Weird Science 09
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Editor, The Konformist
Thursday, October 15, 2009
New Age Mafia Rivalry Causes Deaths?
ALEXANDRIA, Minn. (Wireless Flash - FlashNews) A new mafia rivalry may be to blame for a couple of sketchy, sweaty deaths. Two people recently died at a "sweat lodge" retreat in Arizona hosted by New Age author James Arthur Ray.
He charged $9,000 a head to stuff 64 people into a tiny, sauna-like room covered in tarps and blankets, promising they'd be spiritually cleansed by the ritual.
Two people died and many suffered oxygen deprivation, but visionary Jaye Beldo thinks a curse may be partly to blame. In addition to Ray's own negligence, Beldo believes the retreat was sabotaged by a rival "New Age mafia" that's jealous of Ray's success.
They may have cursed Ray into abandoning common sense for greedy profit, since "sweat lodges" were used by Native Americans to actually help people, not make money off them.
Beldo believes New Age leaders are trying to "take each other out" so they're the only ones able to swindle cult followings with their "teachings."
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'A Toast to Your Psychic Health!'
Medical-pot backers react to new Obama policy
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO -- Medical marijuana advocates in California said the Obama administration's announcement of new guidelines for pot prosecutions Monday contained some hopeful signs, but lacked the specifics needed to keep patients and their suppliers out of court.
"It's an extremely welcome rhetorical de-escalation of the federal government's long-standing war on medical marijuana patients," said Stephen Gutwillig, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Dale Gieringer, California coordinator of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the administration's advice to U.S. attorneys that they respect state law - such as California's Proposition 215, the 1996 measure legalizing medicinal use of the drug - was encouraging.
However, he added, "the policy has major loopholes that give prosecutors broad discretion to determine what they think is legal."
A Justice Department memo, sent Monday to federal prosecutors in California and 13 other states whose laws allow medical use of marijuana, provides guidelines to implement the policy Attorney General Eric Holder announced in March: that federal authorities should refrain from arresting or prosecuting people who are complying with their state's laws.
Federal prosecutors should focus on major drug traffickers and networks, rather than on those who "are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws" on medical marijuana, said Deputy Attorney General David Ogden.
But he added some qualifications: Prosecutors can go after those who sell marijuana for profit, a category that federal authorities have commonly invoked in charging growers and sellers of medicinal pot.
San Francisco's U.S. attorney, Joseph Russoniello, asserted in August that most of California's 300 marijuana dispensaries make profits, in violation of state guidelines, and are therefore open to federal prosecution.
Ogden also said the Justice Department would fight any effort by people now charged with marijuana-related crimes in federal court to claim that they were simply following state law. And even those who are clearly complying with a state's law can be investigated and prosecuted, he said, in the pursuit of "important federal interests."
'Lot of discretion'
"It leaves a lot of discretion up to the U.S. attorneys," said Kris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group for patients who use marijuana. "We hope that these guidelines rein in rogue prosecutors like Russoniello. There's no guarantee that's going to happen."
Russoniello's office is prosecuting owners of two Hayward-area medical marijuana dispensaries that were licensed by local governments. In March, after Holder's announcement, federal agents raided Emmalyn's California Cannabis Clinic in San Francisco, which had a city permit. No charges were filed.
Russoniello's office referred inquiries Monday to the Justice Department, where spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said Ogden's memo was intended to provide "guidance and clarification" to prosecutors and does not change administration policy.
Judges go easy
Since Holder's announcement, prosecutors have told several federal judges in California that the new policy did not justify leniency for marijuana defendants whose cases originated during President George W. Bush's administration.
Judges have nonetheless imposed lighter sentences than the Justice Department wanted, notably a one-year term for a Central Coast pot club operator for whom prosecutors sought five years.
Although Monday's guidelines, like Holder's earlier statement, do not expressly apply to pending cases, defense lawyers will argue to judges that the Obama administration's memo justifies a break in sentencing, said Joe Elford, lawyer for Americans for Safe Access.
He also predicted that some prisoners would cite the memo in asking President Obama for clemency.
The guidelines don't say how federal authorities would respond if California legalized marijuana for personal use, as proposed in an Assembly bill and several pending initiatives. But Gutwillig, whose organization advocates legalization, said he saw a glimmer of hope.
"The Obama administration has taken a further step today to follow the lead of the states on marijuana policy," he said.
