria and its patron, Iran, that Israel is pressing forward with development of a "multilayered" missile-defense system. Both Syria and Iran, and their Lebanese ally Hezbollah, possess vast arsenals of rockets and missiles.
The Arrow 3, expected to be operational around 2016, would be the first such "multilayer" missile-defense system, designed to intercept long-range missiles such the Iranian Shahab before they re-enter the atmosphere.
Last year, Israel also successfully tested a system designed to intercept missiles with ranges of up to 300 kilometers (180 miles) which is expected to be operational by early 2015.
Another system for short-range rockets successfully shot down hundreds fired from the Gaza Strip during eight days of fighting in November, and more recently intercepted a rocket fired from Lebanon.
Meanwhile in Syria, regime troops recaptured the town of Ariha, a busy commercial center in the restive northern province of Idlib following days of heavy bombardment, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group obtains information from a network of anti-regime activists.
Ariha has changed hands several times in the past two years. Rebels had succeeded in wrestling it from government control late last month.
Since the outbreak of the Syria conflict in March 2011, the two sides have fought to a stalemate, though the Assad regime has retaken the offensive in recent months. Rebel fighters control large rural stretches in northern and eastern Syria, while Assad is holding on to most of the main urban areas.
Also Tuesday, rebels detonated a bomb along a gas pipeline near the northeastern town of Deir el-Zour, the state-run Syrian news agency SANA reported.
The Observatory confirmed that a fire had broken out along the pipeline, but said it had no details on the reporting bombing.
The eastern province of Deir el-Zour, along Syria's border with Iraq, is one of the two main centers of the country's oil production. The rebels have been seizing oil fields there since late 2012. It is not clear how much of the fields they control. Activists and state media say most of Syria's fields are no longer under direct government control.
The Syrian conflict, which began as a popular uprising against Assad in March 2011, later degenerated into a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people.
The U.N. refugee agency announced Tuesday that the number of Syrians who have fled the country has surpassed the 2 million mark.
Along with more than four million people displaced inside Syria, this means more than six million Syrians have been uprooted, out of an estimated population of 23 million.
Antonio Guterres, the head of the Office for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said Syria is hemorrhaging an average of almost 5,000 citizens a day across its borders, many of them with little more than the clothes they are wearing. Nearly 1.8 million refugees have fled in the past 12 months alone, he said.
The agency's special envoy, actress Angelina Jolie, said "some neighboring countries could be brought to the point of collapse" if the situation keeps deteriorating at its current pace. Most Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Despite the grim toll, Assad has not shown any signs of backing down.
Assad and some in his inner circle are from Syria's minority Alawites, or followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam, who believe they would not have a place in Syria if the rebels win. Most of those trying to topple Assad are Sunni Muslims, with Islamic militants, including those linked to the al-Qaida terror network, increasingly dominant among the rebels.
The missile test came at a time of heightened tensions as Washington weighs sea-launched strikes against Syria. Israel has been increasingly concerned that it could be drawn into Syria's brutal civil war.
Since the weekend, the Obama administration has been lobbying for congressional support for military action against the Assad regime.
The administration says it has evidence that Assad's forces launched attacks with chemical weapons on rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital of Damascus on Aug. 21. The U.S. has alleged that the nerve agent sarin was used and that at least 1,429 people were killed, including more than 400 children.
Last week, President Barack Obama appeared poised to authorize military strikes, but unexpectedly stepped back over the weekend to first seek approval from Congress, which returns from summer recess next week.
On Monday, the U.S. administration won backing from French intelligence and reportedly also from Germany's spy agency for its claim that Assad's forces were responsible for the suspected chemical weapons attacks.
The Assad regime has denied using chemical weapons, blaming rebels instead. Neither the U.S. nor Syria and its allies have presented conclusive proof in public.
California Abruptly Drops Plan to Implant RFID Chips in Driver’s Licenses
By David Kravets 09.03.13 6:30 AM
Following complaints from privacy groups, California lawmakers on Friday suspended legislation to embed radio-frequency identification chips, or RFIDs, in its driver’s licenses and state identification cards.
The legislation, S.B. 397, was put on hold by the state Assembly Appropriations Committee, despite it having been approved by the California Senate, where it likely will be re-introduced in the coming months. Had the measure passed, it would have transformed the Sunshine State’s standard form of ID into one of the most sophisticated identification documents in the country, mirroring the four other states that have embraced the spy-friendly technology.
Radio-frequency identification devices already are a daily part of the electronic age — found in passports, library and payment cards, school identification cards and eventually are expected to replace bar-code labels on consumer goods.
Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington have already begun embedding drivers licenses with the tiny transceivers, and linking them to a national database — complete with head shots — controlled by the Department of Homeland Security. The enhanced cards can be used to re-enter the U.S. at a land border without a passport.
Privacy advocates worry that, if more states begin embracing RFID, the licenses could become mandatory nationwide and evolve into a government-run surveillance tool to track the public’s movements.