E-mail Bob Egelko at begelko@....
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Modern man a wimp says anthropologist
Wed Oct 14, 2009
LONDON (Reuters) - Many prehistoric Australian aboriginals could have outrun world 100 and 200 meters record holder Usain Bolt in modern conditions.
Some Tutsi men in Rwanda exceeded the current world high jump record of 2.45 meters during initiation ceremonies in which they had to jump at least their own height to progress to manhood.
Any Neanderthal woman could have beaten former bodybuilder and current California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in an arm wrestle.
These and other eye-catching claims are detailed in a book by Australian anthropologist Peter McAllister entitled "Manthropology" and provocatively sub-titled "The Science of the Inadequate Modern Male."
McAllister sets out his stall in the opening sentence of the prologue.
"If you're reading this then you -- or the male you have bought it for -- are the worst man in history.
"No ifs, no buts -- the worst man, period...As a class we are in fact the sorriest cohort of masculine Homo sapiens to ever walk the planet."
Delving into a wide range of source material McAllister finds evidence he believes proves that modern man is inferior to his predecessors in, among other fields, the basic Olympic athletics disciplines of running and jumping.
His conclusions about the speed of Australian aboriginals 20,000 years ago are based on a set of footprints, preserved in a fossilized claypan lake bed, of six men chasing prey.
An analysis of the footsteps of one of the men, dubbed T8, shows he reached speeds of 37 kph on a soft, muddy lake edge. Bolt, by comparison, reached a top speed of 42 kph during his then world 100 meters record of 9.69 seconds at last year's Beijing Olympics.
In an interview in the English university town of Cambridge where he was temporarily resident, McAllister said that, with modern training, spiked shoes and rubberized tracks, aboriginal hunters might have reached speeds of 45 kph.
"We can assume they are running close to their maximum if they are chasing an animal," he said.
"But if they can do that speed of 37 kph on very soft ground I suspect there is a strong chance they would have outdone Usain Bolt if they had all the advantages that he does.
"We can tell that T8 is accelerating toward the end of his tracks."
McAllister said it was probable that any number of T8's contemporaries could have run as fast.
"We have to remember too how incredibly rare these fossilizations are," he said. "What are the odds that you would get the fastest runner in Australia at that particular time in that particular place in such a way that was going to be preserved?"
Turning to the high jump, McAllister said photographs taken by a German anthropologist showed young men jumping heights of up to 2.52 meters in the early years of last century.
"It was an initiation ritual, everybody had to do it. They had to be able to jump their own height to progress to manhood," he said.
"It was something they did all the time and they lived very active lives from a very early age. They developed very phenomenal abilities in jumping. They were jumping from boyhood onwards to prove themselves."
McAllister said a Neanderthal woman had 10 percent more muscle bulk than modern European man. Trained to capacity she would have reached 90 percent of Schwarzenegger's bulk at his peak in the 1970s.
"But because of the quirk of her physiology, with a much shorter lower arm, she would slam him to the table without a problem," he said.
Manthropology abounds with other examples:
* Roman legions completed more than one-and-a-half marathons a day carrying more than half their body weight in equipment.
* Athens employed 30,000 rowers who could all exceed the achievements of modern oarsmen.
* Australian aboriginals threw a hardwood spear 110 meters or more (the current world javelin record is 98.48).
McAllister said it was difficult to equate the ancient spear with the modern javelin but added: "Given other evidence of Aboriginal man's superb athleticism you'd have to wonder whether they couldn't have taken out every modern javelin event they entered."
Why the decline?
"We are so inactive these days and have been since the industrial revolution really kicked into gear," McAllister replied. "These people were much more robust than we were.
"We don't see that because we convert to what things were like about 30 years ago. There's been such a stark improvement in times, technique has improved out of sight, times and heights have all improved vastly since then but if you go back further it's a different story.
"At the start of the industrial revolution there are statistics about how much harder people worked then.
"The human body is very plastic and it responds to stress. We have lost 40 percent of the shafts of our long bones because we have much less of a muscular load placed upon them these days.
"We are simply not exposed to the same loads or challenges that people were in the ancient past and even in the recent past so our bodies haven't developed. Even the level of training that we do, our elite athletes, doesn't come close to replicating that.
"We wouldn't want to go back to the brutality of those days but there are some things we would do well to profit from."
(Editing by Clare Fallon; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@...)