The IDs are the offspring of the 2009 Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requiring travelers to show passports when they cross the U.S. border of Canada and Mexico. Those carrying the EDL “Enhanced Drivers License” or an “enhanced” state ID, do not have to display a passport when traveling across the country’s government-run land borders.
The RFID-enabled card would have been optional under the California measure. It was aimed in particular at Californians who make frequent visits to Mexico, and want to ease their return back into the U.S.
“It’s not difficult to imagine a time when the EDL programs cease to be optional—and when EDLs contain information well beyond a picture, a signature, and citizenship status. The government also tends to expand programs far beyond their original purpose,” writes Jim Harper, the Cato Institute’s director of information policy studies. “Californians should not walk — they should run away from ‘enhanced’ drivers licenses.”
According to DHS, about 95 percent of land-border crossings are equipped with RFID-reading technology, making it easy for Customs Border Patrol officials to know who you are. The RFID chip “will signal a secure system to pull up your biographic and biometrics data for the CBP officer as you approach the border inspection booth,” the DHS says.
“An individual that does not understand the privacy and security risks of an Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) might think, ‘Why not get an one so that I can use it to drive and also cross the border?’ It seems like common sense,” said Nicole Ozer, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer. “But the cost to privacy and security far outweighs any benefits. If you carry one of these licenses in your wallet or purse, you can be tracked and stalked without your knowledge or consent.”
Sen. Ben Hueso, a Democrat whose district touches the Mexican border, maintains the legislation he sponsored makes both financial and security sense.
“Enhanced Driver’s Licenses can provide a significant economic benefit to the state of California, while strengthening border security,” he wrote in a press release last May. “They will greatly reduce wait times at the border thereby incentivizing economic development in our border region.”
The California measure’s shortcomings, among other things, was that it did not prevent state law enforcement officials from eventually tapping into the chips.
Law enforcement already monitors drivers’ whereabouts via the mass deployment of license-plate readers. But the ability to scan for identification cards in public areas could evolve into another surveillance tool.
As the “Identity Project” sees it:
Logs of citizens’ border crossings and movements through non-border checkpoints are obviously of interest to the Feds and their state and local law enforcement partners, especially in conjunction with logs of vehicle movements obtained from automated license-plate readers. Cops don’t need to ask, ‘Can I see some ID?’ when, from outside your vehicle, they can obtain the EDL chip number and corresponding lifetime DHS travel history of every occupant of the vehicle. And as more people carry EDLs, how soon will not broadcasting your ID number be deemed sufficiently suspicious to justify detention, search, or interrogation?
To be sure, the Orwellian nature of these new IDs is — to an extent — speculation.
For the moment, the DHS says that “No personally identifiable information is stored on the card’s RFID chip.” The DHS said “The card uses a unique identification number that links to information contained in a secure Department of Homeland Security database.”
But things could easily change. Government-issued cards routinely evolve away from their original purpose.
Consider the Social Security card. It was created to track your government retirement benefits. Now you need it to purchase health insurance and even obtain employment.
Language and Tool-Making Skills Evolved at the Same Time
Sep. 3, 2013 — Research by the University of Liverpool has found that the same brain activity is used for language production and making complex tools, supporting the theory that they evolved at the same time.
Researchers from the University tested the brain activity of 10 expert stone tool makers (flint knappers) as they undertook a stone tool-making task and a standard language test.
Brain blood flow activity measured
They measured the brain blood flow activity of the participants as they performed both tasks using functional Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound (fTCD), commonly used in clinical settings to test patients' language functions after brain damage or before surgery.
The researchers found that brain patterns for both tasks correlated, suggesting that they both use the same area of the brain. Language and stone tool-making are considered to be unique features of humankind that evolved over millions of years.
Darwin was the first to suggest that tool-use and language may have co-evolved, because they both depend on complex planning and the coordination of actions but until now there has been little evidence to support this.
Dr Georg Meyer, from the University Department of Experimental Psychology, said: "This is the first study of the brain to compare complex stone tool-making directly with language.
Tool use and language co-evolved
"Our study found correlated blood-flow patterns in the first 10 seconds of undertaking both tasks. This suggests that both tasks depend on common brain areas and is consistent with theories that tool-use and language co-evolved and share common processing networks in the brain."
Dr Natalie Uomini from the University's Department of Archaeology, Classics & Egyptology, said: "Nobody has been able to measure brain activity in real time while making a stone tool. This is a first for both archaeology and psychology."
The research was supported by the Leverhulme Trust, the Economic and Social Research Council and the British Academy. It is published in PLOS ONE.
Car designers in South Korea demonstrate the folding function of the new Armadillo-T.
At the click of a button, the foldable electric vehicle engages a small wheel and proceeds to balance on it as the rear end of the vehicle slides slowly over the front of the car like a shell.
Developers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon, south of Seoul, say the folding feature will enable drivers to park easily in the city centre and on street corners.
The car can travel 62 miles on a 10-minute charge and has a maximum speed of 37 miles per hour.