FCC Takes First Step Toward Net Neutrality Rules
Grant Gross, IDG News Service
Oct 22, 2009
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has taken the first step toward creating formal net neutrality rules, despite a huge lobbying effort from opposing groups in recent days.
The FCC voted Thursday to open a rulemaking process and begin receiving comments on a proposal to create new net neutrality rules following a contentious debate on whether new regulations are needed.
The FCC is still months away from voting on the final regulations, but the rules, as proposed, would allow Web users to run the legal applications and access the legal Web sites of their choice, while prohibiting broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web content. Providers could use "reasonable" network management to reduce congestion and maintain quality of service, but the rules would require them to be transparent with consumers about their efforts.
Under the FCC proposal, wireless broadband services would be included in the net neutrality rules. The FCC will seek comments on how to treat managed network services.
The rules are necessary to protect innovation on the Internet and preserve the openness that has allowed the Internet to blossom, said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
"The problem is not merely that we've seen some significant situations where broadband providers have degraded the data streams of popular lawful services and blocked consumer access to lawful applications," he said. "The heart of the problem is that ... we face the dangerous combination of an uncertain legal framework with ongoing as well as emerging challenges to a free and open Internet.
"Given the potentially huge consequences of having the open Internet diminished through inaction, the time is now to move forward with consideration of fair and reasonable rules of the road," he added.
But Commissioner Robert McDowell suggested the Internet has seen massive growth because of a lack of regulations. The proposed rules regulate network providers, but not Web applications vendors, while supporters assume new innovation will come from applications and not networks, he said.
"The Internet is perhaps the greatest deregulatory success story of all time," said McDowell, a Republican. "No government has ever succeeded in mandating innovation and investment."
New rules could inadvertently hurt the growth of the Internet and give a precedent to other nations that want to create all kinds of new Internet regulations, McDowell added. But he praised Genachowski for creating an open and collegial rulemaking process.
Net neutrality advocates began pressing hard for new rules in 2005, after the FCC phased out rules requiring traditional telecom carriers to share their broadband networks with competitors. That same year, the FCC approved four informal net neutrality principles, but broadband provider Comcast, in a lawsuit, has challenged the FCC's authority to enforce those principles.
Net neutrality advocates argue that formal regulations are needed because broadband providers could decide to block or slow some Web sites or applications in favor of others. Since the FCC deregulated network sharing rules in 2005, Web users have few choices for broadband providers and not many options for alternative service if their providers start blocking some Web content, net neutrality advocates say.
But opponents of net neutrality say new rules aren't needed. The FCC has taken action against broadband providers in just two cases, including one in which Comcast was accused of widespread slowing of the BitTorrent peer-to-peer service. New regulations could slow or halt new broadband investment, making it difficult to meet President Barack Obama's goal of bringing broadband to all U.S. residents, opponents say.
In addition to opposition from large broadband providers AT&T and Verizon Communications, a group of about 90 U.S. lawmakers raised concerns about new regulations in the past week. In addition, 44 telecom-related companies, including Cisco Systems, Alcatel-Lucent, Motorola and Nokia, wrote a letter to the FCC opposing new rules, as well as several minority groups concerned about the effect on broadband deployment.
On the other side are 28 digital rights and consumer groups, including Free Press and Public Knowledge, Internet pioneers including Vint Cerf and David Reed, and top executives of Web-based companies, including Google, Amazon.com, eBay and Facebook.
On Wednesday, 30 tech-focused venture capitalists sent a letter to the FCC supporting new rules, and this week, more than 20,000 U.S. residents have signed a letter calling for net neutrality rules, according to Save the Internet, a pro-net neutrality group.
Obama and Genachowski, both Democrats, have both said net neutrality rules are among their top tech priorities. Genachowski said the rules as proposed are not perfect or set in stone.
But FCC member Meredith Attwell Baker, a Republican, questioned whether the FCC has the authority to regulate broadband, even though she said the rulemaking process presents "thoughtful" questions about Internet freedoms.
New rules could hamper innovation from broadband providers and slow the jobs created through the Internet, she said. "I don't want to get in the way of that," she added. "If innovation and investment are confined to the corners of the Internet, consumers will suffer."
Psychic 'mind-reading' computer will show your thoughts on screen
By David Derbyshire
02nd November 2009
A mind-reading machine that can produce pictures of what a person is seeing or remembering has been developed by scientists.
The device studies patterns of brainwave activity and turns them into a moving image on a computer screen.
While the idea of a telepathy machine might sound like something from science fiction, the scientists say it could one day be used to solve crimes.
In a pioneering experiment, an American team scanned the brain activity of two volunteers watching a video and used the results to recreate the images they were seeing.
Although the results were crude, the technique was able to reproduce the rough shape of a man in a white shirt and a city skyline.
Professor Jack Gallant, who carried out the experiment at the University of California, Berkeley, said: 'At the moment when you see something and want to describe it you have to use words or draw it and it doesn't work very well.
'This technology might allow you to recover an eyewitness's memory of a crime.'
The experiment is the latest in a series of studies designed to show how brain scans can reveal our innermost thoughts.
Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, normally found in hospitals, the American team scanned the brains of two volunteers while they watched videos.
The results were fed into a computer which looked for links between colours, shapes and movements on the screen, and patterns of activity in the brain.
The computer software was then given the brain scans of the volunteers as they watched a different video and was asked to recreate what they were seeing.
According to Dr Gallant, who has yet to publish the results of the experiment, the software was close to the mark.
In one scene featuring comic actor Steve Martin in a white shirt, the computer reproduced his white torso and rough shape, but was unable to handle details of his face.
In another, the volunteers watched an image of a city skyline with a plane flying past.
The software was able to recreate the skyline - but not the aircraft.
Health fears over use of sweetener
Coca Cola and Pepsi switched to sweetening their US products with HFCS in 1984
30 Oct 2009
A sugary ingredient that is commonly used to flavour processed foods and soft drinks could be a major cause of high blood pressure, new research has found.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is abundant in many types of foods and beverages, including fizzy drinks, biscuits, ketchup and bread, and was originally viewed as a "healthy" method of sweetening.
Its introduction 20 years ago has caused consumption of the fruit sugar fructose to rise sharply, alongside increasing levels of obesity.
Although healthy amounts of fructose exist naturally in fruit, excessive amounts of the sugar may be harmful. Studies have already shown that large quantities of fructose cause the liver to pump fats into the bloodstream that may damage arteries.
Links to insulin resistance and diabetes have been documented, with research also concluding that when people consume artificial sweeteners they have an increased desire to keep eating.
Researchers who carried out the new study in the US looked at more than 4500 adults with no prior history of high blood pressure.
Fructose intake was calculated by asking participants to rate their consumption of foods such as fruit juices, soft drinks, bakery products and confectionery.
The study found that people who ate or drank more than 74 grams of fructose per day, the equivalent to 2.5 sugary soft drinks, increased their risk of developing high blood pressure.
"Normal" blood pressure is said to be a reading of around 120/80 millimetres of mercury (mmHg) depending on age. The first figure relates to blood pressure when the heart is actively beating, the second is the reading of the blood pressure between beats.
More than 74 grams of fructose a day increased the chances of a higher reading of 135/85mmHg by 28%, the study found. It also increased the likelihood of a higher reading of 140/90mmHg by 36% and 160/100mmHg by 87%.
Since it was first developed in the United States in the 1970s, HFCS has widely replaced sugar as a result of the vast corn subsidies offered to farmers and the high price of sugar tariffs and quotas.
While there is no naturally occurring fructose in corn syrup, an enzyme was discovered in the 1950s that could turn its glucose content into fructose. This process was refined in the 1970s, leading to the mass production of HFCS. The product is also easier to blend and transport given its liquid form.
HFCS is now preferred over cane sugar among the vast majority of American food and drink manufacturers thanks to its low production costs. Coca Cola and Pepsi switched to sweetening their products with the substance in 1984, but continue to use sugar in other nations. Four main companies in the US control 85% of the HFCS market.
The use of HFCS in Europe has not been as widespread as in America. In 2005, the EU set a production quota of 303,000 tonnes a year. By contrast, the EU produced an average of 18.6 million tons of sugar annually between 1999 and 2001.
Americans today consume 30% more fructose than they did 20 years ago and up to four times more than they did 100 years ago, those behind the latest study reported yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology in California.
Dr Diana Jalal, from the University of Colorado, and colleagues wrote in their paper: "These results indicate that high fructose intake in the form of added sugars is significantly and independently associated with higher blood pressure levels in the US adult population with no previous history of hypertension."
Further work was needed to see if lowering fructose consumption could normalise blood pressure, Dr Jalal said.