Richard III had roundworm infection, scientists claim
Researchers from Cambridge University analyse soil sample from pelvis and find eggs where intestine would have been
Press Association Tuesday 3 September 2013 20.07 EDT
Richard III suffered from a roundworm infection, according to research carried out on his skeleton.
The body of the king, who ruled England from 1483-85, was discovered last year by archaeologists at the University of Leicester, and scientists have since been undertaking careful analysis of the remains.
A team of researchers led by Dr Piers Mitchell, of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge University, used a powerful microscope to examine soil samples taken from the skeleton's pelvis and skull, as well as from the soil surrounding the grave.
It revealed multiple roundworm eggs in the soil sample taken from the pelvis, where the intestines would have been situated. However, there was no sign of eggs in soil from the skull, and very few in the soil that surrounded the grave, suggesting the eggs in the pelvis area resulted from a roundworm infection, rather than external contamination by the later dumping of human waste in the area.
Roundworms infect humans when people ingest their eggs via contaminated food, water, or soil. Once eaten, the eggs hatch into larvae, which migrate through the tissues of the body to the lungs where they mature. They then crawl up the airways to the throat to be swallowed back into the intestines, where they can grow into adults around a foot long. Roundworm infection is thought to be one of the commonest health conditions in the world, affecting up to a quarter of all people globally, though it is rare in the UK today.
It is spread by the faecal contamination of food by dirty hands, or use of faeces as a crop fertiliser.
Dr Mitchell said: "Our results show that Richard was infected with roundworms in his intestines, although no other species of intestinal parasite were present in the samples we studied. We would expect nobles of this period to have eaten meats such as beef, pork and fish regularly, but there was no evidence for the eggs of the beef, pork or fish tapeworm. This may suggest that his food was cooked thoroughly, which would have prevented the transmission of these parasites."
Dr Jo Appleby, lecturer in human bioarchaeology at the University of Leicester, said: "Despite Richard's noble background, it appears that his lifestyle did not completely protect him from intestinal parasite infection, which would have been very common at the time."
Richard, who was killed at the battle of Bosworth Field near Leicester, is one of England's best known medieval kings because of his portrayal as a villain in Shakespeare's play Richard III.
His body was buried in Greyfriars Church in Leicester. His remains were excavated from under a council car park, the former site of the church, last September.
The Dig for Richard III was led by the University of Leicester, working with Leicester City Council and in association with the Richard III Society.
U.S. documents detail al-Qaeda’s efforts to fight back against drones
By Craig Whitlock and Barton Gellman 4 September 2013
Al-Qaeda’s leadership has assigned cells of engineers to find ways to shoot down, jam or remotely hijack U.S. drones, hoping to exploit the technological vulnerabilities of a weapons system that has inflicted huge losses upon the terrorist network, according to top-secret U.S. intelligence documents.
Although there is no evidence that al-Qaeda has forced a drone crash or interfered with flight operations, U.S. intelligence officials have closely tracked the group’s persistent efforts to develop a counterdrone strategy since 2010, the documents show.
Al-Qaeda commanders are hoping a technological breakthrough can curb the U.S. drone campaign, which has killed an estimated 3,000 people over the past decade. The airstrikes have forced al-Qaeda operatives and other militants to take extreme measures to limit their movements in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and other places. But the drone attacks have also taken a heavy toll on civilians, generating a bitter popular backlash against U.S. policies toward those countries.
Details of al-Qaeda’s attempts to fight back against the drone campaign are contained in a classified intelligence report provided to The Washington Post by Edward Snowden, the fugitive former National Security Agency contractor. The top-secret report, titled “Threats to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” is a summary of dozens of intelligence assessments posted by U.S. spy agencies since 2006.
U.S. intelligence analysts noted in their assessments that information about drone operational systems is available in the public realm. But The Post is withholding some detailed portions of the classified material that could shed light on specific weaknesses of certain aircraft.
Under President Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, drones have revolutionized warfare and become a pillar of the U.S. government’s counterterrorism strategy, enabling the CIA and the military to track down enemies in some of the remotest parts of the planet. Drone strikes have left al-Qaeda’s core leadership in Pakistan scrambling to survive.
U.S. spy agencies have concluded that al-Qaeda faces “substantial” challenges in devising an effective way to attack drones, according to the top-secret report disclosed by Snowden. Still, U.S. officials and aviation experts acknowledge that unmanned aircraft have a weak spot: the satellite links and remote controls that enable pilots to fly them from thousands of miles away.
In July 2010, a U.S. spy agency intercepted electronic communications indicating that senior al-Qaeda leaders had distributed a “strategy guide” to operatives around the world advising them how “to anticipate and defeat” unmanned aircraft. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reported that al-Qaeda was sponsoring simultaneous research projects to develop jammers to interfere with GPS signals and infrared tags that drone operators rely on to pinpoint missile targets.
Other projects in the works included the development of observation balloons and small radio-controlled aircraft, or hobby planes, which insurgents apparently saw as having potential for monitoring the flight patterns of U.S. drones, according to the report.